Expats find out very quickly that Buenos Aires is not the IN place to be for the holidays. The city empties as people find family and friends anywhere else they can. The most popular place to head, of course, is the beach. There are options in Argentina such as Pinamar and Mar del Plata, which I'm sure have their supporters, but the fashionable place to see and be seen is Punta del Este in Uruguay.
When you go to Punta del Este you need to clarify if you are staying on the peninsula of Punta del Este or if you are out on one of the other beaches like La Barra or Jose Ignacio etc. These recommendations are for those who are staying on the peninsula of Punta del Este. After 3 years of navigating crowds during New Year's on the peninsula with family and friends, we have slowly managed to turn this art into a science.
Why stay on the Peninsula?
What it has is infrastructure (lots of shops, restaurants, and beach with mostly calm water, all within walking distance) As you will find, this is attractive to families with small children and seniors. Secluded and natural it is not. For that you should head further north to Cabo Polonio.
Top recommendations for Expats:
When to go?
Shoulder season is the best time to be on the peninsula. Late November/early December and Easter are perfect since the weather is usually still good, and their are no crowds. New Year's in particular, all bets are off. It is a zoo. So the name of the game for New Year's is crowd and ripoff avoidance.
After spending the year eating nothing but the cheap and plentiful meat in Argentina, fish is a welcome respite. The king of fish to eat in Punta del Este is Corvina Negra (Black Drum) and the place to eat it is at La Marea in the port. They cook the fish over the grill with the scales on one side and with a thick provencal topping of parsley and garlic which steams the flesh. One piece is enough for two people who order a couple sides. The price is very reasonable which makes it an even rarer find.
My other recommendation is right next door. El Artico. This restaurant is a fast seafood type place perfect for your after the beach munchies. The highlights are the Rabas (Fried Calamaries) and new this year, they added fried chipirones (squid) which were also scrumptious. Want to fill up a little more, buy some extra bread and make little fried calamari sandwiches.
Bring white wine and then drink Clerico or Medio y Medio
Argentine wines are very expensive in Uruguay. Bring over a couple of bottles in your bag and you won't regret it. The temptation to bring red wine will be great, but with the heat and the fish, white wine is the way to go. Once you go through your bottles, try the Clerico (white wine Sangria) or find some Media Media (half and half), an Uruguayan invention which is simply a blend of white wine and spumante. It's very refreshing.
If you drink beer, Patricia is the one. It is brewed by Salus who also sells the best bottled spring water you will ever taste.
Hit the beach early
The beaches on the peninsula during New Year's remind me of a National Geographic special where you see the thousands of seals laying next to and on top of each other. The key to hitting the beach is getting there early. From 8-11am or so, the beach is empty since everyone went out eating and partying the night before. It's also the best sun.
If you have some transport, even better. There are some very nice and less crowded beaches on the Mansa side over near Casa Pueblo. One of our favorites is Las Grutas which is about 15-20 minutes by car. For New Year's make sure you reserve your car far in advance and prepare to stretch your wallet.
Speaking of transport, don't try to save a few bucks and go the long way to Punta del Este by bus. The bridge that connects Uruguay and Argentina over at Gualeguaychú is a popular place for locals to set up road blocks, especially during the high season, in protest of the cellulose processing factory that Uruguay built on their side of the river. .
Get a nice work out
The salt air and sun is a great contrast to the dreary city heat of Buenos Aires. A relaxing way to work out is to walk the peninsula. The far end of the peninsula has smaller houses so you don't feel as urbanized as in the center. There is a walkway next to the ocean where you can burn off those extra calories and take in the sunset. The best kind of multi-tasking! For the more athletic, keep on going to the front of the Conrad Casino where they have an open, outdoor gym (pull up bars, push up stations etc)
So there you have my top 5 survival tips for Punta del Este. Enjoy!