Just one hour across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires, lies the captivating old town of Colonia Del Sacramento. One of only two UNESCO world heritage sites in Uruguay, it is a charming place with crumbling ruins, cobbled streets, and bags of personality. It is a great day trip from Buenos Aires with regular ferries and a port that is within walking distance of the town. So, here’s everything you need to know to plan your day trip from Buenos Aires to Colonia Del Sacramento
How to get to Colonia Del Sacramento
Getting to Colonia Del Sacramento is easy as there are two ferry routes between Buenos Aires and Uruguay. The Buquebus service runs up to 3 times per day from Puerto Madera whilst the Colonia Express runs up to 5 times a day. It also leaves from Puerto Madera, albeit the opposite end of the port, so do make sure you know which terminal you need to go to. Both take 1 hour 15 minutes and fares are similar for both. Tickets cost around £50 to £60 for a day trip.
We booked the Colonia Express and paid £67 each for a day trip that included a walking tour and lunch. The remainder of this post refers to our Colonia Express experience but if anyone has done the trip on Buquebus, feel free to share your experience in the comments.
Check in at the ferry terminal
Book your Colonia Express tickets on the Get Your Guide app then turn up at the ferry terminal two hours before your scheduled departure. Hand your passport in at the check in desk and you will receive your boarding pass for the outbound journey.
Follow the sign for departures and go through security.
After security, you clear immigration which is somewhat confusing as you clear passport control for both Argentina and Uruguay in Buenos Aires. Once your passport has been checked by the Argentinian authorities, they indicate a desk number for the Uruguayan formalities. I had no idea what was happening until I got my Uruguayan stamp. I think there may be a Uruguayan flag in the booth windows but can’t be certain.
Once through security and immigration (which took no more than 15 minutes) you enter a bland departure lounge with a tiny coffee shop. The announcements are in Spanish only, so if you are not a Spanish speaker, simply follow the hordes at the time of embarkation.
Colonia Express ferry
On the ferry there is a duty-free shop that sells snacks and drinks as well as the usual array of gifts. You can select any seat on the lower or upper deck and wander freely through the outdoor areas. Seats are comfortable with decent leg room.
The whole service was hugely efficient and the ride across the river (which is so wide it seems more like a sea) was over in no time.
Arriving in Colonia
As you have cleared customs already, there are no further formalities when you arrive in Uruguay. Fortunately, we decided to enquire about changing our return ticket time because it was only when we did this that we received our voucher for the walking tour and lunch. Make sure you go to the check in desks to pick up your vouchers. Then, head to the tour desk (which is to the left as you exit the arrival tunnel) and wait for your guide.
The walking tour lasts around an hour and allows you to get your bearings and learn a little of the history of the city. The eldest city in Uruguay is steeped in violent history. Founded by the Portuguese in 1620, it was subsequently fought over by the Spanish and Portuguese for over 100 years, changing hands several times. These days the only invaders are hordes of tourists from Buenos Aires keen to explore the vibrant old town.
In Colonia, you can spend cash in $, Brazilian Real, and Uruguayan pesos but not Argentinian pesos. This is due to the unfavourable exchange rate. Back in 2018 the Argentine peso and Uruguayan peso were more or less equivalent in value. However now your £1 buys you 47 Uruguayan pesos but 238 Argentine pesos. Each Uruguayan peso is equivalent to roughly 5 Argentine pesos now and we are complaining about inflation in the UK!
You can also use credit cards in Colonia and it is a good idea to do so. If you do not you will pay the local price which includes a 20% tax. However, this tax is deducted from your bills if you pay by card thus saving you 20%.
Colonia Del Sacramento
Colonia Del Sacramento is hugely deserving of its UNESCO world heritage status. Just one of two UNESCO sites in Uruguay, it is a delightful gem. The uneven cobbles and rough-hewn pavements brim with colourful restaurants, vibrant shops, and colonial homes. Crammed inside the sturdy city walls, crumbling ruins decorated with spirited graffiti border cosmopolitan coffee shops and bars. You will stumble across beautiful old cars, pristinely maintained alongside abandoned rusting relics of a bygone era. Trees sprout through pavement stones and flowers cling to pastel hued walls in an eclectic combination of derelict and urban sophistication. Stray cats and dogs roam deserted streets and leaves flitter across the cobbles like tumbleweed.
In parts, the city feels derelict and abandoned. However turn a corner to find charming streets brimming with kaleidoscopic houses, traditional lanterns, and rainbow flags.
The map below highlights the key places to visit but you can also pick up a tourist map at the terminal.
Lunch at La Comandancia
After wandering aimlessly through the old town, marvelling at its vibrancy, we head to La Comandancia for lunch. We wander through a walled courtyard decorated with vivid flowers and lanterns that sway in the breeze. At the back we find a simple dining room. In halting Spanish, we order large beers and juicy, succulent burgers.
Walk along the Rambla De Las Americas
Sufficiently satiated, we decide to walk along the Rambla De Las Americas to the bullring. This wide boulevard is a sharp contrast to the old town with its modern apartment blocks and luxury homes. It is more reminiscent of bourgeois suburbs in California than a South American city. Wide tree lined avenues in a grid system travel inland to reveal a fascinating smorgasbord of architectural styles. A thatched cottage, that would not be out of place in the Cotswolds, nestles next to a large American ranch style sprawl. Scandinavian style wooden homes jostle with modern light filled homes with huge picture windows overlooking the river and stretches of pristine beach.
The promenade follows a series of sandy beaches along the headland where giant cacti and palm trees fringe the shoreline where children splash in the shallows. Shaded sandy lay-bys become makeshift discos where families relax in deck chairs at the side of their cars blaring music from giant boom boxes.
Note there are a few trendy cosmopolitan bars on the promenade (but nearer to the Old Town than the bull ring) but few restaurants, other than a smattering of snack kiosks overlooking the sea. Surprisingly, there was only one restaurant at the bullring so ensure you take sufficient water with you if you decide to make this trip. The walk is around 7 miles so pretty challenging on a hot day.
After our long, hot walk along the promenade we are desperate for a cold beer and go in search of a bar we spotted earlier in the day. Fairy lights decorate the outdoor garden whilst inside its minimalist chic. The kitchen offers tasty looking food but we are happy to sip on cold beers at the bar while we admire the décor. All too soon however we need to start making tracks back to the port to return to Buenos Aires.
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Check in for return
Check in for the return is equally efficient and once again we complete all formalities in less than 10 minutes. On the return journey you clear immigration in the respective countries so it takes a little longer once you arrive back into Buenos Aires.
Both Buquebus and Colonia Express depart from the same terminal (unlike in Buenos Aires). Ensure you join the correct queue as the terminal has multiple gates. Lines snake around the terminal in a confusing melee and it was not obvious which line we should join. We waited patiently in one line for about 20 minutes only to realise we were in the wrong one! Thankfully we realised in time!!
Plan your day trip to Colonia Del Sacramento now
If you are planning a trip to Buenos Aires, I would highly recommend a day trip to Colonia Del Sacramento. It is a charming city rammed with photo opportunities and so close to Buenos Aires, you can almost touch it!!