On the west side, a thriving tourist and expat hot spot with sky-high real estate prices. On the east side, an unspoiled coast that’s under the radar, with much lower property prices.
The west side is the Punta del Este area in Uruguay. The east side is the Rocha coast.
All that separates them is a lagoon.
Punta del Este is Uruguay’s most prominent, glamorous and developed seaside resort. It attracts the glitterati – movie stars, models, artists, wealthy businessmen and rich playboys. In high season Punta’s beaches are packed and the restaurants and cafes buzzing. It’s almost impossible to find a hotel room or rental property. And if you get lucky, the rental rates will drain your bank balance.
Punta’s popularity spilled over into neighboring towns and villages. A wave of upscale development spread to the tiny seashore town of La Barra and the quaint fishing village of Jose Ignacio. They’re now home to multi-million dollar houses, fancy restaurants and stores selling expensive gilded Buddhas and shabby-chic furniture with serious price tags.
Three miles beyond Jose Ignacio, it all stops – along with the road – at Laguna Garzon. A creaking ferry winches four cars at a time across the lagoon. You can drive around the lagoon, but that adds another 30 minutes to your trip.
It is worth the effort though. Uruguay’s final frontier is a beguiling mix of cream-colored soft-sand beaches, nature reserves, lagoons, tiny beach towns and fishing villages that runs to the border with Brazil. The beaches here are the best in Uruguay. This place is laid-back, untamed, undeveloped – and very good value.
A bridge across Laguna Garzon would open the Rocha coastline up to tourism, development and business. But proposals for a bridge across the lagoon proved controversial. Much of Rocha is as nature intended. Parts of it are protected (including one reserve that covers 494,000 acres of wetlands, lake, grasslands, forests and rare palms). Environmental pressure groups argue that it should stay that way. But many locals want improved access.
An innovative new bridge design unveiled last month looks like a promising solution. It’s a series of floating bridge sections that can change shape from season to season. It would cost $3.8 million and take 8 months to build.
If it gets the go-ahead, the bridge should kick-start development in Rocha in the same way that the bridge over the lake at Jose Ignacio kick-started development there 40 years ago. I’ll keep you updated on this story as it unfolds.
For now, you can still snap up low-priced lots in Rocha. Only a half-mile from Laguna de Rocha you’ll find La Serena Golf. Last I checked I saw Lot prices start from only $32,900.
This relaxed country community offers lots from a half-acre to three-quarters of an acre in size. La Serena Golf sits on a slightly elevated site, sloping down to a gorgeous beach. Some lots offer views of the deep-blue ocean. The community amenities will include a nine-hole golf course, a putting green and tennis courts.