In a bid to add more passport stamps or perhaps do a visa run, day-trippers frequently flock to the charming city of Colonia, Uruguay. Located on the country’s east coast, it’s just a one-hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires across the Río de la Plata, making it easy to squeeze in a visit from neighbouring Argentina.
This post may contain affiliate links, which Globe Guide receives compensation for with each click or purchase at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!
The historic quarter Colonia del Sacramento rewards those who make the trip with colourful facades, vine-draped shops and palm-fringed boardwalks set within a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is the type of laid-back place where one simply wanders around losing track of time.
Colonia del Sacramento things to do
Originally founded by the Portuguese in the 1600s, the city passed between Portuguese and Spanish rule for decades, and the influence of that melting pot is apparent in the resulting colonial architecture and vibrant streetscapes. Today, visitors come to explore the streets of Barrio Historic which is now under UNESCO protection, ensuring it retains its old-world charm.
The gateway to the historic quarter is a drawbridge called Puerta de la Ciudadela, leading into what used to be a fortress. One needs only a couple of hours to navigate all of Colonia’s wedge stone walkways, which wind past treasured spots like the enchanting Street of Sighs. Calle de los Suspiros is lined with houses dating back to the first colonial period, framed by the river on one end and Plaza Mayor on the other making it a popular stop for photographers.
The Colonia del Sacramento lighthouse
Perhaps the most important landmark in Colonia is the Convent of San Francisco, which was reduced to ruins during a fire in the 1700s. Despite rubble being all that remains, visitors are welcome to wander through the pathways and old stone walls which lead to a new addition: the Colonia del Sacramento lighthouse.
After paying $1 admission, guests climb 111 steps up a winding, narrow staircase to the very top, and get to soak in the city’s best views.
Back on solid ground, the Basilica of the Holy Sacrament is one of the oldest churches in all of Uruguay, and found just a short walk away from the lighthouse. But perhaps even more impressive is the street leading up to it: Calle de Portugal, where foliage and flowers spill out of antique cars parked along the cobbled street.
Auto enthusiasts will be pleased to know this isn’t the only spot to find vintage cars—VWs, old Fords and Hillmans are parked all around the historic quarter, giving Havana a run for its money.
The final stop on your Colonia del Sacramento tour should be the waterfront which overlooks the vast Río de la Plata. Even on an overcast, windy day it’s still a dramatic scene, and the perfect spot to finish off a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento before hopping back on the ferry.
Colombia del Sacramento tours
Best hotels in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
- Don Antonio Posada: You’ll feel right at home in this hotel with its beautiful architecture situated next to the historical district and many nice restaurants. It’s not luxurious, but provides great value for the price, with an excellent complimentary breakfast and small outdoor pool. Click here to book
- Posada El Viajero: This hotel is simple but enjoyable, comfortable and clean. Where they win brownie points is with the friendly staff. Plus, you can’t beat the location which is just a five minute walk from the ferry and the old town. Click here to book
- Posada de la Flor: This inviting, colonial-style house has an open courtyard on the ground floor as well as a rooftop terrace overlooking the river, which makes it a great place to watch the sunset. Guests can use the bikes for free to ride around the old town after enjoying the tasty, complimentary breakfast.Click here to book
Practicalities for a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento
How to get to Colonia del Sacramento: Most visitors arrive from Montevideo as part of a stop on their Uruguay road trip, or from Buenos Aires, Argentina. It takes just over two hours to drive to Colonia from Montevideo, and can be done by renting a car or booking a seat on one of the comfortable buses operated by Turil. There are also a handful of fast ferries, which take about one hour to cross the river to Colonia del Sacramento from Buenos Aires. Click to book
Currency: The Uruguayan Peso, though Argentine Pesos are accepted in some places. Credit cards are also accepted by most merchants.
Top tip: Arrive first thing in the morning to get the streets to yourself. Colonia gets quite busy starting around 10:30 a.m. when the tour buses pull in, so those who arrive earlier can enjoy some solace before hoards of day-trippers descend on the town.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
- 5 things travellers love about Montevideo, Uruguay
- Why South America is perfect for backpackers
- A guide to Bolivia’s breathtaking Uyuni Salt Flats
- Machu Picchu: Tours, hikes and how to see the incredible wonder
SHARE THE PINSPIRATION! CLICK THE IMAGES BELOW TO PIN:
Uruguay deserves SOO much more than a day trip! 🙂
Agreed- that’s why we went to Montevideo too! P.S. your site was so helpful while planning our trip!
So delighted to (only just!) read that, Tamara.
Awesome! Your site is such a great resource 🙂
You captured it beautifully! Your photos truly transport me there. Uruguay – I need to get to you, ASAP!
Colonia does look like a worthwhile day trip destination. Your pictures of the historic quarter are just beautiful. There is such a rustic charm to it. And the cars… wow, indeed, they give Havana a run for their money!
What a picturesque place – I’d be more than happy to wander the streets of Colonia – it looks so unspoilt. Your photography is really stunning too – all those vintage cars and scooters!
I can’t believe this is just an hour away from BA and I missed it. What a picturesque place Colonia is. The tip to get there early, before tours, is most helpful; pretty much the case in every place on tour bus (or worse, cruise) circuits. Early morning is my favorite time to explore places anyway, looks like Colonia del Sacramento would be ideal for that.
Oh darn- well now I guess you’ll just have to go back!
Wow! It is a very vintage place with vintage cars and vintage structures! I love it. Instagram-worthy and feels like you are traveling back in time! 😀
Colonia looks stunning. These cars made me feel like you were traveling back in time, or like time had stopped. I’m glad to know it’s been added to the UNESCO Heritage List, so, hopefully, it will stay as charming as it is now! I’d love to explore Latin America, and Uruguay would surely be on my list.
Wow, you’ve done a great job of selling me on Uruguay, even though it is high on my bucket list anyway. 😉 I love UNESCO sites so Barrio historic area is where I would want to begin. Such great photos, typical scenery but you have a great eye for angles and such.
I have to admit, i don’t know much about Uruguay, but Colonia del Sacramento looks so charming. I may have another destination to add to the list.
Del Sacramento is indeed a revelation. The old world charm is so enchanting. I loved at the pictures of the vintage cars and scooters. Your photos have capture the charm and elegance of the place in lovely fashion. I am sure a trip to Del Sacramento is an opportunity to travel back in history and enter a world which fascinates.
So charming, isn’t it? I love the stone walkways, the pastel colored buidings, and your photo with the bougainvillea growing up a lamppost!
It’s the cutest!
October 2019 update – the vintage cars on Calle de Portugual aren’t there any more (or at least the day we were in Colonia) Not sure if they moved them somewhere or what. We were bummed to miss them
For Australians Governor Phillip was stationed in Colonia before sailing to Australia
Nightmare lines ups for ferry and immigration both ways
No vintage cars…few shops not much to see
Definitely can’t recommend this waste of a day
Oh darn sorry to hear! We did it as a day trip from Montevideo so no issues with ferries or immigration- sounds like it’s much easier to do when you’re already in Uruguay vs coming over from Argentina.