Colonia del Sacramento is in southwestern Uruguay, across from Buenos Aires on the northern shore of the Rio de la Plata. Founded in 1680 as a Portuguese colony, Colonia's historic district is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, full of cobblestone streets lined with historic buildings.
Colonia del Sacramento (Nova Colonia do Santissimo Sacramento) was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese (Manuel Lobo), sandwiched in between the Portuguese colony of Brazil and the Spanish Vice Royalty of the River Plate (later Argentina, Uruguay and Southern Brazil). Its strategic position and use as a smuggling port meant that its sovereignty was hotly contested and the city changed hands several times between Spain and Portugal and was for a while also part of Brazil before the independence of Uruguay.
The city now has 25,000 inhabitants. Its old buildings and cobblestone streets preserved from the colonial days make it a popular destination for people from Buenos Aires on the opposite side of Rio de la Plata. It's especially popular as a weekend getaway for couples or as an attractive stop on a trip between Buenos Aires and Montevideo.
Colonia's historic district (barrio histórico) is on a small peninsula pointing west, towards Buenos Aires. Walk east a bit and you'll be in the downtown area (centro), including the bus and ferry terminals. Going northwest is a beachfront path (rambla or costanera), taking you past residential areas, occasional hotels and restaurants, and views of the Rio de la Plata, for 4 km or so. Hotels and attractions are mostly concentrated in the historic district and downtown, aside from a few dotting the beach; the biggest tourist attraction outside of the compact, walkable central area is the old bullfighting ring (Plaza de Toros), a little over 4 km northwest of downtown.
Tourist informationThere is a large tourist information center adjacent to the ferry terminal, a tourism booth in the bus terminal, a larger one in the basement of the cultural center two blocks from the terminals along Odriozola/Calle Florida and as well as a small office at the western terminus of Calle Manuel Lobo near the old city gate. Some brochures and other tourism information is also available in the Casa Nacarello museum next to the main square.
There are almost hourly connections from Montevideo, with most buses leaving from Montevideo's Tres Cruces terminal. The ride takes 2½ to 3½ hours depending on stops and several bus companies operate the route. Expect to pay U$300–400 (Uruguayan pesos) for a one-way ticket as of July 2017. There are no two-way tickets, and if you are traveling to Colonia and back you will pay exactly as much as two single tickets.
Be careful with people telling you that all buses are booked out. This is in general not true, as you can also buy tickets on board if you don't have one when boarding the bus and there are places to stand on board if all the seats are full. A taxi is several times more expensive, and should probably be considered only in emergencies. For peace of mind, buy a bus ticket upfront to avoid rare disappointment - this would apply in the main tourist season in the Southern Hemisphere summer.
By carTwo major highways arrive in Colonia. Highway 1 unites Colonia with Montevideo and other destinations in the east. Highway 21 goes north to the Aarón de Anchorena National Park, and Fray Bentos, and is the one you will arrive along if you are driving overland from Argentina.
There is an airport 17 km east of the town and railway tracks leading into Colonia but plane and train transport have ceased operations.
By boatColonia is a good destination for visa runs for those people who wish to extend their stays in Argentina, and an easy day trip from Buenos Aires. The is around 1 km southeast of the old town, at the edge of the commercial downtown.
The old city of Colonia, which holds the main attractions, is quite small. It can be easily walked in a single day. There are shops where you can rent bicycles or scooters which you can use to ride around the city or in to the countryside. Streets aren't always in perfect condition, so keep an eye on the road, especially cobbled ones.
The ferry and bus terminals are next to each other, about 500 m east of the old town (barrio historico) and about 1 km south of the city center. You can rent row and sail boats from the marina, and there are companies around the bus and ferry terminals that rent cars and golf carts.
By busThere is a tour bus (information is available at the port) but it's probably not worth the money—most of Colonia's sights are within walking distance, and the few that aren't can be visited more cheaply by local bus or even by taxi.
There are two local bus companies, ABC and Sol Antigua. Most of their routes aren't too useful to tourists, but Sol Antigua's service to the old bullfighting ring is convenient. It starts in the old city, passes near the bus terminal, and takes you to the Plaza de Toros, for U$23. Look for the orange buses going to "Real de San Carlos".
By taxiYou'll see white taxis waiting around at convenient locations, like outside the bus station. You can also ask for a taxi at the information desk next to Ta-Ta supermarket at the shopping center. If you're in an out-of-the-way place or it's an unusual time of day, you can call one at +598 4522 2920 or +598 4522 9230. Fares are higher than in Montevideo—to get from the center to the bull ring is about U$200, for instance.
By electric carThrifty at the west end of the main road (Gral. Flores) just before the water rents electric 4/5 seater mini cars that are great for exploring the surroundings of Colonia and its beaches.
By motorbikeThere is a motorbike rental company at the southwestern corner of Gral. Flores and Ituzaingó roads. Equally great for exploring the surroundings of Colonia if it's just one or two of you.
You will frequently encounter old cars parked on the streets of Colonia, the oldest of them being from the 1930s.
The lighthouseFor a nominal fee you can go up to the top of the lighthouse (faro) and see most of the city and look out over the city and Rio de la Plata. On a clear day probably even Buenos Aires is visible. The lighthouse was built in 1857 and it is 26.92 m high with 118 steps. Its light is not white but red.
The old bullfighting ringOutside of the city is Uruguay's only bullfighting ring that is almost "unused". It was finished in 1910 with room for 8,000 spectators, but bullfighting was banned by law in the country two years later. The ring is now abandoned to total disrepair and fenced off for visitors' safety.
The house of the ViceroyReconstructed somewhat on the ruins of the original building. Don't miss the whale skeleton on display just to the west of it!
Portón de CampoThe gate of the city with its draw bridge. Next to it are the ruins of the city walls.
Streets and squares
Calle de los SuspirosProbably Colonia's most famous street and the view along the street towards the main square is featured on many tourist related publications of the town. The name of the street translates to "the street of sighs". There are two stories of how the street got its name: either because the houses along it used to be brothels, or because prisoners were brought along it before being put to death.
Paseo de San GabrielGoes along the seashore with a beautiful white handrail all the way.
Plaza 25 de MayoEveryone wandering around the barrio histórico will pass through the main square at some point. It is lined by several points of interest for travelers such as museums, places to eat, drink and sleep, and some small stands selling souvenirs. On the western edge there are old cannons laying on the ground and in the middle there is a palm functioning as an electrical pole and a lamp post complete with a fuse box and even electrical sockets! If you wonder about the noise from the palms, it's from small green parrots that have their nests there.
Plaza de ArmasNext to the basilica and several restaurants, this square includes the ruins of the former governor's house (Casa del Gobernador), with signs explaining the different rooms.
Religious buildings and sites
Basilica del Santísimo SacramentoThe oldest church in Uruguay. Constructed by the Portuguese in 1808, but the first church on this place was built in the 1690s.
The ruins of the San Francisco conventSmall brick ruin between the lighthouse and the main square. You would not know what kind of building it was if there weren't a sign next to it.
The eight museums
Portuguese Museumaddress: Enríquez de la Peña 180 -184In this 18th century building, objects from the time when Colonia was a part of the Portuguese empire are on display including the coat of arms that was mounted on the city gate.
Casa Nacarelloaddress: Del Comercio 67A Portuguese 18th-century building: an example of a furnished home from those times.
"Dr Bautista Rebuffo" Municipal Museumaddress: Del Comercio 77Museum in two floors presenting objects of daily life 200 years ago as well as the works of scientists and explorers that have lived and worked in the town. In the room dedicated to a biologist there are various two-, six-, and eight-legged creatures on display, as well as small and very large fossils. If you're lucky you get to meet the offspring hanging next to the fusebox in the back corner. This museum is also where you buy the U$50 ticket that allows you into all eight museums.
Regional Historical Archiveaddress: Misiones de los Tapes 115The house was built by the Portuguese in the 18th century and called "Casa de Palacios". The museum shows documents from the various epochs in Colonia's history.
Tile Museumaddress: Misiones de los Tapes 10419th-century tiles are on display in the tile museum. At Paseo San Gabriel just behind the museum, there is a beautiful map of Colonia as it looked in 1762 painted on tiles.
Indigenous Museumaddress: Del ColegioShowcases numerous artifacts, mostly from the indigenous population of the area.
Spanish Museumaddress: De San José/EspañaClosed for renovations as of October 2017. Here you can see everyday objects from the Spanish era, the late 18th century.
Armando Calcaterra Paleontological Museumaddress: Roger Balet s/nFossils, including a glyptodon, and other paleontological and archeological discoveries on display.
address: Enríquez de la Peña/San Francisco
Dockaddress: Calle de EspañaBuilt in 1866 as the city's port, before the new port was built on the other side of the peninsula. Relax on the water and see the yachts and views of the northern part of the city.
"Colonia" signLike Montevideo, Colonia has a sign by the water displaying the city's name in big white letters, though this one is newer (installed in 2017) and less well known. A popular spot for taking pictures.
The quarriesThere are three beautiful quarry lakes on the outskirts of Colonia, two pretty close and one almost 20 km away. Don't go swimming in them, but they're lovely to look at.
Cantera el Calabrés
Cantera de Ferrando
Cantera de Riachuelo
phone: +598 4520 2025address: Ruta 1 km 167A farm outside of Colonia with an animal reserve and two unique attractions.
Museo de las ColeccionesA museum of local eccentric Emilio Arenas's extraordinary collections of everything from ashtrays to baseball caps. The museum includes the Guinness World Records–certified largest collections of matchboxes, keychains, and (the highlight of the museum) pencils. We're talking more than 10,000 pencils—the farm is worth visiting just to see that collection.
Restaurant and storeThe farm also includes a restaurant and an attached store, which sells products including jarred fruit, wine, cheese, alfajores, and all kinds of jam, from blueberry to eggplant (around U$130–200). Even if you don't want to buy any jam, try some free samples of flavors you won't find elsewhere!
- Walk around: wander the old city center, or walk along the . The views of the water are lovely, and Colonia's sunsets are famously beautiful. At night you can see the glow from the city lights of Buenos Aires across the water. Watching the moon set at night is breathtaking as well.
- Every year for the Independence Day celebrations around August 25, there's a festival including horse racing at the racetrack just west of the old bull ring.
The sun sinking into Buenos AiresViewed from Bastión de San Pedro, the southwestern most point of Colonia, this is an interesting, great natural spectacle. In the middle of February, the sun dips down during sunset right where you can find Buenos Aires at the horizon. In other words, on a clear evening it seems to sink into the Argentinian capital on the other side of the river with its skyscrapers and high buildings. If you have a good zoom, this allows for a great picture. Of course, do not look directly into the sun.
Colonia Farmers' Marketaddress: Calle FosalbaA farmers' market on two blocks of Calle Fosalba, selling clothes, food, and all sorts of items. Try authentic Uruguayan foods like queso Colonia, a type of cheese invented in the region, or a torta frita (a sort of fried pancake for U$20).
phone: +598 4522 9636address: Roosevelt 458A small shopping center with a restaurant, stores, a movie theater, a go-kart track, currency exchange, and an ATM with relatively low fees.
Feria Artesanaladdress: Fosalba and LavallejaA cluster of small shops selling handicrafts and souvenirs, including clothes, bags, dreamcatchers, and various knickknacks
La Carlotaphone: +598 4522 6717address: Calle Real 150Cozy shop stuffed with art and high-quality handicrafts, including unique funky, decorative, and functional souvenirs.
El Tamborphone: +598 98 858 617address: Calle Real 126A courtyard right next to La Carlota, surrounded by little shops selling clothing, art, handicrafts, and all sorts of souvenirs.
If you need to change money, beware of the banks on Avenida General Flores, as some of them have outrageous exchange fees of up to 20%. HSBC has a bank at Calle Portugal with good exchange rates. Also Banco República at Calle General Flores in the historic district is a good place to change and withdraw money. Many places accept US dollars, Argentinian pesos, and Brazilian reais too, but as all but the real use the symbol "$", you'd better check which currency the price is listed in.
The old city is full of restaurants which serve the weekend tourist crowd from Buenos Aires. The specialties are Italian (pizza and pasta) and asado (barbecue). Fresh ice cream or Uruguayan specialties like chivitos are good choices too. If you pick a place by the water, you'll have lovely views while you eat—though of course you'll be paying more for the privilege, and be careful of sitting outside if it's a windy day.
Being a significant tourist destination, Colonia's restaurants tend to be more expensive than elsewhere in Uruguay. They're especially expensive in the old city. There's a mix of price ranges in the downtown area, and budget options tend to be located a bit further out.
El Abuelophone: +598 4522 8890address: Zorrilla de San Martín 629Small shop selling slices of more than 40 types of pies, savory and sweet. Generous portions, especially of the sweet pies. Menu in Spanish and English, good vegetarian options. Takeout or delivery only.
Buena Mozaphone: +598 4523 1870address: Av. Artigas 427Inexpensive empanadas and pizza with lots of options for fillings/toppings. Delivery available.
Candelaphone: +598 4522 3581address: Av Artigas 459Cozy restaurant, crowded on weekends, with inexpensive, generous servings. Two people can easily share a serving. Messages from customers are written all over the walls. Indoor and outdoor seating. Delivery available.
address: Del Comercio 167A great place if you want something lighter than the common asados. Try to get a table at the lower patio with a view over the water. They have excellent sangria.
El Drugstoreaddress: Portugal 174This restaurant is pretty artsy and colorful on the inside. Everything seems to be painted in different colors and there's a quirky assortment of paintings, posters, photos and trinkets decorating the walls. There is a small stage where local guitarists are playing. They have an extensive menu ranging from Uruguayan specialties (though their chivito is only served al plato) to Japanese vegetarian dishes. On the downside they charge a cover charge (like most restaurants in Uruguay). They have outdoor seating as well.
Irene'saddress: General Flores 441Mostly vegetarian food, including vegan and gluten free options. Good for visitors hoping to try vegetarian versions of Uruguayan specialties like milanesas and chivitos, or looking for a respite from standard meat-heavy Uruguayan cuisine. Menu in Spanish and English. There is a health food store next door.
phone: +598 4522 8225address: Avenida General Flores 444A chain restaurant also present elsewhere in Uruguay. Filling portions of typical Uruguayan fare, including chivitos, pizza, pasta, and various kinds of meat. Indoor and outdoor seating.
Parrillada El Portónphone: +598 4522 5318address: Av. General Flores 333Family-run restaurant with some of the best barbecue in Colonia. The meal for two is enough to feed three or four. Warm atmosphere, good for families.
address: Paseo de San Miguel Puerta 81Burger place with craft beers and a vegetarian option. Menu in Spanish and English.
phone: +598 45 23 5000address: San Pedro 116Charming, stylish restaurant run by a hotel. Delicious food served on a heated patio right on the river with beautiful views. Indoor seating is also available. Reservations recommended but not required.
El Torreónphone: +598 4523 1524address: Paseo de San GabrielIf you always wanted to eat or have a glass in an old mill, you can do so at El Torreón. They also have outdoor seating. The food itself is nothing special, but it's right by the water so the views are lovely.
Típico Nuestrophone: +598 92 017 230address: General Flores 230A variety of family recipes, passed down for five generations, elegantly served indoors in brick-walled rooms or outdoors in the restaurant's courtyard. Large selection of wine and craft beer. U$40 cover charge. Vegetarian options and children's menu available.
Ganachephone: +598 4522-6386address: Real 178A charming and cozy coffee shop with a good selection of beverages and pastries. Outdoor and indoor seating, with a homey feel.
Lentas Maravillasphone: +598 52 2-0636address: De Santa Rita 61Amazing cafe and lounge with garden overlooking the Rio de la Plata. Brunch is especially good with Illy coffee. Stop by for 17:00 tea to enjoy tartlets, muffins, cookies, and other culinary delights or sip mojitos in the garden while reading a wide selection of books from the lounge.
Barbotphone: +598 4522 7268address: Washington Barbot 160Brewpub/restaurant with craft beers and a decent selection of pizza, sandwiches, desserts, and snacks (including good vegetarian options). Casual but still elegant, with colorful but unobtrusive artwork on the brick wall that forms one side of their otherwise modern interior. Reservations recommended for large groups or popular nights. Happy hour with 2-for-1 beers Thursdays 20:00–22:00.
phone: +598 92 818 496address: Del Comercio 158 – local 9A chain also present in other cities in Uruguay, with brick walls and barrels surrounded by stools used as tables. Indoor and courtyard seating. A variety of beer as well as pizza and snacks.
phone: +598 4524 1717address: Jose Batlle y Ordóñez 572Local nightclub (boliche) that's particularly popular when there's a special event. Think disco balls, dark dance floor, and colorful flashing lights. Live music and good service.
Hostel Colonialphone: +598 5228151address: Av. General Flores 440Nice basic hostel, with Internet and shared kitchen. It is located in the old town in a building from the 17th century. It is an official YHA hostel. Offers horseback riding. The crowd is older than your typical hostel.
phone: +598 5222683address: Washington Barbot 164Well-run, clean, friendly hostel just a few metres from the historic old city. WiFi, computers, kitchen, great common area. Live music on the weekends.
phone: +598 45220553address: Rivadavia 448Just a few blocks from the historical center. Wifi, free internet, hot water 24 hr, kitchen, great terrace and great barbecue.
Hostel El EspañolOne of the cheapest options in town. Offers simple accommodation and a good morning coffee.
phone: +598 45238690address: 18 de JulioA little more comfort than Español and popular with backpackers.
phone: +598 4522 3193address: Calle Del Comercio 111
phone: +598 4522 3097address: Rambla Costanera between Torres García and Pedro FigariBoutique hotel by the beach in a less busy part of Colonia.
phone: +598 5226767address: M. del Tapes 171Small, cute hotel. Great location in historic district. The original building dates from 1762.
phone: +598 452 29000address: Rambla de las AméricasGolf and spa resort by the beach with an on-site restaurant and a "kid's club" for families.
phone: +598 452-30460address: Washington Barbot 283
However petty crime still exists, and especially on the beach you should never leave your stuff out of sight.
Like in other towns in Uruguay, there are a good number of stray dogs. They might follow you around a bit, but they do not seem to behave aggressively towards people, though it's always better to be careful.
The Uruguayan government's free "Ceibal" wifi is available in some of the historic district, though it's hard to find in other parts of town. Beyond that, some restaurants have Wi-Fi.
Correo Uruguayoaddress: Lavalleja 226Local branch of the Uruguayan postal service.
ConsulatesDue to its geographic importance and history, Colonia has two consulates, but most travellers in need of consular services will have to go to nearby Montevideo or Buenos Aires.
- phone: +598 52 22093address: Avda Gral Flores 209
- phone: +598 4522 8063address: General Flores 269
- Buenos Aires – one of South America's great cities is just across the river
- Conchillas – a tiny town founded by English immigrants and still featuring distinctively English architecture
- Fray Bentos – home to Uruguay's other UNESCO World Heritage site, a complex of former meat-packing buildings that were once a globally important industrial plant
- Montevideo – the capital of Uruguay is a natural next place to go, perfect if you want more activity than Colonia but less of a "big city" feel than Buenos Aires
- Nueva Helvecia – founded by Swiss and German immigrants, now known for its dairy products and remnants of Swiss culture