Uruguay may be one of South America’s smaller nations, but everything’s bigger in Punta del Este, the buzzing beach city that’s often compared to St. Tropez or Miami. In “Punta,” a summertime hangout for models, actors, and celebrities, as well as wealthy beach-goers from Buenos Aires, rows of condo and hotel towers line the boulevards, the golden beaches seem to go on for miles, and a sculpture of a giant, much-larger-than-life-sized hand rises out of the sand on Playa Brava.
Casa Zinc, an upscale six-room inn in Punta’s La Barra district, is an exception to this “bigger is better” aesthetic. It’s small and homey, decorated in a distinctive shabby-chic style — the sort of place you’d want your best friend to have as a summer home.
My husband Alan and I spent a couple of nights at this lovely little inn in December. Here’s the scoop:
Location and Facilities
Casa Zinc is located on a residential street, one block from Route 10, the coastal road that heads west into Punta proper and east to the more distant beach communities. Shaded by a row of trees, the building’s front facade is clad in industrial zinc panels. The structure itself is brick, and guests enter through a barn-style door into a spacious courtyard.
In the courtyard, guests can sit under the trees. The high walls make it feel like you’re secreted away from the world.
Guest Rooms and Amenities
The six rooms at Casa Zinc are all furnished differently, though all have a quirky mix of old and new. We stayed in one of the “standard” rooms, which, at 248 square feet (23 square meters), are the smallest units. The nearly room-sized window overlooking the courtyard, screened by a large tree, helped give the space a more commodious feel.
Night tables with architect-style reading lamps flanked our queen-sized bed. In the bathroom, the claw-foot tub had a modern shower and a circular window which brought more light into the room.
The other rooms, ranging from 345 to 420 square feet (32-39 square meters), are named to reflect their designs. In the Back to School room, blackboards and drafting tools hang on the walls. The Biblioteca is furnished with book-lined shelves and leather club chairs, perfect for sitting and reading.
All rooms have minibars (stocked with local wine), safes, TVs, and air-conditioning. Also handy — a universal plug adapter to plug in your computer or other electronics.
Given Punta del Este’s reputation as a late-night party town, perhaps it’s not surprising that guests at Casa Zinc can roll downstairs for breakfast anytime between 8:30 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. And you don’t have to commit to a breakfast time in advance. Just take yourself down to the common area, and one of the staff will fix you something to eat. Our morning meal, which we did enjoy while it was still morning, included scrambled eggs, toast, jam, and freshly brewed coffee.
The common spaces are just as eclectically decorated as the guest rooms, with an old radio, design books, tattered magazines, and several globes scattered around. Two sitting areas, with the kitchen in between, are outfitted with communal wooden tables where guests can take breakfast separately or together, as you prefer. You can also have your breakfast out in the courtyard.
Besides the beaches, there are several restaurants and a grocery store within walking distance of Casa Zinc. The night we arrived, owner Aaron Hojman sent us to a fantastic local pizza joint, La Fusa, which he described as a “clandestine” restaurant. We never would have found this tiny spot, on a dark neighborhood lane, without his instructions.
Another day, we stopped for the freshly baked signature pastries at a nearby bakery, Medialunas Calentitas. The flaky croissant-like buns are served warm, brushed with sugar syrup.
Punta del Este is a two-hour drive east of Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital. La Barra, where Casa Zinc is located, is on Punta’s eastern side. Public buses stop nearby, and the inn has bicycles that are free for guests to use, but to really explore the area, it’s easiest if you have a car. Two cars can park in the inn’s driveway, and there’s ample free street parking.
If you’re coming from Buenos Aires, you can fly directly to Punta del Este. Otherwise, you can take a fast, two-hour ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, where you can rent a car or continue to Punta by bus.
A helpful English-language website for travel in Uruguay is Guruguay.com.
Rates at Casa Zinc, which include breakfast and Wi-Fi, vary with the seasons. From April through October, which is the off-season in Uruguay, double room rates are US$140-260, depending on the size of the room you choose. In the spring (November until Christmas) and late summer/early fall (February-March), nightly rates range from US$235-360. In January, which is the height of the summer season, expect rates from US$260-470; rates nearly double these high-season tariffs during the Christmas-New Year’s period. You can book online at the hotel website or use a booking site like Hotels.com or Expedia.
Despite Punta’s reputation as a party town, we found it to be pretty quiet in mid-December. Maybe it was still early in the season. But maybe we just don’t know enough models, actors, and celebrities who live large in this buzzing beach town.
Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller.