Western Uruguay

Colonias Valdense and Suiza

Route 1 to Colonia de Sacramento is being made into a four-lane highway. At Km 121 from Montevideo the road passes Colonia Valdense, a colony of Waldensians who still cling to some of the old customs of the Piedmontese Alps. A road branches off north here to Colonia Suiza, a Swiss settlement also known as
Nueva Helvecia
, with lovely parks, gardens and countryside. In the town is the Santuario de Nuestra Señora De Schonstatt, all walls are covered by plants, and the first steam mill in Uruguay (1875).The Swiss national day is celebrated with great enthusiasm.

The highway skirts
, called 'the first Uruguayan Museum of Mural Art'. Dozens of impressive murals are dotted around the city, some with bullfights, some abstract designs.

Colonia del Sacramento

Founded by Portuguese settlers from Brazil in 1680, Colonia del Sacramento was a centre
for smuggling British goods across the Río de la Plata into the Spanish colonies during the 17th century. The small historic section juts into the Río de la Plata, while the modern town extends around a bay. It is a lively place with streets
lined with plane trees, a pleasant Plaza 25 de Agosto and a grand Intendencia Municipal (Méndez y Avenida Gen Flores, the main street).
The town is kept very trim. The best beach is Playa Ferrando, 2 km to the east (buses from Gen Flores every two hours). There are regular connections by boat with Buenos Aires and a free port.

Barrio Histórico
, with its narrow streets
, colonial buildings and reconstructed city walls, is charming because there are few such examples in this part of the continent. It has been declared Patrimonio Cultural de la Humanidad by UNESCO. T
he old town can be easily seen on foot in a day (wear comfortable shoes on the uneven cobbles), but spend one night there to experience the illuminations by nostalgic replica street lamps. The
Plaza Mayor
is especially picturesque and has parakeets in the palm trees. Grouped around it are the
Museo Municipal
, in a mid- 18th-century Portuguese residence (with indigenous archaeology, historical items, natural history, palaeontology), the
Casa Nacarello
next door (18th century; depicting colonial life), the
Casa del Virrey
(in ruins), the
Museo Portugués
(1720) with, downstairs, an exhibition of beautiful old maps, and the ruins of the Convento de San Francisco, to which is attached the
(lighthouse, entry US$0.50, daily till 1730, on a clear day you can see Buenos Aires). At the eastern end is the
Puerta del Campo
, the restored city gate and drawbridge. Just north of the Plaza Mayor is the
Archivo Regional
(1750), collection of maps, police records 1876-1898 and 19th-century watercolours. The
Iglesia Matriz
, on Calle Vasconcellos (beside the Plaza de Armas/Manuel Lobo), is the oldest church in Uruguay. Free concerts are held on Friday in the church grounds during the summer months. At the end of Calle Misiones de los Tapes, the Casa Portuguesa is now the tiny
Museo del Azulejo
(original floor, collection of French and Catalan tiles, plus the first Uruguayan tile from 1840). The house of Gen Mitre, Calles de San José y España, houses the
Museo Español
. At the north edge, the fortifications of the
Bastión del Carmen
can be seen; nearby is the Centro Cultural Bastión del Carmen, Rivadavia 223, in a 19th-century glue and soap factory, with frequent theatre productions. In the third week of January, festivities mark the founding of Colonia, including a Funk and Jazz Festival held at Teatro Bastión del Carmen and at the Sheraton Colonia. The
Feria Artesanal
, is worth a visit.

Around the bay is
Real de San Carlos
, an unusual, once grand but now sad tourist complex, built by Nicolás Mihanovic 1903-1912. The elegant bull-ring, in use for just two years, is falling apart (closed to visitors, bullfighting is banned in Uruguay). The casino, the nearest to Buenos Aires then (where gambling was prohibited), failed when a tax was imposed on Mihanovic's excursions; also disused is the huge Frontón court. Only the racecourse (Hipódromo) is still operational and you can see the horses exercising on the beach.

Tourist information
, www.colonia.gub.uy
. See also www.guiacolonia.com.uy, www.colonianet.com.

, 50 km from Colonia and 40 km from Carmelo, is a former British mining town from the late 19th century. It preserves dozens of buildings constructed by C H Walker and Co Ltd. The tourist office is open until 1700 and the police station is a good source of information. Direct buses from Colonia; road well marked on Route 21.


From Colonia, Route 21 heads northwest to Carmelo (74 km) on the banks of Arroyo Las Vacas. A fine avenue of trees leads to the river, crossed by the first swing bridge built 1912. Across the bridge is the Rambla de los Constituyentes and the Fuente de las Tentaciones. The church, museum and archive of El Carmen is on Plaza Artigas (named after the city's founder). In the Casa de Cultura Ignacio Barrios (IMC), 19 de Abril 246, is a tourist office and museum. Historically a mining centre, it is said that many luxurious buildings in Buenos Aires were made from they grey granite of Cerro Carmelo (mines flooded and used for watersports). It is one of the most important yachting centres on Río de la Plata and its microclimate produces much wine.

Calera de Las Huérfanas
(Estancia de las Vacas) is the remains of one of the area's main Jesuit missions. Vines were introduced and lime was exported for the construction of Buenos Aires. After the expulsion of the Jesuits, it became an orphanage. It's in relatively good state and is best reached by car (exit from Route 21 clearly marked, some 10 km before Carmelo).

Between Carmelo and Nueva Palmira, another river port, is the colonial monument,
Capilla de Narbona
(Route 21, Km 263), built in the early 18th century. At
Granja y Bodega Narbona
(www.fincaygranjanarbona.com), wine, cheese and other produce are available, as well as a fine restaurant and two exclusive hotel rooms. 


This livestock centre is best reached by Route 2 from the main Colonia-Montevideo highway. Founded in 1788, it is pleasant town on the Río Negro, a yachting and fishing centre during the season. Its charm (it is known as 'the city of flowers') derives from its Spanish-colonial appearance, though it is not as old as the older parts of Colonia. There is an attractive
(riverside drive).

West of town 4 km is the Parque Mauá, dating from 1757. It has a mansion which contains the
Museum of Palaeontology
on the ground floor. The building is worth wandering around to see the exterior, upper apartments and stable block. Camping is possible in season. It takes 45 minutes to walk to the park, a pleasant route passing Calera Real on the riverbank, dating back to 1722, the oldest industrial ruins in the country (lime kilns hewn out of the sandstone). There is a
tourist office
at Colón, on the plaza, where maps and hotel lists are available.

Fray Bentos

Route 2 continues westwards (34 km) to Fray Bentos, the main port on the east bank of Río Uruguay 193 km from Buenos Aires. Here in 1865 the Liebig company built its first factory producing meat extract. The original plant, much extended and known as
El Anglo
, has been restored as the
Museo de La Revolución Industrial
The office block in the factory has been preserved complete with its original fittings. Many machines can be seen. Within the complex is the Barrio Inglés, where workers were housed, and La Casa Grande, where the director lived. 


North of Fray Bentos, 130 km, is this undulating, historic city on the east bank of the Río Uruguay. Along Route 3, it's 380 km from Montevideo. Summer temperatures can be up to 42°C. There is a 19th-century
. The
Museo Histórico Municipal
, has good collection of guns and furniture from the time of the Brazilian siege of 1864-1865.
Museo de la Tradición
, gaucho articles, is also worth a visit.
Museo Salesiano
 attached to Cathedral, interesting.
Tourist office
, www.paysandu.com/turismo.

Around Paysandú

Termas del Guaviyú
 thermal springs 50 km north, with four pools, restaurant, mot
el and private hotel an
d excellent cheap camping facilities. Along Route 90, 84 km east, are the
Termas de Almirón
, www.guichon.com.uy
, two pools, with camping and motels. The
Meseta de Artigas
, is 45 m above the Río Uruguay, which here narrows and forms whirlpools at the rapids of El Hervidero. It was used as a base by General Artigas during the struggle for independence. The terrace has a fine view, but the rapids are not visible from the Meseta. The statue topped by Artigas' head is very original.

Crossing to Argentina

The José Artigas international bridge connects with Colón, Argentina, 8 km away. Immigration for both countries is on the Uruguayan side in the same office. Migración officials board the bus, but non-Argentine/Uruguayans should get off bus for stamp.


A centre for cultivating and processing oranges and other citrus fruit, Salto is a beautifully kept town 120 km by paved road north of Paysandú. The town's commercial area is on Calle Uruguay, between Plazas Artigas and Treinta y Tres. There are lovely historic streets and walks along the river. Next to Club Uruguay, Calle Uruguay, is the
Farmacia Fénix
, “la más antigua de Salto”, over 100 years old. See the beautiful but run-down
Parque Solari
(Ruta Gral Artigas, northeast of the centre) and the
Parque Harriague
(south of the centre) with an open-air theatre. The
Museo de Bellas Artes y Artes Decorativas
, in the French-style mansion of a rich
(Palacio Gallino), well worth a visit.
Museo del Hombre y La Tecnología
, is very interesting, with a small archaeological museum. There is a Shrove Tuesday carnival.
Tourist office
, www.salto.gub.uy

The most popular tourist site in the area is the large
Presa de Salto Grande
dam and hydroelectric plant 20 km from Salto, built jointly by Argentina and Uruguay. A tour can be arranged with the tourist office in high season; small visitors centre at the plant. A road runs along the top of the dam to Argentina. By launch to the
Salto Chico
beach, fishing, camping.

Near the dam (2 km north on the Route 3) is
Parque Acuático Termas de Salto Grande
, www.hotelhoracioquiroga.com/parque.htm
, in a natural setting. There are several pools, slides, hydro massages, water jets and man-made waterfalls.

Termas del Daymán and other springs

About 10 km south of Salto on Route 3, reached by bus No 4 every 30 minutes from Calle Artigas, or from Avenida Sauzal at port then along Brasil, are
Termas del Daymán
, a small town built around curative hot springs. It is a nice place to spend a night; few restaurants around the beautifully laid out pools.
Complejo Médico Hidrotermal Daymán
, has a spa and many specialized treatments in separate pools (external and internal), showers and jacuzzis.

The road to
Termas del Arapey
branches off the partially paved Route 3 to Bella Unión, at 61 km north of Salto, and then runs 35 km east and then south. Pampa birds, rheas and metre-long lizards in evidence. Termas del Arapey is on the Arapey river south of Isla Cabellos (Baltazar Brum). The waters at these famous thermal baths contain bicarbonated salts, calcium and magnesium.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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