My visit to Colonia was concentrated in charming Barrio Historico (historic quarter). This neighbourhood, seemingly untouched but observably well maintained, was in 1995 declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It has cobblestone streets built by the Portuguese in the 17th century and contains some brilliant examples of colonial architecture and many of Uruguay's oldest structures.
Here you'll find delightful cafes and fine food, lovely art and craft shops and museums. Several small hotels are also located here. The Barrio Historico with its charm somehow reminded me of the old Lisbon.
Puerta de Campo (city gate) is the beautifully restored entrance to the old city. The sites, which are all within a few blocks of each other, can easily be visited by foot. Museums and tourist sites are open from Thursday to Monday from 11:30am to 05:45pm. Among the notable attractions around Plaza Mayor (main square) are: Museo Portugues, Museo de Azulejo, Casa del Almirante Brown which houses Museo Municipal, Casa de Nacarello, Iglesia Matriz and El Faro (the lighthouse).
To explore Colonia's Portuguese history, start your tour at the lovely town square Plaza Mayor. It hosts many of the points of historical interest. Around the tree-lined square there are several colonial museums, though small, exhibiting historical and other interesting items.
On the west side of Plaza Mayor is the Museo Municipal where you can glimpse at the colonial past of the 17th - 18th century and next to it is Casa de Nacarello, a restored, 18th century Portuguese house. On the southeastern side of the square is the Museo Portugues, which exhibits Portuguese customs and traditions.
Plaza Mayor is also a pleasant place to rest and have a drink or lunch. Here you'll find some of the town's nicest bars and restaurants.
Probably the most interesting of Colonia's seven museums is Museo Municipal (Municipal Museum), once the home of Irishman Admiral William Brown, who played a heroic role in Uruguay's independence. The museum was rebuilt by the Spanish in 1835 as the Casa del Almirante Brown.
It offers the most comprehensive collection of exhibits connected with the town's history. The museum has seven rooms in the ground floor where the Casa del Virrey ruins are. The ground floor includes an archeological room where you can find mortars, arrowheads and the best exemplary of a native boiler that was found in the Department. In another room there are materials belonging to the Bullring and Real de San Carlos Casino Hotel such as furniture, maps, implements from that period, weapons and a Colonia model from 1762. On the second floor there are historic documents, furniture and the religious room.
Museo Municipal is a must-see for history buffs.
Museo del Azulejo (Tile Museum), inaugurated in 1988, is a typical Portuguese house from 1740 to 1760, built of stone. The walls, a beam and part of the floor are original. This unique museum houses a collection of some nice Portuguese, Spanish and the first Uruguayan tiles (from 1840) and also a collection of typical French glazed tiles of the Rio de la Plata's architecture of the 19th century, the 'Pas de Calais'.
Museo del Azulejo is a tiny museum of only two small rooms. Perhaps some visitors may be disappointed but I enjoyed the visit as I really like tiles. Museo del Azulejo, as most of Colonia's museums, is worth seeing for the building as much as for the contents.
A small street called Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs) runs gently from Plaza Mayor down to Rio de la Plata. This cobblestone street is lined with early 18th century single-storey peasant houses. One is now transformed into art gallery. It is the most scenic Colonia's street and can rival any street of Latin America for its romantic effect.
Calle de los Suspiros is the best place to enjoy spectacular sunset. At night it is lit by yellow street lights and brings the feeling of the old time. It's magic!
Graceful lighthouse, El Faro, is located in the historic quarter, on a peninsula extending into the Rio de la Plata. It was constructed in 1857 within the ruins of Convento de San Francisco (built by the Portuguese in 1682) from the stones of the crumbling convent. The lighthouse is still active.
It is open for visitors. From the top of the tower there is a fine view over the town on a nice day. In present day, as visitors leave and depart Colonia by boat, the lighthouse has become the symbol of Colonia.
Museo Indigena (Indigenous Museum), inaugurated in 1988, is based on a private collection which belongs to Roberto Banchero. He donated his collection to the City Hall of Colonia.
The museum displays variety of assets that belonged to the Charruas Indians and other tribes of the region, such as mortars, knives, scrapers and arrowheads. There is also an exhibition of maps which makes it possible to better understanding of the history of indigenous people of Uruguay.
Iglesia Matriz del Santisimo Sacramento (the Church of the Most Holy Sacrament) is Uruguay's oldest church, dating from 1695-99. Since its foundation it has been partly destroyed several times. Almost entirely destroyed by fire in 1799, the church was restored by Spanish architect Tomas Toribio, and keeps its simple aesthetic appeal to this day.
In spite of restoration work the building has since lost its original architectural unity. The only elements of the original church that have survived are its pillars. The nave however contains some admirable works of art, including a 16th century altarpiece, a 17th century painting of the Holy Family and a sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi.
Many ancient colonial houses along the pretty cobblestone streets are open to the public such as Casa de Nacarello which is now a museum. It is a Portuguese house dating back to 1790; its rooms have very low ceilings. The house was restored with the copies of furniture and now shows the way people lived in colonial times. Casa de Nacarello is situated just next to Museo Municipal.
As in most museums it is not allowed to take pictures, I was pleasantly surprised when the kind employee offered me the opportunity to take some shots :)
A brief walk from Plaza Mayor in nearly any direction will lead you to Rio de la Plata waterfront. It is in fact the estuary formed by the combination of the Uruguay River and the Parana River. This widest estuary in the world (220 kilometres) forms part of the border between Argentina and Uruguay. Despite of its brown colour it gives the impression of the sea rather than a river.
As you walk along the waterfront you see some nice houses with attractive gardens. You can observe everyday life of local people, especially fishermen. This road, Paseo de San Gabriel, leads to the yacht marina and further on you find numerous Colonia beaches.
Next to the ruins of a 17th century Franciscan convent is this 19ht century lighthouse, offering a fine view over the town on a nice day. To the north side of the Faro is the Plaza Mayor 25 de Mayo. On the west side of the Plaza is the Museo Municipal where you can glimpse at the colonial past of the 17th-18th century.
Even in the rain, a quiet walk along the riverfront is in order and offers a pleasant diversion from the many tourist shops along the main street of Av General Flores. Heading north you will come to the yacht center - very quiet on this very wet day!
The Barrio Historico is not a large area. Pick any street and wander. Try and get lost. You'll be amazed at what you can find - here an Azuelo Museum, there a skeleton of a whale. And if you are nice, one of the friendly dogs will accompany you ;-]
Walking around in Old Colonia Town - Barrio Historico you will find many interesting old historical houses, especially the simple design and well built. Most of the houses are double brick and stones. The wall are rendered, maybe the rendering is not so old. Many of the houses turn into restaurant, cafe or souvenir shop.
Kim and I had experienced walking in one of the many narrow cobblestone streets in Barrio Historico Colonia. Some with a view and others with an old canon, a remnant of the past, lying on the cobblestone waiting to be sat by oncoming tourist (see photo). Even Alcopone the infamous gangster park his vintage car on the cobblestone (see photo). For ladies a high heel shoes are not compatible for walking on a cobblestone.