It would be a crime not to pop in to any of Uruguayan city or town while in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Especially if you will fallow my way of thinking: “common Anna, you may not have this occasion in your life again”. Visiting close by Uruguay is well easy and well possible, but that of course if you have some spare time. There are few options of transportation getting there from Buenos Aires. Apart from the bus, that can take you everywhere in South America, you can fly (very expensive and a bit pointless) or just take a ferry. Here, we will look in to the last mentioned option, simply because I used it for my one day trip to Uruguay, to Colonia del Sacramento specifically. Ferry, apart from being nice option for a trip, can be a great way to move to your next location while backpacking South America. I guess, buses are the cheapest option, and there is loads of info about timetable and prices online, so I will just concentrate on the water-path. The ship, as a way quicker option than bus, can be also a great break from bus traveling, as if you are backpacking, like I did, you will be spending loads of time in them, I mean looooads.
So basically, you can choose between two kind of trips (places) you can reach by ferry. First one will take you all the way to Montevideo, capital of Uruguay, second to Colonia del Sacramento, a cute, quiet and small colonial town by the cost. As stated before, I took a trip to Colonia, but definitely would pick Montevideo over now. You can also see both, if you have time of course, as from Colonia you can catch a bus to capital that takes 3 hours of journey. Please note that these companies do operates between other towns and cities, but Montevideo and Colonia is the only touristic one, that’s why I am not mentioning other places here.
Companies, service and routes
The Buenos Aires – Montevideo or Colonia del Sacramento ferry route is currently operated by 3 companies. The Buquebus service runs up to 13 times per week, while the Colonia Express service runs up to 3 times per day. The Seacat company is the third option to choose from.
Buquebus provides two services to Colonia del Sacramento – one faster and more expensive and the other is slower and therefore cheaper. The faster Buquebus catamaran ferry (1h15mins) is usually quite crowded with day tourists and travel groups. Cheaper prices are well possible to find when booking in advance and online. The fast boats have a free wireless internet. The slower boat takes about 3 hours, and it is the one I took. However, checking now the web page, I can no longer find this service. Shame, I really loved my 3 hours on the endless sea. Both kind of boats have a restaurant, cafe and an off duty shops. Buenos Aires to Montevideo service takes 2h15mins and arrives at the Ciudad Vieja district of Montevideo, situated very close to downtown. Terminal (dock) is located at Antártida Argentina 821, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires (same for Seacat).
Colonia Express takes roughly 1h to reach Colonia and 3h45mins to reach Montevideo. There is no wifi provided but there is a duty-free shop and a small bar selling snacks and coffees. Terminal (dock) is located at Av. Elvira Rawson de Dellepiane 155, Puerto Madero Sur, Buenos Aires.
Seacat ferry to Montevideo takes 4h15mins, to Colonia is 1h. Termina is located at Antártida Argentina 821, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires (same for Buquebus).
Prices as of July 2017
Busquebus (webside here) is the most expensive and offers ticket one way economy class to Montevideo from 93$. However, return ticket starts at 43$ (can’t believe I picked this company!). Day trip to Colonia cost around 80$ (same day return) economy class fast 1h15min boat, which doesn’t seems like a great discount, as a single journey starts from 47$.
Colonia Express (website here) offers a day trips (with return the same day) to Colonia that cost from 70$ (the cheapest) up to 115 $, depending on time and day. One way to Colonia cost around 38$ in the cheapest economy class. To Montevideo one way ticket cost around 45$ in the cheapest economy class.
Seacat (webside here) day trip to Colonia (return the same day) ferry cost from 75$ (economy), and it seem to be a steady price. Buenos Aires-Montevideo cost 43$ for one way cheapest economy class.
Buying a ticket
It is not necessary to pre-book your ticket online, but it can save you some money, and it is a good idea during a holiday when loads of people travel on this route. Buying in advance can also save you some stress, as there might be a long queue to get a ticket just before the departure. As mentioned, you can purchase your ticket online, thought the web page for Busquebus is very poorly designed, with a very misleading currencies in dollars. However, if you are not in Buenos Aires, it is best to book and buy online before the departure. My hostel was very close to the Busquebus terminal, so I just walked there, and I bought a ticket at the agent located inside. I can’t say stuff speaks well English, but we closed the deal without any major hassle. You can pay by cash or card, and as far as I remember, I purchased a day return the cheapest option to Colonia (3h of journey each way) and I paid around 70-80$ in total (December 2015).
Remember to check-in
Please do keep in your mind that this is an international journey that required you to check-in at the doc with your passport and bag, if you have one. Same as at the airport, you will have to get in a queue lane towards your check-in desk. You should also be at the terminal at least an hour and a half before the departure for immigration purposes etc. Your passport will be checked, but you will get stamped after check-in, but before waiting area. I can’t remember seeing off duty shops there, but they are at the ferry, with a very good prices, especially for cosmetics. Liquor is also available to purchase.
Please do keep in you mind that a time difference between Uruguay and Argentina, with Uruguay being ahead, is one hour. Important to know the proper return departure time. I wasn`t aware of it, and I arrived at the dock an hour ahead, when I coud enjoy the Colonial old town longer.
- Argentinian pesos are widely used in Colonia. I paid in the restaurant by them for my bill.
- Very cute touristic old town in Colonia, by the cost, is easily accessible just on food, so no need to take a taxi.
- For a budget backpacker is better to get your own food and take with, as restaurants in Uruguay are very expensive, with pizzas and burgers starting at 10$, as the cheapest option. You can get a snack with you for the time of journey too, as again, restaurant inside the ferry is very pricey and, to be honest, not the best one.
- 3-4 hours is more than enough to visit Colonia del Sacramento.
If you plan to pick Montevideo over Colonia del Sacramento, which I really think is a better option, you need to stay a minimum of one night in capital to do a proper city-seeing, unless going very early, returning with the last service.
- Please consider buying a ticket in advance for weekends and the peak season (Christmas until the end of February).