Why you should care
Because sometimes we need a new place to help us hit pause.
There is no denying that the rustic South American city of Colonia del Sacramento has its share of museums, nearly a dozen within a few blocks. For just 50 Uruguayan pesos ($1.67), you can visit eight of them, carved into the crevices of buildings, preserving the past of the town’s many colonial conquerers — everyone from the Portuguese to the Spanish, the English, French and, later, Brazilians and Argentines before settling under its current Uruguayan hands.
All that history weighs on Colonia and can be experienced in everything from the arrowheads and pottery of the Museo Indígena to the tiles of the Museo del Azulejo, the giggle-worthy comedy of the Museo del Humor Interactivo and the Museo del Ferrocarril (railway) in the shadow of the former bullfighting arena Plaza de Toros.
But as you walk beneath the trees tipped with yellow fronds, Colonia seems less a city full of museums and more a museum itself, each of those individual archives mere exhibits within its shores. Founded in 1680, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The relics are the broken stones beneath your feet, the blasted-out walls that declare Inmueble en Remodelacion — Property Being Reworked — and the padlocked gates through which you see an obelisk. There is so much here you can see, and not touch. “It is an oasis,” says Pascual, the owner of a local hostel, a statement that would sound clichéd — except this is not a sating of thirst, but a welcome escape from overindulgence.
It’s a place that forces you to slow down and smell the South American roses.
If you’re not the contemplative type, it’s likely you won’t enjoy this retreat. You’d be better off on the gleaming resort beaches of Punta del Este, where weed, gambling and prostitution are all legal, and plentiful. Although you can find all those here in Colonia, just in smaller doses. You’ll also need to be patient. As is the case with many niche museums in tiny towns, opening hours are sporadic, so call ahead. The off-season autumn months, from March to May, are a great time to visit and avoid the Argentine masses, but the town is also quieter then and shops are more likely to shut early for midday siestas.
It’s a place that forces you to slow down and smell the South American roses. When you’ve had your fill of museums, take a stroll down the romantic Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs). Some say the name comes from the sound of the wind rising from the river, others that it’s from the slaves who used to march up this street after arriving with their Portuguese captors. The truth, Pascual argues, is that prostitutes worked these streets, and sighed loudly as the sailors came into port.
Perhaps the sighs are merely the sound of contentment for those lucky enough to be the only customer at the streetside restaurant Buen Suspiro, drinking wine and dining on cheese and chorizo on a warm and winsome night.
- Museo Municipal: Stop here first, to get your citywide museum pass. Historical artifacts, plus dinosaur bones, butterfly and bird collections.
- Museo Casa de Nacarello: Original stone walls and floor of an early-18th-century Portuguese home, with period ceramic, furniture and utensil re-creations.
- Museo Archivo Regional: Ancient documents preserving the history of life in Colonia region; known as the House of Palaces.
- Museo Paleontológico: A collection of Pampas megafauna fossils and indigenous archaeology near Plaza de Toros.
- Museo Portugués: Unique collection of Portuguese furniture, armament and handicrafts, as well as original coat of arms of the Portón de Campo and reproduced 16th- and 17th-century cartographies.
- Museo Indígena: Indigenous and coastal artifacts.
- Museo Español: Materials from first Spanish settlers after 1777. One of its former tenants was Spanish merchant Juan del Águila.
- Museo del Azulejo: Small assortment of blue-dyed Spanish and French tiles used in Río de la Plata architecture since the 1800s.