It’s no secret that Costa Rei is one of my favorite places on earth. Located on the south-east coast of Sardinia at about one hour drive from Cagliari, in a region called Sarrabus, this is home to some of the best beaches on the island.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t use to go there. My parents took me there for the first time when I was just a newborn. They were pretty broke back then, but it was legal to camp at the beach and they would pitch their tent and be happy with the little things they had.
Things changed as I grew up. My parents first decided it’d be better to rent a holiday home for the summer. Then they invested in a property, where they still spend about 5 months a year and to which we are all very attached.
But why am I sharing so much about my family here? For two reasons, you guys. First of all, to let you all know how attached I am to Costa Rei. It is my happy place – our happy place, in fact. Secondly, to clarify that I am a local there. I know it inside out. I have seen it change as I grew up and got older. It has no secrets for me.
In other words, if you are looking for accurate and up-to-date information about Costa Rei online, this post is your best bet.
Continue reading to discover everything you need to know to plan your perfect holiday in Costa Rei, Sardinia.
Never take sand or shells from Sardinian beaches. This is strictly forbidden and should you get caught, you will be subjected to a fine. Please don’t take marine starts out of the water, as that means killing them.
9 Things To See And Do In Costa Rei
The gorgeous beaches
The main beach in Costa Rei goes by its very name. It’s a 12 km fine, golden sand and incredibly clear waters. The beach is unfortunately quite exposed to the wind, especially mistral, so when this blows you may want to look for a smaller cove, such as one mentioned below.
There are several access points along the beach, some with (limited) parking lots and disabled access – so perfect for families with children who may need to use the car or strollers, and for wheelchair users. Other parts are only accessible on foot via easy trails – these tend to be less crowded compared to the places that can be accessed by car.
Scattered along the beach you will find various kiosks with a lifeguard on duty that serve food and drinks and where you can rent umbrellas and other beach equipment. These places also organize all sorts of activities such as boat expeditions to nearby islands (more about that in a bit).
Dogs are generally not allowed at the main beach in Costa Rei, though you will occasionally come across a family that has one. If you are traveling with a dog and want to go to a dog friendly beach, you may want to head all the way to Tiliguerta beach, which is equipped for our furriends.
Santa Giusta is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Though there is a beach proper – a lovely small cove that is well protected from the wind and never too crowded – for some reasons people generally hang out on the resorts side, where they can have direct access to the massive rock (locally known as Scoglio di Peppino, Peppino’s Rock), and where it gets crowded beyond belief. I fail to see the point, honestly.
If you really want to spend a day at Santa Giusta, I recommend to either go to the small cove or to only go when the resorts close down. The photo above – where the beach looks nice and empty – was taken at the very end of September!
To get to Santa Giusta, follow the signs to Santa Giusta that you will find near Villas and Santa Giusta resorts. There is a large parking lot and you will have to leave your car there, and walk to the beach (about 500 meters). During the summer months, police patrols the area and fines are given to anybody who doesn’t park in the designated areas.
Monte Turno (Castiadas)
Monte Turno is one of the most scenic beaches near Costa Rei. South of Sant’Elmo, one of the best resorts in the area, this small cove has the most transparent waters and the rock formations on both sides make it a fun place to snorkel and take photos.
The beach tends to get crowded in the peak summer months – it is easily accessible by car and rather small. Make sure to go in the late afternoon to avoid the largest crowds. It is protected from the wind so a good option on days during which the mistral winds blow.
There is one kiosk on the beach called Iki Beach that serves light meals and drinks and from where you can rent umbrellas and sun beds. The only issue with it is that if often plays loud music.
To get to Monte Turno, drive south from Costa Rei along SP18 for about 5 km, until a small sign points you toward the beach. You will have to make almost a U turn, so make sure to drive slowly or you will miss it. There is a parking lot where you can pay for half of the whole day.
Cala Sinzias (Castiadas)
Cala Sinzias is a fabulous beach 10 minutes south of Costa Rei by car. Contrary to the nearby Cala Pira (of which I talk below), the water here is almost immediately deep. The fine sand however makes it perfect for children.
The beach tends to get quite crowded in the summer months, as it is easily accessible, well serviced with kiosks where you can get food and any sort of rental, as well as a lifeguard on duty, and spotless.
From Costa Rei drive south along SP18 and continue on until you a sign pointing to Cala Sinzias. There are several access points. Parking is very limited and you will be tempted to leave your car on the main road. Don’t do that, unless you don’t mind risking a fine.
Cala Pira (Castiadas)
Further south from Cala Sinzias, Cala Pira is a truly nice beach at about 15 minutes drive from Costa Rei, perfect on a windy day. As there is a rather large parking lot right nearby, and it is easy accessible, it tends to get quite crowded. Nevertheless, it remains pleasant and an excellent place for a relaxing day.
The shallow, clear waters, the sand and the Aragonese protective tower at one of its end make it a really scenic place. The local kiosk serves light meals and rents out whatever you may need for the day. There is a lifeguard on duty.
At the end of the summer of 2019, dolphins decided to show up at Cala Pira beach, much to the amusements of those who were at the beach then. The video above, which went viral, was filmed by my cousin and reported by a local news channel. The voices you hear are hers, her husband and their kids.
From Costa Rei take SP18 and continue on until you find a sign that points to Cala Pira – drive slowly or else won’t notice it. There is a parking lot where you’ll have to pay for either the whole day or half of it.
Portu de S’Illixi and Cala sa Figu (Muravera)
I keep hoping these two adjacent beaches never get fully discovered, as even on a peak summer day they are blissfully quiet and not nearly as crowded as the rest. The fact that they aren’t easily accessed, that the road to get there isn’t easily marked and there is a bit of a walk on uneven terrain to get to the beaches certainly help.
My favorite of the two is Cala Sa Figu. It’s really small, with fine sand and water that is as clear at it gets – perfect for snorkeling.
Both beaches are quite secluded so you won’t find services such as a kiosk, umbrellas or even a toilet. There is no lifeguard on duty.
To get to these two beaches, drive north towards Olia Speciosa. After about 5 km turn right onto SP97 towards Capo Ferrato. It will take you about 25 minutes to get there.
Costa Rei is a great place to have a try at pretty much any water sport and activity you can think of. Depending on the wind, you can try windsurfing and kitesurfing, catamaran hobie cat. Wave surfing isn’t possible – although Sardinia is a good destination for surfing, the beach in Costa Rei isn’t a good spot. But if that is something you like doing, you may want to look for a surfing spot that is close by.
Other water activities that you could try include fun tubing and kayaking. If you don’t have your own, you can rent a kayak in one of the many kiosks along the beach.
Diving in Costa Rei
Costa Rei isn’t exactly a diving destination, but there are a few spots here and there where you can have a good dive. The best site is at Sant’Elmo’s Rock, a small rock that emerges from the water and under which there apparently is incredible marine life. Other than that, other diving spots are in Capo Carbonara protected marine area, near Villasimius, and further north towards Capo Ferrato.
Make sure to read my post A Great Guide To Villasimius.
The nearby islands
Not far from Costa Rei there are a few small islands you can see on a boat trip.
The largest one is called Serpentara; it has the shape of a crocodile and belongs to the protected marine area of Capo Carbonara. You can get close to it by boat, but it is forbidden to dock and to disembark at it is a highly protected area.
The other island is called Isola dei Cavoli, a poor transliteration of the Sardinian word “cavurus” which means “crab” (cavoli on the other hand means cabbage). It is located at about 1 km from Capo Carbonara and belongs to the protected marine area of Capo Carbonara. It’s a fabulous place to go snorkeling.
Other than the marine life, one of the most interesting sightings there is the underwater statue of the Virgin of the Sea. The statue, by Sardinian artist Pinuccio Sciola, was placed there in 1979. Boats can dock on the back side of the island and from there you can follow a short trail to get to the lighthouse.
Boat trips that go to Isola dei Cavoli depart several times per week from Costa Rei beach. The best place to enquire is the kiosk you can access from Via dei Gigli. The trip lasts around 5 hours and goes to the island and to various beaches in the area of Villasimius. It costs €45.
Running and walking
My favorite walk in the area of Costa Rei is the one that goes to the lighthouse in Capo Ferrato, through a gorgeous Mediterranean pine forests. You just have to drive towards north until you reach Capo Ferrato to get to the pine forest and then it’s pretty self evident.
For the best views in Costa Rei, walk up the hill to what is locally known as “casa della contessa” (countess’ house). It’s an abandoned building that is visible from pretty much anywhere in Costa Rei. There are several legends about it – including that the countess left during a fire, and that she hid a treasure on the walls (hence why the house was vandalized). I have often dreamt of buying the property and turn it into a nice small hotel – which would have the most incredible sunrise views.
If you are into running, you can follow Via Ichnusa heading north and after the first km of running on the road, you will have a nice trail which is perfect for running.
If you are visiting in the fall or spring months, you may want to go for a hike in the Sette Fratelli mountain range which can be accessed from Castiadas, not far from Costa Rei. Sentiero Italia goes right through Sette Fratelli park. You may want to get in touch with a local guide to help out with trails and organization.
Other easy hikes – albeit some are bit long – include the trail that goes from Monte Turno to Cala Pira; the one that goes from Cala Pira to Cala Sinzias. There also are several trails around the beaches of Villasimius, which will grant you spectacular beach views. My favorite is the one in Porto Giunco beach.
Sunrise and sunset in Costa Rei
Costa Rei is on the eastern coast of Sardinia, so not a good place if you are hoping for a killer sunset. If you are an early bird, you may want to set your alarm extra early to walk to the beach for a gorgeous sunrise. I won’t hide the fact that the only time I did it was once I got back from a trip and was terribly jet lagged!
If you want to catch the sunset, you may want to drive a bit southwards to Monte Turno or, even better, towards Baccu Mandara (it’s about 45 minutes drive, on the way to Cagliari).
The pools of Sarrabus
Not far from Costa Rei, closer to the small towns of Muravera and Villaputzu, you will find a gorgeous wetland known as Pools of Sarrabus which is home to beautiful wildlife. It’s the perfect place to go if you feel you need a break from the beach – but mind you, it’s best if you go early in the morning or in the late afternoon, right before sunset, when chances of spotting birds are higher. You will need to wear mosquito repellent.
To get to Colostrai and Feraxi ponds you have to take the old SS125 following the directions of Muravera. Once you get to Capo Picci, follow the signs to Torre Salinas. Piscina Rei pond is more easily accessible from Costa Rei. Just drive along the panoramic road heading north, and follow the signs.
If you are short of ideas on things to do in Costa Rei when it rains, worry not: I got you covered. I had the exact same issue last summer (in fact, many times) and decided that Castiadas Prison would be a cool place to spend a couple of hours while the weather improved.
The prison was first opened in 1875 and operated until the 1950s. The first prisoners who arrived there were taken in directly from the sea, and had to disembark in the nearby Cala Sinzias – back then, where were no roads connecting this part of Sardinia to Cagliari, as malaria was a real issue.
Prisoners were taken in with the idea of working on the land with the final aim of reclaiming the area and freeing it of malaria once and for all. They planted eucalyptus tree brought in from Australia, which were known for absorbing lots of water. One the area was finally reclaimed, a penal colony was created with an efficient prison that also had a clinic.
A guided tour of the prison (definitely available in Italian, do enquire for English) will walk you through the prison cells, the torture rooms, the backyard. Unfortunately some areas of the prison haven’t been restored yet and can’t be visited.
Castiadas Prison is located at about 15 minutes drive from Costa Rei. Follow the directions to drive back to Cagliari, but instead of turning right to take SS125 continue going straight for a short while until you reach the small square where the old prison is located. Admission includes a guide.
Costa Rei doesn’t have festivals per se, but the nearby Muravera holds a couple of them each year. The most popular ones are the Citrus Festival (Sagra degli Agrumi), which is usually held in March or April to celebrate the delicious citrus fruit produced in the Sarrabus region; and Muravera Carnival, which is held in August and during which traditional carnival masks from various villages in Sardinia parade the streets of the village. It really is a show for tourists, but locals love it too so it can get very crowded.
Other Useful Information To Organize Your Trip To Costa Rei
Where to stay in Costa Rei
Costa Rei has no shortage of good accommodation options. Most people who visit opt to stay at one of the camping sites or to get one of the many holiday rentals. There are various local agencies you can rent from, but alternatively Booking.com is great resource with a wealth of places for rent.
If you are looking for a camping site, check out Tiliguerta Camping Village, the nicest camping site in the area and has the added bonus that it is also pet friendly.
If you would rather opt for an all inclusive resort, these are the best ones:
- Free Beach has been in Costa Rei for as long as I can remember, but it’s been renovated to give it a more modern look. It features a gorgeous swimming pool, restaurants, activities. And it is right by the beach.
- Villas is one of the best luxury resorts in Sardinia. It is in the area of Santa Giusta. It features gorgeous rooms, restaurants and a great variety of activities.
Where to eat in Costa Rei
Eating options in Costa Rei don’t nearly match the beauty of the place. In other words, good restaurants are hard to find. I have tried pretty much all of them and these are the ones I recommend.
CHAPLIN – this budget friendly eatery is close to the beach and serves excellent fresh pasta dishes and delicious calamari. I recommend booking in advance.
SA CARDIGA E SU PISCI – by far the best restaurant in the area, with a focus on regional ingredients which are used with a modern twist. It’s expensive but worth it. Book in advance.
LIDO TAMATETE – located on the beach of Cala Sinzias, this fabulous restaurant has a strong focus on seafood dishes. It’s perfect for a romantic dinner. Desserts are to kill for. Expensive, but worth it. Make sure to book in advance.
PIZZERIA SU TOSTOINI – probably the most budget friendly option, it is on the way to Villasimius, right by the intersection. They don’t take reservations so you have to wait until a table opens up (not ideal if you are with a group). Service is slow but pizza is fairly good.
SU NURAXI – a large restaurant and pizzeria. I can’t comment on the food, but pizza is quite good, and desserts too. Prices are fair but service is slow.
I MENHIRS – in Olia Speciosa, this restaurant with a fixed menu focuses on local specialties so it is the best place to go if you want to try Sardinian food. Book in advance and expect to pay between €35 and €40 depending on the day.
LA BOTTEGA PANE E VINO – perfect place for an aperitivo with wine, cheese and cold cuts.
A good gelateria is located in Piazza Italia. But if you really fancy a good gelato, you may want to make the effort to drive all the way to Villasimius for La Chiccheria. It’s worth it.
As a local, I feel I should also mention a couple of restaurants you may want to avoid. At Oasi pizzeria service is painfully slow. Finally, l’Aragosta – once one of the most popular places in Costa Rei – took a turn for the worst a few years ago.
Grocery stores are scattered all around Costa Rei. A bakery is located in Piazza Italia, but you will also be able to get fresh bread from the supermarkets – there are 3 in the main village, of which one is on the main road (Via Ichnusa), one is called Market Monte Nai but is locally known as Farci and located on the northern side Via Colombo, and one called Rei Market is on the southern side of Via Colombo.
Supermarkets carry fresh fruits and vegetables too. The best quality is found at Farci. Alternatively, you can shop at the greengrocer in Piazza Sardegna.
A butcher and a fishmonger are located right by Farci supermarket.
Further supermarkets are located in other parts of Costa Rei.
If you have a car and don’t mind scouting for them, you will find several local producers each selling their own fruits and vegetables, as well as free range eggs. Honestly they are much better quality than anything you will find in the stores. The best producers can be found in the area of San Pietro. You will have to drive towards Cala Sinzias, turn right on the big intersection and then immediately left. There is a small road where you will find signs here and there, each announcing what they are selling.
Local services and shops
Costa Rei is well equipped with whatever you may need for a perfect holiday.
The only bank (Banco di Sardegna) can be found in Olia Speciosa, where there also is a central post office. However, ATMs are scattered throughout the holiday resort.
There are several newsagents – the one in Via Ichnusa, located immediately where you enter Costa Rei right in front of Via delle Mimose and Via dei Gigli – has international newspapers too. They also work as an unofficial information desk – they speak English and German. The official information desk is located further north in Viale Colombo, not far from Farci supermarket.
Estate agencies are found on the main street (Via Ichnusa) where you will also find a car rental agency; in Piazza Sardegna and Piazza Italia.
The local police station (Carabinieri) is located on the northern side of the resort, in Piazza Rei Marina. You can also call at +39 070 991 6112.
Should you be traveling with your pet and needing a vet, or should you decide to adopt one of the many stray cats that roam around Costa Rei, you will have to drive to Muravera and look for Dr. Gabriele Porcu. His clinic is in Via Roma. Feel free to tell him you read his name on Claudia’s blog. He is a very dear friend of mine, very professional – we spent many years trying to spay and neuter the many strays in Costa Rei. He doesn’t speak English so chances are he will call me to translate – but he will make himself understood.
A hair dresser and beauty salon is located in Piazza Italia and one is on Via Ichnusa.
There are two pharmacies – one in Via Ichnusa and one in Piazza Italia.
Costa Rei isn’t exactly a shopping mecca, and you are probably better off going to the nearby Villasimius if you need to get presents to bring home. A souvenir shop is located right by Farci supermarket. Not far from it, in Via Marco Polo 1, Paderi is the fanciest boutique in the resort. Piazza Italia has a bikini and swim suits shop and a shoe shop.
How to get to Costa Rei
Costa Rei can be easily reached by bus and by car.
Buses leave from Cagliari main bus station. There are several each day. They take about 2 hours.
If you are driving, you have to take SS 554 and following the signs to Muravera, then take SS125. You will have two exits for Costa Rei. Depending on traffic, it should take you about one hour.
How to move around Costa Rei
Unless you are staying away from the beach or want to visit one of the nearby beaches, the best way to move around Costa Rei is on foot. I typically arrive there from town at the weekend, park my car and forget it exists for the next few days.
When to visit Costa Rei
If you ask me, any time is a good time to go to Costa Rei. My parents will say they love it in September, when the crazy crowds of tourists are gone and the beach is a bit emptier. October is perfect as the temperatures are still quite warm and you can enjoy a day at the beach with zero crowds and without the terrible heat of the summer.
I also love going in the winter months, when almost nobody is around. Mind you, this really depends on the kind of place you get. My family’s house has heating and a nice fireplace so it gets warm and really really cozy even when it is cold and raining outside. The winter is perfect if you enjoy long walks at the beach and clean air. But pretty much everything will be closed, so you will have to bring groceries with you from Cagliari, or go shopping in the nearby Olia Speciosa o Muravera.
Other useful information
If you are planning a longer trip to Sardinia, make sure to read my other posts:
- A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia
- An Excellent Guide To The Best Beaches In Sardinia
- Hiking In Sardinia – 14 Incredible Trails
- 11 Amazing Surfing Spots in Sardinia
- A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Cagliari
- A Guide To The Beaches In Cagliari And Its Surroundings
- A Guide To Hotels In Cagliari: Where To Stay In Sardinia’s Capital
- A Complete Guide To Alghero Sardinia
- A Complete Guide To Bosa Sardinia
- A Complete Guide To The Island Of Asinara, Sardinia
- All The Sardinian Food You Should Try