Colonia del Sacramento. Even the name of the town sounds beautiful. Tucked away on the sleepy Uruguayan coast, in the Rio de la Plata region, is this beautiful little town, with it’s cool sea breeze, tree-lined streets, old colonial buildings, vintage cars and a UNESCO heritage listed Barrio Historico (historic quarter). A pleasant day trip to Colonia del Sacramento can be made from Buenos Aires – the ferry crossing takes approximately one hour with Burquebus and there are numerous ferries throughout the day. Make sure you book a few days in advance, especially if you’re traveling on the weekend, as it is a popular day trip from BA and the second class seats sell out fast – you’ll be paying about US$20 more for a first class seat. A second class return trip is about US$80 from memory. Also, arrive at least an hour before departure, as you need to go through immigration procedures before boarding the ferry, which take a while. If you’re coming from northern Uruguay or Brazil, there are also ferries from Montevideo (I traveled from Buenos Aires, so I’m not too sure about the Montevideo-Colonia connection).
When you disembark from the ferry, follow the crowds about 1km down the road to the Barrio Historico. Cross the wooden drawbridge (it all sounds very Grimm’s Fairytale-esque) and you’ll enter a different world of the historical quarter of Colonial del Sacramento. It is as though time has stood still in this small quarter of the town. There is almost no sign of 21st century modernism, aside from the click of the digital cameras of the eager daytrippers. There isn’t too much to do in this sleepy town, but that’s the charm of it. Buy an ice-cream (Colonia has some of the best ice-cream I’ve ever tasted – the dulce de leche flavour is to die for!) and wander down the narrow cobble-stone streets; sit in one of the outdoor restaurants and enjoy a lovely lunch in the sunshine (I had lunch in El Drugstore. The food was great and the interiors are even better – in three words, bright, colourful and eclectic. One of the best restaurant interiors I have ever seen); hire a bike for the day and ride along the shoreline; climb up the lighthouse and take in the view; browse through the numerous little souvenir and vintage stores – you’re bound to find a good buy (I wish I had more space in my backpack. But it’s probably better I didn’t, as I would have spent a few too many pesos); or just sit back, relax and take in the surroundings.
And just a tad bit of history about this little town: The town was founded by the Portuguese in 1680, when is was the only Portuguese settlement on the Rio de la Plata. The town was originally used as a base from which the Portuguese smuggled contraband goods into Buenos Aires, being directly across the Rio de la Plata. Throughout history, the town has been passed to and throw between Spain and Portugal, influencing the architecture in the town, which is a testament to both Spanish and Portuguese influence – the irregular and terrain fitting street plan of the Portuguese, as opposed to the wide streets of the latter Spanish conquerors. In 1777 the town was finally incorporated into the Spanish Empire. It was briefly in Portuguese and Brazilian hands, until 1816 when the entire Banda Oriental (Uruguay) was seized by the government of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves and renamed the Cisplatina province. Colonia del Sacramento is now part of the independent country of Uruguay. The town has expanded a great deal, but the historical center stands as it was and will hopefully remain so for many years to come.