When I was researching what to do in the Cinque Terre one of the most recommended things I found in nearly every blog was to hike the famous trails between villages and experience unparalleled views that these hikes have to offer. While we had an amazing time following the trails through the villages, and the views are so so worth it, there are a few things I wish I would’ve known before starting; so here are some tips I wish someone would’ve told us!
- Most people aren’t aware of just how challenging these trails can be. The blue trail (the easiest trail) is closed in several spots along the coast and won’t be opening again until 2019. Due to closures, people who otherwise may not have been up for a more challenging hike have decided to take their chances in order to experience the views they were promised. That meant extremely busy trails that were often clogged with people who didn’t realize what they were getting themselves in to. Keith and I are pretty athletic, we work out daily and enjoy challenging ourselves and our patience wore thin on the hike. The hiking path was narrow throughout much of the trail and it was difficult to pass slower moving people, small children and people with disabilities. We found some people very polite in letting more experienced hikers pass, but others just seemed clueless to the fact that they were slowing everyone behind them down and refused to move and let others proceed past them. I heard several people say “I wish someone would’ve told us how hard this was going to be at the start.” Gasping for breath while standing in the center of the trail taking a breather, refusing to let us pass even after having said ‘excuse me’ several times politely. Prepare yourself for slowmoving people and practice the words “excuse me” in several other languages just to be safe. If you’re one of those people who isn’t very experienced in hiking, prepare yourself for stairs (LOTS OF STAIRS) and kindly move to the side and let others pass when possible. Being aware of other people is essential to making the experience great for everyone.
- Make sure you purchase a trail pass. Both the Cinque Terre pass and the Treno pass include access to the hiking trails. There are checkpoints along the way, and if you do not have a pass you’ll be asked to pay in CASH on the spot. Don’t get caught half way through a 3 hour hike without one or you’l regret it. Passes can be purchased at every train station.
- Start your hike early. We weren’t quite prepared for how busy the trails got during the day, but when we started one of our hikes at 7 am we were equally as shocked at how empty the trail was in the morning. We started from Vernazza at 7 am and didn’t see a single person on quite possbily the most busy part of any trail in the Cinque Terre for almost an hour. We had the iconic Vernazza views all to ourselves and it was glorious.
- Wear proper foot gear. I made the mistake of wearing white toms hiking between Monterosso and Vernazza. Not that this was an issue for me in terms of making the hike, but the trails are DIRTY. My perfectly white shoes were brown in about 15 minutes. Wear something you don’t mind getting dirty and sweaty. Much of the trail is uncovered and the sun beats down on you relentlessly mid-day. Don’t try to do the whole hike dressed to the 9’s and expect to get the photos you’re looking for. Yes, every blogger wants perfect pictures in a cute little sundress and whiter than white shoes overlooking Vernazza– if that’s the case, start your hike from Vernazza, take your photos and then change into hiking gear to finish out the rest. You’ll thank me later.
- Bring water. Lots of water. We had over a liter of water between the two of us on the hike between Monterosso and Vernazza (approx 2 hour hike) and ran out of water half way through. Good news is you can fill up your water bottles for free in each town!
- Stay on the marked trail. As a blogger, I’m always looking for vantage points that I haven’t seen plastered all over the internet before. Cinque Terre has been well documented and I highly doubt there is a place along those trails that hasn’t been covered. Keith and I hopped off the trail to take an photo of a beautifully unobstructed view of Vernazza and were promptly scolded for doing so. Many of the villages farmers are responsible for the land that the hiking trail runs through, and as such exploring beyond the trail is highly frowned upon. Lesson learned.
- Don’t expect that all trails will be open. As mentioned several portions of the main trail are closed (some parts permanently). But several other trails get washed out and close due to weather. Make sure you ask which trails are closed when purchasing your pass and mark those closed trails on the map. It’s easy enough to hike a portion and then take a train to the next trailhead, but it’s nice to know where the trails close so you can plan accordingly and aren’t left searching for the enterance to a closed trail.
- Move to the side when taking photographs. Look, I get it, the views from these trails are breathtaking and you want to capture as much of it as you can. At the same time, it’s not fair to stop midtrail, set up your tripod and obstruct everyone else from passing while you attempt to take the perfect photograph. I love taking photographs while I travel (obviously) but I’m also accutely aware of my surroundings when I do so and loathe those who do not take others into consideration. There are several spots along the trail to step to the side or stop for a rest. Use those places to set up your gear for the perfect photo op. Please for the love of god, don’t set up your tripod on stairs that are only wide enough for one way foot traffic and then glare at people who accidentailly bump your tripod whilst trying to get by as if they are the one’s in the wrong. Many spots along the trail already require you to wait for oncoming foot traffic before proceeding. Blocking traffic both ways for a photo op is just plain rude. If you just can’t resist the view from one of those spots, come back in the morning or late at night when the trails aren’t so busy for your photo op and be aware of those who might be trying to pass through.
- Pick a home base and do day hikes from one place to another. The villages are somewhat close together and the trains run so often that moving between them is super simple and quick. There’s no reason to switch hotels or Airbnb’s throughout the visit in order to experience all of the villages or to hike between them. You can very easily pick a home base and then take the train to a different trailhead each day. You can easily cover all 5 villages within a few days, hiking a different trail each time and experiencing all of the villages simultaneously. We stayed in Riomaggiore (my 2nd favorite village in the Cinque Terre!) and were able to visit all 5 villages multiple times a day if we chose to do so.
- Pack a swimsuit in your packpack. The most rewarding thing to do after a long sweaty hike is to hop in the bluest of water and cool off. This is the big one that we missed out on. We did the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza at 1pm on the hottest day we were there (79 and sunny). When we arrived in Vernazza we were both dripping in sweat and wished we and packed a bathing suit to enjoy the beautiful sandy Vernazza beach and had to settle for dipping our toes in to cool off instead!