A day trip from Buenos Aires to Uruguay’s oldest town: Colonia del Sacramento
There are plenty of things to do and see in Buenos Aires. No doubt about that.
With its colourful barrios, museums, parks, street markets, festivals, street performers dancing the tango, Argentina’s captial will fill in your calendar 100%. Still, after a few days in the big city it’s nice to have a complete change of scenery.
A day trip from Buenos Aires to Uruguay’s oldest town Colonia del Sacramento will allow you to swap the city’s hustle and bustle for a slow-paced day of exploration in an entirely new country: Uruguay.
What makes Colonia del Sacramento so special?
The city was founded in 1680. As a strategic riverfront port, the Portuguese and Spanish disputed over Colonia del Sacramento for around a century.
Today, Colonia del Sacramento’s Barrio Histórico (historic quarter) is a designated World Heritage Site by UNESCO and popular tourist destination for Argentines and Uruguayans alike.
The 17th century Portuguese-Spanish colonial buildings still remain and buildings’ façades tell a story of two cultures colliding.
Getting to Colonia del Sacramento
Colonia del Sacramento is only 76 km (48 miles) across the River Plate from Buenoes Aires. The easiest way to get to there is by ferry.
There are two types of ferries making the crossing. The express (rapido) makes the journey from Buenos Aires to Colonia in approximately one hour, while the slow boat takes three hours.
If you’re only going for a day trip, it makes sense to take the one-hour fast ferry early in the morning and return later in the evening.
You can book tickets online or get them at the ferry terminals. In any case, you should get them a couple of days in advance in order to secure your space and a good price.
Two ferry lines offer service at multiple times per day: Buquebus (the fanciest and most expensive) and Colonia Express (no frills and cheaper).
I made my booking via directferries.com which had the advantage that the whole transaction was in English and I could compare prices of both companies at a glance.
Important to know is that Buquebus leaves from the Buquebus Terminal and Colonia Express leaves from its own terminal on the other end of Puerto Madero.
Exploring the Old Town of Colonia del Sacramento
Once you arrive in Colonia and step out from the ferry terminal, take a sharp left onto the street that runs along the Río de la Plata river bank.
After about 5-10 minutes you’ll reach Colonia’s old town. As you can see, it’s very close to the ferry terminal.
The old town is pretty compact, so you won’t be needing any type of public transport for getting around.
And while renting a bike, scooter or golf buggy is quite popular, I think it’s absolutely not needed.
So what’s there to see and do? Basically it’s all about taking a stroll through the small, tree lined cobbled streets. It’s incredibly picturesque!
You will come across small hidden plazas, art galleries, little parks, churches, cute restaurants and historic houses.
Take your time exploring this beautiful little neighborhood.
If you get hungry, don’t worry – restaurants can be found on every corner. Many places offer a cute ´, romantic outdoor seating, like the restaurant where I had grilled Provoleta cheese for lunch: Il Piu.
More culinary ideas:
Uruguayan food is similar to Argentinian with an emphasis on meats and Italian dishes.Try a Chivito, a traditional Uruguayan dish, which consists of beef, ham, cheese, bacon and a fried egg on top.
Settle down in a pavement café with a glass of Tannat (Uruguay’s most prominent wine).
Have some wine, cheese and cold cuts at El Buen Suspiro. I heard great things about this place, but unfortunately when I tried to visit it was closed (every Wednesday).
My personal old town highlights:Climbing the old lighthouse for views across the town. The lighthouse is easy to spot from anywhere in the Historic Quarter and the admission of about USD 1 can be paid for in Uruguayan or Argentine Pesos. Admiring all the retro cars. You can see them everywhere! Sitting at the yacht harbour (Muelle del Puerto de Yates) and taking in the peaceful atmosphere. This is also a nice spot to enjoy the sunset.
Good to knowArgentina and Uruguay have made the border crossing a fairly quick process. There are immigration officials from both countries on each side, which means only one queue.
In any case, make sure to check the latest visa requirements. If you are just going for one day, you won’t have to change money.
Most places in Colonia accept multiple currencies for cash purchases (US Dollar and Argentinian Pesos).
Credit cards are widely accepted as well. I paid my food and drinks at the restaurant and cafes with Mastercard.
Just one warning: Compared to Buenos Aires, prices in Colonia are pretty hefty. Getting around the old town is easy with either mapsme app or traditional paper map.
If you opt in for the paper map, make sure to pick one up at the tourist information stand right at the ferry terminal. Regardless of season, wear comfy shoes for walking, as the entire Historic Quarter is cobble stoned, with many uneven steps and streets. There is one hour time difference between Buenos Aires and Colonia del Sacramento. Make sure to set your watch one hour ahead once you arrive there. If you can, try to avoid weekends for your trip to Colonia. This is when it can get really crowded by both, Argentinians and Uruguanians.