Chic Jose Ignacio
Heading east along the coast, Jose Ignacio is the last town on the ocean in the state of Maldonado. Formerly a tiny fisher-men village, Jose Ignacio has already been called by the New York Times, “chic but not famous.” It has become one of the most exclusive destinations in South America, chosen by millionaires who buy properties here, and is frequently visited by tourists that will spend the day.
Quiet and sophisticated, this town combines shabby-chic and the charm of its beaches with the centennial lighthouse, summer farms and large mansions on dirt roads. It is a luxury town of 36 blocks that does not lose even for a second its identity of quiet rural town overturned on the sea.
While there is less commerce than in Punta del Este and a much more low-key lifestyle, in the last ten years, José Ignacio has become one of the most desirable destinations within Latin America, visited by the international jet-set.
José Ignacio still appeals to the more bohemian with its informal atmosphere of dirt roads, hand-painted street signs named after birds, mom-and-pop boutiques and bed-and-breakfasts.
A typical day includes casual lunches at 3 p.m., late afternoon sunbathing at the beach — watching the sunset with a cocktail and listening to DJ’s music, midnight dinners al fresco, and parties late into the night.
José Ignacio is located at kilometer 183 of route 10, about 20 minutes from La Barra and before Laguna Garzón.
History of the Town
The origin of the name José Ignacio comes from a former resident of the area who lived there in the colonial era. Already in 1763, there was a house in the town that bore that name. Back in 1877, a lighthouse was erected on a rocky peninsula, because of the numerous shipwrecks that occurred in the area. Like the one in Punta del Este, it was built with volcanic earth brought from Europe of great strength and quality that makes the tower preserve its excellent condition. For much of the twentieth century, the area remained mostly uninhabited except for a small group of wealthy families from Montevideo and Buenos Aires, who began summering there in the 1970s. Their Mediterranean style homes were built at the ocean. However, already in 1907, the first land subdivisions were made, and in 1920 the first houses were built. This was the start of becoming a fishing village and until the decade of the 80s has not exceeded 60 permanent inhabitants. In 1980 real estate and tourism development began, although they still did not have services such as electricity and water.
Here is an excellent article in the Real estate Magazine Global Mansions about Jose Ignacio being the new Hamptons.
Like Punta del Este, Jose Ignacio has two main beaches: La Mansa and La Brava.
The Mansa is located to the west, more protected by the peninsula with calmer waters inviting for a swim and is adorned by fishermen’s boats. This beach is famous for watching the sunset at one of the beach bars La Susana or La Choza Beach Bar.
La Susana, belonging to the Bahia Vik Hotel, works well as a restaurant and has a bar where you can have drinks made with house vodkas, such as caipiroskas or vodka tonics. La Susana is only open during the high season for lunch, and so is La Choza who is part of the Posada del Faro Boutique Hotel. The Brava opens to the east of the town with a wider beach and with a rougher sea of powerful waves. It is the one chosen by surf lovers. This beach begins a series of vast and unpopulated beaches that reach Laguna Garzón. Having lunch or dinner at the famous restaurant La Huella at the end of town on the Brava beach is a must. This institution helped to put Jose Ignacio on the map.
The vast majority of visitors will spend the day in Jose Ignacio. The charm of José Ignacio with its preserved peaceful atmosphere invites without a doubt to walk its streets on foot or by bicycle and to discover its architecture, which ranges from colorful houses to large mansions of modern or more traditional style. Another option is to visit the José Ignacio Lighthouse.
Although Jose Ignacio lacks large shopping centers, you can find small shops as exclusive as the Sensation du Temps Jewelry, dedicated to luxury jewelry and fine watchmaking or the fashion boutique El Canuto by Playa Vik Hotel selling handmade ponchos done by locals. Another attractive store is Sentido, who sells all different type of items from candles to household gifts. Mutate across from Jose Ignacio’s picturesque main square, is the perhaps most fashionable boutique. Owners Santiago Barriola and Gonzalo Massa offer men’s and women’s clothing, Mid Century Modern furnishings, vintage design objects, jewelry, and other accessories. An intimate coffeehouse and bar in front of the store are furnished in classic Scandinavian modern. Surfin is a new surfer shop in town which serves a good coffee and croissant. There are many other small boutiques and art galleries to visit strolling along different streets.
Jose Ignacio Restaurants
A bit outside of town in Arenas Jose Ignacio, are some hot-buzzing restaurants like Marismo, Namm and Sarava, all hidden down a winding, dusty road, surrounded by pine, eucalyptus trees, and acacias.
Marismo is known for their slow-cooked lamb and outdoor seating with candle lights and fires in the sand. One of the area’s trendiest eateries, Marismo offers a bar and open-air dining room with a sand floor that’s often standing-room-only in January high-season. No tablecloths or crystal stemware, but a well-worn wood bar is lined by knotty pine chairs. By night the upscale vibe intensifies with live DJs or musicians spinning sexy music while bonfires roar. Locals order-up carafes of Rose and white Sparkling Wine.
Namm, which serves sushi and grilled meats, is located in a romantic wood hut with candle lanterns. Namm and Marismo just got a new lounge neighbor called Sarava. A short distance from Marismo is Sarava. This tiki-themed restaurant with a big fireplace in the middle and benches inviting to lounge has become a hot late-night stop for some excitement and nightlife and offers delicious food.
La Huella, directly on the beach, is the coolest and by far best-known restaurant in Jose Ignacio. A favored hangout for actors, models, wealthy business folks, or wannabe celebrities. Located along the entrance to Brava Beach, this lively place operates as a restaurant for most of the day. Its open-air architecture offers a daytime gathering point and shade for surfers and beach-goers. By night, La Huella comes alive and takes on another identity after 10 pm. Light groove music fuels a seductive crowd of semi-singles congregating within the inside bar or on the patio and beach. The bar makes an excellent version of the caipirinha as well as a great fruit daiquiri, accompanied by a platter of sushi or appetizers from the adjacent restaurant’s clay oven. The famous Lacoste party at La Huella starts the high season. But even during the offseason, it’s a hot spot on the weekends with its Mediterranean inspired menu.
Solera Bar de Tapas y Vinos is the latest hangout for locals and tourists and has become a new in-place. Located behind the Ancap gas station, this place offers excellent wines from different countries and regions served with different cheeses and tapas.
Some other good restaurant places notable to mention in and around Jose Ignacio are Santa Teresita, Juana, and La Olada. Check out our Restaurant Recommendations in Jose Ignacio.
There are no nightclubs in Jose Ignacio, and parties take either place at one of the beach bars with live music or famous DJ’s who inspire to dance or in private homes.
Jose Ignacio Hotels
Playa Vik, a modern icon, is located on the Mansa beach within the town, owned by Alex and Carrie Vik and designed by famous Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott. The hotel offers six guest houses whose grass rooftops are a distinct design element. Within the modern eco-friendly main house with lots of glass and titanium are several contemporary Latin American artists featured. Estancia Vik, located north of town in a rural country setting, offers an equestrian experience with its own polo field. The latest addition is the Bahia Vik Hotel situated directly on the Mansa beach at the entrance of Jose Ignacio with their own beach restaurant La Susana.
The luxury Bahia Vik hotel with its 25,000-square-foot beachfront lodge, ten rental villas, and 40 residences opened in 2014. Bahia Vik’s restaurant La Susana is frequented by celebrities.
Another boutique hotel, Casa Suaya, is a secluded hotel facing the Atlantic with 16 stone-wall suites and three thatched-roof bungalows. The onsite restaurant Butiá is overlooking the pool and offers sea views.
Posada del Faro offers Mediterranean-style rooms surrounding a small pool that faces the beautiful José Ignacio Mansa bay.
Currently under construction is Casagrande, a new Condo/Hotel concept and the first of its kind in the Jose Ignacio area. It is planned to open in 2020/2021.
Different galleries offer modern and contemporary art in town. One of them is Galerie de las Misiones, and another one is Gallery Las Caracoles who exhibits local artists, some with nationwide recognition.
José Ignacio has the geographical privilege of being located very close to two lagoons that give the visitor their natural wealth and beauty. José Ignacio Lagoon is located a couple of kilometers from the beach to the west. It is easily visible as route 10 passes by when driving to town. It is an ideal destination to spend an afternoon with the family. You can also practice bird watching, admire a large number of wild varieties, or try a little kite surfing offered by kite surfing schools. Garzón Lagoon is located 6 km east of José Ignacio. The newly designed round bridge connects now Maldonado with the Rocha area along the ocean. It is a natural place wrapped in complete calm, surrounded by meadows, in its waters you can see the craft fishing boats. Also there you can do kite surfing, or enjoy a nice picnic. Faro José Ignacio, the lighthouse, is undoubtedly the classic postcard of the town that dominates the coast. It is possible to visit it and climb 32 meters to the top. It was declared a National Historical Heritage in 1970. It has 150 steps, which should not be taken lightly. There is a rope to help you climb and watch out for the wind when you reach the top.
Additionally, offerings in the area include water skiing on a lake, kiting and surfing on the lagoons and horseback riding on the beach. Once a year there is an international film festival, and a yearly food and wine event have become a big attraction.
New Real Estate Projects
Boomtown growth is apparent just a few minutes from town where Laguna Escondida, a 200-unit lakefront resort was designed and built by Florida real estate mogul Jorge Perez.
Jose Ignacio also offers gated communities like Pinar del Faro, Club del Mar or more open Village del Faro where every year new homes are being built. We should also name the most recent Projects Casa Grande, Petanque, Anastasio.
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