Boats service the Cinque Terre from Easter to October connecting Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola, Riomaggiore and Portovenere. These are a great and much more scenic way to see the area than by train and a solid alternative when there are hoards of tourists waiting at the station. Costs range from 2 to 25 euro depending on the length of travel, distance traveled or if you are getting an all day pass. Round trip tickets are slightly cheaper than one-way tickets. There are little stands set up at each town’s harbor where you can purchase tickets. The boats are NOT covered by the Cinque Terre pass.
The whole process is very informal, from the ticket stands to the area where you board the boat. So informal that the first time a caught a ride I paced up and down the dock and rocks trying to find out where exactly I was supposed to be. It wasn’t until the boat arrived and a narrow plank was slapped down on the rocks that I figured things out.
When I say a narrow plank was slapped down on the rocks, I literally mean that. This means that any choppy water or bad weather will cause cancellations for safety reasons, which can be a hassle but the alternative would most likely be you tossed in the blue sea.
My absolute hands down favorite way to travel across the Cinque Terre is with the power of my own two feet. There is no better way to see and experience this area than by extensive trail system. You will find yourself winding through olive trees, vineyards, over stone bridges and around cliff side corners with views as far as you can see. There are some important tips to keep in mind that could make or break your over all experience. As the crowds and numbers of visitors grow, these tips become even more imperative to heed.
Verify trail closures. Trails close for a variety of reasons and there is no way to predict with certainty ahead of time. On arrival make sure to check the trail status with your hosts.
Purchase your pass. For those only hiking the Cinque Terre Trekking Card is sufficient. Travelers planning on using the trains multiple times a day in addition to hiking will want the Cinque Terre Treno Multi-Service Card which is available for 1 or 2 days.
Get an early start. I know this is vacation, but take too much time lingering over your cappuccino and you will find yourself shoulder to shoulder with other travelers on the trails. The Cinque Terre is no longer a secret and hasn’t been for years. The magic is still here but it is elusive and effort is required to find it. I get up at first light and worry about breakfast at my destination. This is the only way to feel like the trail is yours. This is also some of the best light for photo junkies.
Hike beyond the traditional routes. Most visitors will stick to the trails that directly connect the villages completely unaware of the extensive network in the region. While I love my time spent on the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza, I cherish my hike up to the sanctuaries and beyond. Each town has a special trail to a sanctuary that reminds us of the truly ancient roots in the area. These trails then connect to the villages via an upper trail system. The benefit is two fold, you get away from 90% of the crowds and you are rewarded with an experience that breathes the essence of this area. These hikes remind you that this is more than a glossy magazine destination. This is a real life and soaked in history by salt of the earth people. Treasure these trails.
Be prepared. While you won’t need a hiking stick or sturdy boots (although you will see more than you can count) a good pair of broken in walking shoes is a must. Leave your flip flops for the beach or prepare for my extensive eye rolling. I pack some water, a snack and a local map. Then I hit the trail and let the day unfold.
Manners. I’m a stickler for common courtesy. Don’t be a trail hog. If you are in a group be conscious of those behind and in front of you making sure there is room on the path to pass. The trails can be narrow and nothing is more frustrating than being pushed off into the brush by a group of unobservant hikers. Be kind, be polite and share the road.
Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel
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