Thursday, March 28, 2024

Colonia's charms attract international visitors to quaint historic town


Plaza de toros Real de San Carlos, the bullring in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, was built in 1909 but soon closed after prohibition of bull fighting in 1912. After a century of abandonment, it was restored in 2021, transformed into a cultural center.



VISITORS FROM                     


 Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento is one of the graceful
reminders of the long and colorful history of Colonia.



NOW A QUAINT little tourist town in southwestern Uruguay, Colonia del Sacramento has a rich and stormy history. Like many contemporary cities, one wouldn't envision war and conflict from its peaceful present facade.
Located on the vast expanses of  Rio de la Plata, Colonia faces Buenos Aires, Argentina, and is one of Uruguay's most visited and oldest towns.
It's also a popular weekend getaway for wealthy and middle-class Argentines, known as "porteños " or people of the port because so many arrived by boat.
The streets of Colonia reall an earlier time. Little shops,
eateries and old stone buildings remind of long ago.
WE FOUND two convenient ways to reach Colonia: by bus from Montevideo or by boat from Buenos Aires. Through the centuries, legions of settlers and explorers have arrived by the murky brown waters of the huge river. The quickest and easiest way is still by water, with two ferry companies operating from Buenos Aires, a pleasant 75 minute ride in one of the comfortable, frequent ships.  The bus trip from Montevideo is longer -- about two hours -- with mostly farmland and prairie out the window and not as comfortable as the ferry. These ferries are unlike others we've used in Europe or Asia. They're huge little cities, with several classes of seats (we chose the Buquebus mid-priced option.) The comfy seats recline, there's an enormous duty free shop on board and a variety of snack and beverage options.
Colonia's lighthouse dates to 1850. 

Arriving in the town, population 27,000, is a relaxing change from busy Buenos Aires.
Its historic quarter is a Unesco World Heritage Site. But besides historic buildings attracting tourism, today's  Colonia produces textiles. It also boasts a free trade zone, a busy polytechnic center and government buildings.

WHILE THE Portuguese established Colonia in 1680, it has been heavily disputed and many times brought under siege as Spain desired it, too.  Spain took the city twice -- in 1681 and 1705, claiming the area based on the Treaty of Tordesillas. But the Spanish returned it to the Portuguese by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The Spanish-Portuguese war lasted two brutal years from 1735-37, but failed. The dispute's long history stems from Colonia's river location which is still attracting explorers and investors. Uruguay has launched plans to create its version of Silicon Valley
in Colonia. ''Colonia Ala Este'' is designed by U.S. investors to attract Argentine immigrants
Colonia's pastels, stone and stucco make it an attractive
stop for tourists, who can easily spend a day or two.
who wish to escape the challenging economy in their country. The goal is to double the population -- to 60,000 people. With an initial investment of more than US$100 million, plans are to build a sustainable city open to the community to generate a hub for the knowledge- economy industry.  The designated 500-hectare site  includes forests and seven kilometers of coastline with lovely beaches including Calabrés and Fernando.
ANOTHER SIGN of growth is the impressive Plaza de Toros Real de San Carlos, a former bullring now reinvented. Built in 1909, the ring was shortly closed after prohibition of bull fighting in 1912. In 2021, after a century of abandonment, it was beautifully restored and transformed into a cultural center for musical and sports.
Colonia is a pleasant place for a stroll, with its
cobblestone, attractive architecture and great bridge. 

Colonia is truly Uruguay's shining star, a pretty little "cash cow" without being corny. It's welcoming and safe, with history at every turn, beautiful little shops and terrific dining at half the price of Buenos Aires, which we also love. We found it a pleasant complement to the bustle of the city.

We dined on tasty fish,
chicken and salad with
a river view in one of
Colonia's many eateries.

Colonia is popular with tourists from South America
and beyond, but particularly Buenos Aires and the U.S.
Colonia is a popular getaway for both Argentines and international travelers  enjoyed a day in the picturesque town where we
The drive to Colonia
offers this landscape.

strolled around low houses and quiet squares, developed centuries ago.


Tango relies on quick movement, sexy poses and agile
dancers, always backed by expert musicians.

UP NEXT: Tango, that seductive, sexy, passionate dance of Argentina and Uruguay, originated in the bordello.  It was once a dance practiced only by prostitutes, pimps and those considered "low life" by the aristocracy.  Now it is a major tourist attraction and respected artform. It is also expensive, if you frequent the clubs. But there are ways to see tango without paying through the nose.  Buskers often tango for tips, and if you're on a cruise in that part of the world, you'll have tango as part of the cruise fare. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch  us weekly for a fresh spin on performance, travel, nature, family and more: 


  1. New Hampshire RoadiesMarch 29, 2024 at 8:26 PM

    Have always wanted to visit Colonia. Now for sure!

  2. Baton Rouge RoversApril 2, 2024 at 5:56 AM

    Will be there next January. Looking forward. Thanks for the preview!

  3. Philly History BuffsApril 4, 2024 at 7:57 AM

    We intend to make it to Argentina and Uruguay next big trip. Very helpful piece.