The Epitome of Charm: Colonia del Sacramento
Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. When you think of a charming town, a particular set of criteria spring to mind: cobbled streets, abundant flowers, antique cars, simple wooden tables on restaurant terraces. Some second tier factors for extra credit cuteness might include a small light house and plenty of boats to go around. So if you were to rank Colonia del Sacramento on your charm scale, it would probably topple off the heavy end. Exceedingly photogenic, Colonia is the kind of place that makes you feel like you’re in the most fetching parts of Europe and New England all at once. Of places I’ve visited this year, I would say Colonia blends together the classic timelessness of Hampstead, the laid-back Mediterranean flair of Bonifacio, and the impossible cuteness of Siasconset.
Colonia del Sacramento dates back to, you guessed it, colonial times, though interestingly it was originally founded by the Portuguese in 1680. It was soon conquered by the Spanish but today the town honors its Portuguese heritage by preserving the great colonial naval power’s penchant for azulejos, or blue painted tiles. In fact, there is even a tiny museum, the Museo del Azulejo, housed in a small 18th century stone cottage by the river that showcases these pretty tiles.
Colonia was not always so dreamy and quaint. For nearly two centuries the cobbled streets of the barrio historico lay in total decrepitude, only to be prowled at night by prostitutes and their skulking customers. Finally in 1968, the politician Federico García Capurro and the art lover Jorge Otero Mendoza (who also happened to be the Minister and Vice Minister of Culture), pleaded to then President Jorge Pacheco Arejo on the importance of preserving this historical landmark. They were successful in their appeal and the Consejo Ejecutivo Honorario para la Preservación y Reconstrucción de la Antigua Colonia del Sacramento was commissioned. In 1995, their efforts were rewarded when the historic center of Colonia became a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Getting there and away:
Several bus companies link Montevideo with Colonia including COT which has wifi-equipped coaches. One way tickets cost around 211 pesos or $10 USD per person. If you’re coming from Buenos Aires, there are three ferry companies that transport between the two cities (travel time approximately 2 hours). Colonia Express is by far the cheapest option but books well in advance by locals in the know. The next option is Seacat, which is actually owned by the most expensive (and most widely advertised) Buquebus, but no one will tell you this. In fact, if you buy a ticket through Seacat, you’ll actually end up on the same boat as all of the Buquebus passengers who paid twice as much. Feel free to smile at them smugly.
Sample one-way ticket fares from Colonia to Buenos in Uruguayan pesos:
Colonia Express: 173 pesos or $8.87 USD.
Seacat: 425 pesos or $21.79 USD.
Buquebus: 722 pesos or $37 USD.
That is a pretty huge difference in fares, especially if you’re looking at making a roundtrip. Obviously the Colonia Express is most appealing, but if you’re shopping last minute, give Seacat a try.