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Friday, December 6, 2013

A trip to Uruguay - Day 1 - Colonia !!!

As I mentioned in my earlier blog, I did a lot of research on the place before I visited. I thought it would be better to pen down few points which I had jotted down for me and also the experience I had there. Probably it can help someone who is planning for this trip.

I would start with a small history of Colonia which attracted me - 
History Colonia (aka Colonia del Sacramento) was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese (Manuel Lobo), sandwiched in between the Portuguese colony of Brazil and the Spanish Vice Royalty of the River Plate (later Argentina, Uruguay and Southern Brazil). For years Colonia was a smuggling port, evading the strict trade measures imposed in the Americas by the Spanish. Due to this situation, the city changed hands many times between the Portuguese and the Spanish. Even Brazil controlled it for a short while, until the new country of Uruguay declared independence in 1825.

How to get In to Colonia from Buenos Aires :

There are a 3 famous boat connections from Buenos Aires, Argentina throughout the day and these are - Buquebus, ColoniaExpress and Seacat.
-       Buquebus – As per people’s comment, this is the best option to travel. Buquebus runs 2 types of service, one faster and more expensive which takes around 1 hour (BsAs to COL), slower is cheaper and takes around 3 hours (BsAs to COL). I would recommend slow cruise only in case you have plenty of time. But the only problem I found was that it was bit costlier. It was costing me around 700ARS for round trip Buenos Aires to Colonia in Oct 2013 (for fast cruise). You can inquire more at - http://www.buquebus.com/cache/HomeARG.html
-       Colonia Express – This is the best suitable option I found for me. The price was quite reasonable and reviews I read were also good. It costed me around 470ARS for round trip Buenos Aires to Colonia in Oct 2013. I didn’t bother about seats and comfortabality that much as it was just 1 hour journey. My overall experience was quite good and I will give 4 starts out of 5 (1 star less as they don’t allow to go out, at the deck – to capture Titanic style pose J ). You can inquire more at - http://coloniaexpress.com/ar
-       Seacat – I didn’t find much reviews for this service. Moreover price was not less than Colonia Express. So, I didn’t research much on this. You can inquire more at - http://www.seacatcolonia.com/index.php?sitelanguaje=ES&sitecountry=AR


What to do in Colonia :

Once you arrive into Colonia del Sacramento, a calm environment, cobblestone streets, caf├ęs and historical sites will greet you. You can visit the historical sites of Colonia in two hours by foot. Either take a walking tour with a local guide or walk around on your own with a map.

How to start :

I would recommend to visit tourism office first, which right in front of the port of Colonia when you come out (near to bus stand). They provide you all the information you need and also map (which covers every inch and place). This service is free of cost and people are of very welcoming nature. Then you can make your plan according to time you wanna spend in Colonia.

You can hire transport as well if you want. There are plenty of services available outside the port. Where you can rent a car, motor or bicycle for whole day for hourly based. One of the very famous are Thrifty. I have attached the photo for reference. They charge you around 35USD for 1 day (rates can vary as per season). You will require your driving license and a credit card to hire.
  
Attraction points :
The main attraction of Colonia is its historic center. Eight small museums can be visited with only one cheap entrance ticket which must be purchased in the Museo Municipal (50 Argentinian Pesos). Seven of these museums are in the town center itself but it must be said that although not costly the museums have little to recommend themselves - most only consist of one or two rooms of very uninspiring exhibits.

-       Calle de los suspiros : This is most famous point of Colonia. This street has cobblestone streets and alleyways and colorful old houses on the left after you enter from the drawbridge. Most of these houses are used as restaurants, museums, art galleries and souvenir shops.
-       Light House : The entry ticket to this light house is around 20UYU. The lighthouse is located between Plaza Mayor and Calle de San Pedro and was built on the foundations of the destroyed Francisco Javier Convent. The 88.5 feet structure though not tall compared to many lighthouses of the world, but offers a view of Colonia del Sacramento, the Rio de la Plata and the skyline of Buenos Aires. From here you can get a 360 degree unobstructed view of the whole area surrounding Colonia del Sacramento. The best time to visit this place is right before sunset.
-       Dining in one of the cafes : Colorful chairs are arranged outside most restaurants and cafes for visitors to stop by for coffee, beer or lunch. You can visit any of the restaurant according to your choice of view you want to enjoy.

Food :
-       You can eat on cafes or restaurants.
-       But I found the best option as Farolitos, it is just opposite to bus stand (or information centre). It is like the subway where you can customize your sandwich with whatever you want. They have a wide variety of items like chicken/ham/beef, tomato/sweetcorn/capsicum/onion, sausages etc etc…

Money exchange :
-       Money exchange is not a problem in Uruguay (specially for USD, GBP or ARS). Almost all currency are welcome at official rate except ARS. For instance, when I visited (Nov 2013), official rate was 3.6UYU/ARS but we got deal as 1.9UYU/ARS. But we still thought it as a good deal as ARS is not acceptable in many counties. Most of the people (restaurants) accept ARS too but exchange rate can vary. But still I would recommend you to get some money convert to UYU (on port or bus stand).

Language : Spanish is the official language of Uruguay but I could find few people who speaks English there. I won’t say many but still ratio was better than in Argentina. My hand is bit tight in Spanish but 1 year experience in Argentina taught me well to handle such type of conditions. Still I would recommend to carry a pocket or mobile dictionary of Spanish if you don’t speak Spanish.

Pics : You can visit my facebook album to check for few of the pictures I clicked at this link.

Please check for the Next post for details on Montevideo activities.

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