Colonia Antigua
Uruguay Travel Tips

Let's visit Plaza de Toros and San Benito Chapel in Real de San Carlos and then we will summarize the visit to Colonia Antigua providing travel advises and tips for tourists.

Page 4

Scroll down to the bottom of this page to see the gallery of pictures.

Colonia del Sacramento:   Beyond Barrio Histórico

Iglesia San Benito (St. Benedict Church)

      San Benito Church was established in 1761, which makes it the oldest church (chapel) in Uruguay. Its parochial documents reveal that the first baptism took place here on August 20 of that same year.

     Initially called the Chapel of San Carlos, it was later “re-baptized” to honor St. Benedict of Palermo.

San Benito, also known as The Black Saint in reference to his Sicilian-Moorish origins (and dark skin color) is widely revered across South America.

During the Great War, however, the church was badly damaged and stripped of all its ornaments and sacred vessels. Even the church bells were removed, likely due to the army’s usual “appetite” for bronze.

In 1905, thanks to the efforts of local communities, the church was renovated to more or less its initial design (though the new roof is an exception). The church is located on Avenida Luis Alberto de Herrera in Real de San Carlos (not far from the Bullring).

The Plaza de Toros (the Bullring)

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Real de San Carlos

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Real de San Carlos

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Real de San Carlos

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Left - Real de San Carlos' Bullring;

Right - Nearby beach :-).....  

      When the Plaza de Toros (the Bullring) in Real de San Carlos opened in January 1910, no one knew that its days were already numbered. The history of this colossal structure able to host about 10,000 spectators turned out to be “colorful’ but very short.

The Plaza de Toros was part of a larger project that the Argentinean shipping mogul, Nicolas Mihanovich, initiated to try to find new sources of revenue for his large fleet of steamers (the steamer industry was threatened by the rapid development of the railroad system).

Mihanovich decided to invest in a “tourist complex.” Thanks to the complex’s location across the waters of Rio de la Plata in a small, former military outpost, Real de San Carlos, Mihanovich tried to catch two birds with one stone – gain the revenue from the business itself (bullfighting was banned in Argentina at the time) and find new customers for his fleet of passenger ships.

    The complex also included: a 3,000-seat “jai alai” court (a sort of “racquetball” game of Spanish (Basque) origins, with the racket replaced by a hand-held basket, commonly called a “pelota”), a horse-racing track, a luxury hotel and even a theater.

On the banks of the river next to the resort, Mihanovich built a pier for his vessels to ensure a steady influx of visitors from nearby Buenos Aires. From the pier, passengers were taking the mini-train directly to the Plaza de Toros or the hotel.

The Plaza de Toros had a circular arena with a diameter of about 50m (55 yards) surrounded by rows of boxes and two rows of bleachers resting on an iron frame and supported by an outer Moorish-style arched brick wall. The plaza also included the Chapel of the Virgen del Carmen, a restaurant and a platform for an orchestra.

The opening ceremony and first bullfight were postponed because “an explosive” fight erupted among the spectators, in a way moving the “corrida” from the main arena to the stands. The second opening attempt was much more successful, thanks to the famous Spanish toreadors Ricardo and Miguel Torres (aka “Bombita Grande” and “Bombita Chico,” respectively). Subsequent bullfights drew enormous crowds of spectators, and everyone looked forward to the bullrings’ bright future.

Although by most accounts Mihanovich made very clever business decisions, his timing regarding this deal could not have been worse. A bullfighting ban was introduced by the Uruguayan government just two years and eight bullfights after its inception.

Soon after that, in an attempt to save the complex, Mihanovich opened a casino on the same site, yet once again his plans were torpedoed – this time by the Argentinean government’s decision to impose an extra tax on gamblers. Finally, the economic crisis accompanying World War I sealed the destiny of the complex.

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - artisana Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - artisana Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - streets
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"Shopping Center" - few artisan shops and boutiques where you may come across interesting, fashionable items at reasonable prices.

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Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Museums Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Museums Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Museums
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Colonia del Sacramento - a place when time goes at much slower pace....

  Today, the abandoned bullring on the outskirts of Colonia is no more than pieces of crumbling ruins. Due to its poor condition and danger of collapse, the structure is closed to visitors. Although not a part of Colonia’s Barrio Historico, this lonely, century-old Moorish-style structure located in the “middle of nowhere” is still worthy of visitors’ attention. The nearby beach with a snack bar offers an extra incentive to visit.

After many years of neglect, the “jai alai” stadium was renovated in 1974 for the World Cup of Pelota, hosted by Uruguay. But today, only the Real de San Carlos racetrack is still in use. 

Getting There & Around 

     Although Colonia de Sacramento is accessible by land from about 160 km (100 miles) away Montevideo, most tourists arrive from nearby Buenos Aires, located only some 50 km (32 miles) across the Rio de la Plata.

The fast service by Buquebus from Puerto Madero makes the trip to Colonia in less than one hour. This short boat trip combined with an often-remarkable sunset over the La Plata waters during the evening return will make your voyage into the past an even more memorable odyssey.

Barrio Historico occupies a relatively small area, so the best way to get around is on foot, though there is one caveat: some streets’ original cobblestones remain from early colonial times. These quaint but uneven surfaces make walking difficult for most.

Also, the roots of the beautiful trees that line the streets have grown under and damaged many sidewalks, so be careful when walking, but take it gracefully as a part of your journey to the past.

For those who wish to see more than just Barrio Historico, several means of transport are available. If you can live one day without a car then bikes, scooters, golf carts and dune buggies are your best choices.

These means of transport are safe, offer much better accessibility than a car and are a lot of fun! You can rent these on the Avenue General Flores or through other rental offices. If you do feel you would rather rent a car, you may do so at the rental office next to the ferry terminal. 


     Although going to the beach may not be the main goal of your trip to Colonia, it will be difficult to not notice the area’s beautiful beaches. Almost the entire coastline comprising several kilometers (miles) from Colonia to Real de San Carlos and beyond offers lovely beaches – mostly empty during the weekdays (but weekends, of course, are a different story). Playas El Alamo, Oreja de Negro, El Balneario and Real de San Carlos are only a few.

Free Colonia Uruguay Tour Pictures and Travel Tips - beaches

Playa del Real de San Carlos 

    Actually, after emerging from Antigua Colonia’s colonial past and its atmosphere of peace and tranquility, you may feel ready to extend this part of your journey by immersing yourself in the clear waters of the beaches (remember, weekdays only)! Just think about those spectacular sunsets!

   Travel Tips!

  1. Uruguay operates under Daylight Saving Time, while Argentina does not. As a result, during the summer, there is a one-hour time difference between Colonia and Buenos Aires. In other words, be mindful that when your watch shows 6pm (Buenos Aires time) in Colonia it is already 7pm. While it’s easy to forget about time when you’re relaxing on vacation, the ferries that run back and forth never forget! I’m sure you do not want to miss your boat (and yes, it has happened to many)!
  2. Take the fast boat (buque rapido) unless you love spending three hours on the way to Colonia and three hours back (and keep in mind that during the ride, there is not much to do). The fast boat makes the round trip in 50 minutes each way for approximately 350 pesos ($80). The regular boats cost a little less – 200-240 pesos ($50-$60). Unless you have no choice, avoid weekends, as tickets are more expensive, Colonia’s streets are busier and its beaches are more crowded. One more thing – buy tickets for the fast ferry in advance – they go like hot bagels, especially during the high season.
  3. Good shoes are important if you want to enjoy walking in Barrio Historico. This advice is especially important for ladies – forget the latest fashion, colors and shapes of your newly purchased “treasures” from Fifth Avenue – sport shoes are a must if you want to return on your own instead of being carried out!
  4. You will need a passport to get to Colonia. But if you also want to rent any type of transport, you will need your driver’s license and a credit card.
  5. Good news – most shops and restaurants will accept Argentinean pesos (and Brazilian Reales); bad news – most museums will NOT! Even so, they are certainly worth the visit, and access is inexpensive, so keep some local currency in your pocket.
  6. Remember to take your camera with you - Colonia is a photographer’s dream. Keep in mind that you may not have many opportunities in life that will offer you such unique journey into the past.
  7. The Barrio Historico is just 6 or 7 blocks wide, so you can easily see it on your own. However, to make the most of your journey, consider hiring a guide to bring Colonia’s history alive – you will hear countless stories and legends. You can buy the package in Buenos Aires – ferry tickets with a guided tour and lunch included. The tour only takes a few hours, so you will still have time to savor the city’s colonial atmosphere on your own.
  8. For those of you who fall in love with Buenos Aires but begin to run out of ‘visa” time, a trip to Colonia is an easy way to extend your stay in Argentina.
  9. And, to finish on a romantic note,....(see the final words below the Gallery of Pictures)

Gallery of Pictures and Goodbye Colonia Antigua...

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures

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Colonia Antigua....

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Restaurants

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Restaurants

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Restaurants

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Even newly established restaurants in Colonia Antigua are trying to look older....

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Restaurants

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Restaurants

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Restaurants

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Left - Restaurant next to the Calle Suspiros; Right - funny decoration in the restaurant next to the Lighthouse.

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Museums

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Museums

Free Colonia del Sacramento Tour and Pictures - Museums

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A bit of nature and we can say "Goodbye" to Colonia, Hasta la Vista....... not miss the sunset in Colonia. Its perfect location allows you to see the sun sink into the water, somewhere well beyond the faraway horizon (weather permitting).

The sky displays a show of ever-changing forms in all imaginable shades of orange and red.

The rays of sunshine bouncing off the water in a kind of farewell gesture envelops the city in a soft, warm glow. You will almost feel its touch…what an unforgettable spectacle! To intensify the experience, sit close to your romantic partner with a glass of wine!

But remember – even though Colonia is certainly a “jewel in the crown” among South America’s cities, it is not for everyone. Those looking for adrenaline-filled adventures and a rich nightlife will be disappointed, so make plans to stay in Buenos Aires instead! 

To go back on the tour of Colonia Antigua please select the link:
Colonia Antigua Tour  previous (page 3)

To restart the Colonia's Tour from the beginning please go to:
Colonia del Sacramento   (first page)

If you enjoyed this visit, then please share your experience with friends :-)

Not sure yet where to go and what to see in Argentina? You may find help selecting: Tourist Destinations in Argentina

However if you are falling in love with Buenos Aires (I do not blame you, it happened to me) then please select: Buenos Aires Walking Tours

If you want to prepare yourself for vacation in Argentina then please select: Argentina Travel Tips

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