I asked a few jetsetter friends who have been down to Punta recently if they had hotel suggestions. One of them, a Paraguayan native named Joaquin (of course), gave me two ideas. One was to check out the Conrad Hotel and Casino, a Hilton property, hoping that the high prices and its membership in an international chain might make it more available.
No such luck. When I called to try to make a reservation, I was told the entire hotel was booked for weeks around New Year’s, and that in the future, it would be a good idea to reserve 6-8 months in advance! If I ever do get a reservation there, though, the rates start at a decent $240 though, so that was good news.
My friend’s second suggestion was a tiny family hotel called The Francia. Here’s where I got clever. Since I couldn't find a web site for the hotel, I Googled for the Francia in Punta del Este, hoping it would lead me to more information and other similar small hotels. That got me to a few different sites, some of them in Spanish, of hotels that you might not get if you just Google alone. Especially because several of the hotels on them don’t have web sites, so you have to make some good old-fashioned phone calls for reservations…and you have to do some extensive internet research to get pictures on some of them.
One useful site with plenty of hotels was this listing site, though you still have to do the heavy lifting yourself. You can get more help at Visit Uruguay, a site that lists not only all the major hotels in the country, but will also help you with reservations depending on your needs, though it can be a little hard to navigate, and you have to wait to hear back from them.
Another Google search I tried was to enter "hoteles" instead of "hotels" in Punta del Este, hoping that by using the Spanish, I would come across some options most tourists skip. Unfortunately, I got all the same results as with an English Google search.
One other option—and call me a Luddite—is just to call up the Uruguay Tourism Ministry and ask if they have suggestions or can help you. You never know what lengths a friendly public servant will go to to ensure that you tell all your American friends to come and visit Uruguay.
Finally, our reader might consider trying to rent an apartment from a reliable source like V.R.B.O., just be sure to take the normal precautions before handing over your financial information.
So, six weeks out from New Year’s, we came up empty in Punta Del Este, but with a little more time and a high-speed internet connection (or a good international calling plan), it might still be possible to find one last room for a southern beach vacation. Otherwise, start planning for 2011!
[Photo: ChrisGold/Jaunted Flickr Pool]