Colonia del Sacramento Day Trip

June 12, 2007 by · 77 Comments 

Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento Day Trip

Picturesque street in Colonia, Uruguay

UPDATE Below you can read our legendary article (and many comments!) about doing a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay while you are visiting Buenos Aires. But first, we have news!

New Tour Offering: Day Trips to Colonia, Uruguay

Here at BuenosTours we have partnered with another top local tour company to offer all-inclusive Day Trips to Colonia in small-to-medium group sizes, with an expert native-English speaker guide. You’ll make the best of your day there, learn a ton of interesting stuff, and won’t have to worry about the hassle of reading this article and making all the plans yourself.

We’ll take care of it all for you, for a price of just $280 USD per person. You will not find another service like this. The full day tour (of around 12 hours, from approx. 6.30am to 6.30pm, although pick-up and drop-off times vary depending on where you are staying in Buenos Aires) includes:

– An expert guide (whose first language is English) with you from start to finish
– Small-to-medium group size (max 12 passengers- average group size is 5)
– Transport to the Buenos Aires ferry terminal
Fast ferry (approx. 1 hour) crossing to Colonia del Sacramento
– A fascinating walking tour of the historical heart of Colonia
– A mid-morning drink & snack break in Colonia’s main square
– Mate lesson and tasting (pronounced MAH-tay, it’s the green tea of South America)
Traditional Uruguayan chivito lunch (beverages included – wine, beer or soft drink)
– Free time to explore, shop, or just take in the peacefulness that is Colonia
– Optional museum/lighthouse viewing platform entry for during your free time (cost included)
– Afternoon ice cream or in winter, hot chocolate
– Fast ferry (approx. 1 hour) crossing back to Buenos Aires
– Transport from the Buenos Aires ferry terminal

*Note: if you request to book for a date less than a week in advance, there may be a surcharge of 10% added to the US$280 per person cost, to cover the increase in ferry ticket prices at that late stage. We encourage you to book as far in advance as you can, not only to save money, but to ensure availability!*

Please feel free to complete the following form if you’re interested, or have any questions – we’re looking forward to showing you life on the other side of the Rio de la Plata!:

(First name, last name, please)

OK, for those of you who prefer to do things the hard way, please read on for the article and sorry for the above distraction…

A Short Hop Across the Rio de la Plata

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.

Yes, that's right, we're going to Uruguay

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 fairly straightforward, and for a while there has only really been one real option: Buquebus. They run quite a few ferries back and forth between Argentina and Uruguay, seven days a week. To use the website you’ll probably have to enlist the help of Google translate, unless you have decent Spanish.

With Buquebus you can choose a fast or a slow ferry to get there (with Seacat all the ferries are fast), 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.

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

Calle de los Suspiros in Colonia

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…

Buenos Aires Skyline viewed from the Buquebus

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…

Thrifty Car Rentals, Colonia

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…

Playa Ferrando, Colonia

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…

Burgers in Colonia

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.

Colonia Cow Action Paddling in the shallows on Playa Ferrando

Scooter fun in Colonia del Sacramento Los Farolitos Burger Stall in Colonia

Hope you enjoyed this post and have a great time on your day trip to Colonia!

How to catch the bus in Buenos Aires

October 5, 2006 by · 6 Comments 

Ride like a King in Buenos Aires

It's official. 4 out of 10 Kings prefer buses to camels

“Certain Kings… don’t travel by camel”

Apparently, Kings in Buenos Aires travel by bus. And it’s a bargain too…at just 2 pesso 70 centavos (about 25 US cents) for most journeys within the city (although some shorter journeys should cost 2.50 and other longer ones 2.85, and if you pay in cash it can be up to 5.00).

In today’s economy, even a King has to be prudent with his savings.

(See the comments after this post for further explanation of the camels quote. Thanks Nico!)

Buenos Aires Buses

Colectivo, Recoleta

[SPhoto credit: Cobra  Libre’s photostream/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

In many ways, colectivos really are the travel choice of Kings in Buenos Aires. There are so many routes, that almost all run with amazing frequency and regularity, even right through the night. Certainly beats the somewhat limited subte (subway) system here in BA, especially in the hot and sticky summer months. And it always beats taxis on value.

So, here is some advice on how to catch a bus in Buenos Aires… a task that may seem simple, but is not as easy as it sounds.

Buy a Guia T Buenos Aires Bus Guide

  • Buy the pocket-sized ‘Guia T’ bus route book from any pavement kiosk (they are found on almost every block in main avenues) for somewhere around 20 pesos (under US$3).
  • Another option is to use the Mapa Buenos Aires website at http://mapa.buenosaires.gob.ar/ . Here you can type in the address or intersection where you are starting (in the ‘desde’ box) and where you are going  (in the ‘hasta’ box) and the website will show you what kinds of transport you can take and will map the route for you.

Using the Guia T

  • Use the front section of the ‘Guia T’ to find the road and number where you currently are. This should point you towards the correct page and grid number of the maps later in the book.
  • Use this grid reference to pinpoint exactly where you are on the map, making sure you have the right grid square. Got that? Good.
  • Now, find the relative grid square on the opposing page to the map, which lists the numbers of all the bus routes that run through that area. Make a mark on that square to keep a note of it, because now you have to find where you are going.
  • Repeat the above process for where you want to go to, from using the front section to find the road, to finding the square with the bus routes that run through the area you wish to get to.
  • Now, compare and contrast the two sets of numbers in the squares you found. You need to find bus routes than run through both squares.
  • Once you have found these routes, flip to the back section of the Guia T and find the details of each route. Here you will see all the streets the buses pass down, both ‘Ida y Vuelta’ (going and returning).
  • Using this detailed route plan and the map square where you are currently, find a street that the bus will travel down (in the right direction!) near you.

Catching the bus (Tomar [NOT Coger!] el colectivo)

  • Now you have found the street where the bus route you want is supposed to travel down (if you are having trouble, ask a local, they will usually try and help), make one last check that the direction of traffic is going the right way for where you want to go (if it isn’t, you will need the opposite route, which due to the one way road system here in BA, will often be on a different road nearby).
  • Walk along the street you found, on the right hand side, until you find the bus stop for your number. It shouldn’t be much more than a block.
  • Queue up politely and patiently, in the direction away from where the bus will come. If you are still not sure the bus you want to take will be going in the right direction, ask someone else in line “este colectivo (point to bus number) va por Microcentro/Recoleta/Palermo/etc?’, and they will be pleased to help you!
  • Before you get too comfortable standing in line, make sure you have change. You will need coins to pay the bus fare. It should cost 5 pesos, so make sure you have a combination of coins that make up 5 pesos or more (the machine does give change back in coins). They do not accept bills. Ever.
  • Ok, scratch that. Sometimes they do accept bills, but only in one particular situation. If there is a conductor standing at your bus stop, you can pay him with a 2 or a 5, maybe even a 10. But don’t count on that happening – the conductor will most likely only appear during peak hours. And only on the busiest routes.
  • To get a better rate on bus journeys, you can take out a Sube card at certain kiosks and locutorios, for 15 pesos. If you have one of these, the bus will cost you 2.70 instead of 5 pesos and you won’t have to worry about scrounging for change!
  • When you see your colectivo approaching, and it won’t be long, make sure to stick your arm out to stop it in good time. Too late and it might go speeding past. No snoozing!

Paying the man (well ok, the machine)

  • When you get on the bus, say “5 pesos, por favor” (SEEN-CO PAY-SO-S POUR-FAH-VOHR). This means you want a fare of 5 pesoS, which it will usually be. And even if it isn’t, it is simpler to just say this every time. Same goes if you have a Sube card, but this time you say “Dos setenta” (DOHS SEH-TENT-AH).
  • Then, make sure you have your coins ready, and check that the bus driver has pressed his button that changes the digital readout on the money machine (a gray box) behind his seat to read your fare (5.00). If not, give him a quick stare (or perhaps repeat “5 pesos, Por Favor”), and he’ll soon realize. If you are using a Sube card, there should be a yellow card reader at the front of the bus. Make sure the screen reads 2.70 then hold the card up to the black part below the screen until it beeps.
  • When the machine shows the fare, stuff your coins in the top slot one by one, checking they were accepted (sometimes you have to try them a few times), and then your small, thin paper ticket, and any change, will collect in the bottom slot of machine.
  • Grab your ticket and find a seat! If busy, find a rail and HOLD ON TIGHT. Buenos Aires bus drivers are slightly insane. They enjoy breaking hard at the last moment at junctions, especially if they smell a tourist is on board.

And that’s it. Enjoy the ride!

Oh. It seems these directions were so long that you opted the taxi instead. Well, they are pretty cheap in Buenos Aires too, after all.

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