242km (150 miles) W of Montevideo
The tiny gem of Colonia del Sacramento, declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO, appears untouched by time. Dating from the 17th century, the Old City has beautifully preserved colonial artistry down its dusty streets. A leisurely stroll from the Puerta de Campo into the Barrio Histórico (Old, or Historic, Neighborhood) leads under flower-laden windowsills to churches dating from the 1680s, past exquisite single-story homes from Colonia's time as a Portuguese settlement and on to local museums detailing the riches of the town's past. The Barrio Histórico contains brilliant examples of colonial wealth and many of Uruguay's oldest structures. Yet while the city resides happily in tradition, a mix of lovely shops, delicious cafes, and thoughtful museums make the town more than a history lesson.
Getting There -- The easiest way to reach Colonia from Buenos Aires is by ferry. FerryLíneas (tel. 02/900-6617; www.ferryturismo.com.uy) runs a fast boat that arrives in 45 minutes (fare U$1,572) and a slower 3-hour ferry (U$1,000). Buquebús (tel. 02/916-1910; www.buquebus.com) also offers two classes of service. Prices range from $40 to $70 each way. Colonia Express (tel. 54/11/4313-5100 in Buenos Aires, or 02/901-9597 in Montevideo; www.coloniaexpress.com) offers a similar ferryboat-and-bus combination to Montevideo but has a less frequent schedule. Colonia is a good stopping-off point if you're traveling between Buenos Aires and Montevideo. COT (tel. 02/409-4949 in Montevideo; www.cot.com.uy) offers bus service from Montevideo and from Punta del Este.
Visitor Information -- The Oficina de Turismo, General Flores and Rivera (tel. 052/23700 or 26141), is open daily from 8am to 8pm. There is a smaller Oficina de Turismo on Calle Manuel Lobo 224, near the Barrio Historico (tel. 052/28506) with similar opening hours. Speak with someone at the tourism office to arrange a guided tour of the town or contact the local guide association AGDC (tel. 052/22309; firstname.lastname@example.org). Websites www.colonia.gub.uy and www.guiacolonia.com.uy have info on the area, while Guear (www.guear.com) is a slick booklet specializing in the fine dining and nightlife around Colonia.
A Walk Through Colonia's Barrio Historico
Concentrate in the Barrio Histórico (Old Neighborhood), on the coast at the far southwestern corner of town. The sights, which are all within a few blocks, can easily be visited on foot in a few hours. Museums and tourist sites are open Thursday to Tuesday from 11am to 5:45pm. For U$40, you can buy a pass at the Portuguese or Municipal museum that will get you into all the sights.
Start your tour at Plaza Mayor, the principal square that served as the center of the colonial establishment. To explore Colonia's Portuguese history, cross Calle Manuel Lobo on the southeastern side of the plaza and enter the Museo Portugués. Upon exiting the museum, turn left and walk to the Iglesia Matriz, among the oldest churches in the country and a good example of 17th-century architecture and design.
Next, exit the church and turn left to the Ruinas Convento San Francisco. Dating from 1696, the San Francisco convent was once inhabited by Jesuit and Franciscan monks. Continue up Calle San Francisco to the Casa de Brown, which houses the Museo Municipal. Here you will find an impressive collection of colonial documents and artifacts, a must-see for history buffs.
For those with a more artistic bent, turn left on Calle Misiones de los Tapes and walk 2 blocks to the Museo del Azulejo, a unique museum of 19th-century European and Uruguayan tiles housed in a gorgeous 300-year-old country house. Then stroll back into the center of town along Calle de la Playa, enjoying the shops and cafes along the way, until you come to the Ruinas Casa del Gobernador. The House of the Viceroy captures something of the glorious past of the city's 17th- and 18th-century magistrates, when the port was used for imports, exports, and smuggling. After exploring the opulent lifestyle of colonial leaders, complete your walk with a visit to the UNESCO-Colonia headquarters.
Where to Stay & Dine
Few people stay in Colonia, preferring to make a day trip from Buenos Aires or stop along the way to Montevideo. If you'd rather get a hotel, however, your best bets are the colonial-style Posada Plaza Mayor, Calle del Comercio 111 (tel. 052/23193; www.posadaplazamayor.com), and Hotel La Misión, Calle Misiones de los Tapes 171 (tel. 052/26767; www.lamisionhotel.com), whose original building dates from 1762. Both hotels charge from $100 for a double. A small Sheraton, Continuación de la Rambla de Las Américas s/n (tel. 052/29000: www.sheraton.com), is 10 minutes by car from Colonia. It offers doubles from $185 and has a spa and a golf course. The Four Seasons, Ruta 21, Km 262, Carmelo (tel. 0542/9000; www.fourseasons.com/carmelo), operates a luxury resort in nearby Carmelo, about 45 minutes away. Rooms start at $350.
For dining, Mesón de la Plaza, Vasconcellos 153 (tel. 052/24807), serves quality international and Uruguayan food in a colonial setting. Pulpería de los Faroles, Calle Misiones de los Tapes 101 (tel. 052/25399), in front of Plaza Mayor, specializes in beef and bean dishes and homemade pasta, and has an elegant vibe with pastel tablecloths and well-dressed waiters. Lobo, Calle de Comercio, at La Playa (tel. 052/29254; www.loborestaurante.com), offers creative dishes such as leek-and-bacon raviolis in an attractive setting with live music at weekends. El Drugstore, Vasconcellos 179, at Portugal (tel. 052/25241), has decor as eclectic as its menu. Polka-dot tables and antique cars will catch your eyes, while Japanese sushi and steak compete for your stomach.
Top up on Tannat -- Uruguayan wine is catching up with is more famous regional cousins in Argentina and Chile. Likewise, the wineries, based around Colonia and Carmelo (77km/48 miles northwest of Colonia), are opening up to touring, where you can visit traditional style wineries and try the country's signature red Tannat. Bodega Bernardi, Ruta 1, Laguna de los Patos, Colonia (tel. 052/24752; www.bodegabernardi.com), is a lovely old family-run operation that dates back to the 19th century. There, owner Roberto Bernardi will show you around and introduce you to the Uruguayan sparkling known as frizzante and the ubiquitous Tannat. No appointments are necessary unless you wish to have lunch there. The bodega is 7km (4 miles) from Colonia. A larger operation with lots of tradition is Irurtia, Ramal Ruta 97, Carmelo (tel. 0542/2323; www.irurtia.com.uy), which has atmospheric brick-arched cellars and a 3-million-liter production that includes cabernet and pinot noir. Guide Maria-Noel Irurtia is part of the four generations of wine makers who run the place and gives visitors a very personal tour. A little more humble is Zubizarreta, Ruta 21, Camino de la Calera de las Huerfanas, Carmelo (tel. 0540/2677; www.vinoszubizarreta.com.uy), a modern warehouse style winery producing merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and Tannat. As far as tour operators that will take you around the wineries, the best are Lares, WF Aldunate, Local 15, Montevideo (tel. 02/901-9120; www.lares.com.uy), or Robertson Tours, the Penthouse 1202, 2865 Vázquez Ledesma, Villla Biarritz, Montevideo (tel. 02/7113032; www.robertsonwinetours.com).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.