Colonia del Sacramento
Colonia is one of the cutest little villages you will ever encounter! With it’s beautiful colonial buildings, old cars, a drawbridge and the cobblestone streets, you feel like you went back in time.
The city was founded in 1680 by Portugal as Colónia do Sacramento, but was later disputed by the Spanish who settled on the opposite bank of the river at Buenos Aires. It kept changing hands from crown to crown between Spain and Portugal and was also owned by Brazil for some time. Colonia del Sacramento is now a part of the independent country of Uruguay, but the original Barrio Histórico (historic quarter) retains a contrast between its irregular, terrain-fitting street plan with drainage in the middle built by the Portuguese, and the wider streets with rectangular stones laid in regular patterns from the newer Spanish area.
Although Colonia is just one hour by ferry from Buenos Aires, the atmosphere is completely different. The empty, soundless streets make you feel time doesn’t matter and there will always be another tomorrow. The calm environment makes you feel you absolutely don’t have to do anything but to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine and the refreshing sea-breezes.
The historical center is small so you could easily explore it by foot in less then two hours. This makes it a suitable unique day trip from Buenos Aires. A quick ferry ride will bring you to the other side of Río de la Plata and soon you will find alleyways and colorful old houses that are now used as restaurants, museums, art galleries and souvenir shops. The contrast between the humongous metropolitan city of Buenos Aires and this small romantic town is enormous. We, however, decided to stay in Colonia del Sacramento for about a week to relax and we could have stayed even longer.
Many tourists come from Buenos Aires/Argentina to Colonia del Sacramento to buy dollars, which can be changed on the ‘blue market’ back in Argentina. There is a hound for dollars by all backpackers. As it turns out, Argentina has an agreement with some banks to limit the dollar-dispense. This means that in the late morning (we tried 10:30 am) no ATM will give you dollars anymore. (We tried EVERY ATM in town by the way!) Before that time some people managed to get dollars, after that time, nobody could get them. (We think it has something to do with the limited amount per day.) The next day we tried around 8:45 am and we could get as many dollars as our bank cards let us (and the waiting line was substantial).
Our advice if you are in Buenos Aires without dollars; go to Colonia del Sacramento and enjoy the day there (or more if possible). It is the nicest, most romantic little town ever! Spend the night there and get up early. Take all your bank cards and go to the ATM. Our cards had a limit off 300 dollars per day and our creditcard of 500 dollars. The ATM’s however only gives $200 and $100 per transaction, so you pay the transaction fee double. If you trade them on the ‘blue market’ in Argentina your profit will be around 40%. If however you do not manage to get dollars, you can get Uruguayan Pesos and change them for dollars in the cambio-offices and your profit will be around 30%. All in all, it is definitely worth it!