Get one of your more unique passport stamps by taking a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, from Buenos Aires. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Colonia del Sacramento is a charming destination, full of historic buildings along the Rio de la Plata. The ferry ride from Buenos Aires is under 90 minutes, giving you plenty of time to check out the sights! From the incredibly Instagrammable Calle de Los Suspiros to a café you’ll remember for years to come, you’ll love your day trip to Colonia!

Visit Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, for the charm—and the passport stamp

I love getting new passport stamps from day trips, and, one of my favorite ones is Uruguay, from my day trip to Colonia del Sacramento. An easy hour and change ferry crossing from Buenos Aires on the Rio de la Plata, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to check out a country almost no one I knew had ever visited. After that my day trip, though, I’ve added Uruguay to my Wanderlust List!

Colonia del Sacramento: UNESCO marker
The UNESCO marker for Colonia del Sacramento's Barrio Historico

Colonia del Sacramento: a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s a perfect day trip

You go to Colonia del Sacramento for the very well-preserved charming Barrio Historico (Historic Quarter), recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Founded in the late 17th century by the Portuguese, Colonia del Sacramento has cobblestone streets, adorable little preserved homes, a wall, a lighthouse, a church, military buildings, lovely river views, and a general laid-back vibe that I found most refreshing after several days in Buenos Aires. There’s also all these classic cars that we’ll get to.

A unique historic site

Colonia is unique in that it features architectural styles of the Portuguese and Spanish (who fought over it—the rivalry between the Portuguese and the Spanish influenced the development of Buenos Aires), and that many of the historic buildings are only one story. According to the UNESCO entry, Colonia del Sacramento, “is the only example of an urban plan that does not conform to the rigid ‘checkerboard’ grid imposed by Spain under the ‘Laws of the Indies.’ Instead, this city has a free plan adapted to the topographical features of the site, although strongly influenced by its military function.”

Colonia Del Sacramento
Colonia's famous 17th-century Calle de Los Suspiros (Street of Sighs)

So different from my day trip to Valparíso

This day trip could not be more different than my trip to Valparíso, from the advance planning required (see below), to the terrain and centralized location of all the sites, not to mention the lack of safety concerns. No grittiness here, though I did find some good street art. I had no qualms whatsoever about being a solo female traveler for this day trip, and you won’t, either.

Easy to get around, and you won’t miss anything

You won’t miss anything on your trip, as it’s all centrally located and easily found. My ferry ticket got rescheduled due to overbooking, so that I wound up leaving much earlier in the morning than I would have. You certainly don’t need to take the first ferry out and the last one back to get a lot out of this adventure, but I had a great time.

Gallery: Taking the ferry

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We’re getting on a boat!

As I mentioned, I got rebooked on the ferry crossing, and I wound up leaving much earlier than I’d originally planned, with the boat leaving at 7:15. Allowing for an hour to board (it’s recommended to allow 90 minutes, but I figured at that hour, I’d be fine with an hour), that meant getting to the ferry terminal at 6:15. Oof.

Getting to the ferry . . . at an absurd hour in the morning

I took an Uber there (still operating in Buenos Aires and honestly, while I don’t like them either, Uber remains the easiest way to get places not easily accessible/safe by public transport or where taxis aren’t just out, as where I was staying in Palermo) to get me there on time. Buenos Aires is a night town, and, as it was a holiday weekend, people were still heading home from their night out as we drove to the terminal. I was pretty sleepy myself, getting in the night before at the embarrassingly early hour of 1 a.m.

I grabbed another cup of coffee and a mediocre pastry for breakfast while waiting in line to board. Everything is clean and modern. I already had my boarding pass, but there were kiosks you could use to print out your documents. You exit Argentina and enter Uruguay at the same time—your passport gets lots of stamps, and the guards are not impressed by your smile at getting one for Uruguay, but whatever.

All aboard!

Boarding the boat was pretty straightforward, though, given my experience with my return trip, it might get more chaotic as the day goes on, and with options to sit by class (though I highly doubt anyone’s checking your status). The ferry has wifi and shops and such, but, given the short ride, I didn’t take advantage of anything. I sat by a window to look out at the overcast morning.

When approached Colonia, I headed out to the deck to get a better look.

Gallery: Initial Impressions of Colonia del Sacramento

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Heading into Colonia

As I already went through customs in Buenos Aires, disembarking is fairly easy, and Colonia’s ferry terminal is very modern. From the terminal, it’s a short walk to the Historic Quarter. I just followed the signs and the crowd along the river road to the gate.

Gallery: Colonia del Sacramento Gate

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The gate and drawbridge

Built in the mid 18th century, the stone gate features a wooden drawbridge entrance to the historic fort. The gate and part of the wall remain. I wandered around the gate for a bit, walking down toward the river and around before heading into the Barrio Historico.

Gallery: Calle de Los Suspiros

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Calle de Los Suspiros (the Street of Sighs)

You can’t, and won’t, miss the Calle de Los Suspiros, or Street of Sighs, as you walk straight toward it after entering the quarter through the drawbridge. Just look for the old red building that you’ll take a million photos of. This short little remarkably well-preserved street is one of the main attractions of Colonia.

According to Colonia del Sacramento’s official website, the street was once known as Ansina, and no one knows exactly how it became known as the Street of Sighs. A nice story is that the successful businesses inspired sighs, and another one that lovers used to meet here. However, and perhaps more likely, the colonial forces brought enslaved Africans to imprison them.

The last story is a reminder that however quaint and charming places like Colonia del Sacramento are, they also mark a brutal history of colonization in Latin America.

Gallery: Plaza Mayor

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Wandering around Plaza Mayor—light house, a convent, and museums

From there, I wandered around the Plaza Mayor and then over to the Lighthouse and the ruins of a 17th century convent surrounding it. The lighthouse and the museums alongside the Plaza weren’t open yet, so I headed back there later in the afternoon. The grounds of the Museuo Municipal would definitely appeal to kids (and the kid in me with the prehistoric creatures).

A perk of solo travel is that you can just wander when you want to and where you want to.

Gallery: Wandering around

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Wandering around Colonia del Sacramento some more and finding the Basilica del Santísmo

Honestly, though, I was really there just to wander around, and I had plenty to keep my eyes occupied. From Plaza Mayor, I walked through the quiet morning streets, watching restaurants get ready to open. Aside from the lighthouse, the other visible building is a restored historic 17th century church, Basilica del Santísmo, and I walked toward it. I wandered the surrounding area a bit and then went inside.

Gallery: Basilica del Santísmo

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The day grew nicer

While the morning had been overcast, the sun came out, making for a very pleasant day. I stopped of a cup of coffee and a (sadly) not awesome pastry at Vintage Resto, but you don’t go there for the food. It’s a pleasant place on the square with charming umbrellas. Then I checked out the footprints of the military installation. And then into the town for a little bit.

I loved Colonia del Sacramento’s  tree-lined streets. I then walked along the river and just wherever interested me. I took in the street art and just enjoyed myself.

Gallery: Colonia del Sacramento in the Sunshine

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Gallery: Street Art

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Bastión de Santa Rita—cute place to walk, but avoid the restaurants

Bastión de Santa Rita is a cute little area with a river walk and a lot of touristy restaurants. I’m not even going to mention where I had lunch; it was disappointing. The parrilla that I’d hoped to go to was closed, and I just settled for one of the tourist spots. It did have a nice view, but I was pissed off, especially because it was expensive. A little walk along the river helped soothe my soul.

Gallery: Bastión de Santa Rita

Gallery: Cars of Colonia del Sacramento

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Classic cars of Colonia del Sacramento

I’d noticed a classic car on one of the calles, but I started noticing more as I wandered around. I didn’t find this out until after I left, but the economy fell out in Uruguay in the mid 20th century, and the wealthy people left, and cars were no longer imported. Rather like Cuba, the people needed to make do with what they had. The economic situation has improved considerably in Uruguay, and it’s one of the highest per capita states in Latin America (and also has a high level of unionization and social spending, making it a remarkably egalitarian society). The cars now serve as decoration in this charming city.

Gallery: Lentas Maravillas

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Café time: Lentas Maravillas

Thankfully, I then found Lentas Maravillas, a lovely little café with bookshelves full of old volumes and records, and with a view of a beautiful garden. Such a chill place, it more than made up for lunch. Highly recommended for a place to rest your feet after all those cobblestones.

Having passed a leisurely hour at Lentas Maravillas, I emerged restored to continue my walkabout.

Winding down

I headed back over to the Basillica to check out El Drugstore, a funky café with colored tablecloths. They’d called it a day, but I was really just there for the seats, so I got an ice cream from a little stand and sat at some tables, getting ready to head back to the ferry. From there, I took one last spin and walked to the terminal. The clouds had returned.

Gallery: Winding down my trip to Colonia del Sacramento

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El Buen Suspiro: the Colonia del Sacramento wine bar, I really, really wanted to go to

In reading up on Colonia del Sacramento, I’d marked El Buen Suspiro as the wine bar I had to go to. In addition to being utterly charming and on Calle de Los Suspiros, reviews promised excellent wine and wonderful snacks. Alas, it being a holiday weekend, it was closed for service. However, for some reason, it was open to let people take a look around, so I was able to see what I was missing. Alas, you will have to miss it to, as it has since closed.

Gallery: Inside El Buen Suspiro

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Gallery: Last look at Colonia del Sacramento

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Heading back from Colonia del Sacramento to Buenos Aires

While the ferry building at Colonia del Sacramento  is very modern, the system for getting on the boat is a bit chaotic. My ferry, as it turns out, was significantly delayed, as were the other ferries, and the terminal quickly filled with travelers milling around, trying to figure out where to go. I found some seats near two men in their thirties, who were friendly and spoke English (my Spanish is good enough to get around but not chitchat). One was a doctor from Buenos Aires on a little day jaunt, and his friend was from Uruguay and was headed to BA to see friends.

Everywhere, people got out their mate gourds and bombillas, including my new friends. I most surely a mistake declining a sip, but solo female traveler rules are rules, and right at the top is don’t take drinks from strangers. They weren’t offended.

We continued chatting about not much. I told them about my trip, which was near its end. I’m glad that they were on the same ferry as me, because figuring out where to was not at all clear. We got in the wrong line for a few minutes and only figured it out after someone showed their boarding pass, which was for the Colonia Express (same as ours), and we were in a different line. Resigned, we sat back down. Eventually, our ferry arrived. I said goodbye to my new friends as I got in a taxi back in Buenos Aires, utterly exhausted, but happy that I’d had an adventure in Uruguay for the day.

Plan your own day trip to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Know before you go

International trip

Remember that you’re crossing an international border with this day trip (it’s one of the reasons to do it!). Bring your passport and a copy of your itinerary. While this is a common day trip, and you shouldn’t have any questions, Argentina may ask to see proof that you have a ticket to leave the country. Make sure that you aren’t bringing any contraband (fruit is most common) with you, as you will go through security.

Planning and timing

  • You need to plan your trip in advance, as ferries can fill up and the prices can increase. I’d imagine that it would be possible to just wing it, but I don’t recommend it.
  • Time to allot
    • The ferry is about 1.25 hours each way. It’s recommended that you show up 90 minutes before your boarding time.
    • You can see what there is to see in Colonia in leisurely 4–5 hours. Due to some booking issues, my trip was considerably longer, and I would have preferred my original schedule (if for no other reason than to get to the ferry later in the morning!).
    • Just be aware for planning that the ferries can, and apparently often do, run late (mine return trip was delayed by over an hour).

General

  • You won’t miss anything, so long as you have a few hours to walk around. Everything is right there. Take your time and enjoy yourself.
  • Everything is within easy walking distance, and there aren’t any hills to speak of. Unless you need assistance, you shouldn’t need any transport.
  • Those charming cobblestone streets will do a number on your feet if you don’t wear good walking shoes. Bring some band aids, just in case.
  • Accessibility: I can’t speak first-hand to accessibility concerns. I would imagine that the cobblestone streets would present challenges, especially in the historic areas that did not have sidewalks. Wheelchair Travel has more information.
  • If you can, avoid going on a Sunday or Monday, as many things, including restaurants I really wanted to go to, are closed. You’ll still have a great time, but you might not eat as well.
  • Don’t expect everyone to speak English. Many people speak at least a little, especially in cafes and restaurants, but it’s best to assume that they don’t. Use Google Translate and be sure to download Spanish in case you don’t have internet access.

Money

  • You will likely need a little cash, though many places accept credit cards or Argentine pesos and US dollars (expect a charge for this). ATMs can be a little challenging to find, but once you do, you’ll be delighted to find that they just work (if you’ve spent a little time in Argentina, this will make sense). Do some quick math with the current exchange rate before withdrawing. I gave my nephew and nieces a Uruguayan coins from my change.
  • Uruguay has a strong economy. This is not a cheap trip. Expect US style prices at restaurants and cafés.

Solo travel/solo female travel

Unlike my day trip to Valparíso, I found this trip to be incredibly safe. Obviously keep your belongings on your person and be aware of people in your vicinity, but otherwise, you should be fine.

Transportation—Ferry

Tickets

I booked my ticket with Direct Ferries, which shows you the different carriers (Colonia Express and Buquebus are the most common) and takes US credit cards. I took the Colonia Express ferry.

I recommend Direct Ferries, because after my original trip got automatically rebooked to something unacceptable (I would have basically ridden over and turned around and went back), their customer service department was able to easily change my trip. Of course, the strange rebooking was also from Direct Ferries, but I did appreciate their willingness to fix it.

Cost

As mentioned above, unlike the other day trips I’ve talked about here, this ticket isn’t cheap. Depending on when you book, it can run upwards to $100 USD round trip. You can watch the prices and they can drop to as low as $60 USD, but I watched mine for quite a while before booking and never saw that rate.

Head’s up

Be careful when booking the ferry, as sometimes there are routes to Montevideo included, and these can run cheaper. The ferry to Montevideo is over 4 hours, and you would be unlikely to get to Colonia that way!

Where to catch the ferry

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Colonia del Sacramento

Café

Lentas Maravillas

Unique bohemian café with a lovely garden. Good coffee and pastries. This is an ideal spot to rest your feet and mind. The people are kind.

Have you been to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay?

Let me know how much you loved it in the comments. I’d also love to hear if this inspired you to take the day trip! Please share with anyone you know who’s going to Buenos Aires or elsewhere in Uruguay, as this is a special little day trip!