Founded in 1680 by the Portuguese, Colonia del Sacramento sits on the bank of the Rio de la Plata in Uruguay. It’s not quite as picture postcard perfect-looking as Paraty, the colonial coastal town we visited in Brazil, but it still charmed its way under my skin. Like a manifestation of the Uruguayan mentality, it’s easy-going and not too grandiose.
A lighthouse to climb, a giant chess set to play with, wobbly tables to dine at, gently sloping streets with cobblestones on which to stub your toe, big old doors and old-fashioned cars to photograph….this is the old town in Colonia.
It’s small enough to walk around in an hour, but there are plenty of museums and inviting places to stop and have an ice cream, coffee or snack. We ate in a small restaurant on Calle de España near the pier, Muelle de Yates; the guacamole, and chicken and apple salad were a welcome change from all the ham and cheese salads in Argentina.
Although it looks like the sea, the wide Rio de la Plata is warmer, calmer and browner. Don’t be fooled by the unusual colour. It’s clean and safe to swim and there are plenty of beaches in Colonia where you could spend the whole day in and out the water and picnicking on the sand.
Walking (or cycling) along the Rambla de las Americas you’ll pass lots of new apartments and holiday homes, groups of families and friends drinking mate at the water’s edge and even a section of beach with black sand (Playa Oreja de Negro). At the end you’ll find the only bull ring in Uruguay, built in 1910 and used for only two years before bullfighting was prohibited.
The Cantera de Ferrando is an abandoned quarry pit, now filled with water and surrounded by sandy tussocks and eucalyptus trees. Our hostel owner said it was very beautiful because the water was blue – and until I saw the contrast with the yellow-brown water of the beaches, I didn’t quite understand.
There are a few spots where you can jump straight into the still water, and even a Tarzan swing for plunging in. You can wade slowly in the shallower parts, but watch out for rocks and slippery weed. We saw lots of little fish in the clear water and some larger silver fish leaping out above the surface in the darker centre of the lake. I can only imagine what predator lay beneath in the invisible depths.