I love shopping in Cuba

I love shopping in Cuba

Mine is an adaptation from the title of Sophie Kinsella’s famous series “I love shopping”. In fact, it is meant ironically. There is no such thing as crazy shopping in Cuba, unless by “crazy” one means literally going crazy in order to find needed things. It is not even a matter of not having enough money to buy what you need and want: it is a matter of having the money but not finding it!

Before leaving, whilst packing my bag, I thought of carrying two pairs of flip flops. After all, one never knows when those rubber things may break and another pair may be needed. My sister, who travelled with me, said it would just be unnecessary weight. If my flip flops broke, I could surely buy another pair in Cuba and that was it. Or not. I swear I hardly saw shops selling flip flops in the entire island.

We realised on our first day in Havana that shops were different, to say the least. All merchandise is kept behind counters, and whatever you may want to see, you’d have to ask the person at the counter to show you. Not to mention that there normally is a line outside, with a guard letting people in and out and not allowing more than a certain amount inside. Shops are not very inviting. You won’t feel like going in, have a look around, try on stuff, and buy. Merchandise is hardly exposed in a nice way (it is all wrapped). The same applies to grocery shops – most of all for things such as soaps, shampoos etc. Whatever you need, you have to ask for.

I love shopping Cuba, Photo 02

Shopping in Cuba is a hard business

The other problem we had was that there are no real supermarkets, those where you may get lost and where you may be able to find anything you need – from fresh fruit and milk, to meat, cheese, bread, soap, detergents and what not. Cuba knows only shops, some smaller, some bigger, but in none of them you will be able to do all your shopping. A shop that sells bottles may only have soda, beer and rum. If you want water, you will have to go to the one next door. Fruits and vegetables are only sold by small carts in the streets or in the mercado agropecuario. Same with meet – there are small carnicerias, you can see them every now and then, but it seems like there is no meat there. I have not seen a fishmonger in the entire island, which is interesting since we mostly ate seafood. And even if you can find what you need – pasta, rice, or even toilet paper, there is only one kind of it. We noticed that it was a bit ironic to call “Cierro Montegro” la primera agua de Cuba, since it also is the only one. And the same goes for beer, sodas, etc.

I love shopping Cuba, Photo 03

Tienda

I guess that for anybody who is not used to the Cuban system it will take a while to shop for daily needs. When we wanted yogurt, the landlady at our casa particular was so kind to spend an entire day looking for it in Trinidad. When we needed toothpaste, we had to ask her, as we were unable to find a shop that would sell it.

Another thing we noticed is that there are some shops which seem to sell second hand clothes. We eventually realised this was the case. These are called tiendas particulares (private shops) and I suppose owners get their stuff one way or another (I am pretty certain that the clothes I gave away here and there ended up in some of these shops!) and then sell it. But you know, in an island that does not really know free commerce, people have to make do with whatever they have. Cubans hardly make a distinction between female and male clothing. If it fits, they will wear it. So you will see super-cool guys wearing a blue-girl t-shirt tight as a second skin. And you bet they will fix and keep fixing clothes. Nothing goes wasted.

The good thing about having so little choice when shopping is that you will not be wasting time wondering which cereals to buy, which t-shirt you want, and what not. You will have more time to spend with friends, relatives, talking and living life, you will be less consumed by the want for things, since you will hardly be able to get them anyways. At least that is how we – westerners coming from countries with a free market – felt. I suppose it was refreshing to us, but it may be tiring for Cubans who have to live a constant battle to get what they need.

The other side of the coin is that there is a huge black market, where people sell and buy just about anything and they hardly declare whatever money they make to the competent authorities. Casas particulares have to register whoever sleeps at the house, and the number of nights. So they have to pay taxes on that. But they do not register whatever meals you may be having there, and hardly any of the owners give customers a receipt when they leave. Some of them don’t say anything when they “forget” to give you receipts. Some others openly admit that this way they can round up a bit extra CUCs. And the rush to get CUCs from tourists can be seen in many other ways. Drivers will “accidentally” stop for breaks right outside their friends homes, who will rush out to offer drinks, food, sweets, bananas and what not. Surely they will get a percentage of the profits. Same with tourist guides. All drivers and all landlords know tourist guides. None of them will show you any accreditation, and you will have to negotiate the price, and you can bet you will again accidentally run into them on the way to a site and will end up hiring them.

The need for CUC is so desperate that even in state owned shops sales assistant will refuse to give you receipts. This is an account of what happened to us at the airport in Havana. A lady in front of us at the counter had the brilliant idea of paying her rum in Euro. But instead of making a conversion, and paying the exact amount she owed (say it was 20 CUC, so it would have to be 15 Euro), the cashier made the conversion 1 CUC = 1 Euro. She did not give any change, and she kept the rest. My sister asked for a receipt, as she claimed that she might be needing it when cathing our connecting flight in Paris airport. She then went back to the same shop to buy more, and again demanded a receipt. However, she had to argue with the sales assistant who did not want to provide it, claiming “she had already given one before.”

For as much as I appreciate the revolution, I wonder how it is possible, in 2013, to live in a country where there hardly is any free commerce. The poverty we saw, the rush to get the precious CUC in any possible “legal” way leads me to think that socialism, for as good an ideal it was, is hardly applicable to real life.

What is yet more interesting is that the myth of Che Guevara, one of the leaders of the revolution, one of the strongest critics of capitalism, is possibly the main source of money in Cuba. Any goods you may buy speak of him: t-shirts show his pictures, the same goes with paintings, postcards, hats. Bookshops mostly sell photography books of Che Guevara, or his biographies, his diaries, etc. Factories exploit his name by publicizing the fact that they were opened up by him.

I love shopping Cuba, Photo 04

Che Comandante Amigo…

Having read a lot of Che Guevara life, thoughts and ideologies, I can’t help but wonder if he would like the island today, if this is what he fought so hard for, if he would be proud to see that his face is on any painting, t-shirt and good tourists can buy, and he – the very critic of capitalism – is indeed the only capitalistic good in Cuba.

Want to find out more about this amazing country? Read here.

Casa particular vs. hotel? Budget accommodation in Cuba

Casa particular vs. hotel? Budget accommodation in Cuba

Casa particular vs. hotel?

This is a no brainer. Really! Are you planning your Cuba travels? Then staying in a hotel should not even be in your plans, as it hardly makes any sense when you have such a huge choice of casas particulares.

The most expensive casa particular will cost you 30 CUC for a double bedroom with private bathroom. Cheapest ones are around 15 CUC. Casas which rent room to foreigners are generally in the city centre, or immediately outside. They are very clean, and rooms are generally spacious. If you are lucky you will be staying in a colonial house, with rooms facing the patio and antique forniture. Rooms are usually cool, and you will hardly have to put the air conditioning on (which is usually available). When staying in a casa, you will be given keys to the main entrance. You will be able to go in and out as many times as you want during the day. Rooms are not normally cleaned while you are staying at the casa, unless you specifically ask for it. I guess, this is because most of the times owners do not have a spare set of keys. Casas are safe – I have heard only one account of a girl who had her stuff stolen, but when she faced the landlady, all her stuff was returned.

Breakfast is usually not included in the price, but for as little as 3 CUC you will have a full (and I mean FULL!!) breakfast, with fruit, eggs, toasts and bread, coffee, jam, butter, juice and what not. You can also have dinner at the casa particular, and I would highly recommend it. It is homemade food freshly made to order (as opposed to state owned restaurants where food is previously made and then warmed up) very tasty and one portion can easily feed 2. And if you go for the most expensive main course (lobster) you will pay no more than 8 CUC. Owners of casas are usually very informed people, they know drivers who can take you around, they can provide information on tours, timetables of museums, etc. And, what is actually nicer, you can sit down and talk to them, learn a bit about life and culture in Cuba, practice your Spanish, share your stories and experience.

The worst that can happen to you when staying at a casa particular is that you won’t find the room you booked. Casas can rent two, maximum 3 rooms at the same time. People who travel around in Cuba take it really easy, and may suddenly decide to stay in a place longer than planned. Whoever gets to a casa particular first, gets in first, or so it seems. It has sometimes happened to us that despite having booked in advance, when we got to the casa particular we found that it was fully booked and the owner wanted to move us to the casa of a neighbour, friend or relative. It is up to you if you want to accept to stay there or not. Owners will usually insist a lot and this will put you at a test if you are not super-patient – I don’t enjoy this kind of pressure, for example. But at the end of the day, the choice is yours, you are the one paying, and you should be free to decide where to stay and, if you do not like the other option offered, go to a different casa. Beware that Trinidad and Vinales are more touristy than other places and it may take you longer to find a casa by knocking from door to door. But if you have time, this is not a problem.

Hotels in Cuba are hardly worth the price. They are generally state owned, which means that nobody cares about making profits and keeping the reputation high. Just because you are staying at a hotel, and paying 4 times what you’d pay for a similar room in a casa, it does not mean you are getting a better service. They may have a pool, but this is usually nothing special, and the services offered are usually no more no less than what you can get at a good casa particular.

My policy is usually that of going for the cheapest option, and I hardly ever regret it. After all, if I am travelling around I hardly need any of the commodities of a hotel – I am ok as long as I have a clean, decent and safe room, and this is usually the case with casas particulares.

Get a taste of the real Cuba: for more information, click here.

Sardinia dos and donts: what to do in Sardinia

Sardinia dos and donts: what to do in Sardinia

Best beaches in Sardinia: Crazy gorgeous fjords of Cala Domestica

Best beaches in Sardinia: Crazy gorgeous fjords of Cala Domestica

Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sartiglia

Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sartiglia in Oristano – photo courtesy of Marcello Treglia

Things to do in Sardinia

Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sant’Efisio parade of traditional Sardinia costumes – photo courtesy of Marcello Treglia

Where to go in Sardinia: Roman ruins and lighthouse in Nora

Where to go in Sardinia: Roman ruins and lighthouse in Nora

Visit Sardinia: Barumini

Visit Sardinia: Su Nuraxi – Barumini

At the heart of the Mediterranean, Sardinia will make you feel like you are a world apart from the rest of the world. Here you can switch off from your daily routine, without having to cross an ocean; you can enjoy lush nature, incredible beaches, wild mountains, tasty food and a secular cultural traditions. The good news is that although it is almost mythologically described as a place for a few rich people, it can actually be visited on a budget and there are so many things to do in Sardinia that you could spend a year without ever getting bored.

Here are a few simple rules for your low budget holidays. For more ideas on things to do in Sardinia, check my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia”.

Dos

Do book your flight in advance, making sure you catch one during the week (avoid weekends) and playing around with the dates (be flexible). This way you can even catch a round trip ticket for less than €50. There are three airports: Alghero, Cagliari and Olbia, all a great starting point for a tour of the island. Most budget airlines have fights to Sardinia from a number of cities in Italy and Europe.

Do use public transport: it links the main cities, villages and tourist destinations. While a bit slow, it is cheap enough, and once you get to your destination you can walk, rent a bike, or participate in organised tours that offer pick up services. For information on bus and train schedules visit the pages of ARST and Trenitalia.

Do consider a car rental. A splurge if travelling alone or as a couple, but if there is a few of you it may actually turn out cheap and you will have the opportunity to roam around independently. Most well known agencies have stands at the airport and are quite convenient. But book in advance to catch special deals.

Do book your accommodation early. Most cities have budget places and all tourist destinations provide camping sites. Rooms are easy to find in the low season, but during the summer, when Sardinia is at its peak season, it may be harder to get cheap accommodation. Camping sites are good options if you can carry your tent, and they often have bungalows for rent.

If travelling in a group, do consider holiday home rentals: prices are surprisingly cheap and estate agencies and apartments can be easily found online. Considering you will have your own kitchen, your budget will benefit in the end.

Do enjoy your days at some of the best beaches in Sardinia, which all have free access: carry your umbrella, towel and plenty of sunblock and relax for free.

Do go on a boat tour: some of Sardinia best beaches, especially in the Golfo di Orosei or La Maddalena, can only reached this way. Although not too cheap it is completely worth it. Do book a day or two in advance!

Best beaches in Sardinia: Cala Luna

Best beaches in Sardinia: Cala Luna

Do go on a free trekking: hiking is one of the best ways to visit Sardinia. There is a gorgeous path to Cala Goloritzé leaving from the Altipiano del Golgo; a well signaled hike to Cala Domestica; a roughly 2 hours walk from Cala Fuili to Cala Luna; or try any of the trails in Isola dell’Asinara.

Do enjoy free festivals and cultural events. If you are searching for what to do in Sardinia and feeling in the mood for some cultural activity, you will be glad to know that on first of May Cagliari hosts the spectacular “parata di Sant’Efisio”: people from villages all over Sardinia, wearing their traditional dresses, go on a march in honour of the Saint patron of the island (Sant’Efisio). In February, the beautiful Sartiglia takes place in Oristano: men (and women) wearing traditional carnival costumes gallop down a street mounded with sand as fast as they can and attempt skewering a hanging star using their foil – pure adrenaline.

If you are a jazz and nature lover, don’t miss Time in Jazz in Berchidda, patroned by trumpet player and native Paolo Fresu. Picture a whole week of jazz, across a number of villages in the area, with open air concerts (free to attend) and the possibility to stay in camping sites. This is only one of the many jazz festivals here: listening to live quality music is one of the things to do in Sardinia.

Do enjoy nightlife in Cagliari: locals go out no earlier than 10 pm. You can either walk around Largo Carlo Felice, or, for some fresh air, Libarium, in Castello, which has a great terrace and view of the city; or Caffè degli Spiriti or De Candia in the Bastione – the lattest occasionally have some live concerts: look for local bands such as Sikitikis for real fun. Cocktails cost between € 7 and 9, wine and beer are cheaper (around 3 or 4 euros).

Do enjoy a romantic dinner at Quintilio, right outside Alghero, and admire the great view of the city, the bay and Capo Caccia. Sunset is the best time to go. Do book in advance to seat outside.

Do try traditional Sardinian food: piglet on the spit, malloreddus (small gnocchi), mussles soup, fregola (a sort of cous cous made with seafood), pecorino cheese, seadas (sweet fried pastries filled with cheese and topped with honey)… There is a lot of variety.

Donts

Don’t miss Isola dell’Asinara, originally a fishing community, later on a criminal colony, a peasant colony and leprosy centre, and a maximum security jail; it was finally turned into a National Park in 1997. Should you not have much time to sleep on the only hostel in the island (highly recommended!), book a guided tour on a jeep. This will allow you to visit the sites of historical and natural importance, such as the historic jail of Cala d’Oliva and of Fornelli, and some of the best beaches in Sardinia, such as Cala Sabina, Cala Trabuccato and Cala d’Arena. You can also go on one of the many hikes (free and well signaled) or opt for a bike tour.

Where to go in Sardinia? Asinara, for sure!

Where to go in Sardinia? Asinara, for sure!

Asinara - Sardinia

Donkeys are the only inhabitants of Asinara, together with boars, cats, goats…

Don’t miss a sunset walk on the beautiful bastion overlooking the sea in Alghero. The same goes for Cagliari and its lovely bastion or the Poetto beach: they are gorgeous at sunset. You can’t visit Sardinia and miss a sunset here!

Don’t think Sardinia is only beautiful in the summer. It is just as nice in the winter, although weather in Sardinia can be brutal in the winter months. But of course summer is the best season to enjoy the beaches.

Don’t litter: all beaches have bins for garbage and if they don’t, carry your garbage back with your and throw where appropriate.

Don’t forget to try “gelato artigianale”: ice-cream made from scratch. Tip to know it is the real thing: it melts really fast!

Don’t miss a sip of mirto or fil’e ferru: the first one is a strong liquor made of myrtle berries. The second is more like a grappa. They are very much Sardinian!

Don’t miss the archeological sites such as the beautiful roman ruins of Nora, are easy to access from Cagliari, or the many “nuraghe” which are unique to Sardinia such as that of Barumini. Take lots of pictures!

Don’t miss some off the beaten path places, such as Is Aruttas beach, with its incredible white tiny pebbles; S’Archittu, with a rock formation in the shape of an arch, Masua Pan di Zucchero, Buggerru and Cala Domestica, and Porto Pino, famous for its sand dunes.

Sardinia best beaches: Masua Pan di Zucchero

Sardinia best beaches: Masua Pan di Zucchero

Don’t be afraid to communicate with Sardinians, as they are very friendly. They may not all speak English, but they will always help out.

Don’t forget to read my other posts on Sardinia for more information and to ask me if you have any more questions!

Where to go in Sardinia: the North-West and the West Coast

Where to go in Sardinia: the North-West and the West Coast

Villanova Monteleone, yet one reason to visit Sardinia

Villanova Monteleone, yet one reason to visit Sardinia

Isola dell’Asinara and Stintino:

Let’s face it, sometimes we want to get away from it all. Are you looking for where to go in Sardinia for when you feel like staying immersed in nature and enjoying more more of the best beaches in Sardinia? Then, visit Isola dell’Asinara. It is not hard to get there: from Castel Sardo or Alghero, go to Stintino. You won’t have any problem in finding a cheap bed and breakfast for one night. The following morning, hop on a ferry from the harbour of Stintino to Fornelli. My advice if you have little time is to book the guided tour of the island on a jeep (you can look for one of the companies running the tour on the official webpage of the island, which unfortunately is only in Italian). This way you will visit various sites of historical and natural importance, among them the historic jails in Cala d’Oliva and Fornelli, the sanatorium, and the beautiful beaches of Cala Sabina, Cala Trabuccato and Cala d’Arena, where the sea is clean, transparent and full of fishes. This is a protected area so nobody can go fishing. If you have more time, and are looking for more fun things to do in Sardinia, you can go on one of the many free hikes or opt for a biking tour (a bit harder, under the sun!). Finally, Asinara is also great for diving.

Yes, Asinara is THAT gorgeous! Here are some of the best beaches in Sardinia

Yes, Asinara is THAT gorgeous! Here are some of the best beaches in Sardinia

Asinara was originally a fishing community, which later on became a criminal and leper colony, to be finally turned into a maximum security jail which hosted, among others, mafia boss Totò Riina. It was finally turned into a National Park in 1997. The island made the national and international news when, from 24 February 2010 for over a year a group of redundant workers of Vinyls (a petroleum company based in the nearby Porto Torres) occupied the old prison of Cala D’Oliva in a protest to be returned to their job.

If you visit Sardinia do not skip Asinara

Flowers at the jail window: if you visit Sardinia do not skip Asinara

My advice is to spend at least one night on the island. There is only one hostel, in Cala D’Oliva. This used to be a guest house for prison guards and it is rather plain, but the atmosphere is relaxing. There is no kitchen use but meals (dinner and breakfast) are included in the price and are consumed family style. You can also have packed lunches. There are private rooms and dorms, all with shared bathroom. The place is clean and the staff friendly, and you will have plenty of chances to get to know other guests. After dinner, go for a walk to look at the stars and enjoy the silence. In the only bar in Cala D’Oliva, where guests of the hostel meet for after dinner drinks, you will be soon enough reached by Andrea, a goat who will go around begging for salt and pats; you will see boars walking around, a number of cats and white donkeys.

Donkeys are the only inhabitants of Asinara, together with boars, cats, goats...

Donkeys are the only inhabitants of Asinara, together with boars, cats, goats…

Once you (sadly) leave Asinara, since the ferry lands in Stintino, don’t miss the chance to spend a day in one of the best beaches in Sardinia (as well as possibly the most crowded, to be honest!): La Pelosa. Fighting for a few centimeters of sand will be the price to pay in order to enjoy the gorgeous, calm sea. But it will be worth it!

La Pelosa, one of the best beaches in Sardinia. Or in the world?

La Pelosa, one of the best beaches in Sardinia. Or in the world?

Alghero and Bosa:

From Stintino it is fairly easy to reach Alghero, also known as “little Barcelona” for its catalan linguistic roots. Alghero is where to go in Sardinia if you want to feel somewhere yet more diverse. It is vibrant, lively, packed with restaurants and bars, nightlife, it is simply pretty and a must see. Near Alghero there are the some of the most famous (and crowded, but access is free) and best beaches in Sardinia: Le Bombarde and Il Lazzaretto. A bit further away and harder to reach, the gorgeous Argentiera, with its transparent water and its old minerary village behind.

Things to do in Sardinia: go to the beach AND visit a mine, all in the same day

Things to do in Sardinia: go to the beach AND visit a mine, all in the same day – Argentiera

Near Alghero there also is Capocaccia, from where you can access the Neptune Caves (you can walk down the over 600 steps, and then back up, to keep extra fit). This is also where you can go on one of the best dives in Sardinia.

Things to do in Sardinia: diving in Capocaccia

Things to do in Sardinia: diving in Capocaccia

Looking for what to do in Sardinia on a lazy afternoon? About 40 minutes south by car, there is Bosa, a lovely colorful small town on the river Temo. From the Castle of Malaspina you can admire a great view.

Visiting Bosa: what to do in Sardinia on a lazy afternoon - a view from the Malaspina Castle

Visiting Bosa: what to do in Sardinia on a lazy afternoon – a view from the Malaspina Castle

Where to stay and eat

There are many hotels and b&bs in Alghero, geared to all budgets: it is a top tourist destination. Book in advance as rooms sell out quickly. There are also a number of camping sites: among them La Mariposa, Camping Village Laguna Blu, and Torre del Porticciolo.

One of the best activities when you visit Sardinia is going on a sunset walk on the beautiful bastion overlooking the sea, and across the small streets of the historic centre, with its many lovely shops and boutiques. You can eat in one of the many restaurants. For a good pizza, go to Il Vecchio Mulino. If you are in search of a romantic atmosphere, Quintilio is right outside town and has a spectacular view over the city, the bay and up to Capo Caccia. Go there at sunset, for an aperitif or for a light (and a bit expensive) dinner of fresh seafood. For after dinner drinks go to Baraonda.

Less touristy destinations:

Ok, that is slightly an overstatement, but anyways these are some of Sardinia best beaches which are not as crowded, a bit harder to reach but equally beautiful: Is Aruttas beach with its white crystals tiny pebbles;

Sardinia best beaches: is Aruttas

Sardinia best beaches: is Aruttas

Funny rock formations at Is Aruttas

Funny rock formations at Is Aruttas

S’Archittu, with a rock formation in the shape of an arch. In the Sulcis area, Masua Pan di Zucchero

Masua Pan di Zucchero - sunset on the South West coast is a must when you visit Sardinia

Masua Pan di Zucchero – sunset on the South West coast is a must when you visit Sardinia

Buggerru and Cala Domestica (the latter also offers a beautiful and free trekking through a well signaled path) all deserve a visit, possibly in addition to a tour of the old mines.

Where to go in Sardinia: Crazy gorgeous fjords in Cala Domestica

Where to go in Sardinia: Crazy gorgeous fjords in Cala Domestica

Last but not least, Porto Pino, famous for its sand dunes.

Find out more things to do in Sardinia on my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”

Visit Sardinia on a budget: the East Coast and the North

Visit Sardinia on a budget: the East Coast and the North

Where to go in Sardinia for your budget holiday

Su Gorropu and Golfo di Orisei:

If you are looking for some of the best beaches in Sardinia, head to the East coast. From Costa Rei, you can catch a bus (ARST) to Tortolì and once there go to Baunei.There are so many things to do in Sardinia, that the area also offers some of the best hikes in Europe: from Cagliari you can join one of the many guided tours to hike the Gorropu Canyon (the deepest in Europe).

Hiking Su Gorropu is one of the things to do in Sardinia

Things to do in Sardinia: go on a hike!

The trek is not difficult, but it is easy to get lost so better having a guide. For more information, ask the cooperative that watches over the canyon. Make sure to wear appropriate hiking shoes and to carry plenty of water and food. Although the path is often shaded, weather in Sardinia can get pretty extreme and it does get really hot in the summer season. Once you finish the hike, you will be in the area of Dorgali.

You can stop in Dorgali for a few nights, and stay at agriturismo Canales, completely immersed in the nature and with a gorgeous view over the lake Cedrino, and which offers delicious traditional Sardinian food. It also rents kayak to reach the source of Su Cologone.

Kayaking on Lake Cedrino - one of the things to do in Sardinia

Kayaking on Lake Cedrino – one of the things to do in Sardinia

From Dorgali, you can go to Cala Gonone, from where numerous boats leave daily to the spectacular Golfo di Orosei, taking you to some ofSardinia best beaches, that can only be reached via boat or via a hike. There are many hotels and bed and breakfasts and there is also a camping site for travellers on a tight budget. In Golfo di Orosei, do not miss the long, sandy beach of Berchida.

Berchida is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

Berchida is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

From Cala Gonone, you can reach Cala Fuili, from where you can start the free trekking to the beautiful Cala Luna, set of a number of movies including the recent “Swept Away” featuring Madonna and among Sardinia best beaches.

Swept away in Cala Luna, one of Sardinia best beaches

Swept away in Cala Luna, one of Sardinia best beaches

Alternatively, you can go to Baunei and reach the plateau of Golgo (Altipiano del Golgo). From there, you can join together some of the best things to do in Sardinia – going on hikes, rafting, diving in freshwater underground caves, and visiting some of the best beaches in Sardinia. The wild wild east of Sardinia, as Lonely Planet calls it, is the best for outdoor activities. There you can sleep in a wonderful hostel immersed in nature and surrounded by animals left free to roam (there are rooms for any budget, including rustic cabins or pitching your tent, which only costs 5 euro per person per day). It is run by Cooperativa Goloritzè, which is the same that organises boat tours around the Golfo di Orosei leaving from Santa Maria Navarrese (around € 40 for the whole day, carry your own lunch), a number of hiking tours and the beautiful 7 day long backpacking trip “Selvaggio Blu” (wild blue) which takes you from beach to beach in a path across nature.

You can eat in the delicious restaurant of the hostel (between €20 and €30 per person for a set menu which is enough for 2 people, actually – so be clever and order just one and share, you will not regret it and food will not be wasted; or else, you can pay a la carte). There is also a packed lunch service. If you manage to get a tip, get the number of one of the local shepards and go have dinner at his place. It will be a rustic set meal for about €25 (including drinks), where you can fill on his production of cheese, season vegetables, culurgiones di patate (potatoes and cheese filled fresh pasta, which is a local specialty), piglet and seadas (sweet fried cheese filled pastries served hot with honey).

Things to do in Sardinia: jumping off cliffs

Things to do in Sardinia: jumping off cliffs

From Golgo plateau, you can do a number of independent and free activities, as there are hiking trails to some of Sardinia best beaches (calculate that you will be going downhill on the way there, and uphill coming back, but the duration is roughly the same) which you really can’t miss when you visit Sardinia, such as Cala Mariolu, Cala Sisine, Cala Biriola, etc., including what I value as one of the most spectacular beaches not only in Sardinia, but in the entire world: climbing paradise Cala Goloritzé.

A walk in the woods, which will eventually open up to reveal the most crystal clear, transparent water you can imagine. The beach is tiny, a real gem where several sources of fresh water end, making the sea very cold but pleasantly refreshing on hot days. Cala Goloritzé is famous for its 143 meters spire hanging over the beach, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Carry plenty of water and some food, there are no services at all on the route and at the beach.

Costa Smeralda, Arcipelago de La Maddalena, Santa Teresa di Gallura and Castel Sardo:

Going to the North of Sardinia, you can reach Olbia from Tortolì by bus. This is as a starting point to visit the world famous Costa Smeralda, home of some of the best beaches in Sardinia. If you enjoy a good nightlife, stay in San Teodoro, a lively village offering many shops, restaurants, ice cream parlours and bars. There are hotels, bed and breafasts and apartments for rents, and for those on a tight budget even a camping site. There are many beaches that can be visited in this area and, guess what?, access is free in all of them. If you travel with your own car, you will at most have to pay for parking.

You can pick among many: Cala Brandinchi, Capriccioli, Baja Sardinia, Cannigione… and go for a walk in Porto Cervo. Amongst boutiques with prices accessible only to the richest, you can still go window shopping and have a gelato (which, by the way, will cost just like anywhere else). If you wonder where to go in Sardinia for something slightly, make your way to Porto San Paolo and catch the 10 minute ferry ride for a day trip to Isola di Tavolara: nobody lives there, there is just a small hostel and a kiosk!

Tavolara is where to go in Sardinia

Tavolara is where to go in Sardinia

Further North, Palau is where to go in Sardinia to catch one of the boat tours the Maddalena Archipelago, offering the chance to visit Spargi, Budelli, Caprera and a famous beach known locally as Tahiti.

Can you deny Spargi is one of the best beaches in Sardinia?

Can you deny Spargi is one of the best beaches in Sardinia?

For information and prices, you can visit the sites www.giteinbarca.it and www.elenatour.it. Asking locally, you may be able to find a private company and local guide. This is more comfortable and faster (not to mention, there are less people on it) and if you are in a large group you may save considerably – the more people, the cheaper. Calculate an average price of € 40, but it will be totally worth it. Finally, you can rent your own small zodiac (the small ones do not require you to have a special license) if you are up to manouvering it!

Not far from Palau, there is the lovely village of Santa Teresa di Gallura and, near it, the promontory of Capo Testa. The Torre di Longosardo (built around the 14th century under instructions of the king of Spain Philip the Second) is an interesting place to visit, and is found on the outer edge of the village. Following on the same route you can reach Castelsardo, with its beautiful Castello dei Doria, a castle built in 1102, and many other monuments and places of interest.

Check out my post on the best beaches in Sardinia and read “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”