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Around Buenos Aires: Mar del Plata and Colonia del Sacramento

ARGENTINA | Thursday, 15 December 2011 | Views [2076] | Comments [1]

As mentioned in my previous blog, we loved Buenos Aires. Another nice attraction of Buenos Aires is the amount of places within a relatively short distance. We didn’t make it to the well-spoken-of Tigre, but we did head down the coast to Mar del Plata (Mardel) to catch up with Maria and Mattias, our friends from our Panama to Columbia sailing trip, and caught the ferry across the Rio Plata to Colonia, in Uruguay. Mardel is a beach town super popular with Porteños in the summer, and Colonia, well, a little different.

Mar del Plata

Mardel was another classic example of amazing Argentinian hospitality. Mattias met us at the busport, drove us back to his mum’s house where he was housesitting. Being a Friday night, a bunch of their friends were coming around for an asado. One of their friends comes from a family whom run an organic goat farm, and they brought a whole kid for the asado, to go with the chorizo, empanadas, breads, cheeses, beer, wine and the rest of the trappings at the table.

Mattias and Maria’s friends greeted us like old pals, Argentinian style, and we were included all night. It felt just like a barbeque at home, with too much food, wine and beer. After the meal, we were introduced to the traditional Argentinian digestive Fernet, as well as the phrase that sums up Argentinian eating so neatly: “comer asado, tomar Fernet” (eat asado, drink Fernet). It’s good with Coke.

Mattias does the honours.

The next day, Maria took Bron to a friend of hers to get a haircut, and Matt took me to his apartment to get some stuff. It turns out Matt is an incredible artist, some amazing work, with a recurrent Pinocchio character present with all manner of personalities, and lots of mosaic style incorporated over excellent paintings. And he can play guitar. And cook. And he’s a doctor, for children, but takes one day off a week to make sure he can surf enough. What a guy!

After a drive along the coast checking out the coast (no waves; Mattias was bummed) we caught up with the girls, went for a drive through town and headed out for a picnic at a local hedge maze. We munched on tasty Mardel cheeses and salamis, tried walking on the not-so-tight-rope (I got within a step of the end, so close!), and tried to crack some of their puzzles. After lunch we hit up the maze, a really pretty hedge affair. Bron was the quickest mazologist. The local kids don’t really seem to get the point of the mazes, preferring to slip through gaps within the maze rather than, well, try to find the actual path.

Mar del Plata had a cool hedge maze nearby, a fun day out. When Bron wasn't smashing golf balls into it.

Once we’d solved the labyrinth, we tried out their mini-golf range. Strangely, rather than the usual putter, we were given a driver and a pitching wedge. After about 6 holes, the setup got a little vague, so we invented our own hole to take advantage of the clubs we’d be given. This was going ok, until Bron’s first shot ended just behind a rock. She swung with the pitching wedge, drove the ball into the rock, and it sailed up, up, up… and down into the middle of maze. Once we figured it had landed safely enough, we collapsed in fits of laughter.

That night, we had a seafood asado for dinner. I’ve never seen a fish butterfly cut before, but it’s an excellent way to barbeque fish, I thoroughly recommend it. It keeps the moisture in beautifully and lets the smoke from the coals flavour the flesh nicely. Excellent with lots of white wine.

Our last full day in Mardel was spent at the beach. It was one of the first really sunny, nice days of the season, Mattias was chomping at the bit for a surf, and the rest of us were keen to check out the Beach Club where Maria and Mattias had just joined up. For the uninitiated, a Beach Club is a beachside mini-resort type place, where members get access to bathrooms, a nice sunbaking area (complete with hammocks, padded deckchairs, hot showers, a pool and cocktails – we had another asado just to keep our meat levels up...), parking and lots of other features. I’m not sure they’ll ever appear in Australia, but a different way to see the beach. It was great just to get some sun before our adventures in Patagonia, where we assumed sun exposure would be at a minimum.

Mar del's beaches - super popular with vacationers from Buenos Aires in the summer, but cold, cold water.

It was great to catch up with Maria and Mattias again, such wonderful people. Definitely one of the absolute best parts about travelling for a long time is being able to meet people on the road, and then see them again in their hometowns (or show them around yours). We’ve been able to experience that twice within Argentina, and the hospitality on both occasions has been second to none, and highlights of our trip.


Once we’d finished hanging out and eating assorted animals with Maria and Mattias (sorry to any vegetarian readers for all this, I do respect your choices, even if Argentina doesn’t!), we made our way to Colonia in Uruguay, just across the very wide Rio Plata from Buenos Aires. The fast ferry took a couple of hours to cross, to give you an idea of the width. The Lonely Planet for all of South America describes Colonia as one of the top 10 places to visit in South America because of the beauty of its old architecture. A big call, given gorgeous and colourful Cartagena didn’t make the list.

When I was a kid in primary school, we got taken to a place called Pioneer Village, in Armadale near Perth. It was set up to create a replica of what life was like in settler times in Western Australia, an interactive, if a touch uninspiring, museum. I guess Colonia is a bit like that, only stranger, a broader range of time periods represented and without an admission cost. Coming off the ferry was a little weird. The first thing we were met with was the local hire car companies, only instead of hiring cars to get around, they hired golf carts.

Hire car, Colonia style

We grabbed some lunch, wandered down the cobbled streets and reached the port. At this point we were unimpressed. With the cost of the ferry and the overpriced accommodation, this was turning into an expensive 24 hour jaunt. Spirits were low.

But we kept on exploring. We saw the cobbled streets. We saw the old buildings. The olden style cars and carts placed thoughtfully amongst the bougainvillea bushes. We climbed up the lighthouse to enjoy the views over the city. A couple of hours at a gorgeous café, watching the sky change as the sun set, and slowly it started to grow on us. A couple of beers and a tasty meal in the warm air and a nice stroll along the water-front and we were there. This old, touristy city had grown on us. We even bought possibly our strangest souvenir yet: some house numbers for our place back at home. I wouldn’t say that we loved Colonia, or that it’s worth more than a night of your time (it’s very small…). However, it is pleasant. If you’re thinking of heading through Uruguay, then it’s definitely worth a visit, but as an overnight trip to and from Buenos Aires, it’s probably just not amazing enough for the cost. It’s just no Cartagena.

Tags: argentina, beaches, south america, uruguay




I will be traveling (possibly alone) to Mar del Plata in December. I am wondering the best way to meet people and connect while I am there. Any suggestions? I'd love to start a conversation with friendly people who live there.

  Timmie May 12, 2012 11:57 AM

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