One of the great attractions of visiting a Latin American country is a rich legacy of beautiful colonial architecture, and Colonia del Sacramento on the banks of the Rio Plata in Uruguay is one of South America’s finest examples. Colonia del Sacramento is a small port town just an hour’s boat ride across the wide Rio Plata from Buenos Aires. It was this proximity that made it a bustling port in Portuguese controlled Uruguay during colonial times ideally located for smuggling goods in and out of Spanish-controlled Buenos Aires. What’s left today is an almost perfectly preserved old colonial town which is well worth a visit even if there are no longer any great savings on goods to be made.
In Ninfa’s old apartment, there were a couple of photos of Colonia and they looked so beautiful that we were really looking forward to visiting the place, and we put aside a day and half to do so. We arrived on a sunny and very hot afternoon by bus from Montevideo and made straight for the hotel where we spent the majority of the afternoon enjoying some sun and watching the locals cooling off in the very wide Rio Plata which separates Colonia and Buenos Aires. We’re not big on swimming in freshwater rivers, and the colour of the Rio Plata wasn’t going to do anything to change that, so we opted for a couple of cool showers before heading into the old town to see if Colonia was going to live up to expectations.As we strolled through the old cobbled streets and down to the waterfront, we were possibly most surprised at how quickly we had done that. First impressions were that Colonia is small! But usually great things come in small packages. The atmosphere in the old part of town is very laid back, with restaurants spreading their dining rooms onto the plazas and narrow streets. It seems that every corner we passed, we were greeted by either another beautiful, perfectly preserved street, or another beautiful, perfectly preserved vintage car. The highlight of Colonia del Sacramento is the Calle de los Suspiros, a short street of faded picturesque bungalows and the poorest laid cobble street in the world – watch your step! And if you’re lucky you’ll even be able to make out a line of matchstick figures on the horizon which are the only sign of Buenos Aires in this town, which aside from distance, feels miles away from Colonia del Sacramento. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset down by the waterfront watching the locals fishing with some success on the rocks below us. Strange then that as we perused the menus of the various restaurants which clutter on the plaza that we couldn’t find any local fish anywhere. Unfortunately, no doubt owing to its popular tourist success, it’s difficult to get anything good other than a great setting in the restaurants in the old town. In fact we found one of the oddest waiters from our whole trip around the world who contended that the price we had to pay for being able to enjoy dinner on the street without being mugged was slow service. Odd logic – we didn’t tip! Colonia’s old town also attracts its fair share of locals too, so we encountered plenty of Uruguayans “mateando” with their friends, but this time we decided not to join in. Too much mate would be spoiling oneself after all. We were also really lucky to coincide our visit with the onset of Autumn and the trees lining the streets were now adding a crispy crunch to our footsteps as we meandered our way aimlessly and at leisure through the alleys and byways of the old smuggler’s gateway to the colonies. We’ve had so many lucky coincidences on our travels, but we like to think of the old saying that “coincidences take great planning”.
Colonia del Sacramento can easily be covered in one evening, never mind one day, but it was nice for us to take some time out to relax and we didn’t regret spending two days there. In the hot summer heat of Uruguay, it was nice to relax in the daytimes and enjoy the old town in the soft light of a sunset that really brings the beauty of the town to life. Next stop for us is Buenos Aires again for a couple of days more before we head south, south, south to the end of the world and beyond. No kidding, we’re not stopping until we hit Antarctica!
All our photos of picturesque Colonia del Sacramento can be found here or just scroll down a little further for some of our favourites.
For last minute ferry tickets, be sure to check SeaCat online. If they have seats left, they will sell the remaining seats at big discounts up to a week in advance. We saved over $100 each on ferry prices by using SeaCat instead of BuqueBus. On our outbound journey we travelled on a BuqueBus boat, so no difference in quality.
The COT buses in Uruguay frequently have wifi on board – bus of choice for travel bloggers.