Colonia del Sacramento is in my opinion the most beautiful city in Uruguay and probably the one that many people know about because of its proximity to Buenos Aires, which makes it an ideal destination to get away from the capital of Argentina for a weekend. In this post you’ll learn about the best things to do in Colonia del Sacramento to make the most of your trip to the city.
Colonia del Sacramento is a small but charming city. Its past as a portuguese colony (Colonia was founded by the portuguese in 1680 making it the oldest city in Uruguay) and as a Spanish colony later, is what makes its streets so unique and picturesque, full of corners you’ll fall in love with.
As you know if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Colonia and Buenos Aires are located only 50 km away, divided by Río de la Plata river. So since I was very young I visit Colonia del Sacramento almost every year. In fact, my first trip ever was to this city when I was only a few months old.
No matter how many years pass, Colonia is one of those places that doesn’t change. Although new restaurants or shops appear every year, the essence of the city remains intact. Its cobbled streets, pastel-colored colonial houses, the lighthouse, the sunsets on the river… It is always a pleasure to visit Colonia.
How to get to Colonia del Sacramento
- Ferry from Buenos Aires
The simplest and fastest way to get to Colonia is by ferry from Buenos Aires. The capital of Argentina is only 50 km away, separated by the Río de la Plata.
The three ferry companies that have the route Buenos Aires – Colonia are: Buquebus, Seacat Colonia and Colonia Express. The trip takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. There are different prices but if you buy the tickets in advance you can get good deals.
The Port of Colonia is located in the center of the city, very close to the Old Town of the city where many hotels are located so you can easily reach your hotel walking or take a taxi.
- By car
Another option is to go to Colonia by car from Argentina or other city in Uruguay. There are several borders to access Uruguay from Argentina. The closest to Buenos Aires is the Gualeguaychú (Argentina) – Fray Bentos (Uruguay) crossing. The whole trip by car from the city of Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento is around 6 hours (it all depends on where you depart from Buenos Aires obviously).
Traveling to Uruguay by car is a good option if you want to have the comfort of using your car, since taking it by ferry is possible but very expensive.
Tolls (prices updated in November 2019): The customs toll between Argentina and Uruguay costs ARS $460 / UY $300. In Mercedes (Uruguay) the toll costs UY $110.
It is also possible to travel to Colonia del Sacramento by bus from other cities in the country or from neighbouring countries like Argentina. This a good option if you’re also visiting Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital city. Colonia is located 177 km from Montevideo and the bus trip takes about 3 hours. The bus companies that make this journey are: Turil and COT.
Colonia Bus Terminal is located right next to the port.
- Full day tour from Montevideo
If you’re staying in Montevideo, you can take this full day tour to Colonia del Sacramento in which you’ll visit the city’s most iconic landmarks. The tour includes an english speaking guide and hotel pickup and drop-off from Montevideo.
How many days to spend in Colonia
As the ferry journey is so short, many people visit Colonia as a day trip from Buenos Aires. You can perfectly see the main attractions of the city in one day but I strongly recommend you stay at least for 1 night so you can enjoy the sunset at the city without a rush. The city is so charming you will really like to spend some extra time there.
Plus if you visit Colonia during summer you can also enjoy the beaches so 2 days would be perfect.
How to get around Colonia del Sacramento
Most of the attractions in Colonia are located in the historic neighborhood of the city which is really small so you can perfectly explore it on foot. However, there are some other places located outside the historic city and you need a car to get there.
A very popular way to get around Colonia is to rent a golf cart. You will find many rental companies at the centre of the city, mainly in Gral Flores Avenue. The rental of the golf carts is around USD$40 per day.
Another good option for getting around Colonia is to rent a bike. Bikes are great to ride along the waterfront but I don’t recommend them to explore the historic center because its cobblestone streets make it practically impossible to ride. Many hotels rent bikes and you can also easily find rental companies at the city center. The cost for bike rentals is around USD$10 per day.
Where to stay in Colonia del Sacramento
Despite being a small city, Colonia receives many visitors and is well prepared for tourism so there is a big variety of accommodation to choose from. Most of the hotels and hostels are concentrated in the downtown area and the historic center, where many services such as restaurants and shops are also located. There are also some hotels located on the waterfront (Rambla de las Américas Avenue), where there are less services but you have direct views of the Río de la Plata river.
Recommended accommodation in Colonia del Sacramento:
- Dazzler Hotel Colonia: Dazzler is a modern hotel located in a brand new building with all the comforts: breakfast, outdoor pool, indoor pool, gym and spa. It is located on the Rambla de las Américas Avenue which is a but far away from the center of Colonia where most of the restaurants are located, but it is right in front of the beach and the rooms have a direct view of the Río de la Plata. The price quality relationship is pretty good so it is worth staying at this hotel. Check out prices and information about Dazzler Colonia.
- Dos Orillas Apartment: in the same building of Dazzler Hotel, there are apartments for rent. They are all very cute and well equipped. On my last trip to Colonia I booked a studio apartment in this building through Airbnb and it was the best decision because apart from having the independence of staying at an apartment, I was able to use all the services of Dazzler Hotel. Larger apartments are also available in the same building both through Booking and Airbnb. This is the studio apartment I rented and you can also use this €17 discount on Airbnb (you need to create a new account).
- Posada del Virrey: An old colonial house restored and converted into a small hotel. The location is ideal for touring the historic center of the city. Check out prices and information about Posada del Virrey.
- Charco Hotel: a boutique hotel located in Colonia historic center in what was once a classic colonial house. Excellent service and location.This is one of the best hotels you’ll find in the city. Check out prices and information about Charco Hotel.
Things to do in Colonia del Sacramento
- Walk the streets of the Historic District
The Historic District of Colonia is one of the places you can’t miss on a trip to Colonia. This area, also known as “Ciudad Vieja” (Old city) was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995 as it is a neighborhood where houses and streets of the colonial and post-colonial times of the city are well preserved. You can spend hours in this area taking photos at each street. Most of the main attractions in Colonia are located within the Historic District.
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- Old wall
One of the most important points within the Historic District is the old wall and the Puerta de la Ciudadela or “Puerta de Campo”, a door built in 1745 by the Portuguese governor of that time.
The door was rebuilt in 1970 along with the old walls of the city, the old canyons and the drawbridge, keeping the details of the original fort. This is one of the most important places for the history of the city.
- Calle de los suspiros (The street of sighs)
Also located inside the Historic District of Colonia is the most photographed street in the city: La calle de los suspiros. The street reflects the times of the city as a portuguese colony. It remains a big mystery why it is known as “the street of sighs”.
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The real reason for the is unknown but there are several theories: 1) It is said that there were several brothels in the street and the sailors who visited them sighed for prostitutes; 2)The sighs belonged to those sentenced to death, who were brought to drown them in the river; 3) Because of a young woman that was stabbed in this street while waiting for her boyfriend.
None of the versions are very romantic but the truth is that this street is very beautiful and worth a walk around.
- Colonia del Sacramento Lighthouse
The icon of Colonia del Sacramento is definitely its lighthouse, built in 1857 on one of the old towers of the Convent of San Francisco. The lighthouse has a height of 26 meters and can be climbed to admire beautiful views of the city and the Río de la Plata.
To go up you need to climb up through a narrow spiral staircase. The price to climb the lighthouse is URU$30 (about USD$0.8) Price updated in November 2019.
- Plaza de Armas Manuel Lobo
Like every Latin American city, Colonia has its Plaza de Armas (Square of arms). But the particular thing about it is that right in the middle of the square there is an excavation of the original governor’s house ruins.
- Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento
Located in the Plaza de Armas is the Basilica of the Holy Sacrament considered the oldest church in Uruguay. The basilica was built in 1680, the same year the city was founded, and since then it was rebuilt several times.
- Sunset on the River
The sunsets in Colonia are really beautiful and one of the best I’ve seen. There are two points from which I recommend watching the sunset: the yacht pier in Colonia and Bastion de San Pedro.
If you travel in spring or summer you can enjoy the beach. There are several beaches located in Colonia and are all public. If you have extra days you can visit SantaAna, a peaceful beach located 20 km away from the city.
- Colonia sign
Like almost all cities, Colonia also has its sign. The letters of Colonia are located on Rambla de las Américas in the “Real de San Carlos” area. From the center of the city it is around a 30 minute walk to this spot.
- Real de San Carlos bull ring
About 5 km from Colonia city center you can find a real treasure: Plaza de toros. This bull ring was built in 1910 and it’s considered a National Historic Landmark. Bull fights were held at Plaza de Toros for 2 years until they were banned. Today the bull ring is in ruins and can’t be accessed as there is a danger of collapse.
After many years of being in this state, the government has decided to recover this historic landmark and works have already started so it will be soon open to visitors.
- Museums in Colonia
In addition to all the history that can be seen in its streets and buildings, there are several museums to visit in Colonia del Sacramento. I honestly haven’t visited any of them so I can’t give my opinion.
Some of the museums are:
↣Museo del azulejo: a small Portuguese house where tiles of Spanish and French origin are exhibited.
↣ Portuguese Museum: this museum houses antiques related to the foundational period of the city.
↣SpanishMuseum: the museum houses a collection of ruins and relics from the first period of the Spanish domain of the city.
↣Dr. B. Rebuffo Municipal Museum: it is the oldest museum where different historical pieces from the colonial and even earlier periods are exhibited.
Some tips to visit Colonia del Sacramento:
- The main street in the center of Colonia is Gral. Flores. On this avenue you will find shops, some mini markets, banks, exchange houses and restaurants.
- If you are looking for a larger supermarket, you will find one at Colonia shopping center. The supermarket is called Ta-Ta and it is the biggest you’ll find in the city. Colonia shopping center is located at: Franklin D. Roosevelt 458 Avenue.
- If you buy local products you can get a IVA refund (VAT refund) which is 18%. To access the discount the purchase must be above URU$500 and you have to save the ticket. The shops where you can get the discount usually display a tax free logo. The refund can be processed at the Port of Colonia.
- It is not necessary to have uruguayan pesos in cash but it is recommended. Most shops in Colonia del Sacramento accept credit cards, US dollars and even Argentine pesos, so you can manage perfectly without changing money.Nevertheless it is good to carry some cash in uruguayans pesos for taxis (they accept US dollars but usually at a very bad rate).
- Every Sunday morning there is a local products fair with good prices. You can find it between Artigas and Alberto Méndez avenues.
Where to eat in Colonia del Sacramento
Most restaurants are located in the historic center of the city. If you pay with a foreign credit card most places automatically discount the IVA(18%). These are some of my favorite places to eat in Colonia:
- La Bodeguita: a restaurant with varied food and great atmosphere. It has a terrace overlooking the river which opens during summer. It is a good place to eat the famous Uruguayan plate “chivito”. Chivito is a thin slice of beef steak served in a sandwich bun with tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, bacon, eggs and ham. You can also have it served in a plate without bread. Some options in La Bodeguita are: individual pizzas (URU $220/US$5.8), pasta (URU$510/US$13.5), chivito al pan (URU $415/US$10.8). Prices updated in November 2019, 18% credit card discount not included.
- Charco Bistro: This is the restaurant located in Charco boutique hotel. It offers both lunch and dinner dishes, as well as snacks and cocktails. It has a patio overlooking the river which is great to have some drinks at sunset. Some prices: pint of craft beer (URU$190/US$5), ham and cheese sandwich (URU $260/US$7). Prices updated in November 2019, 18% credit card discount not included.
- BOCADESANTO: a great place for burgers and handcrafted beer. The staff is super friendly, the prices are affordable and they have a very nice patio for summer evenings. Prices: classic burger (URU$240/US$6.3), rustic style french fries (URU$210/US$5.5), craft beer (URU$190/US$5). Prices updated in November 2019, 18% credit card discount not included.
- Cervecería Barbot: Another place where I like to have a drink or snack is Barbot Brewery. They have a great variety of beer.
- Bortolot Ice Cream: if you are looking for an ice cream shop, this is one is one of the best in Coloniac.
I hope this article on things to do in Colonia del Sacramento has been useful to you when organizing your trip. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to leave them in the comm section.
Other useful posts:
- The best day trips from Buenos Aires
- Things to do in Montevideo
- Buenos Aires guide by a local
- What to do in Lima in 3 days
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