Getting to Ustica from Palermo

Ustica, an island that's the summit of a volcano, is an unassuming, charming place.  Often overlooked by tourists who opt for the more glamorous Aeolian Islands, Ustica is a doable daytrip from Sicily, and shouldn't be missed. After a week of deliberating, we finally managed to get ourselves there from Palermo.  We reserved our tickets at the Ustica Lines hydrofoil company at the port and left bright and early the next morning at 7am.  It was my first time on a hydrofoil and I was a little nervous about becoming seasick but as soon as the boat took off, my fears washed away as it was a very smooth ride- the only disappointing part of the trip was that the windows were so eroded that we couldn't see out of them.  Ustica is about 60 kilometers north of Palermo.    
The hydrofoil pulled into the port as the morning sun was slowly starting to rise in the sky.   Many of the townspeople were still sleeping and the few sounds that could be heard were the fishermen bantering down by their boats.  I could tell I was going to like this sleepy island. We climbed the steps into the town and searched for a place to grab a quick breakfast.  
I enjoyed a ciambella and a creamy lemon drink as refreshing as a granita but thicker.  After learning that we were from the United States, the man at the cafe told my mother how there was a large group of Americans from New Orleans staying on the island.  Apparently, a significant-sized group of "Usticesi" immigrated to New Orleans in the last few centuries when the island population was getting out of control, and an important connection between the two places remains.
View of the center of town in the morning
I was blown away by the charm of Ustica.  It was extremely clean and you could tell that Usticesi were proud of their island.  So many of the storefronts and exterior walls of buildings had beautiful tile murals.  Ustica is a mecca for divers, snorkelers, and underwater photographers and this fish design was a common theme on the island.  One of my favorite shops was a pottery store featuring this theme where we bought a salt shaker.
A beautiful tiled design of the island
Even the pharmacy was decorated
I couldn't help myself when I saw the Ustican version of a garbage truck.  Many of the streets are so narrow that normal-sized vehicles cannot pass by.
We took a lovely boat tour with a local fisherman, Gianuzzo.  In about two hours, he took us all around the island and showed us at least six gorgeous grottos.  Every time we entered a grotto, Gianuzzo turned off the motor and took out the paddles.  Sometimes we had to lie flat on our backs because the caves were so low!  I loved the blue and green grottos in particular and they photographed surprisingly well.
Blue grotto
Green grotto
Gianuzzo, our captain 
Penne with Sicilian pistachios
Penne with shrimp, tomatoes, and eggplant
Enjoying a cup of fresh fruit before heading back to Palermo on the last hydrofoil of the day


  1. This is so lovely! These pictures made me smile. My family is originally from Ustica, and last Easter I visited for the first time. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I hope to spend more time there in the future.

  2. Adding to my previous comment. It's funny, because I'm also from New Orleans. Also, I just realized you have a picture of GIANUZZO, whom I absolutely adore. Again, such great pictures!

  3. Thank you- I'm glad you enjoyed them! Ustica is a beautiful place- I hope to go back as well. You know Gianuzzo? He was so great- that boat trip with him was amazing. Happy travels!

  4. What is the minimum amount of time you would recommend on Ustica to make it a worthwhile day trip. We are considering going in Sept. 2013, while on a tour. We would only have part of 1 free day to make this happen. Is there only 1 departure per day from Palermo to Ustica? Any help would be appreciated. Also how did you find Gianuzzo?

  5. Hi serpymom- thank you for your comment. I would honestly suggest a full day to make it worth it. The boat alone is about 1.5 hours each way if I remember correctly and I think there are only a few departures daily (you can google the hydrofoil company, Ustica Lines to check the schedule). I think it leaves from Palermo about twice a day (early in the morning, which is the one we took, and late afternoon, most likely for people who live on Ustica to return home). There is also a late afternoon/early evening boat from Ustica which will take you back to Palermo. My mom speaks Italian so she asked about boat tours around the island at the Tourist Office there. They told her to go back to the port and ask for Gianuzzo- he's definitely a character- his son works with him too. I highly recommend the private boat tour with him (or another fisherman) as the grottoes are beautiful, and much better than a touristy place like Capri. We had them to ourselves in July- the green grotto is particularly amazing. Hope you get the chance to visit!