Colonia del Sacramento is a small city located on the south west coast of Uruguay, along the river of Rio de la Plata, and across the bay from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
It has a small population (under 30,000), and is one of the oldest town in Uruguay, dating back to Portuguese settlement in 1680.
There are two ways to get to Colonia del Sacramento: ferry or bus. You can take a bus from the capital, Montevideo, which many major airlines fly to. The ride only takes 3 hours (I chose the NSA bus line), and costs 400 UYU Pesos (£8.10 – 2020).
You can also take a ferry from Buenos Aires if you start there.There are two ferry services across the river: Coloniaexpress and Buquebus. Prices vary online and are available up to three months before departure.
Colonia del Sacramento’s historic quarter has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995 and staying in this area gets you close to all the sites. The landmarks range through the eras, from early indigenous peoples to the Portuguese settlement.
A good place to start are the museums. There are eight museums across the centre of the city that you can see for just50 UYU Pesos (£1.00 – 2020).
• Museo Municipal
• Espacio Portugués, Museo de Colonia
• House Nacarello
• Museo y Archivo Regional
• Museo Indígena
• Museo del Azulejo
• Museo Paleontológico
• Museo del Humor interactivo
Museo Municipal is in an 18th century building that showcases the history of Colonia del Sacramento.
You will find exhibits on prehistoric dinosaurs that were dug up here,and indigenous tools used in day to day life. It is truly remarkable to see how much history can exist, even in a tiny spot in the world like this.
One room is filled with stuffed animals, which was very unique and (sidebar) creepy. Most of the exhibits are not in English (you’ll find this throughout the museums in Colonia del Sacramento), but don’t let this put you off as you can still appreciate so much visually (or do one better than me and learn Spanish!).
The Espacio Portugués, Museo de Colonia is located in a small stone 18th century house and focuses on Portuguese history in the region. It has many artefacts from when they settled here.
House Nacarello stands out on the street, as it is a red rustic home-turned-museum, showcasing what a typical home was like, filled with 18th century furniture. It shows how comparatively simple life was back then, and how unmaterialistic is was compared to today.
Museo y Archivo Regional is another 18th century home (you’re catching the pattern here now I hope 😉 ) that also contains artefacts from the Portuguese colonial period.
Museo Indigena is a 19th century home that showcases some more artefacts from the indigenous Charrúa people.
Museo del Azulejo has a collection of tiles sculptures and ceramics that were used in the region of Colonia del Sacramento over the centuries.
As you may expect from the name, Museo Paleontológicohouses various fossils and archaeological finds, includingcreatures that once swam in these rivers and called this land home.
My final stop, Museo del Humor Interactivo, has video accounts from locals about their day-to-day life growing up and living in Colonia del Sacramento. They are speaking in Spanish, however the museum has uploaded them all to YouTube and added English subtitles.
Museo Español is another museum that has exhibits on the history of the area, unfortunately I was unable to visit as it was closed while I was there.
If you thought all the fun with museums was over, guess again! There is one last important one to see.
Cento cultural Bastion del Carmen is more of an art gallery, and has modern sculptures scattered throughout its gardens and some paintings inside for you to enjoy. There is no entrance fee here.
The entire historical quarter is paved with cobblestones, giving it that European feel.
San Miguel Bastion (Bastíon de San Pedro) is a remnant of the city’s old fortifications, including what is left of the city wall that was used to protect the city during the 18th century. You can walk along it, and it jets out towards the water where you’ll get some lovely views of Rio de la Plata.
Along the wall are still cannons as well as a drawbridge (Portão de Campo) that you can walk through.
Plaza Mayor is the centre of the historical quarter, and is where you’ll find street musicians, small stores for local crafts and places to sit and people watch.
As everything is in close walking proximity you shouldn’t miss anything. The city has done a great job of maintaining its open-air museums like Casa del Virrey, which were partially rebuilt to showcase another side to the city’s historicstructures.
Like every city or town in Europe and South America, it wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the local church or Cathedral. Basilica del Santísimo Sacramento was built in 1680 and rebuilt two more times in 1810 and 1841. A refurbishment took place in 1976, giving you what you seetoday. It has a simplistic design, and the Basilica stands out in the historic quarter, especially during the night when it’s lit up.
One final thing to see within the historic quarter is Faro de Colonia del Sacramento. This lighthouse dates to the 1850s and is surprisingly the most modern looking building in the area.
For 50 UYU Pesos (£1.00 – 2020) you can climb the stairs around and around to the top to get some amazing views of Colonia del Sacramento, as well as the river beyond.
While walking around the historic quarter I recommend walking down to the coast from time to time as you get some lovely views and can watch as locals fishing!
There are a variety of restaurants scattered across the entire city centre. By the Basilica there are a couple of great placeswe ate at that had some great views at night (Meson de la Plaza and Anjo Preto).
If you are in Colonia del Sacramento for more than a day trip I suggest walking north of the historic quarter along the Colonia del Sacramento Rambla.
I decided to take an afternoon stroll along here for about 5km (go when it’s less hot as there is minimal shade), and this is where you’ll find all the locals. Many people literally pull up, bring out some deck chairs and sit, eat, chat and of course drink mate (A traditional Uruguayan and Argentinian hot beverage) while watching the sun set out over the river.
If you want a spot to lay on the beach this is where I’d recommend you head to.
If you walk far enough, you’ll come to the Colonia sign. These seem to be popping up across the globe, and I guess is a good way to show your friends you visited somewhere? Just don’t take a selfie with it, as it may end up backwards.
Close to the Rambla I visited the Plaza de toros Real de San Carlos. This historic bull ring is no longer in use (great news) and visitors are prohibited from entering as it is starting to fall apart. Regardless, the areas you can see have amazing architecture. It originally opened in 1910, and at capacity it could hold 10,000 spectators.
There are plans to refurbish the building and fix it up as a tourist site, but as of 2020 this hasn’t yet occurred.
Colonia del Sacramento is a small yet impactful city to visit. The people in this area pride themselves on their history, and whether you’re on a day trip from Buenos Aires or Montevideo, or chose to stay a night and see things more slowly, you certainly won’t be disappointed with this UNESCO city.