How to get from Buenos Aires to Montevideo

If you’re in Buenos Aires or Montevideo, you’re almost compelled to visit the sister city. The cities are only about 2.5 hours apart and so easy to get to that it doesn’t make any sense to visit one and not the other.  

Getting from Buenos Aires to Montevideo is simple.  You can take the direct ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo. That ferry is about 2.5 hours and about $100 USD.  If you’re pressed for time, this is certainly the option you’ll want to take. However, you can also take a ferry/bus combo at about half the cost but double the time.

The different ferry services

There are 2 different ferry services to choose from.  Buquebus and Colonia Express. The time it takes is about the same and the cost is fairly close as well.  However, you’ll want to know where the ferry departs. If you’re taking Buquebus, the terminal is about a 10 minute walk from the Retiro train terminal.  Getting there is fairly easy if you’re staying in the downtown area that’s closer to the tourist areas in the northern part of the city. 

The Colonia Express terminal is much further south and closer to the Plaza Constitucion metro stop.  You definitely don’t want to get the two terminals mixed up because they are not really close to each other 

I took the Buquebus because it was closer to where I was staying.  People started lining up to board the ferry about an hour ahead and the line only got longer.  I was one of the first people in the terminal but I just took a seat and waited until they called for boarding.  I guess it makes sense to stand and wait if you want to sit in a specific part of the boat but there was ample seating so I don’t know why people were so anxious to be one of the first to board.  

How early should you arrive?

Remember that you need to go through immigration and customs when going from Buenos Aires to Montevideo.  Now you’ll basically do that in at the departure port (meaning you’ll get you exit stamp from Argentina and your entry stamp into Uruguay at the same time).  But that also means you’ll need to go through all the security just as you would at an airport.  

I arrived 3 hours ahead because that’s what I’d read online but that was a drastic over exaggeration.  I’d say 90 mins is plenty of time to go through security and immigration. I noticed people were trickling in past security about 30 mins prior to departure so it shouldn’t be a problem.  That said, I’d still say give yourself at least an hour to account for delays. 

Which fare should you choose?

If you’re going to try and make a day trip out of it, the ferry/bus combo doesn’t work and really doesn’t make any sense.  It’ll take a good 4.5 to 5 hours each way so the only way to really have any time is to take the direct ferry across. The ferry ride across take about an hour but then you’ll have to go through security (basically have your bags x rayed) and I thought that seemed to take much longer than it reasonably should.   

However, if you’re going to spend time in Montevideo, I’d recommend taking the ferry to Colonia del Sacramento and then taking the bus in.  Not only is it cheaper than the direct ferry but you also get to see a BEAUTIFUL little coastal town. It really isn’t a surprise it’s a UNESCO world heritage site.  Also, the town is so small you really won’t need more than a few hours to walk around. It’s totally worth the stop. 

When choosing the ferry/bus combo, you’ll have the option of buying it all at once but you’re better off buying them separately.  If you purchase the ferry/bus combo ticket, you won’t have any time to explore the town and you’ll basically going straight from the ferry to the bus (which kind of defeats the purpose).  There are plenty of busses that leave from Colonia to Montevideo so you won’t have to worry about getting a seat. 

After you have enough time to explore Colonia, the bus ride from Colonia to Montevideo is about 3 hours.  You’ll have different bus companies to choose from and the price is pretty much the same.  

Where do you buy your bus ticket?

The bus terminal is about a 5 minute walk from the ferry terminal.  You can ask the information booth once you get into the ferry terminal but basically as you exit the building, you’ll want to walk right (basically walk away from the lighthouse).   The bus terminal will be on your right and you can’t miss it.  

Is there a place to store your bags?

Yes you can store your bags at the bus terminal.  However, you’ll need to pay in Uruguayan pesos. They will NOT accept Argentine pesos.  I didn’t notice this at first but there are ATMs in the bus terminal opposite the men’s restroom.  I didn’t see it so I ended up dragging my bag through the streets as I walked around.  

You’ll see an attendant there to watch your bags and you’ll depending on the time.  Right next to it is the tourist office as well so you can’t miss it. 

Are there ATMs in the city to get/exchange money?

Yes there are.  Along the main road of General Flores, you’ll see numerous banks, ATMs, and cash changing facilities.  You’ll have to go inside the bank to use the ATM and there are only specific ATMs that dispense cash. At the Scotia-bank I went to, there was only 1 ATM machine that dispensed cash and others I think only did deposits.  

Also, you’ll want to find a way to break large bills.  The ATM spit out $2000 pesos in $1000 peso increments and I sheepishly had to go brea it at a convenience store so I could buy some water.  If you’re eating or spending money at main popular places in Uruguay, you’ll be fine but there were a couple small mom and pop operations that didn’t even like the $500 peso bill (even though I knew they had more than enough change).  

Final Thoughts

Getting to Montevideo from Buenos Aires is very simple.  You’ll just want to make sure you go to the correct terminal after purchasing your ticket.  Although you’ll be told to get there 3 hours prior, 60-90 mins is plenty of time. Finally, if you have the time and want to save money, take the ferry/bus combo.  Although the journey time is longer, you’ll be able to see Colonia del Sacramento which is really beautiful. But if you’re on a tight schedule, you’ll be better off taking the direct shuttle straight to Montevideo. 

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