Take a day trip from Buenos Aires to Uruguay – just an hour’s ferry away – and you’ll add an extra stamp to your passport. But it also presents an opportunity to discover some impressive and beautiful historical towns. Here’s our daytripper’s guide to the colourful tumble of Colonia del Sacramento, an impossibly charming UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prepare to fall in love…
One of the oldest towns in Uruguay, Colonia del Sacramento was founded by the Portuguese back in the 1600s. Its colonial history is reflected in the town’s beautiful faded architecture – one of its main draws. As you walk the cobblestones, it’s impossible not to be enchanted by the crumbling buildings, as well as the riotous blooms of bright flowers that spill down them. Every inch is a photographer’s dream.
It’s easy to book a ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento. You can book tickets online, and from the docks it’s just a 50km journey across the Rio de la Plata, which takes around an hour and is pretty comfortable. Upon arrival you’ll immediately realise that you’ve never been anywhere quite like this. Blistered 1940’s cars (Fords & VWs) lay around idly, sprouting with vines and flowers; crumbled buildings sit under towering palm trees; and did we mention you can get around on golf buggies?
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The best thing to do in Colonia del Sacramento is visit the Convent of San Francisco. Destroyed by fire in the 18th century, the crumbling walls and passageways remain, and are now attached to the modern lighthouse. Just a $1 admission price lets you climb up to the top to soak up the sprawling cityscape below. Not bad value.
Speaking of value, the restaurants are as good as you’d imagine, with Uruguayan delicacies like ‘chivito’ (a huge steak and egg sandwich), as well as insanely fresh fish being served alongside great wine. It’s the perfect way to expand your culinary horizons if you’ve already had your fill of Argentinian steaks and Malbecs.
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Calle de Portugal, the town’s most beautiful street, is where you’ll find most of the vintage cars, as well as the Basilica of the Holy Sacrament, one of the oldest churches in Uruguay. Here everything is still: a grainy snapshot of another world, with only nature’s advances suggesting any time has passed at all. The town is compact, but whether you’re wandering around in a daze or whizzing around on one of those golf buggies, you’ll realise it doesn’t need to be any more than it is: restaurants, tiny shops selling handcrafts, and staggering beauty around every corner.
Make sure to check out the Portón de Campo (city gate) and Portón de Campo before heading back to the waterfront to admire the milky waters of Rio de la Plata spreading into the horizon. Heading back onto the ferry, stomach and camera roll full, you’ll appreciate Colonia del Sacramento for what it is: the perfect day trip.