A little over an hour from the bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires, across the Río de La Plata, lies Colonia Del Sacramento. Its historic quarter a UNESCO world heritage site.
For those needing to renew their Argentine visa or simply looking for a weekend getaway from the chaos of Buenos Aires, Colonia Del Sacramento is the perfect destination. Here’s why you should visit Colonia.
Colonia Del Sacramento
- How to get to Colonia
- Currency in Uruguay
- Where to stay in Colonia
- Attractions in the historic quarter of Colonia
- Things to do in Colonia
How to get to Colonia
There are two main routes to Colonia Del Sacramento. For those coming from Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, it’s a two hour bus ride. Buses run every 30-60minutes from Terminal Tres Cruces in Montevideo.
For those coming from Buenos Aires as part of a weekend getaway or visa run, there is the Terminal Buquebus in Puerto Madero. The Buquebus is a large high speed catamaran that takes a little over an hour to reach Colonia.
If like me you can’t be bothered with bureaucracy and paperwork, a trip to Uruguay on the Buquebus is the easiest method to renew your visa for Argentina. Colonia is the cheapest and easiest destination to get to from Buenos Aires for those needing to renew their visa for Argentina.
Return packages are available with onward travel to Montevideo by bus. And these larger packages are well suited to those looking to spend longer in Uruguay and see more before returning to Buenos Aires.
Currency in Uruguay
Uruguay’s currency is the Uruguayan Peso. If you are travelling to Uruguay from Buenos Aires with its hyper inflation you may be surprised by prices.
You will get a lot of Uruguayan Peso for your USD or other home currency, but the underlying costs in Uruguay are significantly higher than Argentina.
Compared to Uruguay everything in Argentina is a fire sale. For those travellers from the US or Australia, daily costs in Uruguay are about the same as Australia or cheaper cities in the US.
There is no unofficial rate or blackmarket currency in Uruguay. The rates found on XE.com can be used as a guide.
Because there is no unofficial dólar blue rate like Argentina, you should avoid private money changers and exchange shops in Uruguay.
ATM’s will dispense Uruguayan Peso and USD in Uruguay. Banco República will be the best for foreigners looking to withdraw cash. As it has no ATM or exchange fees for most travellers.
In contrast to Banco República, banks such as Rio Santander will charge largish ATM fees and give lesser exchange rates.
For Australians Banco República is your best option for cash withdrawls in Uruguay.
Where to stay in Colonia
There are many Airbnb and hotels available in Colonia. What you choose will be determined by your style of travel and budget.
I’ve found on numerous occasions that hotels tend to provide better value in Uruguay. Airbnb have tended to be significantly overpriced when I’ve visited Uruguay. And the ones I’ve seen were often much more expensive than a hotel suite.
On my last trip a suite in the Radisson with a balcony looking past the infinity pool and overlooking the Rio de La Plata was cheaper than a basic Airbnb in Colonia. Though my favourite hotel in Colonia was the Hotel Italiano that I discovered via a Buquebus Paquete.
Deals for hotels can be found on all the major hotel booking sites. Booking.com tends to be better value than Expedia.
The best option for accommodation in Colonia Del Sacramento is to look at the Buquebus website for ‘Paquetes‘ (packages). Package deals with transport and accommodation listed in Argentine pesos.
If you buy one of these Buquebus packages in Argentine Peso acquired at the informal exchange rate it can save you a significant amount of money. As for an idea of the costs and what you can save using a Buquebus package to visit Uruguay, you can see my cost breakdown by clicking here.
Attractions in the historic quarter of Colonia Del Sacramento
The historic quarter of Colonia Del Sacramento is a UNESCO world heritage site. Having been variously controlled by the Spanish and Portuguese it is a fusion of the Portuguese, Spanish and post-colonial styles.
Colonial Del Sacramentos tree lined cobblestone streets and colonial era buildings make it a wonderful place to explore on foot. Just wandering around Colonia is one of my favourite things to do whenever I visit.
Colonia Del Sacramento is a very easily walkable city. Just wear good shoes to navigate the cobblestones in some areas.
Be sure to arrive early in the morning to avoid the tour groups that swarm into Colonia from 10:30am onwards.
Around every corner you will find antique motor vehicles on display and local artisans selling their wares. Along with a dizzying array of museums.
In order to visit the museums you must first buy a single ticket from the Municipal Museum. This ticket will get you into all other museums and can only be bought from the Municipal Museum.
There are museums dedicated to the Portuguese and Spanish, natural history of the area, indigenous cultures and local industries such as ceramics and tiles. Each museum is relatively small and takes 30-45min to see properly.
My personal favourite tourist attraction in the historical quarter of Colonia Del Sacramento was ‘Old Cars Culture.’ A series of antique cars scattered all over the historic quarter.
Things to do in Colonia Del Sacramento
In between visiting museums and stopping at all the little bars for a cold drink, it’s worth seeing Bastion San Miguel and its historic gate called Puerta de la Ciudadela. Along with the ruins of the lighthouse it’s one of the original stone structures of Colonia Del Sacramento.
Near the Puerto de la Ciudadela is the famed Street of Sighs called Calle de los Suspiros. It’s a picturesque little street lined with houses dating back to the first colonial period.
A few of the houses along Calle de los Suspiros are private family homes. So don’t climb on the fences or intrude on their privacy by peering in through their gates.
Wear comfortable shoes with plenty of grip if you’re going to traverse this street. Calle de los Suspiros gets quite slippery.
It’s worth walking around the outside of the point on which Colonia is located and enjoying the view out over the Rio de La Plata. Coming back up to Plaza Mayor from the waterfront you can visit the old lighthouse.
The ruins of the lighthouse are located on the opposite end of Plaza Mayor from the Puerta de la Ciudadela. The original lighthouse burnt down in the 1700s. But its old stone walls still remain.
Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento (Basilica of the Holy Sacrament) a Roman Catholic Church sits next to the ruins of the Governor’s mansion and both are worth exploring between museums. They’re not time sensitive and can be visited after the museums close.
For the Australians it’s worth noting that the former governors mansion (now in ruins) was once occupied for a short time by Governor Phillip before he sailed to Australia.
After A Day Spent Exploring Colonia Del Sacramento
Once you’ve had your fill of museums and cobblestone alleyways, sit and have a drink overlooking the Río de La Plata and watch the sun set. Reina Cafe-Bar on the waterfront has one of the best sunset views if you’re wanting to visit a bar.
Otherwise, just do what the locals do and pick a spot along the waterfront in any of the small parks or promenades. The sunset in Colonia Del Sacramento is spectacular from everywhere along the waterfront. And as the sun sets the colours change from a bright gold to a deep pink.
To finish off a day in Colonia the real South American way, wine and barbecue meats can be had all over town. But as with Argentina your best options for dinner are after 9pm.
Off the Main Street in Colonia you’ll find a lot of little bars and restaurants. In the cooler months (May to October) these little restaurants will have indoor fireplaces to keep warm. And during the warmer parts of the year outdoor dining is beautiful in Colonia. As there’s a cool evening sea breeze most nights.
Conclusions | Other Things To Do In Colonia Del Sacramento
Apart from the visiting all the museums and galleries in the Old Town, there are also a few private museums that aren’t part of the official ticket. And there are plenty of opportunities for shopping in Colonia, which is duty free for tourists.
My favourite unofficial museum is the Museo del Origami. It’s nothing to do with the Colonia but tracks the history of Origami and has works from some of the worlds masters. I found it fascinating to learn about the different paper folding techniques. And the works by masters were spectacular.
Duty free shopping in Colonia is handy. Particularly if you’re returning to Argentina. And you’ll often see the Argentines making their way to the local mall in droves.
Yet for those who’ve seen everything in Colonia before, just wandering the streets and relaxing at the various cafes and bars is itself a great way to spend time in Colonia. It’s such a quiet and relaxing little town. And leisurely strolling through the streets and stopping off at all the little bars and cafes is often how I spend my time.
If you want to see more of Uruguay, check out our article on how to spend 48hrs exploring Montevideo Uruguay.