Colonia was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese in an attempt to piss of the Spanish. Colonia faces Buenos Aires from the opposite side of Rio de la Plata (the silver river) and its main purpose was to avoid the trading taxes imposed by the Spanish crown. Put another way, the Portuguese settled a smuggler’s port next door to one of the most important trading posts of the Spanish.
The Spanish showed their displeasure by invading Colonia, and thus started one of the more ludicrous territorial tug-of-war conflicts between nations. Colonia was conquered and re-conquered by the Spanish and the Portuguese (later Brazil) no less than ten times between 1680 and 1828 when finally the region had had enough and declared themselves independent from Brazil and formed Uruguay. Since no one messes with Uruguay (no one!), Colonia has been left in peace ever since.
Well, in as much peace as a UNESCO World Heritage site can expect. The invasions of Colonia are re-enacted daily as tourists from Buenos Aires cross the river to get away from the big city and enjoy a day in Colonia, walking down the cobbled streets and lunch at one of the many lovely restaurants.
Curiously, one of the things that make Colonia stand out is not the lighthouse, the typical Portuguese blue-on-white artwork or the bohemian looking people drinking mate on the street. Nope, it is the prevalence of vintage cars. How these cars have survived driving over the roughest cobbled streets I’ve ever seen (Seriously, check that your travel insurance covers twisted ankles!) is beyond me, but they are a pleasure to see.