I was skeptical and undecided wether Uruguay was a country I wanted to visit on this trip. Before I was in Argentina, I hadn’t considered visiting at all. However, with a little under a week spare in Buenos Aires whilst my travel friends Exploring Kiwis visited the Iguazu Falls, I decided to dedicate a few days to visiting Colonia and also the Capital of Uruguay; Montevideo in order to move further North to my next destination of Brazil.
Uruguay is in the Southeastern region of South America, wedged between Brazil and Argentina. Other than its coastline of beaches, it is known for its art deco buildings, colonial homes and vintage cars. Uruguay has a population of 3.4 Million people, and the country was founded in 1825. It is possible to travel to various points in Uruguay from Argentina, and this is what I did.
How to Travel from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay
To get from Buenos Aires to Argentina, although there are various routes, a commonly used method is to take the Ferry across directly to either Colonia or Montevideo. The journey to Colonia takes 1 hour, and to Montevideo it would take you 3 hours. There are a few companies in which you can use, all based around Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires. Websites you can use are – Buquebus, Seacat or Colonia Express. I used Seacat to book a Buquebus service, I wouldn’t recommend colonia express – they use smaller ferrys than Buquebus and have a reputation of being a little unreliable, although are slightly cheaper. The ferry service to Colonia runs approximately four times per day, and I paid 650 Argentinian pesos (£28) one way, but it varies between companies. If you book in advance, online, it is cheaper, however you are required to print the ticket.
As you are leaving Argentina and traveling into Uruguay, after checking in downstairs in the bus terminal, receiving a boarding pass and passing through security, you need to be stamped out of Argentina and stamped into Uruguay by Immigration. This was all very straight forward, however at peak times it can become very busy and I would recommend that you arrive at least 1 hour before the time of your boat as requested on the ticket, allowing plenty of time to get across the city to the ferry port. There is a coffee shop, toilet and seating area with WiFi in the terminal.
On the ferry you do not have seat numbers, and can sit where ever you would like. If you embark early you could get a window seat. I got the 8am boat to Colonia, so that I could get a full first day, the boat was about half full and the weather wasn’t great. Having only been on one, somewhat larger ferry beforehand, I thought I knew what to expect and settled in on the boat with my kindle. However, after twenty minutes, the boat obviously reached a rough part of the water and started rocking from side to side quite violently, where, when it was one side I could see the sky out of one window and the sea from the other! It was a little unsettling and although I first considered maybe it was normal on a smaller ferry – the other passengers, some of which were local residents also looked very worried! Perhaps it was because it was a bit of a grizzly day, or perhaps it is always like that and normal! Either way – I definitely had a rocky ride to Colonia!
A Day in Colonia del Sacramento
When I arrived in Colonia, I collected my backpack from a conveyer belt and then had all of my things passed through an X-ray machine so that I could enter the country. In the Ferry port I got a local map from the Information desk and headed to the Celestino Hostel B&B I planned to stay in. I had checked on hostelworld that they had vacancies but didn’t book as there were plenty of beds available.
I arrived at 10am and planned to check in and drop my bag off before heading to the old town, however I knocked on the door a few times and no one answered… it was raining and my bag was pretty heavy! I knocked again and a man came to the door explaining that they had been closed for a week for refurbishment and asked if I could come back at the check in time of 1pm. I explained I had my bags, and he then suggested I could stay somewhere else! The look on my face prompted him to offer me to leave my bags with him and return after 1pm. Whilst I would recommend the hostel, I was disappointed in my greeting and the hostel was practically empty, which meant I was alone. It does however, have a really nice terrace up on the roof the beds were comfortable but not high enough to sit up in, and the bathroom was in the bedroom. (cost £10.60 per night)
The Old Town in Colonia is really Beautiful, I really enjoyed walking around taking photos and taking in the subtlety colourful buildings and looking for vintage cars. The pretty layout of Colonia contrasts with the architectural style shared by all of the cities of Spanish origin, with its Portuguese . This architecture is the reason that it was declared a World Historical Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995.
There is a route mapped out for you in Colonia, with a small section for the old town and then a longer route for the other sites to see in the town. The old town section takes you all through the picturesque town, over the cobblestone streets past museums and many cafes.
In Punta de San Pedro you will find the citys Lighthouse, which was built in 1857, you can enter the lighthouse for around £1 and climb the 111 steps to the top, the views are nice and you can see the Rio de Plata. Museums that you can visit along the way are the Portuguese museum, the Spanish Museum and the Native Indian Museum.
I chose to walk the full self-guided walking tour from the map, however I wouldn’t recommend it, other than the Colonia sign, everything along the route was either closed, or it was not possible to enter – such as the bull ring, which was really interesting but was boarded up and inaccessible to visitors. This was disappointing, and at 13 miles in length more effort than perhaps worth. There is however a hop on hop off tourist bus that takes you through various neighbourhood in Colonia, however it is a little pricey at $25 and is in Spanish.
I did find a Skatepark en route next to the market just beyond the old town, and decided to spend the next day here. When I returned the next morning, the skate park was empty, it had a small drive way with two hips, a bank, a quarter pipe, a small rail, and some transitions without copings with some small step ups in. After few minutes I hit a stone pushing on the drive way and fell on my front down the bank… I thought – this is not going to be a good day!
However, I cleared the stones off the park, and actually had a pretty good skate until lunchtime. At lunchtime the local secondary school, obviously on their lunch break noticed me over at the skatepark and began cheering every time I did a trick! It was quite funny, and after a few minutes I decided to wait until they disappeared back their classes. Next, 30 primary school children turned up in a bus for their play time, and when I began skating again, they all came to watch! A little girl asked me in Spanish could she have a go, I showed her how and helped her have a roll along the skatepark, 10 minutes later I was surrounded by all of the children and they all had at least one go! It was crazy – there was a lot of Spanglish going on, and they were so enthusiastic!
They were 9 and 10 years old, and were such lovely children. Their teachers thanked me and the kids were really sad to go, each giving me a cuddle and a kiss on the cheek thanking me. Then as a class their teacher asked them to say ‘Thank you Becky‘ it was so cute. They all then waved until there school coach had rounded the corner, and I was left completely overwhelmed and alone at the skatepark at how happy their happiness had made me.
How to get to Montevideo
That afternoon I made the Journey to Montevideo by bus, I took the bus from the Colonia Bus station a few minutes away from the ferry terminal. I used the company COT (cost 350 Uruguayan Pesos/£9) It takes 2 hours 45 minutes, and the bus has WiFi! The Bus drops you at the Tres Cruces bus terminal, and then I took an Uber to my Hostel.
Where to stay in Montevideo
I stayed at the La Tatucera Montevideo Hostel, it is a small hostel a couple of blocks away from the Independence square. It is nice and has two resident cats, the staff were amazing at the time I stayed, but do not speak much English, its perfect if you want to improve your Spanish. The mattresses do really need replacing, (cost £9.20).
What to do in Montevideo
I went on the Montevideo Free walking tour, we met in the Independent Square at 11:00am. It started with the history of Uruguay and Montevideo, in the square there is a statue of Artigas, he was an hero figure during the fight for independence in Montevideo which came in 1830. Also in the square is the Presidential building, it is modern and made out of glass, it is said to represent the transparency between the government and the people. The original Presidential house is now a museum, it has a room for each president of Uruguay dating back the Independence. We then touched on the countries wedding rights and how they have ‘fake’ wedding parties! An interesting fact!
Marijuana is Legal in Uruguay! There are some rules, such as you have to be Uruguayan, you are allowed to grow up to 6 Marijuana plants per house, or buy it at pharmacy, where the allowance is 40g per month for each person over 18 years of age!
There is also an old City in Montevideo, however compared with the pretty pastels and cobbles of Colonia, it was very grey and a little underwhelming.
First stop was the gate of the citadel, just off of independence square, the old city was surrounded by a wall and this was one of the many entrances, it is the only entrance left standing, it is 8 years old and is not the original. The old gate was 250 years old.
Along this street there are many tiles on the floor and it is called the walk of the sun – these tiles are dedicated to important Uruguayan people, or people who have visited Uruguay – Nelson Mandela for example and the Rolling Stones who once came to Uruguay to play a concert because the tickets were too expensive in Argentina, so they played in Uruguay for Argentinians. The rest of the floor tiles are Uruguayan, such as football players and Musicians.
The Teatro Solis, the theatre in Montevideo was first build in 1856, at this time there were many Spanish and Italians living in Montevideo, and there was a European influence of theatre. They built it for business purposes, as a place for business people to meet and either discuss business or socialize. Before 1930 the only option for entertainment in Montevideo was this theatre. And it could take people hours to get here. In 1930 new entertainment came in the form of the cinema, Football, Radio, so in 1937 the theatre became public. If a show is on, you can get tickets for as little as $5.
La Rambla, the area that runs along the coast of Montevideo, is next to the Widest river in the world. 230km wide, 320length (bit square), the water is brown due to sediments, and it is often called the sea.
We then visited the Maltese square that has a nice fountain, by the Freemason Federico Newman, this fountain is a Replica of Florence Italy fountain, which had the Symbol of Uruguay in 1200. The tour ended in the infamous Mercado Del Puerto – the historic port, now a market filled with shops, bars and restaurants offering world famous cuts of meat.
I stayed for one night in Montevideo, I was a little disappointed on how little there was to do, and see. The Uruguayan people that I met were amazing, and really, they made my visit. If you are thinking of visiting Uruguay, whilst I would not discourage you, I would suggest you consider other places you might want to visit.
To get the the Airport, you can take Bus 55 from the bus terminal central in Montevideo, it cost 59 Uruguayan pesos (£1.59) and took 1 hour 10 minutes approximately.
Love B x