Colonia del Sacramento

Colonia del Sacramento for the Day

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Most expats living in Buenos Aires have to leave the country every three months. The easiest trip to make is across the Río de la Plata to Colonia in Uruguay. It’s also a really nice way to spend a day. And the views of Buenos Aires from the ferry are amazing.

Buenos Aires from the ferr

Buenos Aires from the ferry.

If you want those views though, take the slow ferry that has an outdoor deck. It’s three hours instead of one hour, but it’s nice to be able to sit outside as you cross the Rio de la Plata and if you want photos, you won’t be able to take good shots from the faster ferry (the windows aren’t spotless).

Lighthouse

Colonia is, well, colonial. It’s colorful and quiet. The architecture is beautiful and spending the day walking along its cobblestone streets and checking out the views of the river is a fantastic change from Buenos Aires’ fast life.

Diagonals

Getting thereBuquebus has a fast ferry (one hour) and a slow one (three hours). The fast ferry leaves at 8:45 am and returns at 8:00 pm. It costs 190 pesos ($65 USD) roundtrip. The slower ferry leaves at 9:00 am with a return at 6:45. This roundtrip option costs 180 pesos ($60 USD). One thing we discovered though is that if you call to book your ticket, you get better rates. There’s a discount for going and returning on the same day that doesn’t get calculated if you are booking online. Another thing is that the first person we spoke to didn’t tell us about this discount, and we didn’t know to ask about it. There are also promotional tariffs on the website, so check those out. The promotion for the slow ferry, return trip on the same day, is 119 pesos ($40 USD).

The New Buquebus Terminal
Buquebus has a new fancy terminal at the northern end of Puerto Madero. There’s a nice description of the ticket-buying process here.

Upside – Colonia is stunning so if you’re into photography, take your camera.

Abandoned, Yet Beautiful

Some of the buildings are left abandoned (they’re still pretty cool architecturally speaking), but those that have been maintained are flawless. There are flowers everywhere.

Bougainvillaea

And another trademark of Colonia is all the old-fashioned cars that make you feel like you’re in Havana, Cuba.

Typical Colonia
There’s hardly any traffic. The people are friendly and they accept Uruguayan pesos, Argentinean pesos, and U.S. dollars, so there’s no need to exchange money.

Downside – It’s more expensive than Buenos Aires. As with most tourist destinations, good food is hard to come by. Considering most people go there for one day and either arrive around 10:00 am or noon, I’ve always found it amazing that there aren’t more cafes or tea rooms. Finding a nice place for coffee and medialunas (croissants in this part of the world) is really hard. You’ll probably end up having breakfast in a place with zero charm and decent coffee at best. Then you spend the day walking the streets, eat lunch at around 1:00 or so, and start walking some more. By 4:00 or 5:00 it’d be nice to sit down, watch people walk by, have a cup of tea and a pastry or a beer and some snacks. Places like this hardly exist there, so if you’re interested in opening a business in a quiet, lovely town with lots of foot tourists, Colonia needs a tea room.

Where to eat – I haven’t been to Colonia so many times that I know all of the restaurants, but the only place I’d go back to again is El Torreon. The view is beautiful (especially at sunset).
Sunset from El Torreon
The food is expensive for Buenos Aires standards, but at least it’s good. The chowder was fantastic, but the calamari were a bit overbreaded.
Chowder and Calamari, El Torreon
I would have never chosen to eat at El Torreon, but I read a review from the food critic I must respect in Buenos Aires, Dan over at SaltShaker. If he recommended it, it had to be pretty good.

El Torreon

Where not to eat – We chose this little restaurant, Gibellini, because it had such charm.

Restaurant

We’d passed it in the morning (too early to sit down for lunch) and heard jazzy bossa nova coming from inside. Two people were setting things up. It felt very authentic. A man and woman running a restaurant, cooking dishes they like, and listening to excellent music. My kind of place.
Reflected Place Setting
But it’s wildly expensive. And while the food wasn’t bad, it wasn’t worth the cost. The first few items we ordered weren’t in stock. We shared an appetizer, an entree of swordfish and a bottle of wine. The swordfish was a bit soggy and the shrimp weren’t fresh.
Swordfish
The bill was $60 USD. Either Buenos Aires has spoiled us and we are completely out of touch, or this guy is gauging tourists. Too bad because the place really is charming.

Gibellini Restaurant

Here’s my Flickr album on Colonia. I’m still adding photos, so come back to it later for a better idea of what Colonia looks like.

5 Comments To This Article… add one

  • Joy and Rane

    January 19, 2010, 3:34 am Reply

    Hi Angela,

    Here is my blog page for you if you’d like to take a gander. If you go to the beginning, you’ll see the entire blog of our vacation time in Uruguay in November, and there are photo albums too. Hope you enjoy.

  • Joy and Rane

    January 17, 2010, 6:54 am Reply

    We stayed in Colonia for several days in October and my camera never got a rest! We stayed at the Posada de la Flor, and walked by Gibellini several times, and after reading this we’re glad we didn’t go in! Blanco y Negro is a great club and we caught some superb jazz there…and the food was pretty good. We will be moving to Uruguay this coming fall, and we are seriously thinking of opening a coffee/tea house with some pastries, dulces, and small plates, featuring local artists work and having entertainment one or two afternoons per week. Do you think this would be a profitable business? I had a restaurant for 10 years, a catering business for 7, and friends always clamor for invites to the house or for tastings of new dishes. Tonight I made a Citrus Chicken to die for and the friends to whom I took it devoured it with rolling eyes and talking through filled mouthes. I’m just not sure of the affordability of purchasing/leasing a place in Colonia. That would be the only thing that keeps me from doing it. What do you think?

  • Angela

    January 18, 2010, 5:57 pm Reply

    Hi Joy and Rane…. how great that you guys are thinking of opening up a coffee/tea house in Colonia. It’s sooooo needed. I was there 2 weeks ago and did notice some new establishments. There was a tea house on the main plaza that was cute outside, but closed. Actually, it was closed the last time I was there, too. And, from my experience, none of the places really understand good food. It sounds like you guys have the expertise. You’ll have a captive audience and little competition, so I think it’s a great idea.

    I don’t know anything about leases there, but you might want to try a group on Facebook that I’ve heard of. It’s for expats in Uruguay and I’ve heard that the people are really friendly and knowledgeable.

    Best of luck and please let me know if you guys do open a place. I’ll be there, for sure!
    Angela

  • santelmoloft

    November 19, 2009, 9:40 pm Reply

    Really? So it wasn’t just on that particular day that Gibellini got greedy. Thanks for telling us and also for the great tip… we really should have complained about the price. It’s such a shame because the place is adorable.

  • Jorge and Bea

    November 17, 2009, 10:53 pm Reply

    Very nice pictures! Last week we spent 2 days in Colonia and we made exactly the same experience in the Gibellini restaurant like you did. We also were attracted by the charm of the place, the good music and we also shared an appetizer, one pasta dish, a desert, two glasses of wine and were surprised by the 65 dollar bill. But we complained and finally we paid 50 dollars. So be careful: Gibellini is better for looking than for eating!

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