Historic Quarter of the City of Colonia del Sacramento

By Pamela Drager

What is Colonia del Sacramento?

Colonia del Sacramento is a historic city located in Uruguay on the banks of the Rio de la Plata. It’s the oldest city in Uruguay, founded by the Portuguese in 1680. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995.

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The city’s strategic location made it a coveted prize for both the Portuguese and the Spanish. Because of this, it changed hands numerous times during the colonial period. This complex history is reflected in the city’s historic quarter and in the architecture, culture, and traditions of the area. You can see an elegant mixture of Portuguese, Spanish, and indigenous influences.

Today, Colonia del Sacramento is a beautiful destination for travelers around the world. The city is known for its beaches, vineyards, and history. The surrounding regions around the city are also known for their world-class wines and olive oils.

Text: Historic Quarter of the City of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. Images: above, a view up a street with old houses; below, looking up at two church towers.

Why is Colonia del Sacramento a UNESCO World Heritage site?

The city became a UNESCO site in 1995 due to its exceptional historic and cultural value. One of the key features of the city is the well-preserved urban layout, which is not the usual Spanish colonial grid system, but rather follows the topography. The system of cobbled streets, plazas, and colonial buildings have been carefully restored. Many of the original buildings – mostly single-storey houses – and other structures have been preserved. This includes the impressive city gate and drawbridge and the lighthouse.

The wonderful mixture of cultures and influences shows travelers colonial architecture that is truly unique, according to UNESCO: “The Historic Quarter of the City of Colonia del Sacramento bears remarkable testimony in its layout and its buildings to the nature and objectives of European colonial settlement, in particular during the seminal period at the end of the 17th century.”

A high decorative gateway at the end of a drawbridge.

What can you expect on a visit to Colonia del Sacramento?

Visitors can expect to be in awe at the history of the city. It’s an impressive city with charming cobblestone streets, beautiful plazas, delicious food, and breathtaking views.

The city stands on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water and includes both a lighthouse and a drawbridge. You can climb the lighthouse for a small fee.

View up a cobbled street, low adobe houses on either side.

Is Colonia del Sacramento worth visiting?

Absolutely. Travelers will be inspired by the city’s vast history. There’s a wide array of activities in the city that will entertain any type of traveler.

Use the map below to find accommodations in the historic center of town.

What sorts of travelers would like to visit this city?

The historic quarter of the city is a destination that can appeal to a variety of travelers – from history enthusiasts to nature lovers, people who enjoy shopping, and of course foodies!

History enthusiasts will enjoy the buildings and museums of the city. The Museo Portugues teaches visitors about the Portuguese influence in the area. There’s also a Spanish museum and one about indigenous peoples. One of the most famous features of the city is the beautiful Matriz Church: one of the oldest churches in Uruguay. The original structure dates back to 1680 with numerous restorations throughout the years.

Nature lovers will enjoy the beautiful parks and nature reserves the city has to offer. You’ll find plenty of outdoor activities such as hiking and birdwatching easily accessible in the city. You can also relax on the beaches and soak up some sun.

Foodie travelers can entice their taste buds with traditional Uruguayan dishes. Enjoy the influence of Spanish and Portuguese cultures. In the city you’ll find restaurants and cafes that highlight these influences. In the Plaza de Arms you’ll find some outdoor dining as well. On the weekend, there is a farmer’s market featuring local produce in the summer months.

Looking up at the twin spires of a simple white church.

Tips for visiting Colonia del Sacramento

The best way to see the city is on foot. A leisurely stroll through the city and its plazas is the best way, so be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes as most of the streets and sidewalks are uneven or cobblestone. If you don’t have a long time, you can do a day trip here from Buenos Aires.

Book your accommodation in Buenos Aires, or stay overnight in Colonia del Sacramento.

If you want to go museum-hopping in the city, head to Museos de Colonia del Sacramento where you can get a pass for $1.25 (48 Uruguayan pesos) to visit eight museums!

If you are visiting from Argentina, you will be crossing a border. Make sure you have your passport and check visa requirements ahead of time. Be at the ferry terminal early to go through the immigration lines.

Book the round-trip ferry ticket and a guided tour here.

And if you’re going to be traveling in Argentina, don’t miss a visit to Iguazu Falls!

Where is Colonia del Sacramento?

Colonia del Sacramento is nestled along the Rio de la Plata in southwest Uruguay. It’s about 180 km (112 miles) west of the capital city, Montevideo. You can also easily reach the city by ferry from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

From Montevideo, you can take a full-day group tour or a private tour to Colonia del Sacramento.

For more information about Colonia del Sacramento, see Welcome Uruguay’s official website. Colonia del Sacramento is open twenty-four hours and is free to explore.

Have you been to this city in Uruguay? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

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