Radiating an unspoiled charm and colonial heritage unmatched, Colonia del Sacramento—a post-colonial style city mirroring Buenos Aires over the Río de la Plata’s picturesque northern shores, displays an exquisitely-preserved showcase of its 17th century roots. The only cultural site in Uruguay to have attained a UNESCO World Heritage status, Colonia is the second oldest city in Uruguay, founded by the Portuguese in 1680. One would never imagine that this serene town of quaint settings was once one of Uruguay’s most war-devastated sites, caught up in a century-long power struggle between Spanish and Portuguese colonials. Once a center for smuggled trade items, Colonia’s great commercial importance declined in 1777 when Spain took full control of the city.
Stroll into the Barrio Histórico, Colonia’s peninsular historic center, to see a well-preserved mix of the city’s Portuguese, Spanish and post-colonial architecture and a rich assortment of historical sites among its cobbled streets. There are a handful of unique monuments scattered about the tree-lined main square (Plaza Mayor) such as the 1857 lighthouse, El Faro; and the City Gate and its impressive wooden drawbridge. The oldest church in Uruguay, Iglesia Matriz (Basilica of the Holy Sacrament), is an excellent example of post-colonial architecture and curiously the only church in Colonia. Small museums highlighting Colonial Portuguese culture are also found. A successful fusion of the urban planning and architectural traditions of both Spain and Portugal, Barrio Histórico makes Colonia a place like no other in the region.
For a more modern scene, head to the city’s downtown, with shops and gourmet Uruguayan restaurants. It is from here where you can also view the country’s port.
Located in western Uruguay, along the shores of the island-studded Río de la Plata, Carmelo is a quaint riverside town with a trademark tranquil quietness that exudes a rustic feel. Founded in 1816 by Colonel José Gervasio Artigas, this authentic, laid-back South American town has yet to be touched by commercialism. You will find cobbled streets, low old houses, and yachting and fishing centers strung along the Río de la Plata. Many Argentinians dock their boats in town during the South American summer, which is known for its display of refurbished cars from the 1920s and 1930s. With golden, riverfront beaches; rich cultural offerings; and an up-and-coming wine region, Carmelo is perhaps Uruguay’s best-kept secret.
Plaza Independencia, the city’s town center, sees many commercial and civic activities. Here you will find the municipal buildings and typical coffee shops. Artigas Square is the historical area, housing the Monument and the Foundation Act of Carmelo, the Del Carmen Historical Church and the Parish Museum and Archive.
Carmelo is set near some of the county’s best wine-producing regions, albeit slightly smaller than the biggest regions which are found outside Montevideo and Canelones. There are 8 vineyards centered around the city; comprising grassy roads, open pastures of grazing cattle, hillside vineyards, burgeoning wildflowers and rosemary and lavender plants, you could say Carmelo’s wine region is a Tuscany in miniature. Sample the locally-produced Tannat, Uruguay’s signature wine, at wineries like the family-owned Narbona Wine Lodge Relais & Chateaux.
However, the city’s main attraction is its many outdoor offerings including horseback riding; fishing excursions; camping and swimming; endless sessions of mate and sportfishing on the Río de la Plata; canoe trips and even polo lessons. The fine white sands of Seré Beach prove one of the city’s most beautiful features.