While in Buenos Aires and staying in Puerto Madero, we decided to take a ferry to Colonia, Uruguay. The town is formally known as “Colonia del Sacramento.” It was founded by the Portuguese in the 1600’s, and is now UNESCO World Heritage site.
Buquebus Travel operates ferries to Colonia and the terminal is at the north end of Puerto Madero. They have a fast ferry that crosses the Rio de la Plata (about 25 miles) in about 1 hour. The round trip cost is about $150 for two people. We spent 3 hours exploring Colonia, but an overnight stay would have been more ideal. We at least got a flavor of the historical town.
Argentina immigration and Uruguay immigration work side-by-side, so your passport is stamped by both countries (exit and entry) at the same time and in the same line, making the process quite efficient. Because of our short trip we did not bother to exchange money for Uruguay.
The Rio de la Plata is a huge estuary separating Argentina from Uruguay, at the confluence of the Paraná and Uruguay rivers leading to the Atlantic Ocean. The water is brown from the silt and does not look too inviting for a swim. My wife and I debated whether it was really fresh water given the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the fact the Rio looks more like a huge bay than a river. We touched our fingers in the water and convinced ourselves it is indeed fresh, and were amazed at the volume of water pouring into the Atlantic from this estuary.
It was a Sunday, and the ferry was full. We were amused that the minute the ferry left the port the duty free shop on board opened and it was packed with people buying all kinds of goods for the entire one hour journey. In fact we wondered if duty free shopping was the main reason people got on the ferry!
Since this trip was spur of the moment, we were pleased to find a tourist information desk in the terminal upon arrival in Colonia. The staff was very helpful, and provided us a map of the town and suggestions of things to see.
The old part (Barrio Histórico) of Colonia was only about a 15 minute walk from the ferry terminal, and the stroll through the more modern part of the town was very enjoyable, with many trees along the broad, paved streets and two story buildings that appeared to be built in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Although we were on foot, a lot of people rent ATV’s for trips around Colonia-there are rental places right by the ferry terminal.
The old town was a Portuguese fortified port and was a strategic commercial center. The Spanish and Portuguese fought over Colonia for centuries. It has an old gate to the town that is part of the protective wall around its perimeter, cobblestone streets, a scenic town square, and a number of small restaurants and historic buildings.
The setting is picturesque on a point of land in the Rio de la Plata, with wooded areas and beaches close by, and it feels very quiet and peaceful. Well worth the trip from Buenos Aires!