Colonia del Sacramento (often referred to simply as Colonia) is a city in southwestern Uruguay. It’s a relatively small place, home to only 21,000 people or so, but Colonia Uruguay remains one of the country’s most frequently visited tourist sites. The reason is simple: Of all the cities, towns, and resorts in Uruguay, Colonia is the oldest, and it retains a strong flavor of yesteryear throughout its cobbled, winding streets. UNESCO also designated this beautiful little city as a World Heritage Site and justifiably so. As countless travelers would say, making a visit to Colonia del Sacramento is one of the top things to do while exploring Uruguay.
Colonia’s varied history is the cause of its picturesque nature, with local traditions mixing with Portuguese and Spanish influences. The city was founded by the Portuguese back in 1680, and in the years preceding the city’s birth, Portugal and Spain vied for territorial rights across the length of breadth of South America, and Colonia Uruguay duly saw its fair share of jostling, changing hands repeatedly until long into the following century. In fact, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that Colonia del Sacramento finally fell under Uruguayan rule. Since then, the city has spread outward, principally to the north, which has given it a kind of half-eaten donut makeup: the older Barrio Historico is in the center of town, while newer developments circle it to all sides but the coast.
The Barrio Historico is most visitors’ main point of interest. Here cobblestone streets are lined by Portuguese-style houses, while an unmistakably Mediterranean atmosphere fills the air. It’s a colorful and picturesque area, and you can spend many happy hours getting lost among its winding streets and inviting cafes. This part of Colonia Uruguay also boasts nine small museums, and a beautiful whitewashed lighthouse, whose steps can be climbed for an amazing view out across the city.
Elsewhere in the city, Colonia is more modern, with lively shopping and nightlife centers, as well as excellent accommodations. You’ll also find a good range of luxury hotels here; Colonia boasts some of the very best resorts in Uruguay, and many travelers choose to make the most of them while here. Hotel spas are particularly popular, which makes sense, as this truly is a city to relax in. Other towns that offer resorts in Uruguay such as Punta del Este are busier, louder places, but Colonia is perfect for those looking for a laid-back destination.
Getting to Colonia del Sacramento is easy thanks to its position on the sea. Ferries connect the city to Montevideo, the capital, and the nearby Argentinean city of Buenos Aires. These ferries are normally hydrofoils, so they are quick and comfortable, though some slower, cheaper boats do also ply the routes. For those prone to seasickness, meanwhile, buses offer a perfectly viable alternative route, connecting the city with other major destinations in Uruguay. The roads are good here, so car rentals are also an ever-tempting possibility if you're looking to travel on your own schedule. For those coming from abroad, you’ll have to catch a flight into Montevideo and then make your way onwards overland, as Colonia has no airport of its own.