While it seems like you can explore Buenos Aires for an entire semester straight and still find new things to do every weekend, one opportunity you should definitely prioritize is taking advantage of Buenos Aires’ neighbor to the east, Uruguay. Two of the country’s most well-known cities are only short ferry rides away from Buenos Aires. Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, is only three hours away by ferry, and the more relaxed town of Colonia de Sacramento is even closer, only about an hour and a half away. Daytrips to each of these cities are extremely popular with porteños and tourists alike, and they’re great places to visit while you’re in South America.
When I got to Montevideo, the first thing I noticed was that it’s extremely similar to Buenos Aires—in fact, some streets were almost indistinguishable from the neighborhoods I walk by every day in Retiro. The same European influences are present in Montevideo’s architecture, city layout, and building style. The tango culture is huge in Montevideo (in fact, both capital cities claim to be the birthplace of the dance) ownership of the "origins of tango" though the maté is even more popular here than it is in Argentina, and you’ll see all of the locals carrying around their maté cups and thermos.
I only had enough time to spend one day in Montevideo, so I bought the discounted “daytrip” package ferry tickets online instead of paying more for separate tickets. If you do the same, you’ll notice that packages are much cheaper on Saturdays and Sundays than weekdays—there’s a reason for that! I made a big mistake by going on a Sunday. A large portion of the restaurants and cafes, stores (even souvenir shops!), and museums were closed. If you head to Montevideo, I would suggest going on a Friday or Saturday when more attractions are open. However, I did think there were some beautiful and interesting places to explore around the city, like the Plaza de Armas, the Teatro Solis, and the Carnival museum near the port. I also loved seeing the sunset from La Rambla, the boardwalk-like path between the ocean and the city.
Colonia de Sacramento
Colonia is a wonderful place to visit if you want to see a more authentic glimpse into relaxed, small-town life in Uruguay. Visiting Colonia was, in some ways, like stepping back in time: the cars were decades old and the buildings looked comfortably worn. I took a daytrip with IES Abroad to visit Colonia, and I thought it was a great way to see the highlights of the town. We took a short but interesting tour from the historic bridge near the coast to the center of the town. Colonia was full of museums, souvenir shops, and delicious restaurants and cafes selling Uruguayan specialties like the Chivito sandwich.
Colonia is small enough that I thought one day was enough time to explore it fully and get a good feel for it. I definitely recommend climbing to the top of the town’s lighthouse for wonderful views of the surrounding buildings and ocean. Similarly, the marina and the small beaches around the city were lovely.
I definitely recommend heading to Uruguay at least once during your semester abroad in Buenos Aires. It’s remarkable to see how similar—and at the same time, how unique—the neighboring capital cities are to each other, and how they’re both worlds away from the atmosphere of smaller pueblos like Colonia.
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<p>I am Maria Oldenburg, and I'm a sophomore Economics and International Studies double major at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. On campus, you can find me pretending to be a professional photographer, exploring the local coffee scene, or hopelessly planning my dream backpacking trip across Southeast Asia. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I can't wait to eat my weight in empanadas, learn quality puns in Spanish, and tango with the best of them during my semester in Buenos Aires!</p>