After only a weekend in Montevideo, Uruguay, we traveled on to Colonia del Sacramento. (If you missed the beginning of this virtual tour of Uruguay’s coast, start here!) We took a taxi from our Montevideo hotel to the busy Tres Cruces terminal, which is a huge bus station combined with a huge shopping mall. If you need to buy anything, you would probably find it there.
The people waiting in the terminal lobby with us were an interesting mixture of workers, young families, senior citizens; passersby, lingerers, commuters. No one was in a hurry. I saw a teenage couple: all smiles, dressed up in the latest trends, playing an old-fashioned game of cards and looking like they were really enjoying themselves. A woman seated by the wall kept passing a mate drink back and forth with a younger man a couple of seats away, presumably her grown-up son. The people-watching there was spectacular.
The bus ride was comfortable and scented with the ever so popular air fresheners that kept spreading their perfume in public places throughout Uruguay and Argentina. Well, not everywhere, but in hotels, museums and buses, at least.
We were the only obvious foreigners in the bus, making me really feel like I was somewhere different for a change – a feeling that I enjoy when traveling. Of course, if there were any tourists or business travelers from other Latin American countries or from Spain, our non-Spanish ears wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. To us, they blended in perfectly.
Besides the driver, there was a sort of host guy – a bus host, or maybe a conductor of some sort. He was neatly dressed in a white shirt and black trousers and was very polite, but only spoke Spanish – like everyone else. He took care of the ticketing and he appeared to be giving advice to passengers regarding the route and the bus stops. We rode through the countryside, the sun was shining and there was a lot of comforting nothingness.
That’s a long bus ride description, I know! But the travel itself is one of the things I love. The thrill of going somewhere. Not just the destination.
When we arrived, a couple of comfortable hours later, we walked along the colorful, shady streets, carrying our backpacks and we found our hotel in no time.
Colonia del Sacramento
I’m sure there’s much more to Colonia than just the old town, but that is the area most visitors come for and it’s all we saw. We came there because it had been given high praise and because it tied in neatly with the rest of our itinerary. From reading our guidebook in advance, we had gotten the impression that the whole city was an old town. On arriving, we understood it’s a normal town with a tourist area.
The old town was small and the very center of it felt, quite honestly, a bit like a tourist trap. As lovely as it was, I wouldn’t recommend planning for several nights there – one night is enough. You can even cover it in a day trip from Buenos Aires, Argentina without staying overnight, if the ferry timetables allow.
On the other hand, if you do stay longer, you would have time to venture further than the small old town, which might be interesting.
Don’t get me wrong, it was very beautiful. Gracefully aging, slightly run-down but picturesque. The small old town area was packed with lunch restaurants and pretty, cobbled streets. Old cars parked everywhere, no doubt for better photo shoots (though I love old cars, I didn’t feel like taking any photos of them because it all looked a bit fake somehow).
At the end of a street there were some barrels and haystacks nicely positioned in a cute little corner, and a sad-looking horse tied up in the sun. It seemed like a view tailored for tourists. I don’t know about the horse’s role (just there for the day or a permanent ornament?) but I hope it was well cared for. There was also a lighthouse you could pay to visit but it wasn’t that great, although you did get a nice view of some of the taller buildings in Buenos Aires from there, which was very cool.
Colonia del Sacramento was beautiful but it felt like an outdoors museum.
But of course we still enjoyed ourselves! How could we not! A nice, memorable surprise was getting the chance to finally sample some mate, which a friendly receptionist made just for us, for free, at our quiet little hotel in Colonia.
Before Uruguay, we’d spent over a month in Argentina, where that favored local beverage was present everywhere and it was about time we got to taste what all the fuss was about! In the end, mate tasted like tea which had brewed too long. Strong, bitter, earthy. Different. Even the metal cup we drank from looked excitingly exotic.
To end this little online trip, a picture of a food truck we walked past in Colonia del Sacramento… Did you notice the writing on the wall in the background? It’s an unexpected quote from The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry –
And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
If you were to ask me whether you should go to Colonia, I’d say yes.