Colonia De Sacramento, Uruguay
Colonia is a small city on the edge of the river plate in Uruguay. It is situated about 50k away from Buenos Aires and about 170k from Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. This little city has a very picturesque “Barrio Historico” that is a prime tourist destination for people from Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, europeans and visitors from the United States.
Colonia not only serves as a great place to tour and visit on weekends to get away from the busy streets of Buenos Aires, but it also serves as a point of entry into a different country. It is used by many expats living in Buenos Airs to circumvent the 30 day tourist visa rule. By boat it can easily be reached in either a 1 hour or 3 hour boat ride. These boats are very comfortable and spacious and it hardly feels like you are in a boat at all.
The old town itself is situated about 6 blocks west of the main boat terminal and easily reached by foot. Depending on your pace you can see all of the old town streets within one day or if elongated to a slower casual pace see it in two. I recommend visiting in spring or early winter to avoid the high season and seeing all the porteños that take the boat over to Uruguay.
After visiting Colonia De Sacramento, Uruguay this past weekend I felt a lot like Mr. Pink from Reservoir Dogs in the very famous tipping scene:
Nice Guy Eddie: C’mon, throw in a buck!
Mr. Pink: Uh-uh, I don’t tip.
Nice Guy Eddie: You don’t tip?
Mr. Pink: I don’t believe in it.
Nice Guy Eddie: You don’t believe in tipping? *
No, don’t get me wrong I don’t mind tipping. It felt that that way mostly because of how comical it got to be once we had to pay the bill and figure out who owed what and how much tip we were going to leave. So what is the problem? The problem is that you have shops that accept 5 different currencies. For most tourist and travelers this is not a problem. If you are coming from Europe you will simply convert your Euro to Uruguayan peso and continue an your merry way. Same can be said about Americans, Argentinians and Brazilians. You can go to a currency exchange and convert your money to the local currency and problem solved.
Then you have the expat community living in Buenos Aires. This very particular community is one that has migrated to Argentina with the hopes of enjoying this great culture and living here for as long as they can. They come from all over the world like Australia, France, US and Mexico. These people, which by the way im one of, have to deal with the daily conversion of their native currency to the very complicated currency system that is in place here in Argentina. I wont get into too much detail about the exchanges, maybe in another post, for now just know that you have at least two exchanges in. The “official” government pegged rate and the black market exchange or as it is better known “dollar blue”. At the time of this post an official rate will net you a 9.03 pesos to the dollar while a dollar blue will get you 13.00 peso per dollar. When exchanging your USD or EUR to Argentinian pesos it is always best to get the dollar blue rate, especially in a country that has an inflation rate that means one day you can be paying 15 pesos for a coke and the next 28.
This rate would haunt us when we traveled to Colonia with my good friends Gaby and Ludwig, she is from the States and he is from France and not even a few hours into our weekend trip after finishing our first meal we got our first taste of the struggle that we would have the rest of the time. Our first bill about 1,200 Uruguayan pesos and when we received our bill it came with four different amounts. It said we could either pay about 1,200 UYU pesos, 600 ARS, 40 Euros, 44 USD, 144 BRL Simple right? This bill can pay in which ever currency amount you want. You can pay 1/2 in ARS and 1/2 in UYU or any other combination.
Being the expats that we are we had all kind of currencies and exchanges going on in our heads to try to figure out how much we were paying for a meal and how much we should tip. My buddy Ludwig still calculates his money on in Euros so he needed to know the exchange rate of Euro to UYU. Gaby and I still think in USD so we needed to know how much it was for USD to UYU. Add to that the fact that we all had brought with us some Argentinian pesos to spend and wanted to use that money if we could so we also needed to know how much it was for ARS to UYU. Confused? So why not just spend the ARS and get it over with? Well we also had to see if it was better to pay in good old USD and Euro and not spend our precious ARS since we could potentially lose a lot of money in because of the whole official and dollar blue rate that is involved when dealing with ARS. After a few meals we go to the point we we all had lose change from all currencies and we ended up tipping one restaurant with three different currencies. I did the calculation and I’m hopefully that we left enough overall money to leave a decent tip.