Despite being the department capital, Colonia only has around twenty-seven thousand people, so it is a sleepy colonial town.
When you go from Montevideo to Buenos Aires (BA), you can catch a four-hour direct ferry, but it is cheaper and just as quick to catch a bus to Colonia and a one-hour ferry across the Rio de la Plata (at that point 50km wide and originally mistaken for a sea). Since we were coming here anyway, we thought we might as well stay two nights and have a look around. The town is also popular for day trips from Buenos Aires for tourists, and weekend trips for BA locals.
We arrived in Colonia del Sacramento early in the afternoon, with the bus trip from Montevideo going all as it should (hooray for timeliness and no breakdowns!). It was only a few blocks to our hostel, in the middle of the historic part of town - yet more cobblestone streets. When we arrived, the hostel couldn’t find any details of our booking (despite booking directly on their website, not via third-party as we usually do). The guy at the counter tried his best with his limited English and our limited Spanish, but the girl (who we think spoke fluent English) was no help. After a while, they took us to a room on the side of some construction - having seen other rooms, they are obviously doing renovations and ours was a pre-renovation room that they aren’t supposed to put anyone in.
With out bags dropped off, we decided to go for a walk around the town, and happened to go past the tourist information centre - a map with details on it! It was a quick walk to the interesting parts of the historic city, and quite a small area so it didn’t take long to see the expected collection of historic building, touristy shops, and restaurants/bars. Walking past the Yacht Club, there was a chalkboard advertising a litre of tangerine gin and tonic for 290 pesos ($12 AUD), and who could say no to that? We settled ourselves in for to watch the locals do some fishing and watch the boats come in and out of the harbour. It was bliss! Since the town is so small, there isn’t a lot to do apart from continue to eat and drink, so we did just that. A drink here, and lunch there, a drink elsewhere, and we ended up at El Drugstore - a restaurant that presumably was a pharmacy at some point in the past. Buying a few 1.5 litre sangrias, we lost track of how much we had spent and when we went to pay we realised that we were 100 pesos short in cash, and they didn’t accept cards ☹ James went for a brisk walk around the town, trying to find an ATM at one of the banks that was both accessible at night (not all are) and worked with foreign cards. About 20 minutes later we had some cash to pay the restaurant! We decided at this point it might have been time to head back to the hostel for some sleep.
Friday morning at the hostel was interesting: the shower had no curtain (presumably removed due to renovations), there was a slug in there, and the drainage was a small hole at the bottom of the wall. Going out for some breakfast didn’t improve the situation, with a lot of mosquitos and midgee flies, barely warm coffee and stale bread. This has not been the norm for our stays in hostels so far; it was quite disappointing, as this particular chain of hostels is well known in South America for good accommodation and excellent breakfasts.
Escaping the hostel, we headed down to the ferry terminal to book our tickets for the next day. Choosing the 9:45am crossing we knew it would mean another early morning pack, but the alternative was late afternoon - since it was an international trip (Uruguay to Argentina) we’d need to be there an hour before departure. We had a little trouble navigating to the ferry terminal as it is also the main Naval Port; there were armed guards at the gates, a very new looking building (somewhat unusual in all of the transit places we’d been so far) and we weren’t sure whether it was an area we were supposed to be in or not. We were directed in and then found that we were in the correct place, and could buy our tickets to Buenos Aires.
We wandered our way back through the historic section again, this time taking a few more photos of the beautiful scenery, including the odd dog or five. South America has a large number of stray dogs hanging around, watching where one walks is always advisable here. Heading toward the water, taking in the sunshine and cloudless day, we picked another barbecue place for lunch, with a few more drinks ensuing. It was going to be a fairly long walk to get to any interesting places in the non-historic part of town, or a few kilometres along the beach, so we gave that a miss - the scenery isn’t much different the further around you go. We took in the sites around the area and spent much of our afternoon chatting about what we’d enjoyed on the trip so far. The afternoon was spent sitting on the fence near the water, watching the stunning sunset and taking in the blissful view with a wine or two and some picada (a small share plate of meats, cheeses, breads and other comestibles).
Getting up early for the morning pack (along with another dismal shower and breakfast), we walked the couple of blocks to the ferry terminal. Swapping our reservation paper for tickets was simple, and we headed into the migration hall. As we approached the queue, the attendant opened the barrier for a second line for the person in front of us, and said something we didn’t understand in Spanish, so we followed. We weren’t sure if we were in a line for people with something special, since we’d jumped in front of the 60 people in line, but we think it was just a second normal line. The immigration desk is very well organised there, you give your ticket and passports to the Uruguayan immigration officer, who then hands them to the Argentinean officer sitting next to them - both Uruguay exit and Argentina entry all done in about two minutes!
After waiting a while in the stark departure area, we boarded the ferry to cross the very brown-coloured Rio de la Plata, and go on to Buenos Aires. The boat had a fairly large selection of food, wine, duty free and rather comfortable seats, much better than we were expecting! Bring on Buenos Aires!