If you are looking for a fun and easy day trip out of Buenos Aires, Argentina, taking the high speed ferry Buquebus to Colonia, Uruguay is a great option to get out of the city and get another stamp in your passport. Colonia is an old Portuguese town and UNESCO World Heritage site.
Colonia del Sacramento is about 25 miles across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires and takes about 75 minutes by the high speed ferry. When booking, make sure you notice which boat you are reserving. The slower boat takes about 3 hours.
There are actually three different companies that run ferries from Buenos Aires to Colonia. However Buquebus has the most frequency and the nicest terminal on the Buenos Aires side.
The best way to book your passage is online. The earlier you book, the cheaper it is. I booked a few days in advance and paid about 800 Argentine pesos (about $65 USD at the time) for the roundtrip ticket.
When taking the Buquebus to Colonia, you leave Buenos Aires from the north end of Puerto Madero. I arrived 60 minutes before my scheduled departure of 12:15pm and had plenty of time. The terminal is very modern and comfortable. You check in on the main floor and then make your way upstairs where you go through security and customs.
When you go through customs, you actually are going through both Argentina and Uruguay customs. There are two people at each booth; one for each country. If you are an American (or anyone that needs to pay the reciprocity fee to get into Argentina) make sure you bring your documentation along with your passport. Once you go through customs you wait until your boarding is called.
The two ships I sailed on were both quite modern. There was a car deck and two passenger decks. Unfortunately there was no outside area — but there was plenty of duty free shopping and cafeterias. On my way to Colonia I sat in the Business class section as they didn’t seem to care who sat where. There was a first class area and they did check tickets to get in there. I don’t see how it would be worth it to pay the extra cost for a higher class.
Most passengers on the Buquebus to Colonia seemed like they were Argentinian nationals. I heard a lot of residential tourists living in Buenos Aires (i.e. non-Argentinian passport holders) will take the ferry to restart their 90 day tourist visa.
I did check out the duty free shopping on the boat; although as an American the prices were still much higher than I would find for anything purchased in the US. There were some very odd things on sale, including Annie’s Mac and Cheese boxes and Kirkland Signature spices from Costco (hugely marked up).
Arrival by Buquebus to Colonia puts you in at a dock just a few blocks south of the town center. As you have already gone through customs, you can walk right off the boat and head in to town. At the ferry terminal there are rental car agencies (you can rent a car, bike or golf cart), but if you want to just explore the town there is no need for transportation. There are also money exchanges. I found that I was able to use Argentine pesos or credit card; I wouldn’t suggest getting Uruguay notes unless you are spending an extended period of time.
As you exit the terminal, you will want to head left into town. There is a visitor information center just off the parking lot of the terminal where you can get a map of the town; however you really don’t need it.
There is not a lot to do in Colonia. I would suggest 4 hours is plenty to look around the town, go up in the lighthouse, and grab a meal. There is some shopping you can do as well if you choose.
I had a great meal at Charco, a hotel and restaurant on the river in the town center. Uruguay prices are listed on the menu; I found the meal to be relatively inexpensive and I was offered a 20% discount for using a credit card (still not sure why, the waiter said something about not having to pay tax).
Immigration on the return took quite a bit longer; I would suggest arriving at the terminal an hour before departure. When you arrive back in Buenos Aires you can walk into town or catch a taxi. I found I had to walk a few blocks before I found a taxi that wasn’t trying to rip me off.
Taking the Buquebus to Colonia is easy and reasonably priced. Colonia is not a “must see” destination, but if you have time and want to do something a little different, it is a fun day trip.