Since we were already in neighboring Argentina, it only seemed logical to hop over to the beautiful city of Colonia del Sacramento, one of Uruguay’s oldest European settlements. Founded by Portugal in 1680, Colonia boasts its world heritage status by luring visitors in to enjoy its Barrio Histórico, a perfectly preserved cobblestoned city full of quaint alleyways and vintage automobiles. If the rest of Uruguay is as charming as pretty Colonia, we’ll definitely be back!
25 DEC: Merry Christmas. It was the perfect day to leave sleepy BA and head over to neighboring Uruguay. Our destination for an all day excursion was Colonia del Sacramento. It was good timing since nothing was open, and we had been advised that a very few select shops would be open during limited hours today…making for a boring day in the city. Plus a boisterous drunk was comically shrieking/singing at the top of his lungs down from Ave de Mayo, serving as our wakeup call. After grabbing a quick breakfast, we headed towards the Buquebus ferry terminal at Puerto Madero. Armed with our passports, tickets and Argentinean tourist card, we joined the massive queue to check in and passed through passport control. Interestingly enough, we were not only stamped out of Argentina but stamped into Uruguay at the immigration control section of the terminal…that meant once we landed in Colonia, we were free to immediately depart and tour the city. Colonia was listed in our Buenos Aires guidebook as one of the top things to do while in BA…keep in mind that Colonia is not actually in Argentina at all but in next door Uruguay. Some Buenos Aires locals (known as “Porteos”) claim that Colonia is actually a suburb of Buenos Aires! A little research and we found out that Colonia was a Portuguese settlement on the Rio de la Plata, serving as a major hub for lucrative Portuguese smuggling operations. As a result, Spain lost untold fortunes in tax receipts due to the smuggling operations in Colonia and the ensuing battles meant that the city flip flopped between Portuguese and Spanish control. Even Brazil lay claim to this pretty city, until the country of Uruguay gained its independence in 1828. Lucky for us, the “Barrio Historico” (historic quarter) of Colonia has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, effectively sealing it in a time warp that perfectly preserves this quaint (and perhaps over-restored) old colonial town. Our journey from BA to Colonia took a leisurely 3 hour ride. Once we arrived, it was immediately evident that the city is a scenic and well preserved one that appears to have been frozen in time…we are sure that the locals put a lot of effort into ensuring that the city looks that way! We happened across several antique cars strategically placed on various cobblestone streets to help stir up a tinge of nostalgia. One car was even used as a dining area for guests at a restaurant. Antique street lamps adorn almost every corner, and strategically placed flowering bushes compete against the pastel hued mansions for the most scenic award. It was a real joy wandering aimlessly through town, admiring the exquisite scenery. There was very little traffic (the tourists who rented scooters to zoom around the city were few and far between), and the Barrio Historico was a serene asylum of peace and quiet…quite a different scene from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires! We wanted to visit the reconstructed 19th century lighthouse which boasts magnificent views, but unfortunately it was closed to visitors. The “Calle de los Suspiros” (street of sighs) did not disappoint, and we felt as if we could easily spend more than a leisurely day here. We were in the mood for pizza, but several of the recommended restaurants were closed for the holiday. Several other options caught our eye, but one look at the menu’s inflated prices and less than desirable fare and we decided to press on. Since we were armed with Clif bars, we were not too concerned about skipping lunch, but once we chanced upon a parrilla with delicious wafts of grilled lamb floating our way, we knew it was destiny. Our waiter was a delight, and the food was scrumptious. Lucky for us, they accepted US dollars as we hadn’t a change to convert our change. Once reassured we could pay with the good ol American greenback, we sat back and enjoyed our delicious Christmas meal with cheesy smiles on our faces. Keeping in mind that Uruguay is one hour ahead of Argentina, we ensured that we were back at port with sufficient time to catch our return ferry to BA…once we reached our hotel, we were pleasantly surprised by a bottle of wine left for us by reception. Overall a fantastic day.