Conveniently picturesque – a getaway to Uruguay’s Colonia del Sacramento

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Sitting at a table at ‘El Drugstore’, a popular restaurant in the historic center of Colonia del Sacramento, sipping a medio-y-medio while looking out at the Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento, I felt at ease for the first time since our attempted robbery in Montevideo. It might have been the mix of moscato grapes and pinot blanc sparkling which mix to make Uruguay’s special wine, or the passionate singer who entertained the guests with Spanish love songs. The scene felt like out of a movie, the manicured town square just a little bit too perfect.

Colonia del Sacramento Medio y Medio and churchWe booked four days here despite being warned that Colonia could be ‘done in a day’. Catching up with work and relaxing in the picturesque little town was exactly what we needed.

Picturesque Colonia 

Colonia del Sacramento is a former Portuguese colony founded in 1680 that has become a long weekend playground for residents of Buenos Aires, the reasons for which, however, are not purely touristic in nature.

Colonia del sacramento uruguayColonia is a charming, compact UNESCO World Heritage site that really could be visited in a single day, a soothing contrast to the sprawling Argentine capital that sits just a 50-minute ferry ride across the Rio de la Plata river. Here tourists from around the world step carefully along original and very rocky cobblestone streets lined with one-story colonial buildings filled with cheek-pinchingly cute cafes and restaurants and several modest attractions like the old lighthouse, the country’s oldest church, Iglesia Matriz, the city’s old fort and the 17th century port which juts out into the river.

Colonia del Sacramento UruguayHere you eat ice cream and stroll, and the second day in town you can rent bicycles, scooters or even golf carts to escape out to the beaches just 15 minutes outside the city. We would also recommend riding, driving or carting around the Colonia beyond the historic center, which has an entirely different and much more Uruguayan feel.

Colonia del Sacramento Unesco UruguayWe spent most of our days between sightseeing and working away in the little cafes, such as the Amada, which was probably the prettiest one, and Ganache, which had the best wi-fi… or cake… ok, both.

As was our routine in South America, we hung with the local stray dogs and watched the sun set across the Rio de la Plata.

Colonia del Sacramento Pupppies and sunsets

Money, money, money: Convenient Colonia 

Although it is truly picturesque, Colonia’s popularity might have slightly less to do with an influx of international tourists and more to do with residents of neighboring Argentina, in particular Buenos Aires, who flock here for entirely practical purposes.

Argentina is again suffering bouts of extreme inflation, devaluing the peso. There is no access to US dollars from banks anywhere in Argentina, which means that while parents hand out ice cream and climb to the top of the lighthouse with their kids, they are there to endure the long lines that wrap around the block to withdraw large sums of US dollars from Uruguayan banks. Both parents and business people are involved in bringing massive amounts of dollars back into Argentina, either to save under their mattresses or exchange on the blue market.

Colonia del Sacramento UruguayColonia is also a practical escape for the Buenos Aires expat community, who make quick weekend trips here every three months when their visas expire. North American and European expats hop across the Rio de la Plata and upon their return, have a fresh new three-month tourist visa to continue living in Argentina without having to apply for any sort of official residency.

Our tip: How to best stock up on $US dollars in Colonia del Sacramento

For people who are traveling from Uruguay to Argentina, you will need to stock up on US Dollars, too, as you will save hundreds, even thousands of dollars by exchanging them on the blue market for pesos while in the country. Our advice is to entirely avoid the massive ATM lines in the barrio historico and venture out beyond the cobblestone into the ‘real’ Colonia. There are plenty of little details to discover and the further out you go, the shorter the lines at the ATM (we never waited more than five minutes near our hotel). You can also bring your passport and withdraw $$ with a teller inside the bank in order to avoid paying any ATM fees as well.

Colonia del Sacramento UruguayNo matter what your purpose of your trip is to Colonia del Sacramento, do your hotel research, book at least a week in advance if you can and stay for a few nights to really soak in this charming city and the surrounding sleepy countryside and secluded beaches.

Colonia del sacramento uruguay

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  1. Ok. You convinced me. I have to go. Uruguay has always been on my short list of places to visit, but now I am convinced more than ever. It looks so beautiful, and peaceful! I can always use a little more peace and beauty in my life!
    Ysmay recently posted..The Santa Fe Opera

  2. Colonia was definitely my favourite place in Uruguay, and it could easily be visited in a day or even a few hours. We loved El Drugstore too; such quirky decorations! We might have visited it that way if we’d known better!
    Sam recently posted..200 Days of Travel

  3. I was definitely one of those practical-visit people, going to Uruguay to renew my visa and withdraw some USD while I was studying abroad in Buenos Aires. It’s also a really nice town and while I was happy I didn’t stay the night, I think you’re right that if you need a place to relax and catch up on work Colonia del Sacramento is a great place to go!

    1. It’s a really beautiful town! Well worth a stop on your return trip to Uruguay – I bet Montevideo has changed A LOT since your last visit 🙂

    1. That’s the perfect way to put it – ‘stuck in a time warp’! Even the part of town that’s outside of the historic center felt kind of antique, with all the vintage cars driving around and colonial buildings.

  4. Looks like a great place to visit for a few days. I would not have wanted to be there for only one day either. Seems like a quiet place to getaway and experience something different. More and more I read the more places I keep wanting to add to my list of places to visit.
    Thomas recently posted..Memorial Day Weekend Getaways Ideas

    1. Hi Thomas, yes, definitely add Colonia to your list of places to visit! You can easily combine it with a visit to Buenos Aires, another place that should be on your list 😉

  5. My husband and I are about to set out on a 10 month trip starting in Uruguay. The cobblestone streets and laid back, quiet ways of Colonia are some of the reasons that this place is already on our list. I was wondering do you have any recommendations on hotels or other accommodation there?

    1. You are starting your trip in Uruguay – that’s a random place to start! 🙂 A good one though – I think you’ll fall in love with Colonia! Sadly we weren’t very lucky with accommodation there – I would recommend looking for a special deal on – read through the reviews though, since many of the places that are affordable are not great. Book well in advance so that you don’t find yourself in a situation similar to ours where we had to take what was left…

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