There are a few day trips everyone recommends you take when you get to Buenos Aires: Montevideo (the capital of Uruguay), Tigre (a delta city north of Argentina) and Colonia del Sacremento (a charming small town on the western Uruguayan coast). (There’s also Punta del Este, a beach town in Uruguay that becomes super sceney for the holiday months of January and February. Sounds fun in theory but is probably more like the Hamptons meets Miami a.k.a. ego meets flash.)
Everyone — from our friends to our landlord — raved about Colonia, so on Wednesday Eaman and I got up bright and early to catch the hour-long ferry to the coastal town.
My only lasting memory of a ferry ride is the quick one from downtown Manhattan to Governor’s Island, which happens to be one of my favorite day-trips in New York City. Theirs is a small, nondescript vessel, so you can imagine how ecstatic I was to walk onto the Colonia-bound Buquebus (pronounced book-e-boos) and see this:
Food, video games, plenty of space to walk around! Granted, this round trip is about $100 and the Governor’s Island ferry is free, but those are just details. (By the way, Buquebus runs two different ferries — one takes an hour and the other, slower ferry takes three hours. We opted for an express on the way there and the slower ferry on the way back to save a little money since express ferries cost more.)
Once we set foot on Uruguayan soil, we understood what all the fuss was about. Colonia is a former Portuguese settlement dating back to 1689 with a historic center dubbed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It’s filled with cobblestone streets, Spanish roofing, strikingly bright flowers and a sleepy beach side. And the people are some of the nicest; drivers stop in mid-traffic to let you pass!
So many people (and online travel forums) complained that Colonia was one big tourist trap, and if you stick to only the small historic square and eat lunch at one of the obviously overpriced restaurants, then yes, it’s a big disappointment. But Eaman and I always try to follow the locals, and with that in mind, we skipped the tacky tourist restaurants and stumbled upon La Amistad, a parrilla (steakhouse) with zero foreigners.
We met this jolly Uruguayan man there and weren’t sure if he worked at the restaurant or was one of those old folks who, with age, has earned the right to plop down in any spot he pleases. Either way, he looked mighty happy drinking his mate (a very traditional herbal tea drink) and chatting with us.
There, we also met Luis, an international playboy, who regaled us with stories of visiting Cuba, living in Europe and meeting many women along the way. Unfortunately, we were too enthralled by his tales to snap a shot with him.
At the restaurant, bottled Pepsi… never gets old:
Don Quixote piece in an antique shop:
Post-lunch walk by the water:
Both old men at the restaurant encouraged, nay, demanded we see the old bull fighting ring, Plaza de Toros. We rented cheap bikes and rode the bumpy path along the river to the site. It was beautiful and hauntingly creepy at the same time.
The day trip to Colonia was one of those magical days when you feel like nothing else matters except sunshine and happiness. (No, I’m not a flower child convert.) We fell in love with the town’s charm, its people and the slower pace of life. It was mighty difficult to leave. And actually, we’re trying to figure out when we can go back.