I recently moved to Punta del Este. While I’m going to be based in the UK a good part of the year too, I feel very at home here. Most importantly I feel safe. For me, Punta del Este is very safe.
Last year I attempted to move to Quito, Ecuador, but I didn’t feel at all safe. I know people who love Quito and feel safe there, but I didn’t. So for reasons of security alone, I switched and moved to Punta del Este, Uruguay instead.
You can throw security statistics at me as much as you like but the truth is, safety is a feeling. I feel safe here in Punta.
I feel safe here in Punta
Why is Punta safe?
While Uruguay is pretty safe, Punta del Este feels especially safe. Clearly, Punta is not Uruguay. In this sense, Punta feels like an island, away from the (relative) grit of Montevideo.
From what I hear, Punta survives on tourism. It feeds of the crazy few months in the summer season, where foreigners, mostly Argentineans, flood in for a relaxing holidays. Safety is super important here. If it didn’t feel safe, holidaymakers would go elsewhere. The city thrives off tourism. Foreigners are welcome, and made to feel as safe as possible.
That’s not to say it’s a crime-free zone. Crime does exist, but it’s not the same violent crime that much of South America is (unfairly?) reputed for.
Safe for families
I’m a mother of three small children. I’m responsible not only for my own safety, but also for theirs. As a mum, I feel confident with my kids here in Punta del Este. If they run off when I’m at the beach I don’t panic. Of course I’m cautious, but the truth is I feel very relaxed with my kids in tow here.
It’s common to see older kids alone cycling to school, walking in the street, or hanging out without their parents at the beach.
I know a lot of people who moved here to work remotely, precisely because they feel safer as a family, and can lead a more stable life.
Solo woman security
As a woman I feel pretty safe alone too. I wouldn’t wander around at night, not would I anywhere. I drove out of town at night to a karate lesson, whereas in Santiago de Chile I would have probably organised an Uber.
I also felt absolutely safe when my husband left me alone to travel. I have been living in an apartment with a concierge though, so undoubtedly that helped.
I feel as safe here in Punta as I do in my hometown in the UK.
Compared to other places where I’ve received unwanted attention, in Punta I have never been touched inappropriately, cat called, shouted at or anything similar.
However, of course, nowhere is 100% safe for women.
I feel as safe in Punta as I do in the UK.
Tis the season
I’m told burglaries are more common in the summer months, when holidaymakers flock to Punta’s pristine beaches, bringing their cash and leaving their sense of caution.
Opportunists might take advantage of a door left open to grab whatever they can. More careful planners might spot when there are no cars parked in the garage way to try their luck.
A friend’s home was robbed while she went out for pizza. While she lost some expensive kit, again it wasn’t the type of violent crime she’d experienced in other parts of the world.
I’ve heard about people being robbed the day they move in, too. The bad guys spot the removal truck, see the owners leaving for pizza at night and grab the opportunity.
Another tell tale sign is leaving boxes, especially boxes for high ticket electronics in the rubbish. (Best to pack them up in the home and take them to recycle elsewhere).
Houses vs apartments
Call me over cautious, but for safety alone, I prefer to rent an apartment. While I’d love my own garden, apartments are much safer than houses. With an apartment it’s generally safer to leave for a holiday and not expect trouble on your return. Meanwhile if you have a house, you’re going to need a housekeeper to keep a close eye on your property.
Again, these are precautions that most friends of mine would follow in the UK.
And again, while it’s not the violent type of crime that really scares me, I still get upset at the thought of people trying to break in.
Apartments have cameras installed, but checks are pretty lax. I think it’s more that it’s harder for opportunists to sneak into apartments.
Individual houses come with alarms, window shutters. some with cameras, but I haven’t seen any with electric fences or guards like in other places I’ve lived. Neighbourhood groups are strong to deter crime as much as possible. Among my friends, most seem to live in houses for the size factor alone (apartments are of course smaller).
Homes in gated communities are hard to find, but no doubt safer than individual houses.
Gated communities are rare, probably because crime isn’t such an issue as it is in other parts of the world.
However, they’re not completely crime free either. I’ve heard of break ins within gated communities. This may be because the community is so big that there is no adequate fence (some communities, or ‘barrios privados’ are absolutely huge, with their own lakes, parks and fields..). Or it may be because the community itself isn’t well secured.
And gated condominiums vary. Some are huge, with security guards patrolling at night, others come with barbed wire fenced walls and cameras… while others come with an entrance and a friendly face.
Less flash cash
Punta is oft billed at the Monaco or St Tropez of South America. Before I moved here I had visions of people cruising from Ferrari to yacht to private member’s club. The truth is though, that Punta is pretty modest, or at least discreet.
Of course, I know there is immense wealth here in Punta, but the vibe is barefoot chic. It’s less ballgown, more ripped jeans.
On paper there is a huge discrepancy in wealth. While there is a relatively good social welfare system in place, I’m aware that getting by is still tough for many. I don’t have an array of flashy designer goods, but even if I did, Punta wouldn’t feel like the place to flaunt them.
Unlike other places I’ve lived, I feel comfortable walking with a bag. I chat on my phone outdoors. I walk in the street with my kids. I drive at night, and alone, too.
Non crime dangers
I always think about crime when I think about safety, but perhaps with Punta it’s more about beach side safety.
My kids nearly got swallowed up in a wave, for example. There are two sides to Punta’s beaches – La Brava and La Mansa.
La Mansa is generally calmer, and better for kids, while La Brava enjoys choppier waves, so it’s great for surfers. Of course you can take your kids to paddle anywhere, but if you have adventurous kids like mine, this might be something to bear in mind.
Honestly, though, I’m really scraping the barrel to think of dangers.
Safe and sound
The majority of the crime I’ve heard about involves house robberies when the owners are out. I don’t want to give a false sense of security and invite you to throw away all caution. Please don’t let this be an invitation to let your guard down. Use common sense.
However, if like me, you’re toying with the idea of moving or travelling here, hopefully this reassures you.
Some say Punta is fake, manicured or boring. I disagree, but I think most people agree that all in all, Punta feels safe.
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