November 26, 2007
Discover a Uruguayan town hidden enough that our local friend hadn’t visited, but notable enough to be a UNESCO World Heritage site. IgoUgo Editorial Assistant Valeria Bertola takes us along on her first trip to the historic city.
“COT announces the departure of bus Nº 12 to Colonia del Sacramento on platform 14.” The robotic voice was telling me that my long-weekend getaway was about to start.
Since I was traveling alone—my partner was coming from Buenos Aires, and we were going to meet at the hotel—I took my seat next to a smiling woman who immediately broke the ice and started the very well-known weather conversation. To my surprise—and delight—it took only eight minutes for my new friend to fall asleep, and I was allowed to go back to my book.
We were supposed to arrive at 2:10pm. It was only 1:30pm when we arrived in a city that looked pretty much like the idea I had of Colonia. Our advanced arrival also surprised a Chilean guy seated behind me, who asked me: “Have we arrived?” “It seems that we did!” I replied, and with a big smile on my face that reflected the immense happiness in my heart, I headed to the hotel.
Hotel Bahia Playa is located in front of the beach, at the beautiful rambla. It’s quite far (about 25 blocks) from the city center and Colonia’s best-known attraction, the Historic Quarter, but the great added value of this hotel is that it is surrounded by trees, parks, and green lawns that make it the perfect location to relax, breathe fresh air, and enjoy perfect sunsets. The hotel’s receptionist couldn’t have been nicer. She walked me around to show me the facilities, then my room, and even gave me extra towels and a robe in case I wanted to rest in the spa after my journey.
There is no better way to discover the treasures and capture the essence of a city than to become a local, living and enjoying it the way a local would. It took me very little to become part of the picture. Lots of locals and tourists alike were enjoying the afternoon on the boardwalk. Kids were playing in the sand, locals were drinking mate, and tourists were wondering what a mate was. The sun started to go down and hide behind the river, giving the audience the perfect sunset we were expecting.
My friend finally arrived, and Colonia’s lights were waiting for us. The gastronomic offerings are wide and good, with several colonial-style bars and restaurants offering seafood, typical Uruguayan asado, pastas, etc. Unfortunately, it was quite late, and we couldn’t find many places open. El Palacio, a small but decent pizzeria, was our salvation, and our gastronomical tour had to wait until the next day.
The Historic Quarter, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, was the first appointment on our agenda on Saturday. A little bit of history: Colonia was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese, hence the style of its cobblestone streets and buildings. After several disputes between Spain and Portugal, including several assaults, battles, and changes of dominion, it finally became part of Uruguay. This mix of culture and styles is reflected in every single corner of the town, a legacy that would meet the Uruguayan idiosyncrasy to become a real jewel.
My favorite spot in the Historic Quarter was La Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs), a narrow cobblestone street with houses typical of the first half of the 17th century. History—or rumor—has it that it earned the name because slaves sentenced to death walked down this street to the place they were going to be executed. Others say that it is due to the winds that blow from the river, producing sighing sounds.
At a convenient rate of $25 per day, we rented a scooter. Even though everything in Colonia is within walking distance, it was a great idea to rent it; we had a lot of fun, and we could go to the Plaza de Toros (bullring), which is about 4km from the center. The bullring was constructed in 1910 and only held eight bullfights, as they were forbidden in the country in 1912.
Living only two-and-a-half hours away, I regret not having gone to Colonia before. It’s the most romantic city I’ve been to. Slow, unhurried walks through the picturesque streets, tons of objects and artifacts willing to tell our country’s history in the museums around the Plaza Mayor, the gentle breeze of the harbor, and a couple of SD cards full of colorful pictures crowned a perfect weekend to this so-beautiful-that-you-don’t-want-to-leave city.