A Day in Colonia

 

 

 

 

To me, Colonia del Sacramento is proof that, however outlandish your bucket list, it gets ticked off eventually. I’ve been wanting to visit the city for twenty years, ever since I found out about this patch of Brazil inside Uruguay and, yes, this year I did it.

Colonia’s big attraction is that, unlike anything else in the vicinity, it was originally a Portuguese colony, built opposite Buenos Aires to spite the Spanish and steal some of the Plate River trade. As a result, it’s been fought over more doggedly than a half-price TV on Black Friday.

If it was easy to invade, it’s simple enough to visit. The ferry crossing is the most popular daytrip from the Argentinian capital. Not only is Colonia only one hour fifteen minutes across the river, not only is it Uruguay’s sole Unesco site, but you also get to add a whole new country to your tally.

Colonia is a medium-sized city, but you’re only really interested in the Old Town which is very compact, comprising only 12 hectares. As it’s only about 15-20 minutes walk from the terminal, don’t bother hiring a cab. Instead make a beeline for the Tourist Office to sign immediately for the English guided tours. At around 10 US$ per person, they’re a bargain. Plus you get to meet other travellers.

After roving around in the heat of the afternoon, my group were well up for a beer together later.

You’ll definitely want to climb the lighthouse, worth it just to contemplate the vastness of the Plate river. Although you won’t be able to see the other bank even from the top, remember this: there are about fifty-odd wrecks submerged in front of you and it was human greed that sank them. Colonia’s quarry provided the stone for the houses in Buenos Aires and those ships were too heavily loaded when they went down.

Before you descend, have a quick look at the tiled cupolas of the two bell towers of the Basilica del Santissimo Sacramento. They are its best features. The basilica claims the title of the oldest church in Uruguay, but it was destroyed by lightning in 1823. Since it was used as a powder store at the time, only two Tuscan columns on either side of the entrance remain from its former incarnation. As for its 1970s restoration, the less said the better.

 

 

 

 

Hungry? Tired? Choosing where to eat in Colonia is great fun, especially if you’re a fan of classic cars. It won’t be long before you notice: every restaurant has an old banger or two rusting slowly outside to attract customers. There are enough Studebakers, Chryslers and Chevrolets – even Opels and Austin Morrises – to declare the area a vintage car salon, so take your time before you decide where to sit.

 

The final question is: do you need an overnight stay? As far as sightseeing goes, five-six hours are enough, but as far as absorbing the city vibe is concerned, the answer is a definite yes. The Old Town beats on a different rhythm after dark, with live music that summons the spirits of Brazil. Plus the Uruguayans are much more laid back than their cousins across the River Plate, a trait that’s been enhanced with the legalisation of marijuana whose strong waft spills through the calles of Colonia after the sun sets.  Well, I stayed and didn’t regret it. But then again it had been so long on my bucket list..

 

You can get Brazil included as a stopover in the Discoverer round the world or the 4 Continent Explorer round the world or there are cheaper options via Latin America here