My second time around in Buenos Aires, having ticked most of the tourist boxes successfully on my first visit, I found myself with some time to explore the surrounding areas. I visited Tigre for the day on one occasion, and on another I thought, “Well, why not be a bit cheeky and add Uruguay to the list of countries I’ve visited?” after all, it is only across the river (the mighty Rio de la Plata).
The two most famous destinations are the capital, Montevideo, and THE beach, Punta del Este; instead, I chose the old (since the 1680s), small city (less than 30,000 people) of Colonia del Sacramento. The barrio historico (historic district) is a UNESCO designated world heritage site. I have visited a few of these protected colonial historic districts in Latin America, such as Old Havana, Pelourinho in Salvador, Cartagena in Colombia, Sao Luis in the north of Brazil, the Centro Historico in Quito, etc., but Colonia’s rivals the best of these in terms of how well it has been preserved.
I took a ferry over from Buenos Aires (there are several companies that offer the regular trip), electing to go with an express boat, which took about an hour. From the ferry dock it is a bit of a walk through the newer part of town to the historic district. I chose to go on a weekday, and I believe this is the way to go because I enjoyed a beautiful fall day in an almost empty colonial town. Weekenders from the two big capitals nearby flock here for a bit of a day trip escape so it can get busy during those times.
The Portuguese founded this place in 1680 until it changed hands permanently to the Spanish in the mid-1700s. The Portuguese influence is evident in the street signs and way the smaller houses are laid out among the cobblestones. With the bougainvilleas in full bloom everywhere against weathered, brightly-hued walls, I could picture myself in a side street of Lisbon at certain times.
As in most colonial towns, you’ll find a cathedral and a central square nearby. There are shops and museums to explore, and sidewalk cafes set out among the cobblestone streets. Sadly, I don’t have a lunch recommendation for you. I had a bad experience with my meal and got quite sick afterwards (this almost never happens to me when I travel these days so it was a rare situation caused by “not-fresh” fish), so I would love to hear your experiences if you have been or go in the future. There is also a lighthouse offering views of the entire area and the river mouth region of the Rio de la Plata before it dumps into the Atlantic. The small fee is well worth it for the views.
Havana is famous for its classic cars, but Colonia isn’t without them as well, although they ironically are not as well preserved as the well-maintained (with non-original, non-American parts), flashy types you see in Cuba. But more than anything, when I look back on my day there, I wish I had rented a moped–not that it is necessary. You can easily cover all you need to see on foot. But there was something just so cool about these mopeds just parked alone, never in groups (nothing like in Southeast Asia here), under the shadows of a tree in autumn glory. My trip to Uruguay began with a bit of an ulterior motive to add a feather to my cap, a country to my tally, but it turned out to be a very much worthwhile adventure, and one I would highly recommend to anyone.
Please join me for a slideshow:
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