Punta del Este, Uruguay, often called the Riviera of South America, attracts so many vacationing A-listers that there’s now a Hollywood bus tour.
Stops include the hotel where George Bush stayed (it’s also a popular spot for international summits), the beach where Naomi Campbell was caught sunbathing nude, the bar where Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack drank martinis and the chic just-down-the-road village of La Barra where Ralph Lauren paid $12,000 a day to rent a villa. Oh, yeah, and did I mention there’s a section of town called Beverly Hills.
With 20 miles of beaches, three casinos, all-night discos, a popular yacht harbor (others prefer to fly into the helipad) and Calle 20 where designer-brand stores are as ubiquitous as pizza joints, this ultra-chic peninsula at the mouth of the Rio del la Plata has long been an exclusive getaway for well-heeled South Americans.
But then in the 60’s, the Rat Pack showed up, high-rise hotels and international attention followed and this once-sleepy fishing village became the “it” spot for such luminaries as Robert DeNiro, Princess Di and Fergie, Pablo Neruda and Leonard DiCaprio. Even happily-married Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon have been known to slip away to this glittery Latin American outpost for a bit of sunbathing, shopping and snogging.
When not partying hearty, Punta del Este’s holiday crowd amuses itself shark-fishing, surfing and oogling the 200,000 southern fur seals on nearby Isla de Lobos.
Another popular spot is Casapueblo, a whale-watching promontory outside of town where Uruguayan painter, sculptor, musician and all-around artistic treasure Carlo Paez Vilaro built a home and studio. It’s open to the public with a museum, hotel and a fascinating homage to what Vilaro calls “his personal war against the right angle.”
Also unique in Punte del Este are street signs sponsored by Visa, official parades of bikini-wearing models and restaurants serving seaweed omelettes.
But the most glamorous of all, if you can score it, is an invitation to power-boat racer Laith Pharaon’s annual end-of-the year bash. Held at Estancia El Noor, a rustic 280-acre property near La Barra, the party draws film stars, fashionistas, the world’s best DJ’s and other party people
Starting December 23 and continuing through Easter, Punta Del Este features 25 hours a day of shameless, shallow and tremendous fun.