Argentina has the Andes, penguins and glaciers, Iguazu Falls, Buenos Aires, wine and steak. Brazil draws people in with the wonders of the Amazon, the parties of Rio, and of course the beaches. Poor little Uruguay, squished between these two giants, often gets overlooked when it comes to planning a South America vacation.
In the end, a lot of Uruguay travel is in the form of people day-tripping from Buenos Aires. Just a quick hour long ride across the river, Uruguay is a perfect destination for anyone who needs to extend their 90-day Argentinian tourist visa. It’s also a great trip for anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires for a few hours.
You can catch ferries at the main port of Buenos Aires nearly every day of the year (we opted for the slightly more expensive 1 hour boat instead of the slow 3 hour boats). On the other side, boats dock in the small town of Colonia del Sacramento, usually called just Colonia, and a few continue on to the capitol of Montevideo. Most people coming for the day stay in Colonia and caught a ferry back to Buenos Aires in the evening.
Despite the fact that most tourists never see the rest of the country, Uruguay’s port city of Colonia does a great job of representing this small but proud South American country.
Ok, so what exactly is there to do in Colonia, Uruguay? To be honest, not much. Colonia is a great place but just be prepared for the 180 degree difference when coming from Buenos Aires.
Colonia del Sacramento is a small Portuguese colonial city and gives you a great idea of what it was like to live in South America at the turn of the century. The streets of the old town are all cobblestone with beautiful homes and old trees lining the streets. Tour guides offer their services at the port and if you are at all interested in the colonial period or architecture, it is definitely worth the price.
Strolling around the old city can easily take up a few hours but if you are taking the evening ferry home, you will still have plenty of time free. Besides a few small museums and the main church, there aren’t many traditional sites in Colonia. It can honestly get a tad bit boring, especially on a cold rainy day, but if you are only going to give Uruguay a day of your trip, best make it a good one. Avoid taking the early ferry home and try some of these activities:
Eat a Uruguay Chivito
Declared the national dish by many in Uruguay and called the best sandwich in the world by the likes of travel/food extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain, you simply cannot leave Uruguay without trying one. It’s basically a thin steak burger topped with deliciousness – most commonly olives, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, bacon, and a fried egg.
Relax on Colonia Beach
If it’s summer, definitely consider heading out to Playa Ferrando. This quiet beach is located just about 15 minutes from the old center and is a perfect place to swim and relax. The water can look a little murky but most of that is just river sand and sediment. The area is safe and usually not to crowded, though summer weekends can get a little busy.
Browse Artisan Shops in Colonia
This is a touristy town and as such, there are plenty of souvenir shops. Don’t be fooled though; this isn’t all “I went to Uruguay and all I got was this shirt” junk. Colonia is filled with some really talented craftsmen and with some searching you can easily find a one of a kind piece that will forever remind you of your Uruguay travel.