A Florida-size nation of forests and pampas, Uruguay has contrived to avoid the boom-and-bust cycles of its neighbors so successfully that it has become known as the Switzerland of South America. Uruguay thrived during the 19th century as immigrants from Europe arrived to work in its meatpacking industry. Now, with a vast, empty interior, plus a long coastline similar to the dune-edged shore of Cape Cod, the country is attracting major new international investment as a holiday destination. Aside from the appeal of its beaches, climate and nightlife, Punta del Este has always drawn affluent South Americans, because Uruguay allows nonresidents to hold offshore accounts in U.S. dollars — insurance against periodic economic crises and the roller-coaster values of the Argentine peso and Brazilian real — and to buy dollar-denominated real estate. A stylish but quiet place in the ’40s and ’50s, Punta del Este has become a small city, with a growing number of high-rise apartment buildings downtown. As a result, those in search of tranquility have been moving north along the coast to La Barra and José Ignacio or inland to the lush grasslands of gaucho country. 

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