Leave behind the hustle & bustle of Buenos Aires by taking a day trip to Colonia in Uruguay. Here’s some top tips for a perfect excursion.
“There’s not much to actually do in Colonia,” Brittany, an American I had met in Bariloche, had commented. “But it makes for a great escape from Buenos Aires. And you get to visit Uruguay!”
And she was absolutely right! Colonia del Sacramento (to give it its full name), just a short hop across the Rio de la Plata, is a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Take a fistful of quaint cobbled streets, a handful of colonial buildings and a sprinkling of vintage cars and you have the recipe for a perfect day trip. Let’s go!
A short history of Colonia
The architecture and urban planning in Colonia reflect the influence of its two colonial powers – Portugal and the Spain – and are unique in this part of South America. The Portuguese street plan, with its irregular cobbled streets, can still be seen in its historic centre, whilst the surrounding areas have newer Spanish architecture.
Let’s go back to 1680 when the Portuguese established Nova Colonia do Santissimo Sacramento (The New Colony of Blessed Sacrament). Now the Portuguese were no idiots. The town gave them prime position in the Rio de la Plata, all the better to access the mines in Peru and huge swathes of agricultural land.
Having settled Colonia, the Portuguese wanted to hold onto it and they set up defences on the small island of St Gabriel, which was close to Buenos Aires. However, the Spanish, the landlords of Buenos Aires, were having none of this. A long fight ensued, which lasted into the latter half of the 18th century. Finally, in 1777, Colonia became a Spanish city.
Peace reigned for a short time, but between 1811 and 1828 the town bore the brunt of fierce independence battles between Portugal and Brazil. Colonia came in for it yet again from 1839 to 1851 when the new nation of Uruguay was at war with Argentina. With all this conflict, it’s a miracle that the colonial buildings we see today survived! From the middle of the 19th century, peace finally came to Colonia.
Top things to see during a day trip to Colonia
Colonia is an irresistibly picturesque and laid-back place to wander around. However, there’s not too much to see and do in and I found three or four hours in the town are just about right.
Here’s my pick of the top things to do during a day trip:
1. Capture that Kodak moment in the Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs)
2. Watch life go by in the main square (Plaza Mayor 25 de Mayo)
3. Climb the 118 steps to the top of the old lighthouse (Faro) for panoramic views over the town.
4. Visit the Iglesia Matriz (Church of the Most Holy Sacrament), which is the oldest church in Uruguay, built between 1695 and 1699 .
The practical stuff
- Although a number of tour companies will gladly take your money in exchange for an organised day trip to Colonia, there is no need to splash the cash. It is very easy to get there under you own steam using one of the three ferry companies that ply the waters between Buenos Aires and Colonia. I used BuqueBus but there are two other companies – Seacat Colonia and Colonia Express.
- The crossing took 75 minutes and the day trip cost 75 USD, which included a packed lunch and a short guided tour. The ferry left at 8.30, returning at 4pm, allowing ample time to explore the delights of Colonia.
- As you have to queue first to get your boarding pass and then again to clear immigration, the ferry company suggests that you arrive at the terminal two hours prior to departure. My experience suggests that you do not need to be there quite that early.
- As I left my hotel in Palermo Soho at silly o’clock, I took a taxi to Puerto Madero which cost 180 pesos (9 USD). For the return journey I took the metro. The nearest station is Alem on the B line, around 10 – 15 walk from the terminal.
- I stayed at the charming and exceptionally friendly Duque Boutique Hotel in trendy Palermo Soho. Highly recommended.
- For further information on navigating the city’s transport system, check out my post Getting around Buenos Aires.
Have I missed any must-see sights in Colonia? Have you done a great day trip from Buenos Aires?