Buenos Aires offers a wide variety of culture, monuments and other sights to choose among. When you after some time have filled you mind with impressions from the Argentinian capital, you can look out for the more unusual activities. One of the options is an escape from Buenos Aires to Uruguay on a day trip. The Seacat Colonia ferry conveniently takes you across the wide and shallow river to the tranquil colonial town, Colonia del Sacramento, in just one hour.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 24 JAN 2020
Fighting a bit with the Seacat Colonia website beforehand, where our foreign credit cards were not accepted, we have decided to wait and buy the ferry tickets in person, once in Buenos Aires.
The Seacat Colonia agency is notably not located at the ferry terminal, but in the city centre on the address Avenida Córdoba 772. We therefore plan to go to buy the tickets the afternoon before our intended trip to Colonia del Sacramento.
Unexpectedly, in contrast to the Seacat website entirely in Spanish, the agents here do speak English – something we are really not too used to on our South America trip.
The agent informs us that we will have to look out for the Buquebus ferry terminal at the Puerto Madero harbour front. We now realise that there are two different companies, both the Seacat Colonia and the Buquebus, selling tickets for the very same ferry from Buenos Aires to Uruguay – but surprisingly enough at different prices! Seacat turns out to have the cheapest tickets to Colonia, at least at the moment!
Online we have read various descriptions of how problematic the immigration procedure can be. It is comparable to going through immigration in an airport. However, after travelling through five South American countries and doing a similar number of border crossings with immigration challenges varying in degree, we suspect that the crossing from Buenos Aires to Uruguay will not pose more frustration than what we already have been exposed to.
We have chosen the early morning ferry and turn up at the harbour in due time for departure, more precisely an hour before, as advised by the Seacat Colonia agency. Puerto Maduro is only a few kilometres from our hotel and we therefore happily walk the distance, avoiding the intense Buenos Aires morning traffic with congestion and possible delays.
Seacat Colonia for a day trip to Uruguay
From Buenos Aires to Uruguay – day trip with Seacat Colonia
Going from Buenoes Aires to Uruguay on a day trip only is, as anticipated, no exception with respect to the immigration procedure which is a bit cumbersome. However, all passengers eventually get through, and with a delay of only 15-20 minutes the ferry seems ready to leave Buenos Aires!
We are going to cross Río de la Plata or the River Plate in English. The river has long ago become the natural border between Argentina and Uruguay. At the inner and narrowest part it is only about 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) wide and at its mouth it widens about 220 kilometres (140 miles) – and therefore holds the record of being the widest river in the world! Surprisingly enough, it is pretty unknown to people outside South America! Whether it is a real river, an estuary or rather a freshwater gulf, is apparently subject to discussion and something there definitely are distinct opinions on, depending on who you ask. All three designations are being used interchangeably.
The total area of the river is about 35,000 square kilometres (13,500 square miles). Throughout history the surrounding lands have been among the most densely populated areas in Argentina and Uruguay. Buenos Aires is located on the northern shore and Montevideo on the southern.
Río de la Plata is in fact the estuary of the 3 rivers which merge: the Paraná, the Uruguay and the Paraguay rivers. The estuary flows out into the Atlantic Ocean.
From our spot here at Puerto Maduro the river or estuary unquestionably looks like an ocean. On the horizon there is not the faintest sign of land. It is only the unclear waters that suggest that we are not exactly at the Atlantic Ocean.
To all of us it is a new experience being to cross such an impressive river mouth. We are thrilled that we will be reaching Uruguay and a well-preserved old Spanish colonial town on the other shore in a little less than an hour.
The river is remarkably rich in history. Prior to the arrival of Europeans the surrounding land was inhabited by the indigenous South American people. From the 16th century onwards Spaniards and Portuguese arrived to trade and settle in the fertile areas along the river with abundant natural resources for agricultural purposes. Little by little the population along the banks increased and cities arose. At the end of the European colonisation and rule, the new established port cities continued to exploit the river areas.
In the beginning of the 19th century British invasions made, as part of the Napoleon Wars, several attempts in vain to conquer Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Each time they were expelled by the strong resistance of the local people.
Also today, the port cities of Río de la Plata have significant importance for the two countries. To a large extent the exports continuously pass through the ports, and this has given rise to lucrative industries along the banks of the greyish brown estuary.
On board the modern ferries there is a cafeteria and a duty-free shop. We immediately find a row of comfortable reclining seats with a river view for the crossing. Again, we don’t have the impression that we are on a river. The estuary is broad – where we pass, it is around 50 kilometres (slightly more than 30 miles) wide. Once more, when looking down into the water, we get proof that it is not the ocean, but a river mouth: the water is not clear at all.
Even if full of muddy sediments, the shallow river and its banks are rich in plant and animal life. It is home for both sea turtles, the La Plata dolphin, iguana lizards, jaguars, tapirs, ocelots, caimans, water boas, rattlesnakes, parrots, eagles, frogs, freshwater crabs, around 350 fish species and many more birds and mammals. A large number of the species are endemic to the Río de la Plata.
All of a sudden we can just discern the contours of an animal under the surface. Not having a clue what it is, we wonder if may really be one of the endemic La Plata dolphins!
Most fellow passengers on the Seacat Colonia ferry are Argentinians either going from Buenos Aires to Uruguay on a day trip, or, in the case of a few passengers troubled with heavy suitcases, anticipating a longer stay in Uruguay or beyond.
Common for the vast majority of the passengers is the pleasure of taking photos during the ferry ride. Wherever we look, we see Colgate white teeth smiling while people with their mobile cameras capture the situation and the gorgeous river view with themselves as the visible proof that they were there! We don’t count how many selfies we see taken – but it is a lot, and spirits are high! Going from Buenos Aires to Uruguay on a day trip crossing Río de la Plata is very popular!
Río de la Plata is named after the myth
The name of the river has roots in an old myth. According to the legend there was a silver mountain somewhere upstream. This fabled Sierra del Plata, which may or may not have existed, was said to be rich in silver mines.
The first European to cross through the Latin American continent to arrive at the Andes Mountains in search of the silver mountain was the Portuguese explorer and conquistador Aleixo García. From this expedition silver was brought back to the coast, indicating the finding of a silver source as in the legend.
Consequently, the wide river as well as the adjacent country were named after the myth and the silver, namely Río de la Plata and Argentina, respectively. Both names are related to the Spanish and Latin terms for silver (plata and argentum).
Still today, the population on both sides of the banks of Río de la Plata embraces the legend. Both Argentina and Uruguay feature football clubs with names taken from the myth. Teams like River Plate, Estudiantes de la Plata and Platense are the present-day evidence in Buenos Aires and Montevideo of the fabled roots.
Our ferry ride seems short. The vivid freshwater gulf ends, and within a few minutes we set foot on Uruguayan land. Thrilled, we set out for an exciting day in Colonia del Sacramento at the widest river in the world.
Continue reading about Colonia del Sacramento: Cool Colonial Style in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
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