I spent Friday exploring Colonia del Sacramento, the only Portuguese settlement along the Rio de la Plata. In the 1600s Colonia was the focus of a struggle between the Spanish and Portuguese over control of the area. Colonia is one of the world’s best examples of early Spanish and Portuguese architecture.
In the 1600s Colonia was a walled port city dealing in contraband and evading the Spanish crown’s trade rules. Today it’s a sleepy resort on the Bay of Colonia del Sacramento – an agricultural and textile trade center and free trade zone (FTZ).
In Colonia del Sacramento you can use USD, Euros, ARS (Argentine Pesos), or UYU (Uruguayan Pesos). ATMs dispense US dollars as well as local currency. Many Argentinians make regular trips to Colonia to get USD which they exchange on the black market.
Boats run daily between Buenos Aires and Colonia. The 8:30 a.m. boat (Buquebus) was packed with mostly Argentine tourists. The ride from Buenos Aires along Rio de la Plata takes about an hour each way on a fast boat and three hours via a slower less expensive one. Passengers were not allowed on the outside deck.
I was a bit groggy Friday. On Thursday demonstrations spilled over from Central Buenos Aires into nearby Cordoba Avenue in Recoleta. Listening to the demonstrators late at night and again early in the morning made it difficult to sleep. While in Buenos Aires I’ve experienced demonstrations knotting up traffic in parts of the city. The demonstrators know how to cause pandemonium. Whatever their demonstrations were about, hope they accomplished something other than disturbing Recoleta residents.
There are interesting historical attractions in Colonia del Sacramento, including:
- Puerta de la Ciudadela, a drawbridge built in 1745 to safeguard the city
- Bastion del Carmen, a cultural center that was once a factory and wharf
- El Faro Lighthouse constructed in 1857 of stones from the ruins of a convent
- Museo Portuguese with Portuguese architecture and furnishing artifacts
- Plaza de Toros bull ring built in 1910 which saw only 8 bullfights before bullfighting was prohibited in 1912
Colonia del Sacramento is an artful restoration of an original colonial city. Homes, gardens, and parks dating back to the 1600s have been meticulously restored to their original grandeur. The trees and antique cars throughout the city are spectacular and the weather is temperate all year. One of the most popular and romantic places to stay in Colonia is Plaza Posada Mayor, a beautifully restored colonial hotel. Colonia reminds me of a smaller, more conservative Cartagena, Columbia with fewer tourists.
“Built in the Portuguese style of houses and cobblestoned streets, the historic part of Colonia is reminiscent of old Lisbon with winding streets and colorful houses. The historic quarter, Barrío Historico, on a small peninsula jutting out into the river, was named a UNESCO heritage site in 1995.”
It was a mellow, quiet day in a colorful place of historical significance. The weather was clear, in the mid-70s, and perfect for walking around in such a pleasant atmosphere. I chatted with some of the other passengers on the boat and then along with many others fell asleep on the way back to Buenos Aires! Some passengers went crazy over the duty-free shop and almost bought it out. There were many bargains compared to the high prices in Buenos Aires.