Colonia del Sacramento is one of the prettiest cities in South America, and a must see when in Uruguay.
This is the oldest city in Uruguay. It was founded by the Portuguese in 1680, but also saw the domination of the Spaniards, the British and the Brazilian. Colonia del Sacramento complicated past is due to its strategic position on the Rio de la Plata. Colonia finally became part of Uruguay in 1828, when the country was declared independent.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Colonia del Sacramento is a place full of history and charm, where life goes by much slower than in the nearby Montevideo and in the terribly chaotic Buenos Aires, which is right across the river.
In this post, I highlight the things to see and do in Colonia del Sacramento, and share some practical tips that will help you plan your trip.
15 Cool Things To Do In Colonia Del Sacramento, Uruguay
Pass by the Puerta de la Ciudadela
The Puerta de la Ciudadela is the town’s gate and it marks the entry point into the old historical center of Colonia del Sacramento. In the old days, it was meant to defend the city from intruders.
Pass by San Francisco Convent
Not much remains of this convent which was destroyed by a fire in the 1700s, but you will pass by its remains when you go to the lighthouse, one of the most popular landmarks in town.
Climb the lighthouse
Climbing the 100 steps of the lighthouse – located at the entrance of the historical center – is a must when in Colonia del Sacramento, as the views from the viewing platform are simply stunning. The lighthouse was built in 1857 over the ruins of a tower of the old convent and it is 26 meters tall.
Pop into a museum
For as small as it is, Colonia del Sacramento has a remarkable concentration of museums. Among the most interesting ones there are the Spanish Museum, which has an exhibit on the first period of the Spanish domination, and the Portuguese Museum, which focusses on the history of the foundation of the city. Also worth mentioning are the Paleontological Museum, the Museum of Azulejos, and the Municipal Museum.
If you want to visit all the museums in Colonia, make sure to get a master ticket in the Museo Municipal to save some money.
Hang out in Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas is the main square in the historical center of Colonia del Sacramento and is a nice place to catch some shade on a hot summer day. At the center of the square there is the excavation of what used to be the house of the governor of the city. Right in the square you will find the Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento, which was built in 1680 and is the oldest church in the country.
Take a turn onto Calle de los Suspiros
The Street of Sights, or Calle de los Suspiros, is a really tiny cobbled alley that is worth at least passing by. The street dates back to the 17th century, so right from the time when Colonia del Sacramento was founded, and it is lined with colonial buildings that also date back to those times.
According to legend, the street got its name from the fact that this is where women would expect sailors to return after many months at sea.
Pass by the train station
If you arrive to Colonia del Sacramento by ferry, you will pass by the old train station on your way to the old historical center. It honestly is nothing more than an abandoned building, but it is quite eerie and photogenic so make sure to notice it on the way!
Head to the beach
If you are visiting Colonia del Sacramento in the summer, you will want to get away from the heat at some point. So the best thing to do is heading to one of the public and free to access beaches along the Rio de la Plata. Don’t expect the clear waters of the Mediterranean, but the setting is nice, and the sand too – so definitely go for it.
Admire the vintage cars
One fun thing you will quickly notice in Colonia del Sacramento are the vintage cars. They really are everywhere. Some of them are simply parked where their engines used to be you can now find flower pots. Others are newer ones and still in use.
Stroll along the Marina
The Marina is a cool place to stroll for a while. You can admire the many boats and the people fishing. There are a few restaurants serving fresh fish and seafood, in case you are hungry.
People in Uruguay love meat, and it is hard to stay away from it. This meat obsession is reflected in the most famous sandwich in Uruguay, which is called Chivito, and if you have just arrived in Colonia del Sacramento from Argentina you really have to try one.
It is not exactly light: picture layers of beef, bacon, fried egg and ham over some lettuce, tomatoes and whatever else your tastebuds ask for. There supposedly is a vegetarian version of it, though I fail to see how you can substitute that amount of meat!
Enjoy the sunset views
Sunsets in Colonia del Sacramento are legendary. If you are there only for a day trip, make sure to plan it so that you get to see the sunset on the Rio de la Plata – I promise you it is worth it. The best places to enjoy the sunset are the Marina and the Bastion the San Pedro.
Have a glass of Tannat
You will find many nice wine bars in Colonia del Sacramento, so make sure to pop in one for a glass or Tannat, Uruguay’s most famous wine. One of the nicest wine bars is El Buen Suspiro, a tiny place in Calle de los Suspiros.
Eat dinner al fresco
One of the nicest things to do in Colonia del Sacramento on a summer evening is eating dinner al fresco. Literally all restaurants have tables outside, and the quality of food is good in pretty much all of them. Charco Bistro is supposed to be one of the best restaurants in town. It has a lovely patio that faces the river and a good menu.
What do Argentines, Uruguayans, Brazilians and Paraguayans have in common? They are obsessed with mate. So, one of the things you really should do in Colonia del Sacramento is try this drink in one of the many coffee shops around town. If the weather is hot, opt for terere, the cold version.
Colonia del Sacramento isn’t exactly a shopping mecca, but there are a few art galleries and small boutiques where you are bound to find something you like. I certainly did a good amount of shopping when I was there!
When to visit
The best time to go to Colonia is the late spring and summer months, between November and the end of March or April, so between late spring and the beginning of fall. Though it can get very hot in the summer months, it certainly is better to travel then than in the winter, when the weather tends to be overcast (although it doesn’t rain much).
Keep in mind that the January and February are the busiest months and that’s when Colonia del Sacramento may get rather crowded. I visited in mid March and it was hot, with long days and none of the crowds.
How long to stay
Most people visit Colonia del Sacramento on a day trip from either Montevideo or Buenos Aires. I spent 2 full days when I visited, and was glad I did. Sure, the city is so small that you can explore the main highlights in a day. However, the best thing about it is the atmosphere, and having the chance of eating al fresco will definitely add to the experience. I definitely recommend spending 2 days there!
Guided day trips to Colonia del Sacramento
If you are short on time, the best way to make the most of Colonia del Sacramento is on a guided day trip. There are regular ones departing from either Montevideo or from Buenos Aires.
Make sure to check out this Colonia del Sacramento full day tour from Montevideo.
How to get to Colonia del Sacramento
Colonia can be easily reached from Montevideo and from Buenos Aires. In the second case, you will also have to clear customs upon arrival.
Colonia is about 180 km (112 miles) from Montevideo, from where it can be reached by car (it will take you little over 2 hours) or by bus, in which case the trip takes about 3 hours. There are several daily buses with Turil and COT departing from Tres Cruces terminal in Montevideo. The bus terminal in Colonia is right by the harbor.
From Buenos Aires
If you are coming from Buenos Aires, you can opt to travel to Colonia del Sacramento by bus – there are daily buses departing from Retiro bus station. However, the trip takes around 7 hours, so if you are only planning to spend a day or two there, it’s better to opt for the ferry.
There are three ferry companies that connect Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento several times a day. They all more or less depart at the same time and you can buy tickets online.
BUQUEBUS – This is the most well known company connecting the two cities. They also sell excursions, bike rentals and food. Ferries depart from the Buquebus Terminal in Puerto Madero, located near Retiro and Cordoba Avenue.
COLONIA EXPRESS – Another well known company, other than the plain ferry tickets it also sells tour packages. Ferries depart from the other side of Puerto Madero.
SEACAT COLONIA – Lesser known and cheaper than Buquebus, what’s interesting is that the ferries actually are those of Buquebus and depart from the Buquebus terminal in Puerto Madero.
Should you be going to Colonia del Sacramento on a day trip from Buenos Aires, you will still need your passport – so remember to take it with you!
You will have to clear immigration both in Buenos Aires, before getting on the ferry, and in Uruguay, once you get there. You will also have to scan your bags. Your passport will be stamped on the way out and on the way in.
How to move around Colonia del Sacramento
Colonia is so small that the best way to get around it is on foot.
If you have mobility issues, you may want to rent an electric golf cart. You can pick up one from Gral Flores Avenue.
Alternatively, you can opt to move around by bike – though keep in mind that the historic center is all cobblestone so not exactly ideal for biking. You can rent a bike for a day from your hotel.
Where to stay in Colonia del Sacramento
If you decide to spend a few days in Colonia del Sacramento, you will find no shortage of good places to stay. Keep in mind that it is better to book in advance, especially at weekends, as it can get busy.
These are some of the best hotels in Colonia del Sacramento:
- La Posadita de la Plaza is a nice bed and breakfast in the historical center, with modern cozy rooms.
- Colonia Suite Apartments is the perfect place for a longer stay. All apartments are incredibly stylish and fully equipped with anything you may need.
- Don Antonio Posada is a fabulous hotel with spacious, comfortable rooms set around a small but well kept internal garden where you’ll also find a pool.
Other useful information
Compared to Argentina, Uruguay is really expensive so don’t be shocked by the prices in Colonia, especially food prices.
Colonia del Sacramento is a really safe place to visit – you can stroll around day and night and face no issues at all. However, I still recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Uruguay.
Make sure to read my other posts about Uruguay and Argentina:
- The Most Incredible Seven Things To Do In Uruguay
- 25 Cool Things To Do In Montevideo
- A Guide To The Greatest Things To Do In Argentina
- A Flash Pack’s Argentina Itinerary
- 25 Unmissable Things To Do In Buenos Aires
- A Complete Guide To Where To Stay In Buenos Aires