South America Trip Report: Colonia, Uruguay

Colonia, whose complete name is Colonia del Sacramento, won us over very quickly. Just across the Río de la Plata from Buenos Aires, it’s amazing that after an hour-long ferry ride, you can find yourself in a world with a completely different vibe than the Argentinean capital.
Our biggest regret about our trip to South America is that we only spent two days in Uruguay. To be fair, it’s a lot easier to say that with hindsight. When I was planning our trip I didn’t know what there was to do in Uruguay, and like most of my readers, the only real previous information I knew about Uruguay came from this Simpsons reference:

I take that back. I guess I did know that it was really close to Buenos Aires, since I had been to Buenos Aires in 2006. When I looked on the map, I kicked myself for not having just crossed the stupid river for at least a day trip (I also realized that in that same 2006 trip, I came incredibly close to Bolivia when I was in northwest Argentina. Stupid me). I had already missed one chance to get another country under my belt, and this time I was determined to not let it happen again.
As I mentioned before, it’s just an hour-long fast ferry ride (or three hours on the slow, “loser” ferry) from Buenos Aires to Colonia. It’s a bit expensive for the fast ticket; I think it was around $100 per person for the round-trip, but it was very nice service, and the new Buenos Aires terminal for Buquebus (the name of the ferry company) was really nice:
Angela in the Buquebus terminal, complete with a wall-sized waterfall.

The ferry’s economy class waiting area. They were even playing classical music.
Why can’t airport boarding areas be this nice?
Compared to the hustle, bustle, and full-on hugeness of Buenos Aires, Colonia is much more relaxed. A few people we talked to in Argentina expressed that they didn’t like the city because it was a “typical Spanish colonial town,” but neither Angela nor I had been to a typical Spanish colonial town, so it was cool for us. There’s an older section of town that fills up with tourists from Buenos Aires during the daytime and especially during the weekends, but we found it wasn’t too crowded when we were there. We spent the first day mainly wandering around town, and eventually we made our way to the beach.
I guess old towns attract old cars, because there were lots of old cars in Colonia, like this Studebaker.

Some columns on the sidewalk between the old town and the harbor.

A flower from the beautiful ceibo tree.
On the second day we just relaxed, ate delicious greasy food, and made our way to the beach again, this time to hang out a bit. The beach is close to the Atlantic, but it’s still on the river. Although there’s nice, white sand and the beach is clean and welcoming, the water itself isn’t that nice since the Río de la Plata is a bit muddy with sediment. For a few hours of relaxing in the sun, though, it certainly was more than sufficient.

Angela at the beach. It sort of reminded me of the beaches near Copenhagen in Denmark.

A tree in the water.
Before we went to Uruguay, people told/”warned” us that Uruguayans drank a ridiculous amount of mate, and that we’d see people even carrying thermoses under their arms while walking down the street. We thought we might see one or two who fit this description, but nearly every other person on the street seemed to be drinking mate. It was kind of cool.
When researching our trip most of the forums I came across said that even a day trip to Colonia was more than sufficient, but with two days we felt tempted to hang out in the town a while longer. However, we had a flight out of Buenos Aires coming up and we weren’t able to stay. It was a curious town, in that it did have a sort of tourist-town feeling, but once you leave the historic core, it’s a “normal” city, and a nice one at that. Most places were very clean, the houses were really nice, food was cheaper than Argentina, everything seemed pretty relaxed but not too relaxed, the weather was wonderful, and everyone was very friendly with us. I actually kept wondering what the catch was; I was sure that there was some sort of dark secret that the town was hiding, but maybe it’s simply a nice place to visit and live. Then again, maybe they sacrifice a bunch of tourists on the 15th of each month at the boat docks, and we just missed it by a day or two. Who knows.
Sure, it probably doesn’t hurt tourism, either, but houses covered in plants and flowers added to the city’s charm, and they seemed to be all over the historic center of Colonia.
In any case, I left Colonia intrigued not only by the city, but by Uruguay itself. It seems like it’s the South American country that everyone forgets about, or at best confuses with Paraguay. If I make my way back to South America –and I certainly hope I will– I will definitely have Uruguay on my list of places to go to.
Thanks for reading, and if you feel like checking out the rest of my Uruguay pictures, you can check out the Flickr set here.

For the rest of the trip report, you can check the links below:

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Errand-Running Monkey at Sitzblog
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