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Day Trip to Colonia del Sacramento from Buenos Aires: Things to Do

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6 months ago

Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay is the perfect day trip from Buenos Aires in the summer. It’s a beautiful town filled with tree-lined streets, colored buildings and old-world charm. And it’s only about an hour away from Buenos Aires by ferry across the Rio de la Plata.

It reminds me a lot of San Miguel de Allende but on a much smaller scale. That probably isn’t a surprise given that they’re both colonial Spanish towns.

Whether you’re on a short visit to Buenos Aires, or a longer 2 week Argentina itinerary, you’ll want to make room for Colonia on your itinerary. We’ve put together this guide to tell you everything you should know about traveling from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento and to help you create a memorable day in Colonia amid all of the things to do in Colonia.

Background to Colonia

One of the reasons Colonia is distinct in its visual beauty and character is that it wasn’t built in the checkerboard style of gridded streets which is characteristic of all other Spanish colonial towns. The placement of streets and buildings came about more or less organically, without regard for any urban planning rules. It really does create a different atmosphere that you’ll feel when walking around.

All of that is to say that you should let yourself get lost in the streets. It’s part of the adventure.

How to get to Colonia from Buenos Aires

The best way to get to Colonia is to take a ferry from Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires. There are two main ferry companies: Colonia Express and Buquebus. They’re both very professional and run ferries back and forth from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento multiple times a day.

The ferries get very busy during summer, so you might want to book in advance (especially if you’re travelling in a group).

Travel tip: If you book a ferry with Colonia Express, make sure you pay in Argentinian pesos. It’s much more expensive if you pay in USD.

The ferries themselves are quite the experience with a full duty free shop (but, unfortunately, it’s more expensive than normal shops in Argentina). And don’t take a bus to Colonia – it will take you five hours as opposed to just over one hour on the ferry!

What you need to know about immigration

Conveniently, you’ll pass both Argentinian and Uruguayan immigration in the port in Buenos Aires before you board your ferry to Colonia. Unfortunately, for your return journey from Colonia to Buenos Aires, you will only pass Uruguayan immigration before you board your ferry back to Buenos Aires.

This means that you’ll need to pass Argentinian customs when you return to Buenos Aires. This adds a lot of time – unless, of course, you make sure that you’re one of the first off the boat. Otherwise, make sure that you allow for at least an extra 30 minutes following disembarkation in Buenos Aires

Travel tip: Remember to bring your passport. You’re going to cross into Uruguay for the day.

How to get around Colonia

When you get to Colonia, you can hire a buggy for the day or a few hours and drive around. There are a number of places to hire buggies, with the most convenient being directly in front of the ferry terminal building. Expect to pay approximately US$30 for two hours.

Having said that, we preferred to walk around. The old town is very small and walkable. And you’ll want to walk into the beautiful restaurants, cafes and shops.

You won’t need more than a few hours to see the whole town walking at a leisurely pace. Include a meal like lunch or early dinner and you’ve already spent at least half the day already.

Travel tip: Spend your time in the historic centre. If you want to go outside the historic centre for some reason, take a cab.

The buggies are quite slow but are a really fun experience. They’re also great if you’re pressed for time because you’ll be able to see so much in a short amount of time.

Things to do in Colonia

Walk down along Vasconcellos toward Real to see some of the most beautiful of the typical colonial buildings. You’ll also notice a particular artistic style that the whole town is filled with which adds to the vibe.

The historic centre of Colonia is located on the southwestern side and is quite small. Ultimately, where you’ll be spending virtually all of your time is in the streets immediately surrounding the Faro de Colonia which is the famous lighthouse. You can climb the lighthouse, but it’s best appreciated from the outside.

Travel tip: Uruguay hasn’t faced the same currency inflation issues which plague Argentina, so prepare for Colonia to be noticeably more expensive than Buenos Aires.

While you’re walking around the historic center, you’ll naturally see the Saint Michael Fort (Bastión de San Miguel) and the Saint Peter Fort (Bastión de San Pedro). They’re not particularly noteworthy in and of themselves but they add to the overall charm of the town.

Travel tip: You can get USD from ATMs in Uruguay; so if you forgot to bring U.S. Dollars cash for Argentina, make sure you take some out in Colonia before you return to Argentina.

Café Arte

Café Arte on General Flores Street (the main street in the town center) is filled with beautiful pieces of art. Depending on when you visit, you might see Fred who is a local artist. He’s often in his workshop downstairs, but you might catch him upstairs having a coffee. He’s incredibly welcoming so don’t hesitate to say hello and ask about his (very reasonably priced) art.

On art generally, you’ll find art by Daniel Babeito around the town. It’s very easy to spot with his characteristic larger-than-life style. A number of the cafes and restaurants display his art as well.

The attractions to avoid

You will also see lots of recommendations online for supposed tourist “attractions” outside the historic centre, like the Plaza de Toros (bullring). The honest truth is that nothing outside the historic centre merits the label “attraction” so you shouldn’t worry about missing out if you just stay in the historic centre.

The best restaurants in Colonia

It’s surprising how many fantastic restaurants there are in Colonia given how small it is. The majority of the best of them are on Calle de Los Suspiros on the side that faces the water.

La Tepera de Enrique

This is our personal favorite in Colonia. It is decorated so beautifully inside and all of the dishes are made with that rare blend of home-cooked feeling and professional dining.

It has incredible competition with the others in this list because it’s not on the waterside but rather on the hill just across from the others.

Charco Bistró

If you’re looking for ocean views and quality food, get lunch at Charco Bistró.

Make sure to try the Chivito de lomo at Charco Bistró. It’s the national dish of Uruguay that you can get virtually anywhere in the country but Charco Bistró has finetuned it beautifully. It’s basically a sandwich with ham, cheese, tomato, beef and fried egg. And if you’re looking for a vegetarian option, get the caramelised onion pizza. The bread is crisped very nicely.

Travel tip: If you arrive later in the day (after 2:30 pm) and want to get lunch, virtually all of the good restaurants will be closed for siesta – except for Charco which serves food all day!

Bohemia Bistro

Also set on the water, this is a more modern establishment that is built into an older colonial home. They’ve created a wonderful atmosphere and decorated beautifully.

Bohemia Bistró is the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon. If you’re planning to go, make sure you book a table outside by the water if it’s a nice day. If you’re going for dinner (only on the weekends), the vibe at night is much cosier.

And if you’re struggling to decide what to get, choose the provoleta cheese. It’s a sizzling plate of cheese topped with fresh vegetables and herbs. Such a delight.

The best hotels for your stay in Colonia

We would recommend that you take the last ferry back to Buenos Aires rather than stay at Colonia. There’s just a lot more to do in Buenos Aires at night than in Colonia.

However, if you do want to spend the evening in Colonia or you are planning to continue traveling on to Montevideo, our network has verified Charco Hotel and Posada Boutique Las Terazas for quality, service, comfort and price. And they both have a beautiful view of the river.

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