Jutting out into the blue-brown (depends on the weather) waters of the vast Rio de la Plata, Punta Carretas occupies a small peninsula in Montevideo. This neighborhood doesn’t contain really any of the things you’ll come to Montevideo to see, especially if you only have a day or two as a side trip from Buenos Aires. But it might just be where you stay, as it is upscale, safe, and holds most of the US-brand hotels I saw during my time in the Uruguayan capital. It is where I lived during my ten days in Montevideo, and it is worth talking about.

A view of Punta Carretas

Until fairly recently, Punta Carretas was not a desirable part of Montevideo to live in. Heck, for most of the history of the city, it wasn’t even part of Montevideo, situated outside of the now non-existent walls and fortress. But with the modernization and liberalization of Uruguay, and Montevideo in particular, Punta Carretas’ location along the waterfront – and with sandy beaches to both sides of the peninsula itself – made it a focal point for new upscale residential buildings.

The beach and Punta Carretas

Montevideo’s system of ramblas, wide riverfront promenades that line basically the entire bank of the Rio de la Plata from the old city to well east of here, is at its best in Punta Carretas, and on an even remotely pretty day, the sidewalks on the water side of the rambla are crowded. Just to the east is what I think is the best sandy beach in the city, and stairs down allow for easy access for people and dogs. The river is almost 60 miles wide here (click here to read more about the Rio de la Plata from my ferry crossing), so it seems remarkably similar to staring at an ocean, though with surf that barely creates waves on a calm day. A bit past the beach is the Montevideo sign, something it seems every city in the world has, which comes with the best view of Punta Carretas and its luxury waterfront condos.

The rambla and some upscale condos

For most of the early part of the 20th century, three landmarks stood in this part of Montevideo, and all are to some degree still present. First is the Church of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, a lovely brick church built in 1919. For a long time, its domed tower was the tallest and most visible thing in Punta Carretas.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

Second, being a rocky peninsula known for shipwrecks necessitated the building of a quality lighthouse at the end of Punta Carretas. Built in 1876, the lighthouse is possible to visit, but is even better to sit and watch the evening light as the sun dips behind the old city skyline. The water here is calm, and the fish jump. Actually jump out of the water. It is unexpected and will make you smile.

Punta Carretas Lighthouse

Finally, Punta Carretas is known for its huge shopping mall. Punta Carretas Shopping is built on the site of – and out of the materials of – the former Punta Carretas prison, which held political prisoners from its 1915 opening until 1986. Some of the old facade is still visible, and it marks a truly representative example of the change from military rule to demilitarized modern democracy that the country has undergone in the past fifty years.

Punta Carretas Shopping with the old jail entrance

While there is no need to visit Punta Carretas if you aren’t staying here, I do want to take a moment to mention a few of my favorite eateries in case you do decide to make this your Montevideo base. First, my go-to coffee shop (if you know me you’ll know that I tend to have a regular place in every city I spend significant time) was called The Lab. Good coffee, good food, and a stunning former mansion make it a great place for your morning Joe.

The Lab

Just to the west of Punta Carretas is El Tinkal, which makes the best (that I had) chivito. The iconic sandwich is the vegan’s worst nightmare, featuring beef, ham, cheese, and egg. It is wonderful here.

The layers of a chivito

If I were to live in Montevideo, Punta Carretas is where I’d want to live. A beautiful waterfront, lovely luxury buildings, good food, and a safe and relaxed vibe make it a perfect place to spend your time in Montevideo. While it isn’t home to the tourist sights, it is a good base.

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