Formally Colonia del Sacramento (“Colonia”), Uruguay, Colonia is an old, colonial town founded by the Portuguese in 1680. Presently, it is an uneventful Uruguayan town with a well-kept old town that is popular with day-trippers from Buenos Aires, as it is only a little over an hour ferry ride. The old town is quite charming, it has a lot of shops and restaurants, but really not much else.
We decided to go because we had an extra day in Buenos Aires, and we just couldn’t resist visiting “Uruguay” on our trip, even though this is kind of cheating! (I plan to go back and spend a week in Uruguay). We enjoyed the day trip, but I am not sure that I would recommend it to those short on time. Colonia is cute, but it really had no draw aside from that. As Dan put it, “nothing to write home about.”
We were in Colonia for several hours, from about 10 to 4. That was plenty of time to walk from the port to the old town, stroll the old town, eat lunch and shop, and we still had some time to kill.
Since there is nothing terribly interesting except the old town, here are some of my favorite pictures.
Picturesque Old Town:
Old cars and hydrangeas:
Colonia has lots of old (“antique”) cars and hydrangeas. The hydrangeas were beautiful. The old cars, not so much.
The new part of town was pretty standard, but it had some pretty buildings leading up to the old town.
There are a lot of stray dogs in Colonia. They were friendly and seemed well mannered and well feed, but be warned.
And you can rent mopeds or bicycles. They are everywhere.
While my post may seem a bit drab, I did enjoy Colonia and recommend it if you have extra time in Buenos Aires. It was interesting to see a bit of Uruguay, even if was only for a few hours. Much slower paced than BA. If you decide to visit, here are my tips on how to get there, more on what to do and some thoughts on what and where to eat!
How to get there from Buenos Aires?
First, a number of tour companies offer day trips to Colonia at a substantial cost. Unless you have endless money to throw around or absolutely no sense of direction, do not take one. You can easily go on your own at a substantial discount.
Assuming you go on your own, you need to buy ferry tickets. Do this BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME. These ferry tickets are priced like airline tickets; the price increases as more tickets are sold, and they do sell out! As such, buy them as early as possible to save money and ensure your trip!
There are three main companies that sell ferry tickets to Colonia – BuqueBus (the biggest and most tourist friendly, also an English website), SeaCat and ColoniaExpress. Based on my research and experience, they all take a little over an hour to cross and all leave from and arrive at the same port – Terminal BuqueBus.
If you are super prone to seasickness or super scared of local transportation, access the BuqueBus website and get your tickets there. Their ferries are huge, tourist friendly and upscale . You will minimize the risk of seasickness and probably not run into many locals, and if you do you can lose them.
If you aren’t prone to seasickness and aren’t scared of your shadow, book tickets through SeaCat’s website. While the website is in Spanish, the tickets are significantly cheaper than buying from BuqueBus. To top it off, BuqueBus and SeaCat are connected and when you buy a SeaCat ticket, you often end up on the BuqueBus ferry. This happened to us. We bought all our tickets from SeaCat’s website. Going over we were on a local, old ferry that bounced around a lot (but was perfectly safe) with a lot of locals. Coming back we had the same tickets, but were boarded on the fancy BuqueBus instead. I do not know much about the ColoniaExpress. We saw one; it was small and seemed like the ride would be rough. However, it looked nice and touristy friendly.
Make sure to print your tickets and bring them with you to Buenos Aires and to the ferry port, along with your passport and Argentinian visa information.
The ferry port in Buenos Aires is on the water right in front of Microcentro. The terminal is called BuqueBus Terminal, even though all ferries leave from here. The terminal is fancy and modern. I recommend taking a cab, as to walk you will need to cross a highway of traffic. Plenty of cabs were there waiting when we got back. Arrive AT LEAST 30 minutes before you are scheduled to depart, as you need to check-in and clear customs. We arrived 30 minutes prior and just made it.
In Colonia, the ferry port is a 15 walk from the old town, where you will likely want to spend your time. We just followed the crowd and consulted our map to get from the ferry port to old town. It was very easy. There are cabs available if you prefer not to walk. Coming back, I recommend arriving at least one hour before your scheduled departure, as customs is not nearly as efficient as in Buenos Aires. We arrived 45 minutes early and were pushed for time. It was quite stressful.
Customs & Money?
U.S. citizens do not need any sort of special Visa to enter Uruguay – only your passport. However, you will need your Argentinian visa information to re-enter Argentina! Upon leaving Buenos Aires, you are quickly whisked through Argentinian customs and then Uruguayan customs before boarding the ferry, so you can freely walk off upon landing in Uruguay. Same coming back. Note that this entails a lot of stamps for a day trip. Make sure you have ample space in your passport (or ask them not to stamp). Leaving Uruguay was much slower than leaving Argentina – plan accordingly.
Regarding money, Uruguay uses the Uruguayan Peso. ATMS are abundant (including one at the ferry port) and dispense Uruguayan Pesos AND US Dollars. Yes, legit greenbacks! A lot of people (us included) took out only US Dollars to trade them back in Argentina at the blue rate. We actually planned our day trip halfway through our whole trip to take our US dollars here to change at the blue rate. We never used Uruguayan Pesos and instead used credit card or US dollars everywhere. Advise your bank if you plan on withdrawing here so that it does not get blocked as fraudulent.
What to do?
As you may have gathered, there is not that much to do in Colonia. Most people walk the streets, take pictures, shop and eat. You do not need a lot of time here; the day trip is plenty unless you have some special interest. If you have no special interest, walk to the old town, stroll around, view the old fort, the churches, the water front and the lighthouse, which you can climb for a small fee.
Where to eat?
There are many restaurants and cafés lining the streets in the old town. A lot of them looked like tourist traps, so it may make sense to do some research before hand.
We settled on El Portón, which got good reviews on TripAdvisor. It is right on the main street and has outdoor seating.
We arrived right when they opened at 11:30 and started with a complimentary bread and delicious spread.
For lunch, I ordered a breaded steak with cheese and peas. It was really good! Dan ordered mollejas (fried sweetbreads). He said they were ok…
Like Argentina, Uruguay makes its own wine, typically with the Tannat grape. I had never tried Uruguayan wine, so it was on my “to do” list. El Portón had a decent wine list, and we tried the below Tannat. It was good, but I’m not crazy about tannat grapes in general!
Before we boarded the ferry, we tried another Uruguayan wine, an Uruguayan cabernet sauvignon. I liked this one better!
I am glad that we made it to Colonia. It is a very easy day trip and is convenient to get US dollars from the ATM. I want to return and do a whole week in Uruguay in the future, as I have not seen nearly enough of Uruguay! Have you been to Colonia? What did you think of it?