Where: Colonia Del Sacramento, Uruguay
Distance from Ann Arbor: 5,556 miles (13+ hour flight, one hour ferry)
Trip Duration: Weekend Stay
Last May, GQ Magazine featured a list of South America’s most beautiful places titled "Head South: Where to Take Her 2015." Full-color photos of lush jungles splashed across every page – just reading the magazine, I knew I had to visit these hidden Southern paradises. Sigh. Too bad I couldn’t find myself a "her".
Self-shaming thoughts aside, I read the travel feature with highlighter in hand, searching for my next destination. The article included a sidebar wherein the magazine asked a few "real live ladies" where they would like to be taken on vacation. GQ director of photography Krista Prestek described a trip she and her husband took once to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Colonia Del Sacramento, Uruguay. I read those words and lit up. “Next” destination? I've already been to those places!
I guess you might call the two preceding paragraphs an anecdote — you know, what Dictionary.com might describe as, oh, I don't know, “a short account of a particular incident or event, especially of an interesting or amusing nature.” I typed it up as a way to get on the subject of Uruguay, and whether it worked for you or not: buckle up, because here we go.
In the spring of 2014, I hopped a couple planes and landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was in Argentina with a group of fourteen or so University of Michigan students to study the Spanish language, and study we did. In between our rigorous class meetings, we took a weekend excursion across the Río de La Plata (the massive river that separates Argentina from its neighbors) to Colonia del Sacramento, one of the oldest and most storied towns in Uruguay.
Colonia Del Sacramento was founded in 1680 and sits in the southwestern portion of Uruguay — a country that, unfortunately, I imagine isn’t on many “bucket lists” when someone plans a visit to South America. Uruguay is a beautiful country, but it’s also surrounded by Argentina and Brazil, the continent’s two largest tourist draws (for reference, I knew Uruguay from confusing it with Paraguay in my high school Spanish classes). Now, I’d finally have the chance to visit.
The ferry ride from Buenos Aires to Colonia Del Sacramento took less than an hour. After disembarking, we made our way to La Posada del Angel, a quaint little bed and breakfast within walking distance of the ferry terminal. Some reviewers on Trip Advisor have their qualms over what they considered a subpar experience, but I thought La Posada was neat and comfortable. I enjoyed the old-school charm and unpretentious hospitality it had to offer. Plus, La Posada is a stone’s throw from what attracts most visitors to Colonia Del Sacramento: the town’s Barrio Histórico (or “historic quarter”), a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site.
Our group visited under overcast skies, but no clouds could grey the experience of visiting the living time capsule that is the Barrio Histórico. Kodak moments — the phrase hasn't gone bankrupt, right? — presented themselves in front of the Portón de Campo (the city gate, with wooden drawbridge included), the Calle de Los Suspiros (the Street of Sighs), and the 18th-century cannon positioned along the city wall. If you visit, be sure not to miss climbing the stairs of the historic lighthouse. An unforgettable bird’s eye view of the whole quarter awaits.
For lunch in the Barrio Histórico, we stopped in at El Drugstore, a restaurant/bar with a sign outside the door that promises "Comida a toda hora" ("Food at all times"). To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what I ate there (Instagramming your food hadn't totally caught on yet in 2014, or I was just behind the times). What I do remember about El Drugstore — other than its strange name — is that the interior contains a splash of every color you could imagine. Not only are the walls covered from floor to ceiling with various paintings and other works of art, but the tablecloths, chairs, and walls themselves all sport vibrant colors as well. It was sensory overload, in the most charming way possible.
Though we were staying at La Posada del Angel, we spent one of our afternoons visiting another bed and breakfast in an area somewhat removed from the city’s core. This was La Casa de los Limoneros —The House of the Lemon Trees — an establishment owned by one of our study abroad program directors, Mario Cantarini.
Mario invited our group to spend an afternoon at the hilltop “La Casa”, which overlooks row after row of lemon trees, a large pool with straw-roofed cabanas, and plenty of other natural scenery for the eyes to take in. Our host gave us a tour of the house, and then cooked up some delicious native chorizo for us. (Uruguayan chorizo is a smoked and dried pork sausage spiced with garlic, peppers, and juniper berries. If you're a meat-eater, it's a little like heaven; if not, I'm sorry.)
After an afternoon gallivanting about the lemon trees and checking out the grounds of La Casa, Mario served our group a homemade feast beneath the house’s pavilion. Again, I do not recall what we ate, but I assure you it was divine. Mario is perhaps the most hospitable and welcoming host you will ever meet, and he holds his guests' comfort and satisfaction in highest regard, dining experience included.
Following the fanciful feast (you're welcome for that alliterative statement), we tossed some lemons around in the field like baseballs before taking a stroll down Camino a la Arenisca to the beach. Playa La Arenisca (Sandstone Beach) faces west toward Buenos Aires back across the Río de La Plata, and although there is not much beach on the river, what space there is was enough for our group of less than twenty. We rolled up our pant legs and waded in the water; sat in the perches of tree branches and conversed; and, of course, took sunset group photos with the Río de La Plata as the backdrop. All in all, the perfect ending to a day spent in one of the paradises of South America.
Playa La Arenisca encapsulated the special feel of Colonia Del Sacramento every bit as much as the Barrio Histórico or La Casa de los Limoneros: across the river from one of South America’s biggest cities lies this town preserved in time, a place to sit back, relax, and unwind. Whether walking the cobblestone streets of the historic quarter, roaming the groves of lemon trees at La Casa in the countryside, or dipping your toes in the Río de La Plata, the city has a knack for bringing a sense of calm over you. It shakes you gently, saying, "Hold up a minute. Look around yourself. Enjoy this."
Indulge that little voice in your head, and spend some time in Colonia Del Sacramento, one of South America’s hidden paradises. More often than not, that voice is right.
NEXT TIME: Firefly Music Festival