Trying to find out on the Internet about getting to Montevideo, Uruguay via Colonia, Uruguay from Buenos Aires, Argentina, is enough to make you go a little bit crazy. Many websites are in Spanish, some just don't appear to work at all, and if you happen to read any traveller's blogs or what is written on the forum gossip pages, the confusion will have you ripping your hair out. Of course, you could always do it the easy way and go to a travel agent in Buenos Aires; but who doesn't like a challenge
Remember the overused and undervalued words of T.S. Eliot,
"The journey, not the destination matters."
Don't forget to take your passport if you are merely going for a day tour from Buenos Aires, as you do have to go through Argentinean customs and immigration that includes giving your fingerprints.
Make the decision:
Are you going to head straight for Montevideo or detour to Colonia del Sacramento on the way? Whether it's for a few hours or a few days, perhaps you’ll want to rumble around wineries as well as the old town.
Depending on what research you do, the small historic town of Colonia (UNESCO Heritage Site) is either placed in the realms of being boring or said to be quaint and worth taking the time to explore. Ferry rides always get me excited, so it was just a question of which ferry company to use, considering I put out of my head the idea of taking a bus (the really long way) or flying from Buenos Aires.
To go straight to Montevideo, numerous ferries are running this route, and it's fast and easy.
To go to Montevideo via Colonia will have you jumping on a ferry and then taking a bus ride for a couple of hours. If you intend on spending some time in Colonia, do not buy your bus ticket at the time that you purchase your ferry ride, as it doesn't allow you any spare time to go exploring. Once in Colonia, there is no stress about getting a seat on a bus when you are ready, as they run about every hour. The bus terminal is near the ferry terminal, and you can safely leave your luggage at the terminal for a fee.
Don't despair about not knowing Spanish, as announcements happen in both English and Spanish. There are many ways of overcoming the language barrier.
If you only intend going to Colonia for the day and back into Argentina, there is no need to change your Argentinian pesos, as most places in Colonia will accept them. And, you don't need to take a taxi from the ferry terminal, as it's only a 10-minute walk to the old town.
If you need cash on hand, there is a cashpoint at the Colonia ferry port where you can rob your account at a cash machine, but remember it will spit out Uruguayan pesos. One other thing to note is that Uruguay appears to be much more expensive than Argentina.
Buying tickets direct from the ferry terminals will give you a better exchange rate than if you buy online with a credit card.
Which ferry company?
Three ferry companies will get you to Colonia—Buquebus, Colonia Express and SeaCat. SeaCat appears to be the favoured one of the locals, and it leaves from the Buquebus Terminal.
Always check on the time length of the journey, as there is the option of a catamaran or a large ferryboat, depending on the company or maybe your seafaring mood.
Passenger seats are not assigned, so if you want a window seat, make sure you stand in the boarding queue early.
I used SeaCat when I went on my adventure, and it appeared to be not just a means of getting across the Rio de la Plata, but a floating duty-free shopping haven. You can dump your luggage on a chair and spend the next hour or so happily thrashing your credit card. The alternative may be to hang out in one of the many cafes on board.
Colonia Express has its own departure terminal, and they do not offer as frequent services as Buquebus. Remember this when giving directions to your taxi driver, as I had the unfortunate experience of being dropped off at the wrong terminal. I was not a happy vegemite, as I had to go out onto the main road and flag down another taxi!
No matter what company you are travelling with, you will need to arrive one-and-a- half hours before the scheduled time to allow for enormous queues of sometimes impatient souls, plus the fact that you have to go through immigration and customs. At least there is an excellent cafe in the departure lounge if you happen to be in the BuqueBus terminal.
As with any public transport keep a firm grasp on your handbag, wallet or whatever. If you plan to have a little snooze, then cuddle your bag!
Gail Palethorpe, a self proclaimed Australian gypsy, is a freelance writer, photographer and eternal traveller. Check out her website Gail Palethorpe Photography and her Shutterstock profile.