In as little as a day in Colonia del Sacramento, you can immerse yourself in a town that hasn’t changed much for centuries, ever since the Portuguese founded it in 1680. They were hoping to push Brazil’s borders to the edge of Argentina.
But Colonia del Sacramento is in Uruguay, not Brazil. The Portuguese and the Spanish fought over it for years. In fact, Uruguay was formed to keep Argentina and Brazil at a distance.
Prepare Yourself For History 101: A Day In Colonia del Sacramento!
Here, you’re not learning history, you’re living it. The historic center has hardly changed in centuries! You feel like you’ve stepped back in time, standing on the wedge stone streets with the mix of Portuguese and Spanish architecture all around you. You may even find yourself in a cavernous cellar, enjoying some wine and cheese.
I’ll have some money-saving travel tips at the end of this post!
The Portuguese built this drawbridge to help protect their new city from the Spanish. Colonia del Sacramento is just across the very wide Rio Plata from Buenos Aires. The Spanish began to develop Buenos Aires quickly, to secure their territory.
Today, local people love their quiet town because it’s very safe and a close-knit community. Far gone are the days of living protected by a drawbridge. Mariana said that she doesn’t even lock her door.
Tourists love the old-world charm. It’s an easy, 1-hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires.
Friendly Locals Share Uruguayan History and Current Events!
We spent the afternoon with Gamal, who runs Buen Suspiro wine bar on the street. Guide books list 3 old legends about the street’s name, so we asked Gamal. He believes the name is from houses of prostitution from the 17th and 18th centuries.
I thought the most likely was that people watched the executions from here.
The third legend is of a woman who was stabbed in the chest on the street one night, but I don’t think a street gets a name from a single incident, though.
We sipped Tempranillo and ate Gorgonzola at Buen Suspiro with Gamal for over an hour, maybe two. The town has such a slow pace that you stop looking at your watch. There aren’t really any places to go. Time crawls here, but that means people have time to talk to you.
It was hot, too, during our stay, but Buen Suspiro is surprisingly comfortable, even without air conditioning or a fan!
Tourists Stay Just A Day In Colonia, But Locals Never Leave
Uruguayans say that many young people leave, looking for opportunity. It’s surprising because Uruguay has one of the best economies in Latin America, and a more equal society than any other. In fact, Uruguay ranks in the top democracies of the world!
When Gamal was younger, he left, too, looking for opportunity in Paraguay and Brazil. He missed his hometown, his friends and family. Now he says it’s a great place to raise his daughter.
Old-World Charm Is Better If You’re Dressed For It!
The oldest cobbled streets, built by the Portuguese, are very difficult to walk. The stones are uneven wedges and there are no sidewalks, so wear walkable shoes. Old-world charm is better if you’re dressed for it!
Restaurants close at 4pm and re-open at 8pm, so don’t get trapped in the middle with an empty stomach (like we did 🙊)
The town is at the end of a peninsula so you’ll enjoy the view from three sides of the city. You can explore the whole town in just a few hours or just a day, but we recommend an overnight stay for the full experience.
The lighthouse is a steep climb up and it closes before sunset, since that’s when they light the beacon. It’s too bad because sunsets here are beautiful, but there are many other beautiful spots where you can enjoy it.
Overnight Stay In Colonia del Sacramento!
If you’re staying overnight, make sure your hotel/AirBnB is near or in the historic center. We met a couple who regretted their AirBnB choice since it was a 20-minute drive and there is no Uber service here.
We stayed at the Radisson, which is centrally located. They offer a free tour on Sundays for guests. Our visit was during the week, though, so we explored the town on our own, without a tour.
We visited the Posada del Gobernador, a former estate with a beautiful Portuguese fountain, transformed into a hotel. Stay where history was made! It’s ideally located just behind the church pictured above. (This is not a sponsored link, we didn’t even stay here.) If you stay, let us know what you think!
The money-saving tips you’ve been waiting for!
1. In Uruguay, pay your restaurant check with your credit card. Restaurants exclude the IVA (tax) automatically on all foreign credit cards!
2. Also pay for your clothing with a credit card. They don’t discount the IVA automatically. You’ll have to give your passport number to the cashier. When you’re at the airport or seaport, find a self-serve kiosk, scan your passport and watch your purchases magically appear! Insert your credit card for your refund! You’ll have your money in 3-5 days!
3. In Colonia del Sacramento, you’ll have to pay for bottles of water, ice cream and some other things in cash. Bring your Argentine pesos and save the ATM fees!