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 a holiday destination. Aside from the appeal of its beaches, climate and nightlife, Punta del Este has always drawn affluent South Americans. Now a small city, it has a growing number of high-rise apartment buildings downtown. As a result, those in search of tranquility have been moving north along the coast or inland to the lush grasslands of gaucho country. The beach town of José Ignacio has emerged as a discreetly glamorous destination. A simple, sand-in-your-shoes kind of place where everyone gets around on bicycles, it is a complete contrast to the Miami Beach-like vibe of nearby Punta del Este.

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