Colonia del Sacramento

It’s hard to believe but I’ve been in Buenos Aires 3 months already. When tourists arrive here they are given a free 90-day visa. It can be renewed for a further 90 days by visiting the officials in Migraciones and paying $300 (Argentine pesos, not US dollars). To remain legal the alternative is to leave the country and return(which can be done on the same day).

The easiest way to leave the country and return is to take a ferry across the Rio de la Plata to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay and back again. So that’s what I did last Saturday. While virtually everyone in Buenos Aires was sat in front of their TV watching a football match I was sat on a fast catamaran listening to golden-age tango on my iPod and heading towards a few hours in Colonia.

There are 3 companies advertising crossings to Colonia and there is a choice of fast catamaran (50 minutes each way) or slow car ferry (3 hours). It’s worth comparing the deals on their websites and booking in advance. A day return ticket cost me ARG $190. All services leave from the Buquebus terminal at Darseño Norte and they share the vessels. Immigration formalities (departure from Argentina and admission to Uruguay) only took a few minutes. Boarding started about 30 minutes before the departure time and departure was a few minutes later than advertised. Not bad for a South American country whose team were playing in the World Cup. The crossing was smooth and uneventful and took about 20 minutes longer than the advertised 50 minutes.

I thought my ticket included a bus tour around Colonia but when I got there the tour people said otherwise. It wasn’t worth arguing about. The information desk had maps of the town. There’s not really a lot to see in Colonia anyway, a small historic quarter, a couple of parks, a handful of museums, a racetrack and a disused bull ring. I would have liked to see and snap a photo or two of the bull ring. It’s 5km from the port and it was hot and sunny and I had just 4 hours until the ferry returned to Buenos Aires. So I decided against walking there and back. One of the taxi drivers at the port offered me a taxi tour of the town for ARG $70 (about £13) and I couldn’t be bothered to haggle. I also couldn’t be bothered to sit in the back of a beaten-up old taxi on a hot afternoon.

After turning left out of the port I walked up Miguel Angel Odirozola to Barrio Histórico in about 10 minutes. It’s got cobbled streets, some ruined buildings, a couple of preserved buildings from the Portuguese colonial period, part of the original city walls, a drawbridge, a lighthouse and loads of restaurants. Admission to the lighthouse was ARG $3.50 and there’s a decent view from the top. Most of the restaurants around Plaza Mayor were doing lots of trade (I doubt it was brisk!) with lunch costing about UR $300-$400 per person. There’s a foreign exchange desk at the port but everywhere is happy to accept Argentinian pesos at a rate of roughly ARG $1 = UR $4, about the same as the foreign exchange desk. The bars and restaurants outside the historic quarter were cheaper.

After lunch and a couple of hours of aimless wandering it was time to head back to the port. The immigration officer wanted to see my outbound ticket stub (stamped with the admission date – probably a good thing I hadn’t thrown it away – no-one had told me I needed to keep it) and passport, and gave me another 90 day visa for Argentina. Mission accomplished!

We left Uruguay almost exactly on time with the sun just starting to set. The Rio de la Plata was as calm as a mill pond and the return crossing was even smoother than the outbound one. It was no quicker though and it was properly night time when I walked out of the Buquebus terminal. The air was heavy with despair, it was almost palpable. Everyone looked miserable and dejected. I didn’t need to ask what had happened in the football.

There are some photos from Colonia del Sacramento in this set on Flickr.

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