Bridget Gleeson writer + illustrator

Ringing in the New Year, Punta del Este-style

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We toasted the end of 2011 with heart-stopping steak sandwiches and wild fireworks on the sand.

I’ll admit it – I’ve never been into the idea of Punta del Este. And considering my initial impressions of the Uruguayan resort town, it’s no wonder. During my first summer in Buenos Aires, everyone was talking about ‘Punta’ – several of the city’s most famous restaurants and nightclubs were decamping there for the season, Tara Reid was filming some kind of ‘Party On…’ episode there, the newsstands’ magazines were splashed with pictures of multimillion-dollar yachts, all-white cocktail parties and Argentinian celebrities.

I remember staring at the image of a smug-looking 60-something business entrepreneur standing on the red carpet of a Punta nightclub, posing for photos while surrounded by smiling teenage girls from local modeling agencies.

Not my idea of a relaxing beach getaway, needless to say.

But then when I visited Punta for the first time back in 2007, I couldn’t deny the natural beauty of the peninsula and its white sandy coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and Rio de la Plata. Not that I was entirely sold – the jet set scene just isn’t my thing. I hadn’t been back until this year, when my family decided to spend Christmas and New Years in Uruguay.

We had a surprisingly mellow time staying right in the middle of things. That’s partly because, as I heard some say, that the beautiful people and all-white parties and nightlife have moved out to Jose Ignacio and La Barra in the past few years. And it’s partly because my Argentinian brother-in-law, who spent every summer of his childhood in Punta del Este, introduced us to some of the peninsula’s more classic charms.

Early morning swim on the mansa (river) beach + sundress vendors taking a break

Peninsula overview with Bike Tours Uruguay and fishing on quiet Gorriti island

Sunset happy hour at Cumbres Art + Spa

Frozen lemonade on the brava (ocean) beach and ridiculous completo sandwiches in Maldonado

The last sunset of 2011 + hiking around the caves of Las Grutas

New Years Eve fireworks spectacular

I saw one guy nearly light his pants on fire while trying to set off the display on the left. Then he drank half a bottle of champagne in one thirsty gulp.

Forget red carpets and pretentious parties. The Brazilian guys setting off their own fireworks, the families having midnight picnics on the beach, everyone celebrating another new year under the palm trees – this scene was much more my style.

Feliz 2012 desde Uruguay!