Colonia del Sacramento
The small town of Colonia del Sacramento on the coast of Uruguay is just an hour’s boat ride across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires. The town, founded in 1680, is a piece of tranquil heaven and a pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of the city. Its past is riddled with a constant tug-of-war between colonial powers Spain and Portugal, and the marks and monuments of this history still define the town.
There are several historic buildings and fascinating museums, but the pace of the town is quiet and slow, so the enjoyable part is really just wandering the old cobblestone streets of the Barrio Histórico (Old Town), where you can see San Francisco convent ruins dating back to 1683, or the lighthouse (el Faro) which guided sailors since 1857. Colonia is a safe and family-friendly town. There are dozens of places to rent bicycles and mopeds, as well as a few spots along the beach to rent kayaks or paddle boats.
There are three companies that operate ferry boats between Buenos Aires and Colonia: Buquebus, Colonia Express and Seacat. Each offers transportation for passengers and cars, with the shortest trip taking about an hour ($280 round trip) and the longest taking about 3 hours ($200 round trip). Tickets cost more on the weekends and also tend to sell out quickly, so it is a good idea to purchase your tickets a few days before your departure.
Tigre is famous for its setting on the Delta del Paraná, which is one of the Amazonian tributaries and a very important resource to Buenos Aires. You can rent boats to travel along the delta or island-hop, visit the Parque de la Costa, a modern amusement park, or shop for crafts at the Puerto de Frutos. Tigre is a great place for the family to visit, with lots of outdoor activities (be sure to take bug repellent in the summer months), like renting small motorboats, taking rowing lessons, or enjoying the Ferris wheel at the amusement park.
Tigre, in the Province of Buenos Aires, is about an hour’s train ride outside of the city and is accessible by car from Av. Libertador or the Ruta Panamericana highway. If you decide to take the train, you depart from the Estación Retiro and take the Tigre line to the very end — a round-trip ticket costs about $3. Be sure to keep your ticket with you after you board the train as you will need it to exit the station.
The capital of Buenos Aires Province, La Plata is a beautifully planned city about an hour and a half southeast of Buenos Aires on the coast of the Río de la Plata. The streets are laid out in a strict grid with broad diagonal avenues that slice through. The beautiful architecture, mostly modern and neo-Classical, includes most notably the Catedral de La Plata, a towering Gothic church. The Paseo del Bosque is in the northern part of the city and has many options for families, such as paddleboat rentals, an outdoor amphitheater, a small zoo, botanical gardens, an observatory, and an equestrian center. Also in this area is the fun and informative Museum of Natural Sciences ($12 admission, open Tues-Sun, with guided tours in Spanish every half hour on the weekends).
La Plata is accessible by car, and several omnibuses operating out of the Retiro terminal go there frequently. The Línea Roca from the Constitución train station is a cheaper option, but less secure, so be cautious, especially if you ride at night.
Punta del Este
Punta del Este has been coined the ‘Riviera of South America,’ mostly because of the upscale crowd that it attracts. Many famous people from Central and South America set up their summer homes and condos in this small coastal town in Uruguay. The beaches, although crowded like mad in January, are great for taking in sun and people watching. Consult the ferry lines that run to Colonia (websites above) as you will likely use a boat/bus combination to get there; the bus ride along the coast is a beautiful trip.
San Antonio de Areco
San Antonio de Areco is a small town that is home to several well-known working ‘estancias’ (ranches), with authentic gauchos (the Argentine version of cowboys), and some of the best asado you will have. Being only about two hours outside of Buenos Aires, in the area known as the Pampa (the Plains), this small town has had an outcropping of foreign tourism that has turned the once-working farms into tourist estancias. It’s a wonderful place to see authentic rural life and learn about the folkloric side of Argentina. To this end, you’ll definitely want to check out the Museo Gauchesco Ricardo Güiraldes ($4 admission, open Wed-Mon 11am-5pm). There’s great swimming in the summer in the Río Areco (Areco River), which almost overflows in the summer months. As with La Plata, San Antonio de Areco is easy to access via car or bus.