If you have the travel bug within you, just like me, you will probably agree with this: the urge to see the world, often make us forget the amazing places we have in our backyard. By backyard, actually meaning close to home. And we may even have those places in our mental bucket list of places to go, but still we keep postponing them with no apparent excuse.
Colonia del Sacramento was one of those backyard places to me. I had heard countless times how beautiful it was. And living in Buenos Aires, to escape from the city and cross the river to enjoy Colonia is so easy, I don’t understand why I didn’t do it before.
Colonia, as we simply call her around here, is located in Uruguay, on the southwest coasts of this country and next to the Rio de la Plata. Situated just in front of Buenos Aires, both cities are only separated by 50 kms of river.
Visiting Colonia del Sacramento is like traveling back in time. Is to go back to the 19th century, and to feel and remember every history class seen at school. The old town is full of memories. But lets go step by step here, and lets first learn how to get there.
How to get to Colonia.
You can either plan your visit to Colonia del Sacramento as a day-trip, or you can stay for the night and enjoy the city when the tourists are gone and is all left for the locals to bask in. Colonia’s romantic atmosphere makes it perfect for a couple’s getaway. But if this is not your case, my dear do not let this hold you back. I made this trip with one of my sisters and I would do it again with any of them in a heart beat.
Traveling from Buenos Aires, the best way to go is by taking the ferry boats from Puerto Madero. The ride will take you only one hour, and the port in Colonia is just a few blocks from the historic quarter and everything there is to sightsee.
There are 3 companies offering this boat rides: Buquebus, Colonia Express and Seacat. The first one is an oldie but goodie here in Argentina, known by everyone and offering wide schedules, tours for the day with activities included, hotels and more. Its also the most expensive one.
On the other hand, I must admit to had never heard of Seacat before. Researching, or let’s be honest and say googling, we found out that the company actually belongs to Buquebus (like a low cost version of this one) and after reading several reviews (specially the one of the Spanish blog Viajar o Morir that detailed their great experience) we decided to give it a try. The tickets are cheaper than Buquebus’, though their biggest difference lays in the fact that Seacat’s boats are a bit smaller and doesn’t have cargo space, so if you are planning on taking the ferry with your car, you can’t. In our experience, we purchase the tickets with Seacat, but ended up traveling by Buquebus! Apparently, when they do not sell their boats completely, both companies unify their schedules and only the Buquebus’ ferries leave the port.
Where to stay in Colonia.
Yes, we decided to spend the night. We wanted to escape from the city to relax, and running around Colonia for a day was not even a choice for me. Colonia del Sacramento is so peaceful, that we were looking forward to embrace that.
The city offers several accommodation options. There are some a little further from the old town that are ideal if you are looking for more modern hotels, with more services and facilities been offered.
Now, if you ask me, to fully live the Colonial Experience in all its glory you should stay in one of the inns around the historic quarter. Old houses, doble doors that conceal interior patios, colonial wells, what else can you ask for?
We stayed at the Don Antonio Inn. Located a few meters from Colonia’s principal avenue and only a few blocks from the old town, it was a hotel I would totally recommend. Not only for its location, but also for their sweet staff.
What to do in Colonia.
Founded in 1680 by the Portuguese on what was supposedly Spanish territory, this place became for years the apple of discord between these two European nations. That continual coming and going shaped the city’s landscape with a mix of Spanish, Portuguese and post colonial styles, and today the remains of those times are there for us to admire. Those same remains would make UNESCO declare Colonia as World Heritage site in 1995.
Colonia del Sacramento is not a big city and visiting it is super easy. In fact, I think the best tip a friend gave me before traveling was to walk, to get lost, and to let Colonia be my guide. And though I agree with that statement a 100%, the nerd in me would still recommend you to first start with a walking tour and then go around by yourself. The old town is full of history, where every street seems to have a tale to tell. The tour will only take you one hour and a half and they will show you around the historic quarter and Colonia’s most famous street, La Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs).
To take the tour, you can go to the tourism offices situated next to the Porton de Campo (old citadel’s gate, recovered from the remains of the old Portuguese wall). We took the tour at 11 am, but please always check the time schedule prior to traveling as it may change.
As said before, moving around Colonia is easy, but if you don’t want to walk, you can either rent a bike or a golf cart. And any of those could be very helpful if you decide to head up to La Rambla looking for a nice beach to rest or to go to la Plaza de Los Toros. This, not so old, bullring is the only one still standing in Uruguay. Founded in 1910, with a strong mudejar style, is very similar to the bullrings in Spain. Nowadays the place is closed so you can only sightsee the exteriors, which is a bit of a pity going all the way there to just see the outside and turn back to the city.
Lastly, and specially for those staying the night, do not miss the sunset by the river coast. This advice was given to us by a lovely colonial, and you know how this goes, you must always follow the local’s tips.
Useful information about Colonia.
An important piece of information for all of you traveling to Colonia is that foreign currencies are accepted everywhere. Hotels, restaurants, bars, even the smallest shops accept argentine pesos (yes, I swear, argentine pesos!), dollars and Brazilian reals. The exchange rate may vary, and sometimes may not be very favorable, but for us going for a day or two is a lot more practicable.