Geo: -34.4771, -57.8386"Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience."
I just spent three days in Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. Colonia is a smallish, waterside, switchy-off-and-relaxy kinda place, and I liked it. The souvenir shops were tacky, but I did come away with something – skin burned to buggery, as Nanny Pay would have said if she was still alive.
Colonia is very easy to get to from Buenos Aires by ferry (www.buquebus.com, return trip for around 300 Argentinean pesos/U$S75/£50, less if you book well in advance). The end of December is the beginning of summer and averaged 32 or 33°C with a crafty, misleading coastal breeze.
Incidentally, lots of websites say that if you are entering Uruguay from a country with yellow fever, of which Argentina is one, then you need to show a yellow fever vaccination certificate, but no-one asked for it so I wouldn't worry if you don't have one. Also, everywhere in Colonia seems to accept Argentinean pesos, so you don't necessarily need
to get Uruguayan pesos out of the bank, although, if you do, take a look at the $100 note, which has a very worried looking man on the front. He made me feel sad every time I saw him.
I'd recommend our hotel, the Posada Don Antonio (Ituzaningó 232 – 375 Argentinean pesos/U$S95/£60 for a "superior double room"😉 although I was disappointed when I found out that it is part of the Radisson empire. I arrived at the hotel with the idea that Don Antonio himself would be asking whether I wanted my eggs fried or scrambled, but no. The rooms are very nice, and the air conditioning effective (if, very much, overused…all empty rooms are left with air con switched on and doors left open for some reason). I am sure it would be possible to find a lovely independent hotel in Colonia, but, if you're happy in chains, go for the Don Antonio. The breakfast was average (there weren't any eggs, to avoid misleading you), but the rest I really liked.
Colonia is small and you can cover the town in a day, although I wanted at least another full day to spend on the beach. I asked a
taxi driver to recommend the best beach near Colonia, and, strangely enough, he recommended the one furthest away from where we were, although, in recommending Playa del Real de San Carlos (only 10 minutes, or U$S7/£5, away from the town centre by cab), I think he was right. It was lovely, with a bar and gift shop nearby doing practically no business, given how quiet the beach was at this time, the week leading up to Christmas.
When I got to the beach I looked at my body, and, after six months in Buenos Aires, I saw that I had tanned forearms and a tanned face, but the rest of me was pure white. Naked waist up, I looked as though I was still wearing a white t-shirt, so I decided to put sunblock on my forearms and let the sun cook the rest of me for an hour or so to try and even it all out. This was silly idea number one.
With my real t-shirt back on and fully chilled after catching up on four episodes of Desert Island Discs (which felt appropriate as the only person in my stretch of beach) and unaware of what was happening to
my skin underneath my t-shirt, I decided to walk back into town. It was a few kilometres, but hey, the weather was lovely. Well, this was silly idea number two. There was practically no shade for most of the journey, and nowhere to stop for a drink, and I really can't stand that “Oh, shit, I've walked too far to walk back now, but I can't go on in this heat!” feeling. Plus to cap it off, I had decided at the start of the walk to use one of my bottles of drinking water to wash my shoes; Bear Grylls I ain't.
In the end, the sun did cook me. Now, when naked, I have even browner forearms and sport a fierce red skin t-shirt. I would love to have my milky white t-shirt back, and to have avoided spending Christmas day trying to avoid touch anything with any part of my body apart from my forearms, which fortunately still work.
A few odds and ends about Colonia. If your guidebook recommends a restaurant called Sacramento, don't bother trying to find it…it has been replaced by a pizza/burger place. Go instead to the place called El Drugstore for drinks;
Colonia is famous for vintage cars...
...this one had clearly been there a while.
the food was good but not amazing. And then, for food, try a little restaurant, whose name I have forgotten, on the corner of Ituzaningó and another road (basically, walk a few doors down from the Posada Don Antonio and it's on the first corner on the left). I didn't go in but it looked lovely, and I have a feeling that not going there was my silly idea number three.
If you want to slow down even more, spend an afternoon or evening in my favourite place in Colonia called Lentas Maravillas (Santa Rita 61 – it closes one day each week, often Thursdays but this varies, so it is worth emailing them at email@example.com to check). It's like going into someone's living room and garden. You choose something to read from the bookshelves, then choose your seat, in or out-of-doors, and lie back with a view and the sound of the river. The owner will bring you a drink or sandwich of your choosing (two of the options were a pot of tea and cucumber sandwiches; I didn't choose them, but I liked the fact that they were on the list) and then she will leave you in
peace. If you want anything else, just pop indoors and ask. It was in the garden there that I met Bingo, a little bug with long antenna who loves beer and who sat with me for a couple of hours, climbing inside my empty Pilsen bottle for a sip every now and again.
Overall, if you are looking to escape from Buenos Aires for a couple of days or you need to leave Argentina to renew your 90-day tourist visa, do Colonia minus my mistakes and I am sure you will love it.
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