Cobblestone streets, colorful houses, museums and beaches make this one of the most popular towns on Uruguay’s west coast.
Take a step back in time at Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay’s oldest settlement and a town blessed with picturesque colonial architecture lining sleepy cobblestone streets. Visit museums and an aquarium, climb to the top of a lighthouse or enjoy spectacular sunsets from the waterfront.
Founded in 1680, Colonia del Sacramento changed hands between the Portuguese and Spanish, while fighting off British raids, before eventually becoming part of independent Uruguay in 1828.
You’ll find most of what you’ll want to see in the Barrio Histórico (Historic Center), a walled district awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1995. Start at the Portón de Campo, the town gate built by the Portuguese in 1745, which opens onto the tree-shaded Plaza Mayor. From here, cobblestone streets lined with pastel-colored Portuguese and Spanish houses lead in all directions. A prime example is Calle de los Suspiros, an extremely photogenic street that stands largely untouched since the 1700s.
Climb the stairs to the top of the 89-feet (27-meter) tall Colonia del Sacramento Lighthouse for uninterrupted views of the town and coastline. On a clear day you can see across the river to Buenos Aires. Follow the old town wall along the waterfront, which passes the ruins of 18th-century fortifications. Continue to the marina, a great place to watch the sunset and enjoy a picnic.
Find displays about Portuguese colonization at the Museo Portugués or visit the Museo Español to see artifacts relating to the Spanish colonial era. One ticket covers admission to all of the town’s museums, and is available from the Museo Municipal. Kids will enjoy the interactive marine life exhibits at the Acuarió.
Colonia del Sacramento is a 2.5-hour drive from Montevideo or a 1-hour boat ride from Buenos Aires. Rent a golf buggy or bike to explore areas outside of the historic center and a car to go farther afield. Just north of town you can relax on river beaches and see the Plaza de Toros bullring.