One of Uruguay’s most charming cities: Colonia del Sacramento

One of Uruguay’s most charming cities: Colonia del Sacramento
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Check our latest article on one of Uruguay’s most charming cities: Colonia del Sacramento. You might not be able to travel right now. But why not learn about places that you can visit in the near future.

Nested in a small South American country called Uruguay, Colonia is a charming city with about 27 000 inhabitants. The city is one of the most picturesque places to visit in the country, albeit not the biggest. We didn’t know much about it until our trip there. 

Colonia is settled against the backdrop of the River or Rio de la Plata. From Buenos Aires, it takes about 1h by ferry to reach the city. We left Buenos Aires on an early morning. When the traffic and big city noises weren’t up yet and dragged our tired selves to the port. We were happy to leave busy Buenos Aires and curious to discover this new place.

After arriving early on a Sunday, we noticed the city was so quiet. There weren’t a lot of people or cars circulating in its streets. Colonia’s rhythm was slower and not only because it was Sunday, as we noticed during the next days. It was a welcoming change. 

Where is Colonia del Sacramento?

Colonia was founded by the Portuguese in the 17th century, set up like a fortress to fight off the Spanish. You can see that when you come across the City Gate surrounded by military-style thick stone walls dating back from 1745. It feels like going back in time to a different era. This landmark divides today the new part of the city and its historical side. 

After several “exchanges of hands” between the Spanish and the Portuguese, Colonia became independent in 1828 as part of an independent Uruguay. The Historic quarter of Colonia declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site reflects the fusion between Portuguese, Spanish and post-colonial styles.

Wandering around the “Barrio Historico” or historical district you can see the strong Portuguese influences in its buildings and irregular cobblestone streets. In contrast, the newer part of the city follows the more Spanish grid style of urban planning.  

What to do and see in Colonia del Sacramento?

Walking through the “Barrio Historico”

The “Barrio Historico” is a very walkable historic city center. We always ended up in Plaza Mayor, the city’s main square. The square is surrounded by cafes, where you can grab a coffee, a beer, or wine while soaking up the sun. There was also a small, modest local crafts and art market selling paintings, some tourist souvenirs, and some music being played as well. 

From the plaza, streets are going in every direction, linking directly to the historical center and a few leading to the city’s waterfront. Along the way, you can discover treasures like vintage cars. When wandering around, we noticed several old parked cars displayed on its streets. It felt like we were in an outdoor car vintage museum, with all these cars from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. It was quite magical a bit like going back in time to these eras, probably similar to what one feels when visiting certain places in Cuba. 

Appreciate the colourful building and murals

The low buildings in the old part of the city are well preserved and the colors are very vibrant, pink, orange, and red, you name it! It offers a great background for portrait pictures. It was also quite common to see creative paintings on murals or inside cafes. These were quite lively and well designed, some with a great level of detail. We sat in a cafe, located in a street surrounded by different murals.

Colonia’s lighthouse

An important historical landmark is Colonia’s lighthouse, built on the ruins of the San Francisco Convent back in the 1700s. Climbing it to the top, you will see a great panoramic view of the city and its surroundings. The ticket to enter was quite cheap and it is worth it. To go up we went through a very narrow flight of stairs and had to wait every time people were coming from the opposite direction. 

What food to try in Colonia del Sacramento?

The food in Colonia is highly influenced by European cuisines. We would recommend eating assado because the meat is really good there! Neither of us is eating that much meat at home, but during this trip, we got to try some really good meat.

We also tried a typical Uruguayan sandwich called choripán, made with chorizo sausage grilled and served with chimichurri sauce (cold sauce, a mix of several herbs, olive oil, and vinegar) and enjoyed a delicious Dulce de Leche mousse that gave us some extra kgs and energy to walk around town.

A specialty we didn’t try is Chivito (“little goat”), a sandwich made with grilled thinly sliced beef, ham, bacon, tomatoes, lettuce, melted mozzarella, and fried eggs. If grilled meat is not your thing, several restaurants around town also offer other less heavy options like pasta, pizzas, salads, etc.

Explore Colonia del Sacramento’s waterfront and beaches

The city has a wide waterfront with cafes on one side and a promenade on the other. After walking around the whole afternoon, we started slowly coming out of the center and started seeing groups of people gathering in one particular spot. As we waited to see what they were all doing, we realized that it was sunset and they were all waiting for it to happen.

Completely by chance, we ended up watching one of the most beautiful sunsets on our whole trip. Aside from the city’s waterfront, Colonia also has some urban beaches, and even though it was warm, we didn’t feel tempted enough to try the water.

How to get to Colonia del Sacramento from Buenos Aires? 

From Buenos Aires, you can catch a ferry (Buquebus) that takes about 1h to get to Colonia del Sacramento. The city is a port town and a summer destination for many hungry Argentinian and Uruguayan vacationers. We could understand why, even though we didn’t go there in the summer.

The laid-back atmosphere combined with the waterfront and quaint old part of the city gathers all the perfect ingredients for a relaxing summer stay.  We went when it was the end of autumn and the beginning of winter, making the place quite empty, which worked out better for us. The temperature was perfect, not too hot or cold (around 19oC). It made our overall experience more enjoyable and it was easier to blend in and have a local experience.

When we were there, we saw groups of friends gathering around a good yerba mate, always with their cups and thermos ready. The place definitely has a hip vibe going on, and one does feel there’s something special when walking through restaurants, cafes, and shops that are now inhabiting rustic old buildings, sharing a history of more than 300 years.

How to go to Montevideo from Colonia del Sacramento?

A trip to Uruguay, cannot go without visiting it’s capital city Montevideo. To go to Montevideo, from Colonia del Sacramento, the easiest and cheapest way is to catch a bus, which took us about 2.30h.

Overall, 2 days were more than enough to explore Colonia del Sacramento. The place offered some unique atmosphere and energy reflected in its buildings, people, food, and culture. 

We hope we gave you a taste of this unique city nested in South America.

This was part of our 2 week trip to Argentina and Uruguay. If you have the time, you shouldn’t miss out on this hidden treasure that Uruguay has to offer.