Advantages Relaxed atmosphere
Disadvantages Not much to do, picture postcard town
|Value for Money|
|Ease of getting around|
Colonia (Colonia de Sacramento) is a small colonial style town situated at the mouth of the River Plata in southern Uruguay. It was an important town as it was on the border between the Portuguese colony in the north that would become Brazil and the Spanish colony of the vice-royalty of the River Plata which would become Argentina. The strategic location on the river, which was important for transport and trade, means it was much fought over and changed between the two colonies many times. Nowadays, the town is quite small and its importance is linked to the fact that it is a huge tourist town with visitors coming from Uruguay, Argentina and across the world to see a sleepy, well-preserved colonial town. Colonia is on the UNESCO World heritage list.Most people visit Colonia as part of a day trip from Buenos Aires (BA) in Argentina, which lies on the other side of the river mouth. Crossing is made by way of regular ferries and there is a slow service taking around 3 hours or a fast service taking about 1 hour. There are also frequent buses to Colonia from other Uruguayan destinations such as Montevideo and Punte del Este. For most travellers both Uruguay and Argentina are visa free and provide a 90 day stamp on arrival which can be renewed as often as desired so there are no difficulties with crossing the border. With the ferry, passport control is a simple check and stamp at each end requiring no more than filling out a simple arrival/departure sheet. Colonia itself is small and can all easily be accessed on foot but there are also many taxis around for those with limited mobility.
Colonia's main attraction is simply the fact that it is a well-preserved and pretty town from the colonial period that is far enough from the chaos of the cities in the region but still near enough that no more than a few hours travel is necessary. Charming and quaint are two words often used to describe the town and are very accurate. It is nice to wander in the sunshine along the pebbled shore, or small dock and absorb the slower side of life. The houses are old-fashioned stone, and often painted in bright colours so whilst being quiet, it is far from a dull, gray place. The downside to all this is that Colonia can have something of a display town feel to it, with everything being a little too perfectly preserved and I do wonder if much has been altered or fixed to keep it in such a perfect state. Sometimes a state of disrepair adds to the authenticity of historical places! The other side of this is that the town is almost no longer a real place but exists entirely for tourists-it doesn't feel lived in at all and is far from a genuine slice of Uruguayan life. Indeed most of the people who live here make their money from the tourist industry, almost no-one is unconnected to it and as a friend I met here stated, 'This is not Uruguay'.Of course, the above points withstanding there are still a few interesting things to see as you wander through the town. Climbing up to the lighthouse is a good idea as it is a charming old-style building that looks as if it came straight out the 19th century and also offers great views over the rest of the town. Additionally for a one-off fee payable at the old gate main entrance, you can get a ticket that allows access to 9 museums. None of these are particularly spectacular and all are small but the fact that they focus around local trades or everyday items of colonial life gives a glimpse into the mundane side of living here in the past which is subsumed under all the talk of fighting and colonial squabbles. There are also plenty of quality souvenir stalls around, and roving sellers but these are generally quite overpriced and I didn't see anything that I couldn't get in any other place around the region.
As the town is on the edge of the water sitting around the pebble beachs or relaxing on the wooden pier is a great way to pass time. I found there were always locals (of sorts, at least!) hanging around and happy to chat to visitors. It is also a green place, with plenty of trees and grassy areas that almost give it a feel of an old-fashioned English village from some rose-tinted past.
If you do want to stay over in the town there are a number of hostels and hotels scattered throughout the old town, many in charming colonial buildings. Although I have said that there isn't really a lot to do in Colonia, I would actually recommend staying overnight. That might seem a contradiction but the major advantage of the town is its chilled, holiday atmosphere and having a place to stay means you have somewhere to relax and just watch the world go by in comfort rather than just wandering until your boat takes you back to BA. Also after everyone has gone home, you have the town to yourself. Expect to pay around US $10 for a hostel or anything from US $20 up to $150 depending on the quality you want.A major downside of Colonia is the cost. On average Uruguay appeared to be around only slightly more expensive than Argentina, which is not hugely expensive for a westerner but not dirt cheap either. However, being almost exclusively a tourist town, Colonia has inflated prices and for food and drink you can expect to pay almost as much as you would in a western town. The official currency is, of course, the Uruguayan peso but as the Argentinean peso is widely accepted if you are only here for the day, exchanging cash is probably more effort and cost than it is worth.
Overall I would recommend Colonia for a day or two if you are fed up of the big city, either Buenos Aires or Montevideo as it lives up to its reputation as a relaxing get away. However, there probably isn't enough to occupy many people for longer than this and it is also not the place to come to see regular Uruguayan life-this is very much a tourist-town.PS. I use dollars instead of pounds throughout this review because the prices tend to vary in line with the dollar, which is also sometimes accepted as a unit of currency (I dislike this though so try to avoid it!). Using pounds would make the figures less reliable.
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Only 1 block from Colonia del Sacramento´s historical district, this hotel offers panoramic bay views and a beautiful pool. Amenities include...
Shipping: refer to website
Availability: Price is per double room per night and may vary depending on date booked