A hop, skip, and jump to Colonia del Sacramento (Uruguay)
One of the highlights was our daytrip to Uruguay, when we took the boat from Buenos Aires across the Rio de la Plata to Colonia del Sacramento. I think Alex was secretly pleased to get yet another stamp in his passport, and I was looking forward to seeing some older, colonial-era buildings.
Although I do love boats and boat trips, this was a high-speed catamaran, where you couldn’t go outside because of the speed. In many ways it felt like an hour-long flight (I slept most of the way). The most adventurous part of the outward bound trip was before we even got to the boat, however. We had decided to stop off an see an old bookstore before catching the ferry, and because of that we decided to take a taxi rather than get back on the subway. We (foolishly) thought it would be faster. Little did we know! We spent more than an hour in the car, and traveled little more than a mile. At several points I wanted to jump out of the car and run ahead, through the traffic, and find a different taxi farther along! We were getting quite nervous about missing our boat, but ultimately we made it with minutes to spare. It was definitely the worst traffic I’ve ever seen – anyone in New York or Los Angeles who complains has nothing on Buenos Aires!
Once we arrived in Uruguay we walked through the town, although there was a brief debate about whether we should rent a golf cart. Apparently it’s a popular thing for visitors to do – rent a golf cart for the day to explore the city. The rates were pretty cheap, around US$25, but I hadn’t brought my license with me so we decided to hoof it. (In hindsight, it would have been a nice thing to do, simply because we could have covered more ground.)
Colonia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so we had high expectations …. and we were not disappointed. In fact, it was overall one of our favorite experiences from the whole trip. Several times we lamented that we only had 1 day there – it seemed like the perfect place for an overnight stop.
Colonia was founded by the Portuguese in 1680, although it kept changing hands between Portugal and Spain. You can see the impact of both cultures on the city in the architecture and streets (the older, Portuguese section has streets that were built to follow the hilly ground, whereas later on the Spanish built wide, straight streets in a more modern fashion).
It’s hard to pick out the individual sights in Colonia, because the historic town works so well as a cohesive whole. The old lighthouse was stunning, partly because it incorporates the ruins of a 17th century convent (we were excited about going up to the top, but it was unfortunately closed for refurbishment).
My favorite sight was the Street of Sighs – a very narrow, cobblestone street with delightful little galleries and restaurants.
We stopped for a glass of wine in the evening in one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen. It was impossibly beautiful – we kept pinching ourselves that we weren’t in some fake Disneyland scenery, but it was real. And authentic in a way that many tourist-destinations have lost.
One of the hallmarks of the town are the old cars that have been left to decorate the streets. It seemed slightly touristy, but then we see the flowers and plants growing out of the engine compartment and it’s all so cute you forget that you’re being manipulated.
Lots of great restaurants and boutique hotels, but there are still abandoned buildings that make you wonder about the future of the town. If it weren’t for the tourists, I’m not sure Colonia would still be there.
We were sad to leave Colonia and head back to Buenos Aires, but all things must come to an end. We were quite tired by the time we got back to our hotel in Palermo (after another crazy taxi ride – this time by a madman who sped through all the lights!) We had an almost perfect day exploring this lovely old town, and I would highly recommend it.