The city is located on the intersection of Route 10 with Route 39, southeast of the department capital Maldonado and about 140 kilometres (87 mi) east of Montevideo.
The first Europeans to set foot in what is now Punta del Este were the Spanish at the beginning of the 16th century. However, the colonization of the area actually began around Maldonado at the end of the 18th century due to Portuguese expansionism. Punta del Este and its surroundings (Maldonado and Punta Ballena) at the end of the 19th century were kilometers of sand and dunes, but in 1896 Antonio Lussich bought 4,447 acres (1,800 ha) of uninhabited land and there he started a botanical garden, Arboretum Lussich, and planted trees and plants from all over the world. Later the trees started to spread on their own, and now the area is full of mostly Pines, Eucalyptus, Acacias and various species of bushes.
On 5 July 1907, it was declared a "Pueblo" (village) by Act of Ley 3.186. Its status was elevated to "Ciudad" (city) on 2 July 1957 by the Act of Ley Nº 12.397.
Punta del Este hosted an American Summit in 1967 attended by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. In September 1986, Punta del Este played host to the start of the Uruguay Round of international trade negotiations. These negotiations ultimately led to the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1994.
In 2011 Punta del Este had a population of 9,277 and 23,954 households and apartments. According to the Intendencia Departamental de Maldonado, the municipality of Punta del Este has an area of 48 km2 (19 sq mi) and a population of 15,000.
Source: Instituto Nacional de Estadística de Uruguay
Argentines, Brazilians and Europeans are gradually choosing Punta del Este as their permanent residence. Some of the reasons are peace in the midst of nature and increasing educational offerings.
Punta del Este has a mild oceanic climate (Cfb, according to the Köppen climate classification), with pleasant summers and cool winters. The precipitation is evenly distributed throughout the year, with an average of 1,010 mm (40 in). The hottest month, February, has an average temperature of 21.7 °C (71.1 °F), and the coldest month, July, has an average of 11.5 °C (52.7 °F). The average yearly temperature is 16.4 °C (61.5 °F).
Punta del Este's scenic coastline is divided in two regions: Brava (Spanish for "fierce") and Mansa (Spanish for "tame"). The limit between the two marks the end of the Río de la Plata and the beginning of the Atlantic Ocean, and split is signaled by the Mano de Punta del Este, which the sculptor designed to warn swimmers about the danger of rough waves. Beaches on the Mansa side feature thick and golden sand, while on the Brava side the sand is white and fine. Every beach of the peninsula has public access.
La Barra is popular for nautical sports and fishing during the day. At later hours, La Barra becomes a central attraction for the younger generation. Starting from the end of December through to the second week of January, this location becomes a place for the local people as well as tourists to gather at the night life festivities. Other areas include the resort of El Tesoro, Montoya beach, Bikini beach and Manantiales beach. These beaches are a favourite spot for younger people as well as for many celebrities from both Uruguay and Argentina.
Once abundant, southern right whales are re-colonizing in the area, which helped create a whale sanctuary off Latin America, whose establishment had been prevented for near a decade by whaling nations like Japan. Unlike the majority of Uruguayan coasts, appearances of orcas have been documented in the area; most notably around Isla de Lobos.
The city has much colonial architecture contrasting with more modern buildings. Nowadays it has a scenic shore, typical resort houses, modern buildings, a port with mooring capacity, department stores, restaurants, and pubs. There are several large houses, and gardens lined with plants.
Punta del Este is home to the only Conrad Hotel in South America, also famous for its casino.
Gorlero Avenue, the main avenue of Punta del Este has commercial galleries, restaurants, cinemas, casinos, shops.
Artigas square, over Gorlero Ave is the place where there is a popular handicraft market.
This icon of Punta del Este is an artwork by the Uruguayan painter and sculptor Carlos Páez Vilaró. It sits atop Punta Ballena, as one of the main attractions of the peninsula. The artist began working on the project in 1958, and took 36 years to be completed.
It is universally considered as a “living sculpture”. Inside this masterpiece there are many rooms facing the sea. It also boasts sculptures, paintings and ceramics made by its creator. During the summer season there are sunset classical music concerts. It is possible to view the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean and the sunset over the Río de la Plata in Punta Ballena.
One of the leading artistic institutions of Uruguay, the Fundación Pablo Atchugarry (Pablo Atchugarry Foundation) is dedicated to the promotion of arts and culture in Punta del Este. The foundation was created in 2007 by international sculpture artist Pablo Atchugarry, with the aim to keep a dialogue between art and nature. During the summer season (December to February) the foundation proposes a series of exhibitions and events such as concerts of lyrical to popular music, ballet representations and more. Once a year, the institution present an iconic exhibition from a major artist or collection. Over the past five years, the works of František Kupka, Le Corbusier, Collection MACBA, José Gurvich and Pablo Atchugarry have been exhibited in the main building. The premises of the institution are composed of the sculptor’s workshop, a building with three exposition rooms, an auditorium, an open-air stage for a variety of shows, a restaurant, a didactic room where sculpture, painting, drawing and ceramic classes are held, and a last space which holds the permanent collection and the work of the founder. A 30-hectare sculpture park surrounds the compound.
The lighthouse is 45 metres tall, and the crystal panels which are part of its illumination system were brought from France. It works by electricity, with acetylene gas as emergency backup. It is possible to climb the 150 steps of its spiral staircase.
This island of 21 hectares of surface is daily visited to enjoy its two beaches: Garden Port and Honda beach. It consists of a natural port, with ships anchoring close to it, and it also became a popular area to practice water sports.
The city is served by Capitán de Corbeta Carlos A. Curbelo International Airport, being the second most important of Uruguay, located near Laguna del Sauce on the outskirts of the city. This modern airport opened in 1996. It offers domestic and international flights within the region.
Punta del Este can be reached from Buenos Aires by ferryboat to Montevideo (the capital city), 140 km (87 mi) from Punta del Este, and then by car or bus.
Most international flights land at Carrasco International Airport around 115 km (71 mi) from Punta del Este. The bus companies Copsa and Cot connect the airport with Punta del Este, and are there are several private taxi and remise services available.
Also in the area is El Jagüel airport, which is very close to Punta del Este and Maldonado; decades ago it used to be its only international airport, now it is only used by small-sized private aircraft.
Punta del Este has numerous temples:
Among several sports, particularly motorsports, is highlighted the 2014 Punta del Este ePrix, third round of the Formula E championship and opening date of the category in the Americas. The street circuit of 2.8 kilometers of longitude, it runs along Punta del Este's harbour – nicknamed the Monte Carlo of South America.
There is also the traditional Punta Del Este Sevens, a rugby competition that takes place in January since 1989.