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If you find yourself in the city of Buenos Aires without anything to do (nearly impossible), you could consider an easy day trip across the Rio del Plata to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. Whether you stay for just a day or a weekend, you won’t be disappointed.
You can find my Colonia guide on Thatch here.
Colonia del Sacramento is one of the most beautiful, historic, and pleasantly surprising cities in the region. It is known for its unique colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and stunning views of the Rio de la Plata. I was surprised to find that Colonia was founded by Portuguese settlers in the late 1600’s, and is considered to be the oldest city in Uruguay. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a city full of charm and history, known for its picturesque colonial architecture, with influences from Portuguese, Spanish, and Brazilian.
The Barrio Histórico (Historic District) is the most popular area for tourists and is where you’ll most likely be spending the majority of your time in Colonia. There you’ll find narrow cobblestone streets lined with colorful buildings, shops, restaurants, churches, museums, and plazas. There is definitely something for everyone in this small, beautiful city.
What to know before you go:
- You’ll get an 18% discount by paying with a credit card (restaurants, cafes, tourist spots)
- You can pay using Apple Pay at the majority of locations, but not all
- Bring your physical driver’s license (not just a copy or photo on your phone)
- Bring a physical credit card (A few places do not accept Apple Pay)
- Prices are much higher than in Argentina
- You have the option to pay with credit card, USD, Uruguayan pesos, Argentine pesos (@ the official rate)
Getting around Colonia del Sacramento
It is definitely not difficult to manage the city on foot. Everything is close and easily within walking distance. That said, it is quite common to rent a bicycle or a golf cart to drive around town, or along the coast. While there are a number of car rental shops in the Colonia Terminal and just outside, the two most common rental shops are Thrifty and Viaggio. I personally prefer Viaggio over Thrifty as the workers were much more helpful and kind; I found the employees at Thrifty to be rude and in one case, quite creepy.
The prices at each location were similar. These are the approximate prices (listed in USD) from December 2022:
|Electric Golf Cart (4ppl)||$14||$43||$50|
|Electric Golf Cart (6ppl)||$20||$61||$68|
Things to Note:
- I was unable to find a scooter/Vespa for rent, even though it is often listed on the “menu”
- The “day” price is from 9:30am – 5pm.
- All gas is included in the price.
- You must present your passport, physical driver’s license, physical credit card to rent any vehicle
- You will receive an 18% discount by paying with a credit card
Where to stay in Colonia del Sacramento
As in most cities, staying closer to the center will bring an increase in prices. Colonia is no different. The action is in the center: The restaurants, cafes, bars, bike rentals, river views, market, etc. That said, Colonia is not big. If you decide to stay outside of the center, you’ll have the chance to see the two sides of Colonia: The tourist center, and the local neighborhoods. I chose to stay outside of the city center for the lower price. However, I did not feel inconvenienced. It was a 12 minute walk to the ferry terminal, and a 15 minute walk to the center. No, I couldn’t pop down for a quick coffee at a cute cafe in the mornings, but I did get extra steps each day.
The Charco Hotel has a great view of the water and is right in the center of old town.
This Mini Casa en Barrio Historico is a great opportunity to stay in one of the old homes right in the center.
Hotel La Mision is a cute hotel in a historic building, and includes breakfast.
Top Activities in Colonia del Sacramento
Colonia del Sacramento is incredibly beautiful. Take a few hours just to stroll around town to get the lay of the land. You’ll find stunning flowers climbing up old brick walls, and crumbling yet charming old buildings. Not to mention there are so many photo opportunities around.
Portón del Campo
This is a portion of the wall that once surrounded the city. It was rebuilt in 1968 and again in 1971. There is a great view of the water from atop the wall. In addition, you can also see the old cannons.
Calle de los Suspiros
The translation is “Street of Sighs,” possibly for all the times you sigh in disbelief for its unbelievable charm. The cobblestones on this slightly slanted street are the originals. The houses on each side are from the first colonial period.
Plaza Mayor del 25 de Mayo
This is a long and thin plaza full of park benches, large trees, and local merchants. The plaza is surrounded by wine shops, ice cream shops, restaurants, and cafes. It is very charming.
Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento
While the church underwent a partial renovation in 1957, the cathedral retains its original Portuguese design and stone walls. The cathedral is next to the Plaza de Armas Manuel Lobo. There is a great cafe just next door where you can sit and admire this old building.
Ruinas del Convento de San Francisco
You can see the remaining bricks on what was once a convent, connected to a lighthouse. The convent was originally built in 1694, but was destroyed in 1704 due to a fire. In 1845 reconstruction began, was finally completed in 1857. However, it clearly has gone through a lot since then.
There are two wharfs that poke out from the town center on the northern edge. The Muelle 1866 is to be seen from a distance as you are not actually allowed to stroll down its wooden walkway. However, you can take a walk down the longer wharf several feet away. There are benches all along the wharf where you can sit down and enjoy the views of the ocean, the docked boats, and the older wharf.
Feria Artesanal de la Ciudad
In a small park near the north of town, just before the road curves towards the beaches, you can find an artisan market with handmade items.
Plaza de Toros
This bullring is no longer operational, but exists as a reminder of its Spanish influenced past. This cannot be reached by foot from town, so you if you’re interested in seeing it, you should definitely rent a golf cart or bicycle. Near the Plaza de Toros you can also find an old wharf, and several beaches along the way.
Restaurantes en Colonia del Sacramento
This restaurant is in the prime location right on the seafront. You can sit on the restaurant’s front porch and enjoy the river views and passersby. They often have drink specials in the evening as well.
I had a hard time finding a great breakfast in Colonia until I was pointed in the direction of Charco Bistrot. However, not only is the food delicious, but the staff is very friendly, the ambience is cozy, and the views are unbeatable. To reach the restaurant, you must first walk through arches into a garden where you’ll find a small restaurant with a full wall of windows with views of the river.
Whenever you decide to dine here, or just have a glass of wine, you won’t be disappointed. There are several chairs and tables outside on the cobblestone streets, with a great view of the park and the basilica. The staff is friendly, and the area is absolutely charming.
This is a great place for a lunch menu al fresco. However, they do have indoor dining, but the outside patio allows you to sit at picnic tables underneath the trees. The food was delicious and the service fantastic. I heard the waiters speaking several languages to all their guests.
Parrillada el Portón
This parrilla restaurant is just outside the historic center along General Flores. This is a great place to try out a traditional Uruguayan bbq. I had the fish here and was not disappointed at all. The staff was very friendly.
Deli de las Rosas
If you end up renting a bike or golf cart, make a stop here to treat yourself to a lunch or snack. You won’t be disappointed.
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