Colonia is a great entry point into Uruguay. It is just a one-hour boat ride across the River Plate from Buenos Aires and is small enough that you explore, have lunch and explore some more before catching a bus on to Montevideo. Or plan to stay a few days in this stunning little UNESCO heritage town.
Alternatively Colonia is a great exit point if you have been exploring Montevideo and your next destination is Buenos Aires. You can catch a bus from Montevideo and be in Colonia in just two hours. The buses are comfortable and have free wifi.
Leave your luggage in the bus station, buy your ferry tickets to Buenos Aires (or bus tickets to Montevideo) for the end of the day and head off into soak up the colonial atmosphere of Colonia’s Old Town.
The table provides the basic differences between each of the service. Basically my conclusion is that the best company is Seacat but you need to buy tickets from an office, unless your Spanish is good enough to handle the website.
All three companies run three fast ferry trips per day. They take one hour. You should check the company websites but to give you a ballpark idea, boat times are:
Leaving for Colonia at: 8am, noon and 6pm
Returning to Buenos Aires at: 10am, 4pm and 9pm
Keep a cool head when trying to book online – it’s NOT YOU
Trying to book a ferry ticket online with any of these three companies would try a zen master.
All of the websites are awful – none of them are in English and they are very poorly designed. If you can’t buy your ticket online it is NOT YOUR FAULT!
Ferry ticket prices
Cost of cheapest one-way ticket*
Most expensive standard one-way ticket*
Note: I used a one-way rate because buying a return (two-way) ticket does not give you a discount. You will simply pay the equivalent of two one-ways.* The prices were in Uruguayan pesos on August 8 2015. I converted them into US dollars and rounded them up using an exchange rate of 28 pesos to the dollar.
[UPDATE: This information is currently out of date. For instance it is now cheaper to buy a day trip ticket than two one ways. This page will be updated very soon. — August 9 2016. ]
Do not panic. It is not essential to buy your ferry tickets in advance
You will not need to buy a ticket in advance* unless you are travelling on over a holiday weekend or between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.
There is virtually no price difference between buying a ticket one week advance versus four months in advance. There may be a 3-4 USD difference, that is all. Indeed the biggest company Buquebus is not even selling tickets six months in advance. As I write you cannot buy tickets for 2016. Ahhhhh… South America… gotta love it, gotta remain laid back.
Buy your ticket to Uruguay once you are in Buenos Aires and can go into an office and buy it in person.
* And by “in advance”, in this part of the world I mean just 24-72 hours ahead.