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.
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).
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.
Getting there – Buquebus 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).
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.
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.
And another trademark of Colonia is all the old-fashioned cars that make you feel like you’re in Havana, Cuba.
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).
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.
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.
Where not to eat – We chose this little restaurant, Gibellini, because it had such charm.
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.
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.
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.
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.