Looking for a beach holiday where pretty much only Italians go? Then head to Lampedusa! It’s Italy’s most Southern island and around 113 km from Tunisia in Africa. It’s in the region of Sicily.
How do I know only Italians really go to Lampedusa? Because in the six days we were there, I only saw one other non-Italian. In fact, we were in a supermarket and a couple heard me speaking to my (Italian) husband in English and asked where we were from as they were so surprised to see a non-Italian on the island! It’s definitely a holiday that’s a bit off the beaten track for the usual tourists.
How to get to Lampedusa
You can only reach Lampedusa by plane or by ferry. We flew from Palermo, with DAT (Danish Air Transport) and the flight time is just under an hour. You can get there by ferry from Porto Empedocle, which is in Agrigento and it takes just over 4 hours. Note though that Porto Empedocle is 150 km from Palermo so unless you’re already visiting Agrigento, or nearby, your best option is to fly.
Where to stay in Lampedusa
Lampedusa is a fairly small island. If you want to be closer to the town and the restaurants then the best part to stay in is in the town itself, the port area or near Cala Creta.
The traditional houses in Lampedusa are called ‘dammusi’. They are of Arab origin, have a domed roof, small windows and are made of stone which helps keep it cool. My husband really wanted to stay in one so we chose to stay at the Hotel i Dammusi di Borgo in Cala Creta.
The hotel is really lovely, although the rooms are fairly basic. There is no television, for example, and the furnishings are quite simple. There is air conditioning though and a fridge in the room. There is also a spacious outside area.
The hotel is eco certified, if sustainability is high on your list. Included in our room rate was breakfast each morning and also a day out on a boat excursion. They also pick you from the airport when you arrive and drop you off when it’s time to return.
The hotel also has a lovely restaurant, which serves a set menu at a very affordable price – it was around €30 for three courses. We actually had dinner there twice – the food was great. And all the staff were really friendly.
What to do in Lampedusa
Explore the beaches
My favourite beach on the island was definitely Spiaggia dei Conigli (Rabbit Beach). Note though that access is restricted to 500 people in the morning (8:30 – 1:30) and 500 people in the afternoon (2:30 – 7:30). You can get tickets online – for free – but there is always 150 spaces open for people without tickets. We tried to get tickets but there were none available for the whole time we were there. Still, we got in every time we visited. Note that it’s about a 1km walk from the entrance to the beach and there is nothing to buy when you get to the beach so bring food and drink, or buy from the cafe at the entrance.
Another swimming spot I really loved was Mare Morto, which is near the popular Cala Creta. It’s a snorkeler’s dream! There isn’t a beach as such, as it’s all rocks. You can hire some sunbeds though for a more comfortable experience.
Visit the Santuario della Madonna di Porto Salvo
There is very little to do on the island that doesn’t involve beaches or water but one very historic site to visit is the beautiful sanctuary of Madonna, near Cala Madonna. Madonna di Porto Salvo is the Patron Saint of Lampedusa.
The sanctuary is believed to have dated back to 1202 where it was built into a cave. There is a historical document sent in 1569 to Ferdinand II where it states that the cave was divided into both a Catholic church and a Mosque.
During the second world war the sanctuary was bombed, however the statue of Madonna in the rocks was unscathed. Lampedusians then rebuilt the sanctuary and on the 22nd September each year there is a festival which honors Madonna of Porto Salvo.
Take a boat excursion
Fancy a boat trip? You’ll see ‘gita in barca’ advertised all over the island, which essentially means a boat excursion. There are different ones to choose from, such as a day excursion with lunch included or a sunset cruise with drinks and aperitivo. There are also different sized boats to choose from too – from small and intimate to pretty big boats. One even looks like a pirate ship!
As part of our hotel package we had a day excursion included. The boat sailed at around 10:30 am and brought us back at just after 5 pm. It was a fairly big boat but still felt a bit crowded at first, however once we got to the first swimming spot, people dispersed a bit more.
The lunch was really good. We had a selection of starters, including fried melanzane, tomato salad, olives, bread and anchovies. There was then a delicious pasta with fish. We had wine included too and watermelon for dessert. Although it was included in our hotel package we did see the price, which was €70 per person. I thought it was good value for money!
We had also hired our own boat one day, which gives you a bit more freedom in deciding where you want to stop and how long for. However, I get a bit stressed with the anchor and drifting towards other boats that I quite liked the fact that on a boat excursion you can just relax and not think about these things!
Visit the Gateway to Europe (Porta d’Europa)
Its close proximity to Africa does mean that Lampedusa often receives migrants who have sailed across the waters to seek safety and refuge. This is why the island is called the ‘gateway to Europe’ or Porta d’Europa in Italian. We did see a boat being guided in by the coastguards when we were swimming one day, as well as some minivans transporting migrants who had just arrived. I felt sad but also so happy they had made it safely.
In 2017 the mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini, received the UNESCO Peace Prize for her humanitarian treatment of migrants and refugees and her campaigning work for better funding and faster processing of visas.
The Gateway to Europe memorial is a must-see on the island. It was designed by Mimmo Paladino in 2008, as part of a project led by a charity. It features items such as shoes, hats, hands and fishes. It is a memorial to those who have lost their lives at sea in search of a better life. It’s very poignant.
Have aperitivo and watch the sunset
One of our absolute favourite things to do in Lampedusa every night was to have aperitivo and watch the stunning sunsets. I thought Cefalu had the most beautiful sunsets (and they do) but Lampedusa sunsets are something else!
The best places to see the sun setting and to enjoy a drink is on the other side of the island, away from the town and the beaches. Our two favourites were Oh Maaa and Fuori Rotta. We went to O Scia Club once but it was very crowded, took ages to get a drink and just wasn’t really our vibe.
Oh Maa and Fuori Rotta are very similar in that you sit on cushions on the rocks and they serve drinks and nibbles from a little food van. So cute! We loved it.
Have I enticed you to visit Lampedusa? I hope so! If you love the beach, stunning sunsets and great food – you’ll love this beautiful Sicilian island.