Colonia del Sacramento Day Trip
Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento Day Trip
Colonia del Sacramento may be in a different city entirely – not to mention in a whole other country – but it is such a popular day trip for people visiting Buenos Aires, that it must be considered as an option. Situated in Uruguay, a short hop across the Rio de la Plata, Colonia is a tranquil beach town that provides an often necessary break from the chaotic city of Buenos Aires. It may sound strange that in guide books, websites, forums etc, a regular answer to the common question “what can I do in Buenos Aires, Argentina?” is “visit Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.” However, if you are visiting Buenos Aires for a fairly long period, or are an expat living here (perhaps in need of a 3 monthly tourist visa renewal), then a trip to sleepy old Colonia del Sacramento does indeed make for a nice day trip, to get away from the craziness of the city and to remind yourself of what the horizon actually looks like.
How to: Buenos Aires to Colonia by Buquebus Ferry
A trip across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento is simple, and there is really only one sensible option: Buquebus. They run quite a few ferries back and forth between Argentina and Uruguay, seven days a week.
You can choose a fast or a slow ferry to get there, and there are usually special offers for both types to be found on their website. There is a fast ferry (“buque rapido”) return crossing (approx. 50 minutes each way) as well as a slow ferry return crossing (approx. 3 hours each way), which is slightly less expensive. Here is a link to the latest offers on their site – you can switch this web page to English, but try to keep the site in Spanish, because upon changing language the prices often seem to rise, although only a little. Still, very tricky.
For peace of mind, and an easy life, it is recommended that you book online with a credit card at least a week before you want to make the trip, especially if going on a weekend, when the ferries can get booked up quickly. Then you just have to turn up at the Buquebus ferry terminal (Darsena Norte, in Puerto Madero) about an hour before your journey to pick up your tickets (at the desk immediately on your right as you enter the terminal), check in, and get in the passport control line.
The small city of Colonia only really warrants a single day of exploration, so try to book an early morning crossing going, and a late afternoon/early evening crossing coming back to Buenos Aires.
It is generally best to get a taxi to and from the Darsena Norte ferry terminal in Buenos Aires, because it is not the easiest or safest place to get to for tourists – it is literally “the other side of the (train) tracks”, which are not nice to cross on foot, in addition to some dangerous roads around that area with potentially confusing crossings.
About the City of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Colonia del Sacramento was the only Portuguese settlement along the Rio de la Plata when the Spanish were colonizing this area. It was founded in 1680 with the name Nova Colonia do Sacramento by Manuel de Lobo. Colonia’s founding kick-started a struggle between the Spanish and the Portuguese over control of this area.
For years Colonia was a smuggling port, evading the strict trade measures imposed in the Americas by the Spanish. Due to this situation, the city changed hands many times between the Portuguese and the Spanish. Even Brazil controlled it for a short while, until the new country of Uruguay declared independence in 1825.
An interesting thing about Colonia is that its colonial center (Barrío Historico), offers an idea of what buildings in Buenos Aires might have looked like back in colonial times, before the city was successively modernized down the years. Colonia was recently made a UNESCO heritage site, so it should remain a time capsule of the Rio de la Plata’s colonial past for many years.
A couple of interesting historical sights in Colonia de Sacramento are the Calle de los Suspiros (street of the sighs), a beautiful little cobblestone street lined with colorful houses and Colonia’s trademark yellow lamps (see photo) – and the historical city gate and walls.
Five Tips for Enjoying a Day in Colonia
1. Take the chance to relax a little…
Colonia del Sacramento is a world apart from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires city, instead offering you an opportunity to relax in its peaceful, idyllic, old-world environs. Take that chance while you can, because at the end of the day you’ll be back in Argentina’s big smoke, dodging the taxi drivers on the streets once more (in Uruguay most drivers actually stop when you cross the road, rather than speeding up, what a novelty)
2. Cough up for the fast ferry…
With such a small pesos price difference between the 3 hour buquebus ferry and the 50 minutes one, paying that little extra for the faster boat when taking a day trip to Colonia de Sacramento is well worth it. Otherwise, over 7 hours of your day will be spent either traveling in the ferry, or getting on and off it, and that sure is a large portion of the day to waste, meaning less time for relaxing in Colonia.
3. Hire some nifty transport…
A popular Colonia pastime, hiring a scooter and whizzing around the almost deserted coastal and country roads of Uruguay for the best part of a day can be invigorating, fun, and ever so slightly dangerous – what more could you ask for on a holiday? The best place to hire scooters in Colonia, and indeed other forms of transport, from bikes to golf carts to cars, is at Thrifty car rentals, whose office you will find as you walk out of the ferry terminal in Colonia (see photo above). Prices are reasonable and blocks of time are flexible (JUST REMEMBER: you will need your driving license and a credit card). Hiring transport will also give you easier access to parts of Colonia that you otherwise might not get to see, like the more secluded beaches pictured below.
4. Go to the beach…
Now you have that scooter (or golf cart for group travel!), you’ll be wondering where to go. Head out to Playa Ferrando, a very scenic beach in a small bay about 15 minutes scooter ride out from the city center. Make sure you get a map from Thrifty Rentals when you go, as the way to Playa Ferrando is marked clearly on there, in addition to other places to visit in and around Colonia. It’s the perfect place to lie down and take in a little sun, if there in summer (and even spring or fall), or go for a nice walk if visiting during winter. And yes, if you fancy a paddle, the water is safe to enter on this side of the Rio de la Plata – that murky tinge to the water is just sediment from the bottom of the riverbed.
5. Eat some cheap and cheerful junk food…
If the beach-front restaurants don’t tempt you, there is a great little hole in the wall place along Colonia’s main avenue (Av. General Flores), a couple of blocks or so away from the old city center, that does simply amazing hamburgers with everything (egg, ham, cheese, pickled vegetables, and all kinds of interesting and/or spicy toppings and sauces). It’s called Los Farolitos (see the last photo below), and it certainly won’t be reading about in any of the guide books. The problem with the traditional restaurants in Colonia del Sacramento is that none of them come even close to impressing, so this small purveyor of unhealthy comfort food remains an excellent choice – so pull up one of the eight or so dodgy plastic chairs outside it on the sidewalk and dig in.
More Pictures of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
And finally, here are a few more sufficiently random photos from trips to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.
If you are interested in seeing some more conventional travel photos of Colonia del Sacramento, go see this entry on day trips to Colonia, by the Argentina Travel Guide, which also contains some useful information on taking a day trip to this beautiful little Uruguayan city.