Day trips to Uruguay are a common offering in Buenos Aires. You’ve got two options: Montevideo, which is the capital of Uruguay; or Colonia, a small town of about 30,000 people and a lot nearer (1hr). You can buy tickets for the Buquebus yourself or do as we did and simply walk into any of the many travel agencies located on Avenida Córdoba near Galerías Pacífico. Trying to drum up tourism, they offer packages designed exclusively for foreigners which end up being cheaper than buying tickets at the station; plus they give you a guided walking tour of Colonia’s historic downtown, a bus tour around the outskirts, and they even throw in a sandwich, not a good one but hey: free food.
Some tips about the ferry. Once you arrive at the Buquebus station, get thru security and into the waiting area immediately. Don’t be fooled by how few people are milling around pre-security. By the time we got in, the line to get on the ferry snaked around the station 3 times already. Why does this matter? Seats aren’t numbered, you simply get the one you can and it is a free-for-all once those doors open. Best is by the windows. Aisle rows are directly below the A/C vents and made us long for the heavy jackets we had left back at the hotel in Buenos Aires. A curious fact is that since this is an international trip, they’ve got duty-free shopping aboard the ferry. We wandered into the store and were shocked by what people were willing to pay for products they can’t get back home.
That’s US Dollars!
Items were flying off the shelves nevertheless.
Arriving in Colonia offers a pretty view of the lighthouse and the Uruguayan flag.
Colonia del Sacramento was founded in 1680 by Portuguese settlers who built a fort around the city. Today you can still visit some vestiges of the old city wall
as well as the drawbridge.
On the outside of the drawbridge you will find a plaque commemorating José Gervasio Artigas who led Uruguay’s struggle for independence from the four nations which claimed it for themselves: Spain, Portugal, Brazil & Argentina, and the men who courageously followed him back in 1811.
Downtown’s tallest building is the lighthouse. Buy tickets at the base and then climb the very narrow stairs all the way up to the lens.
From this height you get unobstructed views of Colonia’s water treatment plant on one side,
as well as the Rio de la Plata on the other. This is the widest river in the world and was named so for the silver the Guaraní tribes along its coast traded with the early European explorers.
Sit a while and take it all in.
Colonia’s Historic Downtown Quarter has preserved the fusion of Spanish and Portuguese architectures and for this reason UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site in 1995 .
It’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean is never forgotten as evidenced by the exhibits in its tiny museum.
Once our walking tour ended, we rented a golf cart to drive out from the old downtown to visit one of Colonia’s most famous landmarks: the Plaza de Toros Real de San Carlos. It is famous for its Moorish architecture which came about simply because the Argentinian entrepreneur who built it, liked the style. The bullring was opened in 1910 and shut down just 2 years later when Uruguay banned bullfighting as cruel to animals.
The ring sits abandoned and could be visited up to a few years ago when a small earthquake caused some wall crumbling. The authorities fenced it in and closed it to the public for their own safety. It’s nice to look at but…
More interesting is the long road leading up to it which borders the river and has access to several beach spots. Although the water is a bit smelly, it is warm and people do swim here.
You will see a few people fishing from shore but actually Uruguay is an increasingly known destination for deep-water fishing for much bigger catch: the hyper-aggressive Dorado, or Mahi-Mahi. This is due to the country’s safety and relative affordability. I do say relative because we found things in Colonia to be shockingly expensive. One could go broke on ice cream here.
While cannabis is legal in Uruguay, don’t get any ideas as it is legal ONLY to citizens and they have to register with the government for it.
We spent the entire day in Colonia and to be honest it was half a day too long. Of course you could always just sit at one of their many, many downtown cafes and pass the time, food was pretty good every place we tried.
Or stroll through their beautiful old colonial streets. Just make sure you watch your step. Colonia takes its animal love to the extreme: dozens of dogs wander the city unaccompanied leaving their mark literally everywhere.
I bet the humongous insects don’t mind.
This post concludes my interlude and now we get to the really awesome part. Why were we all the way here at the oddest time of the year? You see, the destination we were headed to can only be visited now because the ice engulfs and isolates it later. Have you guessed yet? Antarctica!! Which was absolutely incredible but you’ll have to wait until next time to read about it.