After Gramado we just wanted to cross the border to Uruguay. But it was too many km so we had to split the trip in two and we decided to stay in Rio Grande town (the initial plan was Pelotas but there were no nice hotels for a good price around). Additionally we needed to get the car insurance for Mercosul countries: "Carta Verde" (we are currently writing another post about this).
Since from Rio Grande to Pelotas took us less than one hour driving and both towns are relatively small, we had time to explore a little bit of each one, including the São Pedro Cathedral (Rio Grande), Alfandega building (Rio Grande), the Three Girls Fountain (Pelotas) and São Francisco Paula Cathedral (Pelotas). There aren't a lot of things to see so we wouldn't stop here if it was not for the reasons we pointed before. Anyway we liked the old colonial buildings (as you can see in the pictures below).
After leaving Rio Grande we drove across the Taim Ecological Station, a narrow land strip between the sea and Lagoa Mirim and where unfortunately several animals try to cross (the road is right in the middle of the natural reserve). We actually drove over a turtle but she stayed in the middle of the car so she was left unarmed. Due to its diverse ecosystems we saw many species of animals including turtles, capybaras, copyus and several kinds of birds.
We crossed the border at Chui (Brazil) to Chuí (Uruguay) and the procedures were relatively simple. First we went to the Brazilian immigration to get an exit stamp. Second we spent all the money we had in "reais" (Brazil local currency) in petrol and some stuff to eat and drink. Finally we went to the Uruguay immigration office to get the entry stamp. They also checked the car documents, including the international insurance we did in the day before ("Carta Verde").
It was almost lunch time so we decided to stop in Punta del Diablo (45 minutes by car) to have lunch close to the sea. Punta del Diablo is a small village with only 390 permanent inhabitants but in the summer population swells to approximately 25,000 (mostly Argentinians and Brazilians). We had a nice seafood lunch in a terrace outside and then we walk along the beach for a while.
From Punta del Diablo to Punta del Este (the place where we slept and one of the most famous places in Uruguay) it was a 2h30 drive. We arrived at Punta del Este in the middle of the afternoon which gave us time to enjoy the hotel pool for a while and going out to watch the sunset at the beach. We also had dinner in the docks and stopped to take pictures of The Hand, a sculpture emerging from the sand by the Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal.
Punta del Este is the most expensive place in Uruguay because it's THE place to see and be seen. The coastline is divided in two main regions: Brava and Mansa - the limit between the two marks the end of the Río de la Plata and the beginning of the Atlantic Ocean. The hand is precisely the sign that splits both sides. The beaches around are a favorite spot for celebrities (from Uruguay and Argentina).
Next stop: Montevideo (Uruguay)!