Prior to starting off on this grand adventure we’re riding right now, there was one place I came across whilst researching South America that instantly hit the priority list.
Images of irregular cobbled streets, flowering bougainvillea creeping up old, stuccoed buildings and lazy sunsets was enough to get my attention.
Colonia Del Sacramento, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The main attraction here is Barrio Histórico, the original section of the city – founded in 1680 by the Portuguese – that takes up the western tip of the peninsula which juts into Río de la Plata.
Within the old city walls – only a section of which remains – the old Portuguese-designed streets are irregular and unplanned, unlike the newer grid-like plan built by the Spanish outside of the wall. Regardless of layout, the historic quarter is a joy to explore and get lost in.
Restaurants, cafés, bars and shops can be found dotted about – nestled in colonial buildings, in leafy courtyards or overlooking the murky Río.
Many look at Colonia Del Sacramento as a day trip destination, which does work for some as once you’ve wandered its streets, there’s not a great deal more to see or do.
However, spend a night of two in Barrio Histórico and you get the chance to experience it once the day-trippers head back to Buenos Aires.
There are plenty of places to stay in Colonia Del Sacramento, so the hardest part is choosing.
Where did we stay? Right on the beautiful Plaza Mayor at La Posadita de la Plaza – a gorgeous and quirky little space with just four, individually-styled rooms. It’s close to everything in the historic quarter and about a 10 minute walk from the ferry terminal.
For more info, read my full article on La Posadita de la Plaza here.
La Posadita de la Plaza, Misiones de los Tapes 177
Whether your preference is sitting on the cobbles in the sun, or inside surrounded by pantry items and pastel-coloured floral patterns, Deli de las Rosas is a nice place to sit and take a load off for a bit.
Sip coffee, tea or liqueur, nibble on homemade cakes, pastries and breads or pick up packs of grains, gluten-free flour or bottles of sauces and condiments. Those shelves are packed with some great little things. These guys are vegetarian and vegan friendly, too.
Deli de las Rosas, Calle Del Colegio 98
For somewhere that offers a little more than coffee and cakes, a few doors away from Deli de la Rosas is La Bohemia. Homemade pasta, risotto, salads, vino – even fondue. Prices are geared for the tourist, but that kind of applies to most non-local restaurants in this part of town.
La Bohemia, Calle Del Colegio 66
One of the best coffees in town can be enjoyed here, at Ganache. Take a seat beneath the bougainvilleas on the cobbles or in the quirky lounge and chow on sandwiches, cakes, pastries or empanadas. If you like your tea or hot chocolate, they’ve got that covered, as well. Coffee buffs may be keen to give the Aeropress or V60 a go – a process that makes good use of the house-roasted beans.
Ganache Café & Pastelería, Calle Real 178
Housed in a former 1800’s mansion right next to the old city wall, Bocadesanto is the place to get your burger fix in Colonia. There’s a variety of seating areas – the front living room, the central ‘library’ or the sun-drenched rear courtyard – take your pick. We love the vintage touches in both rooms, and as for those burgers, they’re pretty damn special – even if they do come with an AUD$18 price tag.
Their separate bakery menu features the likes of chocolate cake, apple crumble, red velvet cake, cocada and chelsea buns.
If you like your beer, go for one of the artisan brews.
Bocadesanto, Paseo de San Miguel Puerta 81
Located on the most photographed street in Uruguay – Calle de los Suspiros – El Buen Suspiro is a magnet for those of us that like their local vino, cheese and cured meats. Anyone over 6 feet needs to stoop to enter this Portuguese dwelling built in the 1720’s, and once inside, you’re captivated by the array of goodies that line its shelves.
Aside from wine, there’s a dazzling array of preserves, sweets, wheels of cheese and olive oils. But this is more than a place to buy these tasty products. Take your pick from one of the tailored cheese & cured meat platters or simply order a soup or lasagne and soak in the history that oozes from the crumbly stone walls.
El Buen Suspiro, Calle de los Suspiros 92
Somewhere we hung out every afternoon during our stay in Colonia was down on the waterfront at Café del Muelle Viejo – or the Old Pier Café. It’s a tiny place located in an old warehouse built 250 years ago, a few steps from the pier.
The main attraction, for us, was the two caipirinhas for 150 pesos – the most perfect cold beverage while sitting outside on the cobbles in the balmy afternoon breeze. Food-wise, they have a very simple menu featuring pizza, empanadas, a sandwich and a few sweets.
Or, if you’re in town in October, like we were, pick a few nisperos (loquats) from the tree next door and take a few juicy bites between caipirinhas.
Café del Muelle Viejo, Calle de España 269
Once the sun goes down and the barrage of tourists ferry back to Buenos Aires, Colonia becomes less crowded and the town almost feels like it’s entirely yours. More of the restaurants and bars open their doors and everything is enveloped in the golden glow from illuminated street lanterns.
We may not have made it as far as that handsome parrilla or tried the pizzas, pastas, chivitos or grilled fish, but we did enjoy sitting at Murcosur glugging on chopp (tap beer) outside on the pavement.
Restaurante Mercosur, Avenida General Flores 200
For one of the best deals in town, filling up on grilled meats at the Sos Gardel parrilla may be the trick. All you can eat for 390 pesos (AUD$18) – which includes whatever is on the parrilla, salad bar, 500 ml wine, bread, french fries and a dessert.
The negatives? Where do I start – the salad bar mostly consists of defrosted vegetables from packets, a sultry waitress stands around and quite literally stares at you as you eat and the parrilla chef leans on the counter, picking and biting his nails, waiting for something to happen. Management clearly had the night off, when we were there.
Aside from that, the grilled meat was fab, the vino was good and the fresh carrots, tomato and boiled eggs were just as they should be.
Sos Gardel, corner Vasconcellos & Avenida General Flores
The service couldn’t have been warmer at Istanbul Gourmet, a restaurant that was barely open for two weeks when we dropped in. Had it not been for a small sign on a lamp post up on the main drag, we wouldn’t have even walked down the quiet street the restaurant is located.
Kebabs, falafels, kibbeh; it’s all on the menu. Loved the complimentary labne and hummus with pul biber-spiced chickpeas – a nice little start to the dürüm (340) – spiced chicken, lettuce and onion wrapped in flatbread. Or the spiced kebab con verduras (320) – beef with sautéed vegetables.
Turkish coffee is available, of course, plus kombe – cookies stuffed with roasted peanuts and dried grapes – and baklava.
Istanbul Gourmet, Washington Barbot 231
How we got to Colonia del Sacramento from Punta Del Este.
We used COT 1a Clase bus. Two separate tickets needed to be purchased – Punta to Montevideo 282 pesos per person and Montevideo to Colonia 360 pesos per person.