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Published: September 27th 2007
Sunset in Colonia
Easy to understand why Colonia is famous for its sunsets
After two very busy weeks in Buenos Aires, it felt like we needed a holiday, so we went across the Rio de la Plata to Colonia del Sacremento, a relaxed town in south-west Uruguay. We had had a great time in BA but I think it was time for a change.
Many people we had spoken to were planning to visit Colonia on day-trips or overnight trips from BA but we decided to really take it easy and stayed here for 3 nights. We took the slowest (also the cheapest) ferry from BA, which meant we had to wake at 6.30 am to arrive in time. I think the previous night´s party was just finishing up at the Downtown Mate hostel at this time but we did manage to get a little bit of sleep before the alarm went.
We walked from our hotel to Puerto Madero in order to save some pesos, though long before we got there we were struggling with the backpacks - I think we've brought far too much stuff on this trip. The crossing to Colonia was great on the Buquebus ferry, as nice a ferry as we've travelled on. There are more than
enough seats for everyone and a deck from where we had good views of BA.
Colonia is one of Uruguay's most historic towns. It was originally a smugglers port, and when we arrived as were handing in our customs forms I´m sure I saw some guy slip a wad of notes to the customs officer!
We went straight to our hotel, Casa Teresa, after arrival. It´s a little bit outside of town though it was far cleaner than what we'd just left in BA. The lady running the place was very friendly and we had our own TV and bathroom, rare luxuries on this trip! On the negative side, it was a bit out of town though and we didn't meet any other travellers. Plus there was no heating and it did get a bit cold at night. But for 18 USD a night it was good value. On the first night we slept for 13 hours which was caused by either too much of the local Pilsen beer or exhaustion after Argentina!
The big attraction in Colonia is the old town, which is now a UNESCO word heritage site. Given how pretty it is, it´s not
This gate marks the entrance to the old town, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site
surprising how many tourists visit here, and it can get crowded in the old part of town. There are a number of small museums to visit and one ticket which costs 25 Uruguayan Pesos covers entry to them all. Some of them are little bigger than one room and in many cases the buildings housing the museum are far more interesting than the exhibits. Probably the best museum was the Museo Espanol which described the history of Colonia. In its early years it was ruled regularly by both Spain and Portugal (this was very confusing to follow in the museum as Colonia seemed to change hands every few years) and both countries have left their mark on the town. The street signs are similar to those you see in Portuguese cities and we saw many azulejos (decorated blue tiles) too, just like in Lisbon. We found that fewer people here could speak English so it was a good way to practise what spanish we had picked up in our BA lessons.
As well as the museums there is a lighthouse from where there are views over the town and out over the sea. The town doesn't look nearly so
Portuguese Style Street Signs
For much of its history, Colonia was ruled by Portugal. You see these azulejos on many of the street signs
picturesque from above however. Colonia is famous for its sunsets and on all 3 nights of our stay we were rewarded with spectacular views. Top of the lighthouse is a great place to take it in from, but you have to pay entry here, so I think the most popular spot is down by the beach.
It took us about two afternoons to see everything in the old town but we took it very slowly. You could fit it all in one day but it feels wrong to be rushing around in a place as relaxed as this.
On the third day we took a day trip to Carmelo, about 75 km back along the coast towards Argentina. The buses in Uruguay seem very efficient though the roads weren't great - they reminded me a bit of Ireland. I think we clearly stood out as gringos as we were the only ones not carrying a mate gourd and a thermos of hot water! Mate is hugely popular in Uruguay, much more so than in Buenos Aires. We've tried mate only once so far in BA and I think its acquired taste. Young and old drink it here. You
Historic Colonia House
Just one of the many old houses in Colonia's old town. This one was on the picturesque Calle des Portugueses and hosts an art gallery
see a group of teenagers on the street and in any other country they'd be drinking cider but here it's mate! Mate is most associated with gauchos but I think it originated before the conquistadores arrived with the native population.
Anyway, back to Carmelo. It's a much smaller town than Colonia and receives very few tourists. The friendly lady in the tourist office gave us a map of the area and told us the best things to see. The only museum in town seemed to double as an Alcoholics Anonymous centre, and we couldn't find opening times for the museum (but there was very clear info on AA upcoming meetings). There are a couple of nice squares in Carmelo, and a good restaurant on the main square called Fay-Fay, but the big attraction here is the beach. It´s about 20 minutes walk from the town and as it was such a fine day we made our way out. In this weather in Ireland the beach would probably be crowded, but there were only a handful of people here and no swimmers. It's a great spot though and Í'm sorry we won't be here in a few months time during
Ruth at Carmelo Beach
We had the place almost to ourselves as it's off season until December
summer. We could see all the way across the Rio de la Plata to Argentina. Other than that not much happened in Carmelo. Stray dogs kept following us around and as Ruth has a fear of dogs (and I'm not a huge fan either) we spent a while trying to get rid of them.
On our last day in Colonia we spent ages looking for somewhere to watch the Ireland-France game in the rugby. We shouldn't have bothered as Ireland were dreadful. I've heard that the fallout back home will be pretty big, but watching here away from all the media and stories and rumours about the players, it was difficult to believe this was the same team that I saw play France in Croke Park earlier this year.
We ate out most days in Colonia. The restaurants here are comparable in price to Argenitna and offer similar food, though there are a few local specialities to try. One is chivito, a fillet steak sandwich with bacon, ham, cheese, salad, tomato and anything you want really. It's delicious though perhaps not the healthiest snack! The beer here is very good, better than in BA. Pilsen is the main
The Chivito is a Uruguayan speciality and you can get it in almost all restaurants. A thin slice of fillet steak with ham, cheese, lettuce, salad and tomatoes.
brand and it's so good we drank only that for our first three days. It's usually served in litre bottles too, none of your girly-mini bottles of beer, thanks very much. Proper drinking!
Three nights was just about the right amount for Colonia I think. It was very quiet where we stayed so were looking forward to a more sociable hostel in Montevideo, our next stop.
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