Cinque Terre is one of the world’s premier destinations and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Therefore, it can be expensive. But with the right information, even this exotic location is not out of reach for the budget traveler.
Cinque Terre is a national park set on the hillside of a lush Italian coastline where five colorful villages (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) are connected by trails and trains. The houses, nestled in the mountainside, are so vibrant that sailors could identify their homes at sea. Charmingly removed from the modern world, the narrow, cobblestone streets are quiet in the off season. In the summer, they’re filled with bustle and crowds of people swimming in the teal waters of the Mediterranean. Regardless of the timing of your visit, if you are like most people, you will fall in love with this unique destination.
Cinque Terre is highly preserved. The extreme popularity of this area has forced the Italian Government to being regulating travel. Beginning in summer of 2016, the summer visitor count will be capped at 1.5 million, so a million tourists will be turned away. Peak-season visitors will have to buy tickets through an app. Make your plans early and, I’d suggest, seriously consider the off season for better rates and less hassle in your planning.
The best part of the Cinque Terre is free, but can take hours. In my experience, these are hours well spent. Between the five towns are some of the world’s most beautiful hikes—at least in the opinion of millions of tourists (including me). The Sentiero Azzurto, or “Azure Trail,” is seven miles of narrow paths that wind up and down mountains, along the sea, and through remote countryside wine vineyards. From the peaks where goat bells and songbirds are the only sounds, the mountain plummets hundreds of feet in a majestic view of ocean, cliffs, and mountain shrub. Hike every path, or use the train to skip sections that seems too long or strenuous.
I think the best time to visit is during the off season, and with the lottery in place, this may be the only time for most people. When my dad and sister were there in September, they passed hundreds of tourists. I’ve heard August is even more crowded. I was barefoot in a quiet, warm heaven while they constantly stepped off the path for opposing traffic.
Accommodations in the towns generally start at $100 and can go into the thousands. For $20-25, the Ostello Tramonti hostel is a budget-friendly option. Ten minutes outside of Cinque Terre in the quaint mountainside town of Biazza, it’s pleasant, friendly, and quiet. Tramonti doesn’t have a kitchen available for guests, but they do have a restaurant. If you bring your own food to avoid the cost of the restaurant, but keep in mind you won’t have access to a fridge or cooking utilities.
A shuttle to the Riogammore from the hostel is free if you stay for 3+ nights, otherwise it is a few dollars. There are several schedules for morning drop offs and evening return. Once in town, trains are a quick and affordable way to transport you from town to town. Although you can drive to most of the towns, it’s discouraged and parking is limited.
You can reach Cinque Terre villages from the north through Girona from La Spezia in the south. A 20 minute bus route connects La Spezia and Biazza and stops in directly in front of the Ostello Tramonti. Check with the hostel regarding the bus because the route is not always reliable. Better yet, if you’re in the area and speak some Italian, ask the locals as they are generally the ones riding this bus.
Cinque Terre offers numerous cute restaurants, markets for hiking snacks, and open-air shops with racks of touristy clothing, art and souvenirs. In La Spezia, there are many large, more affordable grocery stores.
Cinque Terre was a highlight of my time in Italy. The hikes are out of this world and at the end of my stay, I spent about $175 total for four days in this world premier destination and World Heritage site. Worth every penny!