When seeing a new place, it is always super exciting to be able to easily combine it with seeing another new place. After all, two is better than one, right? (Normally.) Buenos Aires is one of the top destinations in South America, and rightly so. (Click here to read my ultimate guide to Buenos Aires from my month there.) But sitting just across the Rio de la Plata is Uruguay, and its capital of Montevideo. So if it’s fairly simple to add it into an itinerary, why not?

The title of this article is a tad misleading. Yes, there is a direct ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo. But it is pretty expensive, so it isn’t the route I used (or most people use) to get between these two South American capitals. And, with how wide the Rio de la Plata is, even on the direct ferry, 2.5 hours or so each way makes for a rough go as a day trip. So if you’re spending a night (or more; Montevideo is a great city), you might as well take a tad longer for a cheaper and more scenic route.

The shorter ferry is about an hour to the town of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. From there, a bus takes you the rest of the way to Montevideo, a three hour journey. It is operated by two different companies: Colonia Express and Buquebus. I chose Buquebus, so my experience will only refer to how it was with them.

This wasn’t my specific ferry, but you get the idea. Cars on the bottom. People on top. Fully enclosed.

Buquebus suggests you arrive two hours before your ferry, so my 1215pm boat necessitated a 1015 arrival at their terminal, a modern building on the northern tip of Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires. Check in was easy, since my passport information was already verified when I purchased my ticket, so they didn’t even look at my actual ticket. I handed over my passport, they handed it back along with boarding passes for both the ferry and bus. I showed my boarding pass to an attendant at an escalator, and headed upstairs to immigration.

The terminal

This is the most efficient process. At each line are two windows. One is manned by an Argentine official, who checked my passport, facial scan, and thumbprint, then handed my passport to the next official, one from Uruguay, who stamped it and I was good to go with no customs on the other side. It was now about 1030, so I settled into the large boarding lounge with a cup of coffee to wait. I don’t think two hours was necessary, but it certainly avoided any anxiety in case of circumstances unforeseen.

Two countries side by side

Boarding was fairly easy, and I found a window seat (there are few so line up early if you want one), in a cramped row in tourist class. My suitcase occupied the seat next to me since there didn’t seem to be anywhere to put it. While the seats are small and not very comfortable, the central part of the ferry had a cafe and a duty free shop. I just watched the waters of the Rio de la Plata go by.

The seats are nothing special

Let’s talk for a moment about the Rio de la Plata. Formed by the confluence of the Parana and Uruguay Rivers (the Parana’s huge delta makes for one of the most popular day trips from Buenos Aires to Tigre; the Parana also supples about 75% of the Rio de la Plata’s water), it seems more like a bay or estuary than a true river. With a maximum width of about 140 miles, it is the widest river in the world. Buenos Aires sits further inland than Montevideo, along a narrower portion than my ferry is crossing.

This is the Rio de la Plata from the International Space Station. Crossing to Colonia is the narrow part of the river straight across from Buenos Aires.

At this juncture, the waters of the Rio de la Plata (the name was given by the explorer Sebastian Cabot who brought silver – plata in Spanish – back via this route) is brown, full of sediment from its source rivers. As it widens and deepens closer to the Atlantic, and the ocean waters combine with the tides, it gets a bit bluer. On my crossing, at least on the side of the ferry facing away from the sun, it appeared downright muddy, though calm.

Brown waters through the window

After an hour, the boat arrived in Colonia del Sacramento. For many, this was the final destination, as Colonia is a popular day trip from both Buenos Aires and Montevideo, especially for those from the former on visa runs. (Argentina issues a three-month tourist visa on arrival, which can only be extended in the country once, meaning those who want to stay longer than six months must leave and return, acquiring a brand new three month visa on the way back in. This is the easiest way to do that.) For me, it was a matter of putting my suitcase through a little scanner, and then following the signs for Montevideo to waiting buses, which left as they filled.

Colonia del Sacramento is an old town, founded in 1680, with a population of around 30,000. It has some cool old buildings, apparently, that can be seen with a couple hours. However, I was informed that there would be no convenient place to store my luggage, and as it was cheaper to buy my ticket all the way to Montevideo than as a ferry and bus separately, I didn’t get to see the town at all, other than a cool lighthouse from the gangway.

The Colonia del Sacramento lighthouse

The bus was significantly more comfortable than the ferry. Seats were large, legroom was generous, and reclining was at a good angle. I sat and watched the Uruguayan countryside go past my window. Uruguay is a fairly small country, but its population of only 3.5 million or so (about 2 million of whom live in the Montevideo metro area) means that the area is incredibly sparsely populated. There are a few small towns, or groups of buildings that might very liberally be called a town, but mainly the scenery is made up of cattle ranches and some farms.


After a couple stops along the outskirts of Montevideo (there were none before then), the bus ended its journey at Tres Cruces bus terminal. From here, it is a half hour or so (less if traffic cooperates) taxi to either the old city or Punta Carretas (the more modern upscale neighborhood where my Airbnb happened to be), a journey that was around $7.

(You may have noted I haven’t put a total price for the ferry in. The reason is the ridiculous inflation in Argentina right now, so while my ticket was the rough equivalent of $25, it could be much more or less as either inflation slows, speeds, or prices increase to offset it.)

Overall, this was not an unpleasant journey, and one that offered (for less money) a chance to see a bit more than either the direct ferry or a short flight when connecting between Buenos Aires and Montevideo. So if you have an extra few days on one side or the other of a Buenos Aires trip, please take the time to head across the Rio de la Plata, at least to Colonia del Sacramento, and preferably all the way to Montevideo. Uruguay is awesome!

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