Wally surprised me by suggesting a trip up to Colonia del Sacramento for our 39th Wedding Anniversary, so of course!/ por supuesto! I said, "YES" and we went.
Our Krispy Cream, the name given to our VW bug is way too unreliable for long distance travel so we decided to bus it there.
Colonia is about 177 kilometers (109 miles) away from the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo, it takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes to get there by tour bus.
We started our trip early in the morning by catching our local city bus that runs along the highway by our town. The cost was 38 pesos (almost 2 dollars) each, for the 1 hour bus trip (lots of stops along the way) to Tres Cruces, the bus terminal located in Montevideo. The day started out freezing, literary which is unusual for Uruguay even in the winter. The day before, I had taken a picture of frost on our lawn, so I made sure to wear my heaviest coat and was I glad of that.
Here is a picture of Wally trying to show how cold the city bus was by blowing smoke out of his mouth using his breath. Notice how bundled up the person next to him is dressed. I was amused that the seat in front of me had the words "The Rolling Stones" graffitied on it's back, that's what I felt we were like that morning, a couple of old rolling stones. As a side note, back up in the USA our anniversaries were in Summer, so coming up with things to do in the cold rainy winters here in South America have been challenging. When we finally got to Montevideo that morning a temperature sign said it had warmed up to 1 degree Celsius (33.8 F).
The fare from the main Tres Cruces bus terminal to Colonia was a very reasonable 235 pesos (rounding up) for each person, each way . That included tax. So for about $11.19 for each person and each way, the whole bus trip cost about $45 roundtrip for 2 people, such a deal! That was a lot less than we would have paid for gas. The tour bus (photo above) to Colonia unlike the city bus was clean, comfortable and nice and warm with large windows and a bathroom at the back. So off came our coats and we settled in for the ride.
|View of Ferry terminal and Fort remains.|
Colonia del Sacramento is the oldest town in Uruguay, it was founded in 1680. It was built by the Portuguese. It was the only Portuguese colony among the many other Spanish ones at the time. Manuel de Lobo a Governor of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was ordered by the Regent Prince of Portugal to establish this settlement. It was a walled city with a fortress. The city sits on the tip of a peninsula, jutting into the Rio de la Plata and it was once used as a smuggling base for raids across the river. Buenos Aires, Argentina once under Spanish rule, lies across the river from this town. Interesting to note is that Colonia is a 1 hour time difference ahead of Buenos Aires. That's important for your return trip.
The bus terminal is about 1 kilometer away from the historic section and the ferry terminal is closer at about 1/2k (20min.walk). The regular, newer part of Colonia has many stores and restaurants and etc...
To get to Colonia from Buenos Aires you can take the fast boat (catamaran), it takes 50 mins. each way to travel across the Rio del la Plata or you can take the slow ferry called the Buquebus that takes 3 hours! The 3 hour trip is down right cheap (about 120 pesos each way) the faster boat can cost from $70-$110 dollars (USA). You are paying for the speed, less than 2 hours for a round trip versus a 6 hour roundtrip. Obviously if you want to spend just a day in Colonia the faster boat ride won't use up your entire day in travel alone. Once you arrive in Colonia, across from the ferry terminal is a car rental place called "Thrifty car rentals".
|Rented Golf Cart for sightseeing.|
I mention that because, besides cars, it rents bikes and golf carts that can be driven to the nearby beaches and used throughout the city.
During its history, Colonia's ownership jumped back and forth many times between the Portuguese and the Spanish Vice Royalty. It was even razed to the ground once (1705) and rebuilt immediately. It was finally, given over to Uruguay when Uruguay was recognized as an individual sovereignty (1825).
|The original gate and drawbridge into "Old" Colonia.|
What makes Colonia an interesting place to see is that it is a World heritage Site declared thus by UNESCO in 1995. Its Barrio Histórico (old section neighborhood) is a fine example of Portuguese architecture. Once you enter through the old city gate (Portón de Campo) and across the wooden draw bridge, the streets are cobbled stoned and irregularly planned, unlike Spanish streets.
The buildings are charming, quaint and a photographer's delight to snap. There are yellow lanterns hanging on buildings. Some of the cobble stones seemed to have once been petrified wood perhaps some old wooden planks now turned to stone and used to pave the old streets.Watch your step, the cobble stones could maim you being as irregularly laid as they are.
Colonia has 2 plazas or town squares (parklike gathering areas). In the Plaza Mayor (main plaza) one of the first things that you see is the lighthouse (faro) built in 1857 next to the remains of the 17th century convent, the Convent San Francisco (now in ruins).
This time I definitely took advantage of exploring the lighthouse unlike the time I missed the one in La Paloma. I bought the 20 peso ticket (about a buck, US) so that I could climb to the top of the 88ft/27m lighthouse and see the view from up there (Wally doesn't do heights). The stairs were very steep. The view was amazing from the platform but then I learned that you could also climb higher, up a ladder and go inside the lantern room and then outside to another platform, so I climb up some more, higher still.
The view was worth the trouble/Vale la Pena. What struck me was that there are nearby islands just off the coast in the river (in Argentina waters). One island, about 3.5 kilometers away has another lighthouse on it. The last photo while not taken from on top of the lighthouse, shows the island with the other lighthouse on it.
Colonia has many charming dinning spots tucked into every nook and cranny. One is in an old round mill tower that has now been turned into a restaurant. Another popular place is called El Drug Store, a colorful place with an antique car parked outside. If there are only 2 of you and you reserve the car ahead of time, you can eat inside the car at a tiny table between the steering wheel and the back seat, while sitting on the back seat like a booth. A friend named Syd wrote about eating at the restaurant, he ate inside the building. The menu was extensive and the food he said was good and reasonable about $20 per person, on the weekends there is live music to eat by. When in Colonia make sure to look into every doorway in order to scout out a restaurant or ice cream parlor. Be aware that many of the restaurants charge a cover charge, added to your bill, it's called a "cubierto". Because this is a tourist spot (trap is too harsh) these cover charges can be expensive, anywhere from 70 pesos on up, depending on the individual restaurant. Many places have this amount listed outside but ask first.
By far the most charming Colonia mealtime atmosphere came however from the many scenes of outdoor dinners eating at tables in the streets. Go on a warm/ hot day and definitely eat outside along with the others to really feel like you are on vacation. That gives you the so-called European vibe that people claim Uruguay has over other Latin American countries.
Colonia has about 8 different mini museums and you can buy a single general admission ticket at the municipal museum that allows you to enter them all (or most???) These museums range from examples of furniture, architecture, archives of the history of the area, nautical finds and Pirate lore, there is even a tile museum (blue and white mostly). So keep your ticket.
The beauty of Colonia is being able to take your time and peek into nooks and crannies to discover lovely vignettes. Look up and notice the Spanish moss growing on the trees. Palm trees, orange trees full of fruit in the main square and sycamore trees line the streets.
Uruguay is a small country and Colonia is a small town, many people say, it only takes a day to sight see in. Of course, you are missing the point of Uruguay all together, if you were to take that attitude about everything here. Uruguay is a peaceful, relaxing country in comparison to say, Argentina, so whenever visiting Uruguay slow down. Don't expect to be constantly entertained, wowed and hustled from one sightseeing land mark to another, take your time, relax, go to the beach or just wander around slowly enjoying the moments, look for the micro views in addition to the bigger picture. Sometimes we have to be reminded to "STOP and smell the roses" and that takes time.