Updated post: 29/06/2019 | June 2019

“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 from Buenos Aires, is a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Take a fistful of cobbled streets, a handful of colonial buildings and a sprinkling of vintage cars and you have the recipe for a perfect day trip.

To help you make the most of your day trip to Colonia here’s all you need to know, from tips on how to get there to what to see and do.

colonia uruguay
Street in Colonia, Uruguay

A short history of Colonia

The architecture and urban planning in Colonia reflect the influence of its two colonial powers – Portugal and 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.

Colonia Uruguay
Taking it easy in Colonia, Uruguay

Let’s first 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 a 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.

The best things to see during a day trip to Colonia

Colonia is an achingly picturesque and laid-back place to wander around. Having said that, there’s not too much to see and do, 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)

Street of Sighs, Colonia Uruguay

2. Watch life go by in the main square (Plaza Mayor 25 de Mayo)

Colonia Uruguay

3. Climb the 118 steps to the top of the old lighthouse (Faro) for panoramic views over the town.

Colonia Uruguay

4. Visit the Iglesia Matriz (Church of the Most Holy Sacrament), which is the oldest church in Uruguay, built between 1695 and 1699 .

Colonia Uruguay5. Hunt for vintage cars Vintage car Colonia Uruguay6. Take a stroll along the riverfront promenade

Rio de Plata from Colonia Uruguay

How to visit Colonia

  • Getting there – 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 your 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 companiesSeacat Colonia and Colonia Express.
  • The crossing took 75 minutes and the day trip costs 76 USD, which included a packed lunch and a short guided tour (2019 update: This package now costs 66 USD). The ferry left at 8.30, returning at 4 pm, 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.
  • Visiting there –   You should not need to get your hands on Uruguayan pesos. US dollars and Argentinian pesos, as well as credit cards, are widely accepted by businesses in Colonia.
  • Staying there I stayed at the charming and exceptionally friendly Duque Boutique Hotel in trendy Palermo Soho. Highly recommended.
  • Getting around – Click here if you need help getting around Buenos Aires

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