The historic quarter of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay [map] was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, and it only takes a few minutes of wandering among the well-preserved colonial architecture to understand why. Founded in 1680, both the Spanish and Portuguese left their mark on this small city situated along the northern bank of the Río de la Plata. Today, Colonia is a destination for thousands of tourists looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires for the day (or looking to renew their 90-day tourist visas!).
The Buquebus ferry terminal located in Puerto Madero is a clean, bright and modern facility (in stark contrast to Retiro station where I'd arrived by bus from Necochea just a few hours earlier). After purchasing my ticket, I made my way through security and passport control, and I plopped down on a bench in the waiting area until boarding time. I was thoroughly entertained by the little girl next to me who was playing with various dolls and plastic animals. The minutes passed quickly as I watched the giraffe climb the "tree" (aka telescoping luggage handle), and before I knew it people were lining up to board the ferry.
I boarded the high-speed ferry Atlantic III and took my seat for the 55-minute crossing. We pulled away from the dock and out onto open water, crossing the muddy, chocolate milk-colored waters of the Río de la Plata, which forms part of the border between Argentina and Uruguay. As we neared Colonia the brilliant white lighthouse came into view, and just a few minutes later we prepared to disembark.
Upon arrival in Colonia – armed with experience from my prior visit – I set out on foot toward the historic quarter of the city. Since I had arrived just in time for lunch, the first order of business was finding a place to eat. After the so-so meal I'd eaten at El Torreón last October, I was hoping for a more positive experience this time around at a different eatery.
I turned off the main thoroughfare of Avenida General Flores and began navigating the back streets, where I stumbled upon a small restaurant called La Casa de Jorge Páez Vilaró, hidden along a narrow side street. The ambience of the restaurant was lovely (it's housed within a stone building dating to the 1850s and filled with period furniture and original contemporary art pieces), and I was seated in a small, sunlit interior courtyard. Unfortunately, neither the food nor the service lived up to the beautiful setting.
I ordered an appetizer of parmesan asparagus, which arrived limp, gray and drowning in a thick cheese sauce. My entrée of gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), though artfully presented, consisted of tiny, rubbery shrimp that were so salty I only managed to finish the dish by taking large gulps of water between mouthfuls. The service was perfunctory and indifferent, and I left the restaurant with a bad taste in my mouth and significantly less cash in my wallet.
Though lunch was a complete dud, the sunshine and unseasonably warm winter temperatures soon erased my disappointment. With camera in hand, I set off in search of some interesting shots. Colonia is very photogenic with numerous spots just begging to be photographed. Everywhere you turn there are well-preserved remnants of the past: charming old colonial buildings, bumpy cobblestone streets and even cool vintage cars (they crop up all over the place here!). The historic section is extremely walkable, and you can see most of what the city has to offer in a day.
One place I had yet to explore on my previous trip was the small port area on the northern side of the city. I thought I might find some good picture-taking opportunities over that way.
[The river sparkling under the mid-day sun]
From the port I hoofed it back to the ferry terminal at the other end of town, stopping briefly along the way to chat with an elderly woman about her two cats lounging in a picture window and the black mop of a dog at her side. I arrived about 45 minutes prior to the ferry's departure, and by the time I checked in and cleared passport control, it was practically time to head back. Once on board I settled into my seat and took a bit of a snooze, awakening at just the right moment to appreciate the twilight sky over the river as we pulled into port in Buenos Aires.
And so, after a relaxing afternoon on the other side of the river, I have just one thing to say: Colonia, I love you but next time I'm packing my lunch.
View my complete set of photos from Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay on Flickr.