Colonia, Uruguay’s UNESCO World Heritage site

Essential information so that your stay in Colonia del Sacramento fits into your travel schedule as you travel between Buenos Aires and Montevideo.
By Karen A Higgs
Calle de los Suspiros, Colonia del Sacramento
Last updated on July 22, 2018
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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’s what you should know about Colonia

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 9.45 a.m. Hang out on the deck. Arrive in Colonia at 1 p.m.

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.

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.

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15 Responses

  1. I will be landing in the Argentina EZE airport in the beginning of March, 2024 and then taking a bus to the port to get to Colonia. How many Argentina pesos should I get out of the ATM in the airport to pay for the bus trip and ferry and a little spending money? Once in Colonia, I will use the ATM at the Tres Cruces Shopping Mall for Uruguay pesos – thanks to your website for this information. I must say you are very generous with your information, thank-you.

    1. Hi Robyn, thank you for the kind words. First of all, I would highly recommend you book your ferry ticket in advance. It will save you time and money and even recall in the past it being impossible to actually buy a ticket at the port. You can pay for lunch, coffee etc with a credit card. In Colonia, you can use the port ATM, or if that is not working, so into town and change at the many exchanges. Have a great trip — Karen

  2. Hey Karen, I’m in Montevideo now, and plan to do a day tour to Colonia. When I go buy my bus tickets at the terminal for Colonia, and when I actually take the bus to Colonia and back, do I need to carry my passport? Thanks!

    1. Hi Alina, no, not at all! It can be useful to carry a photocopy of your passport anywhere you travel (in the world). But not essential (in Uruguay). Enjoy Colonia! — Karen

      1. Thanks so much! Should I buy the round-trip tickets in advance, or can I check their timetable (I saw you posted a link) and just got there and buy on the day? I plan to go this Friday 12/13.

        1. It’s up to you. The buses run every hour or so, so if you’re fine with waiting a bit. Otherwise you can buy online nowadays. Best, Karen

  3. My husband and I heard about you from our friends Shirley and Barry who did a couple of days of touring with you in January. Barry mentioned your website in his travel blog. We will be ending a cruise at BA near the end of February (not Barry’s strenuous Antarctica one, but an all-SA cruise).

    We will have 7 days before our flight home and we thought of going to Montevideo for part of it, with a side trip to Colonia. We are having a discussion about which order to do it in: early ferry to C, walkabout and then bus to MV, or ferry to MV, spend days, then bus to Colonia en route to BA. Do you think one is preferable to the other?

    I have a low tolerance for heat (and direct sunlight) and tend to get exhausted very quickly in those conditions. That said, Colonia looks like the sort of place I like to visit. We would hope to do one or more tours with you once we get to MV. My husband’s choice for a hotel (without seeing your site) in MV is Alma Historica, which I see is also your top pick.

  4. Hola. Muy linda pagina. Soy uruguayo y estoy estudiando ingles y esta pagina me ayuda mucho leyendo acerca de mi pais. Espero en el futuro postear en tu idioma jejeje. Felicitaciones y para cualquier lector que necesite ayuda (in spanish) estoy a la orden.

  5. This is a great site and has been very helpful for planning my trip! I will be traveling to Buenos Aires and wanted to spend a day (possibly two) in Colonia. Would you be able to provide a link to where I can buy a ticket for the slow ferry? I can’t seem to find it anywhere on either the buquebus or seacat websites. I was also wondering if you could let know of the comparative costs of the 3 hour versus 1 hour ferry? Thank you!

    Jessica

  6. I’ve enjoyed reading many of the topics on your website. There’s much information about getting from BA to Colonia or Montevideo but I’m interested in traveling from Iguasse Falls to Montevideo and Colonia and then maybe getting back to Sao Paulo. May also head to BA and then return to the United States. What do you recommend? Time is not a particular issue as I’m retired and have the time if there’s something worth seeing. I’m a serious amateur photographer and I don’t need luxury but I’m not into dorm living either.

    1. Hi Ron, it’s taken me some time to get back to you because I wanted to be able to answer your question about getting to the Iguazu Falls from Montevideo and it took a while to get the information together, but now it’s here. If you have time to travel, you may want to do the Falls by bus. Let me know and that will get me moving to produce an article! As a photographer, you will just LOVE Montevideo. Regarding a place to stay, allow me to plug my little guesthouse, Casa Sarandi. We are in the Old City (great for photography!) and appeal to a clientele that would have previously gone to a hostel because they like the vibe, but now want private bathroom, super-comfy bed, etc. And of course I specialise in orienting guests to the city when they arrive, and making recommendations for things to do (especially music and culture) throughout the stay. My idea is that visitors come away with an insider’s view of Montevideo. Cheers! Karen

  7. Great tips! One thing I disagree with is whether it’s worthwhile to rent a car. On our way to Colonia we made a short stop in Nueva Helvecia (aka Colonia Suiza) to buy local cheese and dulces. We also went past Colonia del Sacramento about 30km to Parque Anchorena, where the Chief of State’s summer residence sits in a lovely national park, home to hundreds of deer and other wildlife (you can do a guided tour). And if we hadn’t had the car we wouldn’t have stoped at Playa Calabrés, a wild (at least in winter) beach about 5 or 6 km east of Colonia. The delapitated concrete quay where fishermen spend their days was impressive.

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