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South America > Uruguay > Rio de la Plata > Colonia

Colonia

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For the German town founded as "Colonia Ara Agrepinensis" and still known in some contexts as "Colonia" or derivatives, see Cologne.
Draw bridge at the old town gate
View from the lighthouse over the old town

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.

Understand[edit]

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
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Orientation[edit]

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 information[edit]

There 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.

Get in[edit]

By bus[edit]

The bus terminal

The 1 bus station is about 1 km east of the old town (or 1½ km south from the commercial downtown), not far from the port and is accessible by foot. Food, luggage storage, an ATM, and restrooms are available. The following companies offer intercity bus service to the terminal: Berrutti, COT, Grupo Agencia, Nossar, Ómnibus Colonia, and Turil.

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 car[edit]

Two 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 boat[edit]

Colonia 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 2 port is around 1 km southeast of the old town, at the edge of the commercial downtown.

For details check out the comprehensive country level information.

Get around[edit]

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 bus[edit]

There 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 taxi[edit]

You'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 car[edit]

Thrifty 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 motorbike[edit]

There 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.

See[edit]

The lighthouse and the San Francisco convent ruins
Bull ring

The main attraction in Colonia is its historic center, the lower part of the town which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It consists of lots of old buildings, many from the Portuguese colonial age. It's a lovely area to wander around. The old fort has played an important role in the wars against Argentina and Brazil, and the old city wall is worth seeing.

You will frequently encounter old cars parked on the streets of Colonia, the oldest of them being from the 1930s.

Buildings[edit]

  • 1 The lighthouse. Open until sunset. For 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. AR$/U$25. lighthouse of Colonia (Q3378208) on Wikidata
  • 2 The old bullfighting ring (Plaza de Toros). Outside 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.
  • 3 The house of the Viceroy (Casa del Virrey) (just around the corner to the right of the municipal museum). Reconstructed somewhat on the ruins of the original building. Don't miss the whale skeleton on display just to the west of it!
  • 4 Portón de Campo. The gate of the city with its draw bridge. Next to it are the ruins of the city walls.

Streets and squares[edit]

Calle de los suspiros

Few of the streetscapes in Colonia's old town are not worth taking a photo of, but here are the most famous places:

  • 5 Calle de los Suspiros. Probably 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. Calle de los suspiros on Wikipedia Calle de los suspiros (Q5021860) on Wikidata
  • 6 Paseo de San Gabriel. Goes along the seashore with a beautiful white handrail all the way.
  • 7 Plaza 25 de Mayo (Plaza Mayor). Everyone 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.
  • 8 Plaza de Armas. Next 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[edit]

The interior of the basilica
  • 9 Basilica del Santísimo Sacramento (Iglesia Matriz). The oldest church in Uruguay. Constructed by the Portuguese in 1808, but the first church on this place was built in the 1690s.
  • 10 The ruins of the San Francisco convent. Small 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[edit]

Casa Nacarello
Historical map of the town

There are eight small museums that can be visited with one ticket (U$50) which must be purchased in the Museo Municipal. Children under 12 are free. They are open 11:15-16:15. However, every museum is not open every day; each of them is closed one or two days a week. Because of this you'd have to stay two days if you want to see all museums. Also, photography is banned in all of them.

  • 11 Portuguese Museum (Museo del Período Histórico Portugués), Enríquez de la Peña 180 -184. Closed W and F. In 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.
  • 12 Casa Nacarello (Casa de Nacarello), Del Comercio 67. Closed Tu. A Portuguese 18th-century building: an example of a furnished home from those times.
  • 13 "Dr Bautista Rebuffo" Municipal Museum (Museo Municipal Dr. Bautista Rebuffo), Del Comercio 77. Closed Tu. Museum 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.
  • 14 Regional Historical Archive (Archivo Histórico Regional), Misiones de los Tapes 115. Closed Sa Su. The 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.
  • 15 Tile Museum (Museo del Azulejo), Misiones de los Tapes 104. Closed F. 19th-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.
  • 16 Indigenous Museum (Museo Indígena), Del Colegio. Closed M Th. Showcases numerous artifacts, mostly from the indigenous population of the area.
  • 17 Spanish Museum (Museo Español), De San José/España. Closed for renovations as of October 2017. Here you can see everyday objects from the Spanish era, the late 18th century.
  • 18 Armando Calcaterra Paleontological Museum (Museo Paleontológico Armando Cancaterra), Roger Balet s/n (located in Real de San Carlos north of Colonia). Th-Su. Fossils, including a glyptodon, and other paleontological and archeological discoveries on display.

Other[edit]

The "Colonia" sign
  • 19 Naval Museum (Museo Naval), Enríquez de la Peña/San Francisco. M–F 11:00–17:00.
  • 20 Dock (Muelle), Calle de España. 08:00–01:00. Built 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.
  • 21 "Colonia" sign. Like 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 quarries (canteras). There 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.
    • 22 Cantera el Calabrés (Take Route 1 towards Montevideo and after about 2 km, turn right at the sign for "Playa el Calabrés". Park at the beach, then walk to the right).
    • 23 Cantera de Ferrando.
    • 24 Cantera de Riachuelo.

Nearby[edit]

Part of the world's largest pencil collection
  • 25 Granja Arenas, Ruta 1 km 167 (Follow Route 1 and watch for a blue sign that says "Granja Turística"), +598 4520 2025, e-mail: . A farm outside of Colonia with an animal reserve and two unique attractions.
  • Museo de las Colecciones. M–F 09:00–17:30, Sa Su and holidays 09:00–18:00. A 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. Free.
  • Restaurant and store. The 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!

Do[edit]

  • Walk around: wander the old city center, or walk along the 1 beach. 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 2 Hipódromo Real de San Carlos racetrack just west of the old bull ring.
  • 3 The sun sinking into Buenos Aires. Middle of February. Viewed 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.

Buy[edit]

The old city has several small boutiques, and all kinds of stores, including supermarkets, can be found on the downtown area's main street, Avenida General Flores.

  • 1 Colonia Farmers' Market (Feria de Productores de Colonia), Calle Fosalba (between Rambla Cristóbal Colón and Avenida Artigas). Sunday mornings. A 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).
  • 2 Colonia Shopping, Roosevelt 458, +598 4522 9636. A small shopping center with a restaurant, stores, a movie theater, a go-kart track, currency exchange, and an ATM with relatively low fees.
  • 3 Feria Artesanal, Fosalba and Lavalleja. A cluster of small shops selling handicrafts and souvenirs, including clothes, bags, dreamcatchers, and various knickknacks
  • 4 La Carlota, Calle Real 150, +598 4522 6717. Cozy shop stuffed with art and high-quality handicrafts, including unique funky, decorative, and functional souvenirs.
  • 5 El Tambor, Calle Real 126, +598 98 858 617. A 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.

Eat[edit]

Outside eating at Plaza Mayor

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.

Budget[edit]

  • 1 El Abuelo (Rotisería & Pastelería), Zorrilla de San Martín 629, +598 4522 8890. Tu–Sa 09:00–15:00, 19:00–21:30. Small 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. Around U$100 for a slice.
  • 2 Buena Moza, Av. Artigas 427, +598 4523 1870. Th-Tu 11:30–13:00 and 20:00–24:00. Inexpensive empanadas and pizza with lots of options for fillings/toppings. Delivery available. U$150–300.
  • 3 Candela (Candela Express), Av Artigas 459, +598 4522 3581. M W-Sa 12:00-02:00, Su 12:00-24:00. Cozy 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. U$200-300.

Mid-range[edit]

Chivito al plato at El Drugstore
  • 4 La Bodeguita, Del Comercio 167 (also accessible from the lower coast side). A 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. U$250–550.
  • 5 El Drugstore, Portugal 174 (next to the basilica). This 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. U$250–500.
  • 6 Irene's, General Flores 441. M–Sa 11:00–17:00. Mostly 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. U$250–400.
  • 7 La Pasiva, Avenida General Flores 444, +598 4522 8225, e-mail: . A 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. U$300–600.
  • 8 Parrillada El Portón, Av. General Flores 333, +598 4522 5318. Family-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. U$300–500.

Splurge[edit]

Old mill, nowadays a restaurant — El Torreón
  • 9 Bocadesanto, Paseo de San Miguel Puerta 81, e-mail: . Tu–Th 12:00–19:00, F–M 12:00–16:30, 20:00–23:00. Burger place with craft beers and a vegetarian option. Menu in Spanish and English. U$450–600.
  • 10 Charco, San Pedro 116, +598 45 23 5000, e-mail: . Daily 12:00–15:30, 20:00–23:00. Charming, 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. U$600+.
  • 11 El Torreón, Paseo de San Gabriel, +598 4523 1524. Daily 08:00–24:00. If 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. U$500+.
  • 12 Típico Nuestro, General Flores 230, +598 92 017 230, e-mail: . A 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. U$400–700.

Drink[edit]

  • 1 Ganache, Real 178, +598 4522-6386. M–Sa 09:30–20:00, Su 10:00–20:00. A charming and cozy coffee shop with a good selection of beverages and pastries. Outdoor and indoor seating, with a homey feel. U$200 for coffee and a snack.
  • 2 Lentas Maravillas, De Santa Rita 61, +598 52 2-0636, e-mail: . Daily 10:30-20:00. Amazing 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.
  • 3 Barbot, Washington Barbot 160, +598 4522 7268. Brewpub/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. U$200–230 for a pint.
  • 4 Chopería Mastra, Del Comercio 158 – local 9, +598 92 818 496, e-mail: . F–Su 12:00–17:00; 20:00–closing daily. A 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. U$160 for a pint.
  • 5 [dead link] Miró Dance Club, Jose Batlle y Ordóñez 572, +598 4524 1717. Local 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.

Sleep[edit]

Classic cars on the cobbles of Calle de Portugal.

Accommodation is generally concentrated in the downtown and old city area, though there are also some hotels dotting the beach as you go north.

Budget[edit]

  • 1 Hostel Colonial, Av. General Flores 440, +598 5228151, e-mail: . Nice 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. Dorms from U$380 incl. breakfast.
  • 2 El Viajero Hostel, Washington Barbot 164 (7 min by foot from the boat and bus terminals), +598 5222683, e-mail: . Well-run, clean, friendly hostel just a few metres from the historic old city. WiFi, computers, kitchen, great common area. Live music on the weekends. Dorms from US$17, rooms US$59.
  • 3 Sur Hostel, Rivadavia 448, +598 45220553, e-mail: . Just a few blocks from the historical center. Wifi, free internet, hot water 24 hr, kitchen, great terrace and great barbecue. dorms from US$14.
  • 4 Hostel El Español (near the bus terminal). One of the cheapest options in town. Offers simple accommodation and a good morning coffee. Dorm from U$390 online, but probably cheaper when walking in.

Mid-range[edit]

Splurge[edit]

Stay safe[edit]

Calle del Comercio

Colonia is a preserved tourist town with very little of the harassment seen in most cities in Latin America. The dominance of local weekenders from Buenos Aires and Montevideo creates a very different environment from other tourist cities. Many streets seem eerily empty outside the main tourism season.

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.

Connect[edit]

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.

  • 1 Correo Uruguayo, Lavalleja 226. M–F 09:00–17:00. Local branch of the Uruguayan postal service.

Cope[edit]

Consulates[edit]

Due 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.

Go next[edit]

  • 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


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