An easy day trip from our Buenos Aires apartment, Colonia de Sacramento in Uruguay is a cobblestone town one hour by speed ferry across the Rio Plata. Trees arch over wide boulevards. The river rolls in under a lavender sunset and fine restaurants offer casual sidewalk dining. With an early departure aboard a Buquebus, visitors can see the sights and end the day with a steak dinner and bottle of wine before the return to Argentina. But for a slower pace and longer strolls through the streets, Neil and I recommend you stay one night.
Take a Noon Ferry on Buquebus to Colonia
Several boats leave the Buquebus Terminal daily from the Argentine capital. On the internet, you can book your ticket for either 1-hour or 3-hour trips. Prices reflect levels of service so budget travelers can opt for a slow crossing and save their pesos for a nice bottle of wine on the other side. ATMs and currency exchangers are available on both the Argentine and Uruguayan sides. Neil and I were able to exchange leftover Chilean pesos for Uruguayan bills. Arrive early for check in and take note: locals create a makeshift line at the boarding doors with their baggage. When embarkation begins, 200 people walk forward and take their place on line. If you queque up behind a line of luggage, expect this crowd to jump in front of you. That’s just how it is.
Walk into the Historic Center
From the port in Colonia, you can walk into the historic center and look for a hotel. Locals are very friendly and maps are available in the terminal. Ask for discounts at the reception and don’t be afraid to ask for accommodations in your price range. We walked into the Radisson where it was US$200 a night, asked for a more affordable hotel, and arrived at the Hotel Don Antonio (a gem with great rooms and a pool!)
Lunch Menus in Colonia
As with many parts of South America, lunch is the main meal of the day and often comes with set menu options. For the same price as an a la carte entree, you can dine on salad, a main dish, wine, coffee, and dessert for the same price. At the time we were traveling with two friends from home and met a fifth New Yorker on the Buquebus crossing. Now a party of five, we sat down at a great table under a huge poplar tree at the Drugstore Cafe, a fantastic eatery with massive pours of local Uruguayan wine.
The Sights in the Historic Center
You can’t really go wrong with a wander around town but start at the lighthouse for superlative views over the entire town and the river. Then, check out the main square with its suite of boutique museums and old cannons. Closer to twilight, head to the Alley of Sighs where it is rumored that women would wave farewell to sailors as they left port for the open ocean. Antique cars sit on the roadside, some converted into living art with blossoming flowers and paintings on the side panels. Others have been renovated and look straight from the assembly line. During sunset, sit on romantic stone walls perched over the sea. You can rock hop over the tide or sip mate with your friends as a day ends over Colonia.
Nightlife and Music
Many restaurants host local musicians in the historic center. With a tidy grid infrastructure, you can walk to dinner and watch five-piece bands strum romantically into nightfall. Eateries serve traditional Uruguayan dishes like steak as well as great national wines and beer. Many buildings preserve their colonial roots so as you cut into fried calamari, note the smooth river rocks in the walls and the exposed wooden beams overhead.
By morning, after you’ve had your breakfast and before your return ferry, a walk through your favorite parts of town are a great finale for this short side trip to Colonia. Enjoy a sidewalk espresso or some sweets for which the country is famous. For us, we stumbled upon one of the best restaurants on our South American trip. Neil’s steak with Malbec sauce at the — was the best we’d had in nine months. On the way back to Buenos Aires, snag a seat by a window and watch little Colonia shrink on the horizon. With one night in town, you’ll be able to tack on another country on your growing list of “Been there! Loved that!”