Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay

Uruguay’s Colonia de Sacramento, a popular day trip from Buenos Aires by fast ferry across the River Plate. Photo by Mario Carvajal.

Getting to Colonia from Argentina

Just an hour by Buquebus catamaran from Buenos Aires, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Colonia de Sacramento – the oldest town in Uruguay, founded in 1680 – is a delightful, calm and cobbled retreat from the chaos of BA.

Walking is easy and there are various minor sights, good restaurants and a beach, but as a day trip this is a bit hurried. The fast catamaran inexplicably leaves BA in the late morning and returns late afternoon, so by the time the average visitor has had a relaxed lunch and a couple of hour’s walk it’s about time to return.
Throw in the fact that pre-boarding requires an hour or so of poorly organised check-in and immigration, plus the ticket is hardly a bargain, we give Colonia the thumbs down as a day trip.

However, for staying overnight in Colonia or in transit to Montevideo and beyond, this is way better and cheaper than getting a flight.

Colonia de Sacramento old town and port view, Uruguay

Part of the old town, port and ferry seen from Colonia’s lighthouse. Photo by Helge Hoifodt.

Some sights around Plaza Mayor, Colonia

Colonia’s Barrio Histórico cobbled streets and ancient buildings built by the Portuguese is the main tourist attraction for tourists coming from Buenos Aires. It’s within easy walking distance of the ferry terminal.

Colonia de Sacramento, Calle De Los Suspiros, Uruguay

Calle De Los Suspiros. Photo by Flc1980.

• Portón de Campo, the City Gate and wooden drawbridge.

• Lighthouse and ruined 17th century Convent of San Francisco.

• the Basilica of the Holy Sacrament built by the Portuguese in 1808.

• the 18th century Portuguese Museum exhibits Portuguese furnishings, jewelry, uniforms and old maps of Portuguese naval expeditions.

• Casa de Nacarello, an 18th century Portuguese house.

• the Municipal Museum displays artifacts and documents from the city’s different periods and cultures.

• the Viceroy’s House has been reconstructed from the original ruins.

• Plaza de toros Real de San Carlos, a derelict bullring.

• old cars. Personally I think the old bangers dead in the streets of Colonia are a clever marketing stunt and not actually owned by any of the residents. Strange how there are no new cars parked around Conia’s streets?

Punta del Este, quite a lot more modern than Colonia de Sacramento! Photo by mriaco.

Colonia Beaches

For fine beaches Uruguay’s Punta del Este is known as the country’s St Tropez, a holiday hub for splendid beaches and affluent glitterati – many skipping across from Argentina on short trips – to bronze in style.

Arguably the best beach in the area is Playa Montoya, with its gleaming white sand, moderate surf on the side and plenty to keep the eyeballs popping out on stalks.
When that loses it’s power to stimulate take a walk along adjacent beaches – Playa de los Ingleses for more serious surf, Playa Mansa for more beautiful people and boardwalks, then on to bohemian Jose Ignacio beach town for a chill-down evening.

The ferries are comfortable but generally full, even during the week, so book beforehand. And don’t expect the River Plate to be interesting or attractive. . . it’s very big, very muddy and very dull. Alternatively take a 45 minute flight from Buenos Aires to Playa Montoya.