LAPT Punta del Este: Monte Carlo in South America

"You'll like it," someone told us as we prepared to come to Uruguay. "It's very European."

We weren't sure what to make of the recommendation. When we last crossed the border into South America into Chile, we found an arid fishing community that looked like California--rolling green vineyards, desert mountains, and a pleasant, humble little community in Vina del Mar. It was fantastic, but not all that European.

Punta del Este, Uruguay is a different place. It's on the other side of the continent and could just as well be on the other side of the world.

The oceanside drive from Montevideo to Punta has rolling green hills speckled with cows. It's reminds an American boy of the Midwest. Pine forests line the roads like I-55 in the middle of Mississippi. Uruguay is beef country. Gone is Vina del Mar's ceviche menu. Here, it's steak. Pick a cut, they'll cook it. The menu is beef and sausage as far as the eye can see.

Punta is the elite's playground on the Atlantic Coast. It sits an hour and half away from the relative hustle and bustle of Montevideo. And just as Punta is a quiet enclave on the coast, the Mantra Resort and Casino is cloistered away in the Punta hills. Set away from the main business district, the Mantra sits on a low rise on Punta del Este's northern border.

It does remind a traveler a bit of the Monte Carlo coast. Here we find a certain reserved and ubiquitous glitz that we find in Monaco. The prices are big, the money old, and the taste for the good life everywhere. We may not have seen Bentleys on the streets, but we're willing to accept that we have found South America's destination for those of the big wallet.

Elsewhere on the property, the hotel hallways have pictures of Che Guevara alongside photos of Richard Nixon. And the bathrooms have bidets. Draw your own conclusions, but we find this to be a very interesting place.


Of course, we're here for more than the South American equivalent of Monte Carlo. We're even here for more than the beef and solitude. We've come to town for the second to last stop of the Latin American Poker Tour's second season. Last season, Jose Miguel Espinar defeated a record field of 351 players to win the top prize of $241,735. Now, an entirely new crowd is here in search of a new title.

More than 120 players won their Uruguay seats after qualifying on PokerStars. They are now at this exclusive resort with such notable Team PokerStars Pros as Andre Akkari, Humberto Brenes, Dennis Phillips, Greg Raymer, and Victor Ramdin.

Tonight, the players will head down to the beach for one of PokerStars' signature welcome parties. Then, after they have fully digested the beef and beer, they will return to the Mantra Casino for Day 1 of the LAPT Punta del Este event.

We will join them for all of it and report the news accordingly. The live portion of our blogging will resume at noon local time (Eastern Time plus one hour) on Wednesday and continue until Friday when we crown the champion.

Join us here for all the action. The way we see it, if you can't make it here for the beef, we can at least tell you what it tastes like. That's just the kind of people we are.