Colonia, Uruguay’s UNESCO World Heritage site

Calle de los Suspiros - Andre Deak Colonia del Sacramento was founded by the Portuguese in 1680. The historic quarter (Barrio Histórico) is full of gorgeous old stone houses, cobbled streets, antique cars and is a wonderful destination any time of year. It’s a great place for gift shopping and good eating with a wide selection of quaint eateries.

Here I answer the questions that my guests always ask me regarding this lovely town.

How long do I need to visit Colonia? Colonia is small and compact so you can easily explore it in 4-5 hours including lunch, though it is a lovely place to stop off and spend a few nights.

When is the best day of the week to visit? Colonia is a popular day-trip for visitors from Buenos Aires so avoid going on weekends if you want to experience the tiny city of 20,000 at its best.

Can we leave our bags somewhere as we walk around Colonia? Yes! The bus station right next to the port has a luggage deposit. You can leave your bags there for just a few dollars. The port does NOT have luggage facilities.

What is the best way of getting to Colonia from Buenos Aires? The Buenos Aires – Colonia ferry takes an hour.  During the summer, if you have time to spare, take the slow ferry –the cheaper Eladio Isabel– to Colonia which leaves Buenos Aires at a humane 9.45am. Hang out on the deck. Arrive in Colonia at 1pm.

I only have one day to do Colonia before I go on to Montevideo. Can I still take the slow boat? Yes! Even though it takes longer, take the slow boat. You will still have time to do everything and will not have to get up at an ungodly hour. The slow boat arrives in the early afternoon. Go and have lunch in the Barrio Histórico. Walk around Colonia’s cobbled streets for a few hours and then hop on a 6pm bus to Montevideo. In the Southern summer time that will get you into Montevideo just after dark. In the wintertime the sun goes down about 6pm so you will be leaving Colonia at nightfall.

Is it worth hiring a car to go to Colonia from Montevideo? No. There is nothing particularly interesting along the way. Besides, the buses are cheap (apx 12 USD one way), frequent (at least one an hour, often more) and have wifi. Kick back and let someone else do the driving. Buses take between 2 and 3 hours, depending on which one you choose. The only time it may be difficult to get a seat on the bus is during Christmas or New Year. The bus station is right next to the port. Find out more about travelling by bus in Uruguay, including how to read the bus timetable. [See below for comments from a reader who disagrees with me and makes some great suggestions for why going by car is a good idea. Thanks, Annelies!]

Help! I am travelling Buenos Aires – Montevideo and the ferry company is telling me I can’t stop off in Colonia! Aaaaaaghhh! Sometimes the lack of creative thinking of some salespeople drives me nuts. If you are travelling Buenos Aires to Montevideo or vice versa, beware, you cannot buy a through ticket and expect to be allowed to stop-off in Colonia (yes, we know, we know, the ticket says “via Colonia”, it’s just not allowed… sigh…). But there is a simple solution. Buy your Buenos Aires – Colonia ferry ticket and your bus ticket to/from Montevideo separately.

Do I need to exchange money into Uruguayan pesos? Colonia is probably the only city in Uruguay, other than Punta del Este, which is really focused on serving tourists. Dollars and euros are accepted widely and at good rates, Argentinian pesos are also accepted but the rates will not be so good. If you need to stock up on dollars, the exchange situation in Uruguay and Argentina are TOTALLY unrelated and you will want to read my article on exchanging money.

Colonia is on the river. Can I go swimming? Yes! Colonia has pure white sandy beaches, including in the city centre itself. There are more beaches at a leisurely thirty minute walk along the coast towards the west. Colonia is on the River Plate so swimming is in the soupy brown water. People in these parts are used to it, and it is still refreshing on a hot day!

Is it “Colonia” or “Colonia del Sacramento”? The city is officially called Colonia del Sacramento but most people refer to it as “Colonia” for short. Colonia is the name of the departamento (province) where Colonia del Sacramento is located.

Where should I stay? There are lots of lovely places to stay in Colonia but my favourite is Colonia Suites owned by Argentine artist Fred Liniado.

No time to stop off in Colonia? Read my really popular article on your options for getting to Montevideo from Buenos Aires and vice versa.

Colonia street - Milton Jung

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