Any trip to Sicily should involve exploring the pretty streets of places like Palermo and Noto, eating your weight in carbs at least once a day, and spending as many hours as possible relaxing at a parasol-filled beach or cala.
However, for those of you who would also like to experience the outdoors and undisturbed nature - as well as lazy afternoons sipping Aperol Spritz - what if we told you that there was a simply wonderful way to work off some of those carbs whilst also visiting some of the best beaches in Sicily.
Too good to be true perhaps?
Then allow us introduce you to the Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro - west of Palermo, east of Trapani, and Sicily's very first natural reserve.
It is, quite simply, the perfect place on the island for a day trip hike.
In this guide, we've shared our personal experience and advice on how to visit Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve as a day trip, including tips on the hiking routes, what to bring, how to get there, and our pick of the best beaches within the beautiful reserve.
A Day Trip to Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve
Zingaro is a version of paradise; rugged grey and black cliffs and crags, a tinderbox of sprawling and tumbling greens, and endless views of the turquoise water coves which form the faint outline of Sicily's beginnings.
It makes the soul happy.
However, were it not for the persistence of a group of Sicilians in the 70s, then Lo Zingaro's untouched Mediterranean landscapes and habitats would not exist. Although it is one of few coastal areas of the island to be without a road, there were persistent political efforts to establish one in order to shorten the distance between Castellmare di Golfo, Scopello, and San Vito Lo Capo.
Thankfully, the group was successful in its efforts to not only block the road (they literally had a peaceful protest where thousands blocked the road!), but protect the whole 4,000 acre area as a natural reserve in May 1981 - the first of its kind in Sicily.
Due to this status, it is only possible to visit the reserve on foot, on horseback, or via boat, and to explore it via narrow dusty trails and tracks to and from its gorgeous secluded and (relatively) uncrowded bays and beaches. With no vehicles permitted and very few buildings within the park's boundaries, a wonderfully untouched area of wild flora and fauna has been able to thrive.
So why should you visit Lo Zingaro?
Firstly, it's one of few established opportunities to get out on a natural coastal trail in Sicily and offers completely different experience to hiking Mount Etna. At 7 km in length one-way, it's very accessible (providing you have a rental car) and doesn't require any special equipment. The six beaches within Lo Zingaro are also exceptionally beautiful and the water is divine for swimming. And, as it involves a bit of planning and exercise to reach them, they are not guaranteed to be stuffed full of parasols and people (however, from our experience in July, the beaches at both ends of the park do still become relatively busy).
How to get to Lo Zingaro
Lo Zingaro stretches along the north-west coast of Sicily, and it can only be accessed via one of two entrances: the south entrance (Google Maps) and the north entrance (Google Maps).
There is more parking available at the south entrance, with several overflow car parks, and it's also the recommended start point for those wanting to hike the popular 7km coastal trail. You'll reach your first beach in twenty minutes - Cala Capreria.
Whilst the north entrance has fewer parking spaces, it is definitely the best entrance for those who are not interested in walking the coastal trail but want easy access to one of its delightful cove beaches. From the ticket cabin, it's an easy five minute stroll down to Cala Tonnarella dell'Uzzo. The two longer and more challenging alternative hiking trails (discussed later in this post) also start at the northern entrance.
Having your own rental car in Sicily is the the best way to get to Lo Zingaro for your day trip.
We chose Trapani as our five-night base for exploring north-west Sicily, and the Zingaro hike’s southern start point was a picturesque 55 minute drive from our Airbnb. The below towns and cities are sensible alternative bases for exploring the north and west of Sicily, and are situated within an acceptable driving distance of the southern entrance.
Castellammare del Golfo | 25 mins
San Vito Lo Capo | 55 mins
Trapani | 55 mins
Palermo | 1h 20mins
Note that it's only a 30 minute drive from San Vito Lo Capo to the north entrance, so that's actually the most sensible start point if you're based in San Vito. If it was any easier to reach the south entrance of Lo Zingaro from San Vito Lo Capo, then then park would actually no longer exist as that's the road the activist citizens campaigned against and led to the park's creation!
If you're not renting a car in Sicily, then it is going to be really difficult to reach the reserve by public transport. We found one potential way when researching, but it just doesn't look realistic or convenient and would add on at least 4-5 km extra walking to your day.
The best alternative would be to source a private transfer, or a taxi from San Vito lo Capo. If you do find and use public transport to reach Lo Zingaro, please let us know in the comments so we can keep the guide updated for others!
How Much Does It Cost?
Entry to Lo Zingaro is €5 per person, €3 for children aged 11-14, and free if under 11.
You purchase your ticket from the small cabin at either entrance. Card is accepted, but we'd 100% recommend bringing enough cash for entries, snacks, and anything else you may need in the day. Parking for the whole day is included in the entry price.
The reserve is open April to September, 7am - 7pm, and from October to March it cuts down to 8am-4pm.
Alternative Transport Options
If you are not physically able to hike, or think you will struggle in the heat, then it is still possible to visit Zingaro with a boat tour. In fact, many locals visit the beaches this way, with several boats big and small bobbing away in the water filled with families or friends just chilling out for the day.
La dolce vita indeed.
Boat tours leave from Trapani, Palermo, and Castellmare di Golfo, but it's really difficult to find much information online. There is however this boat tour to Lo Zingaro leaving from Palermo!
What's The Hike Route and Is It Difficult?
The dusty 7 km (one way) coastal hike trail is the most popular option, and should pose no problems for most visitors. It's firm underfoot, clearly marked out, signposted, and only involves a few slight inclines and declines. The beaches and calas (coves) are also clearly signposted off the main trail, and accessible via short steep descents.
In total, we took 2.5 hours each-way; we hike a lot, but we weren't going particularly fast, went down to a few beaches, had several breaks, and were taking a few photos.
However, the great equalizer on this hike is the Sicilian heat. If you're doing Zingaro in summer, then you seriously need to appreciate how serious this heat is and plan your day around it. On our July hike the mercury spiked at 35 degrees by 11 a.m. and it was not pleasant.
There is also very little shade on the route for rest stops (although a massive cave on the trail was basically heaven when we needed a break).
Therefore, in summer, you absolutely need to start your hike as early as possible in the morning. And by early, we're talking before 8.30 a.m; if you arrive here at 10 a.m. in July and think you can hike 14 kilometres safely and have some beach time too, well, we would say you're wrong.
The only downside of the Zingaro coastal trail is that it is not a loop or circular path: so if you walk the 7 kms from the south to the north entrance, the only way back to your car is to turn back and walk the same trail! You are however treated to lovely views whichever side you're working from and toward.
Alternative Zingaro Hiking Trails
There are actually two other scenic hike trails within Zingaro, but most visitors will do the same coastal one as us. If you doing either of the below, you are best to park at the northern entrance.
The Half-Way Path | A more challenging loop path at 9 km, it takes you into the upper part of Lo Zingaro. Hiking time is 4-5 hours, and you can find the route on Google Maps. Outside of summer season hours, special request is required.
The High Path | The most challenging hike trail in Lo Zingaro Reserve and only recommended for "hiking enthusiasts and experts". Distance is 17 km, allow 7-9 hours. Unless you know what you're doing, we would strongly advise against doing this one in summer given the heat. You can see the route on Google Maps.
Best Beaches in Lo Zingaro Natural Reserve
In total, there are seven small coves along the coastal trail, and the difficult part is choosing which one or two you're going to stop at along the way - they really all are quite lovely and the water is perfect at each.
If following our route from the the south entrance to the north, you will pass the beaches in the following order: Cala Capreria, Cala del Varo, Cala della Disa, Cala Berretta, Cala Marinella, Cala dell’Uzzo, and Cala Tonnarella dell’Uzzo. It is absolutely possible to stop at each, but you have to appreciate that this will add several hours on to your trail time, which is really not so much fun in the heat. Alternatively, you could tactically complete the south - north section of the trail and then decide to spend the rest of the morning and afternoon at the beach which takes your fancy most (as you’ll pass them all on the way back!)
| 1.2km from southern car park
| Pebble beach
| Easy access to the crystal clear water, and possible to swim around the corner to a smaller cove
| Proximity to entrance means that this beach gets pretty busy
| 2.4km from Cala Capreria, and 3.6km from southern car park
| Pebble and sand beach
| Easy access to shallow water
| Due to proximity to high cliff edge, much of the beach is in shade after 12 p.m. which means this beach is best in the morning.
| 300m from Cala Disa
| Smallest beach on the trail, and probably our least favourite.
| 1 km from Cala Berretta, and around 5 km from southern entrance, and 3.2km from northern entrance.
| Very tiny cove only accessible via the water
| To enter water, you need to climb down over the large rocks which means that this is not a cala suitable for families, or weak swimmers.
| 6.4km from the southern entrance, but only 1.8km from the northern entrance.
| Very popular (pebble) beach, especially in high season - be prepared for plenty of umbrellas no matter what time you arrive
| Super easy access to the water
| One of the larger beaches
| At just 700m from the northern gate, this beach is the closest to the San Vito Lo Capo entrance.
| Pebble beach
| Very easy water access
| Given the proximity to the north entrance, this beach gets incredibly busy during summer. In fact, it was probably a little too busy for us… We’d recommend arriving early if you fancy enjoying this one.
| The surrounding cliffs mean that you can seek shade at various points throughout the day
There are a handful of small museums along the coastal trail - including the Museum of Marine Activities, the Peasant Civilization Museum, the Crafts Museum. The museums are included in your entry price, and also double up as good rest stops for shade along the trail.
What do I need to bring to Lo Zingaro?
That really depends on what you're coming here for - a hike, a beach day, or a bit of both!
We came to Zingaro primarily to hike and enjoy the nature, and the beautiful cove beaches sort of took us by surprise. However, we and a few other tourists were in the minority as many Sicilians CLEARLY came to Zingaro for the beaches and the trail was only an inconvenient means by which to reach them! Whilst we wore our trainers and trail shoes, flip-flops were very much the footwear of choice amongst Sicilians.
Our main regret was that we didn't plan and pack for the beaches at all - indeed our daypack with the swimming gear and towels was left in the car in preparation for visiting a beach AFTER Zingaro (bloody idiots!).
If we were doing it all over again, we'd 100% take a few things so that we could hang out on a beach for a few hours before hiking back to the car park.
This is what you should wear and bring for a day trip to Lo Zingaro:
Trainers / Hiking Shoes | Hiking boots are not necessary for the coastal trail, but we would not recommend doing it in sandals or flip-flops
Vest + Shorts | Comfortable clothing is best - if it’s high-wicking too then that’s a bonus.
Hat + Sunglasses | That sun is damn bright.
Suncream | And it’s damn strong too. Factor 50 is recommended, and make sure you reapply on the hike.
Swimming stuff | You will seriously want to get in that water.
Towels / sarong | All the beach is public, so there are no lidos (yay!) - bring whatever you need to lie on in the pebbles.
Parasol | The locals all came prepared with their parasols, and as there is zero shade in the calas a parasol will be essential if you want to spend more than just half an hour or so at the beach. You do NOT want heatstroke and have no option but to hike 7 km back to your car.
Scuba mask / snorkel | If you have one, definitely bring it here!
A change of clothes | Andrew always sweats loads on hikes, but after our day at Lo Zingaro we were both utterly drenched. If you don’t plan on just returning to your place in Trapani or Palermo etc, then bring a change of clothes and leave them in the car.
What about water & food?
There are no shops or sellers within the reserve, so you are responsible for bringing in everything you need for the day in terms of snacks, lunch, and drinks.
Due to this, the single most important thing you will bring on this hike is not your phone, your shoes, your parasol, or your suncream.
It’s water. And lots of it.
We’ve already mentioned how hot it becomes in Sicily in summer, and this is so important to remember for anyone hiking Lo Zingaro - you have to bring more water than you think to replace all the fluid you’ll expel in sweat across 14 km! We’d recommend a minimum of 2 litres per person, more if you can carry it.
If you forget to pick anything up, then there is a small supermarket on the road about 10 minutes before the south entrance (Google Maps). There is also an enterprising guy at the southern entrance with a trailer selling all manner of snacks and cold drinks; we crawled towards him at the end of our hike in search of anything ice cold!
Be A Responsible Tourist
We really try to keep our plastic footprint down when travelling (as well as at home), and brought our refillable water bottles for the hike. However, we also had to buy 3 x 1 litre plastic bottles for the hike as we expected there would be no freshwater filling up points (and this turned out to be the case). As you will likely have to buy some bottles too, please try and reuse them during your time in Sicily and also recycle them - the island has lots of facilities for this.
As you will have to bring in everything you want to the reserve, that means you will also be responsible for taking all rubbish out of the reserve, including cigarette butts and food waste.