The island of Ustica is located 52 km from Palermo and connected to the mainland Sicily by ferry or hydrofoil, there are also connections to Favignana, Naples and Trapani from the island. This tiny volcanic island is only 8.6 square kilometers and is the peak of a large submerged volcano. It is the oldest island of the Aeolian Islands. Its name, Ustica, is from the Latin ustum meaning burnt, was derived from its black volcanic rock and jagged coastline which features beautiful caves, inlets and coves. The locals mainly live off fishing and tourism, but specialized agriculture such as wine cultivation, vegetables, cereals and especially lentils is on the increase.

The island was inhabited since the Neolithic period until the end of the ancient period, then Ustica was raided by pirates until the Bourbon period when some inhabitants from Lipari settled there. A prison was also located on the island and was active until the 1950s. But today Ustica has become a real paradise for lovers of scuba diving thanks to its transparent waters and its rocky coastline and it was designated as a marine reserve in 1987. The island is an ideal destination if you love uncontaminated marine life.

Places to visit

The small town of Ustica forms around a bay that houses the port. Lanes and staircases lined with hibiscus lead to the center of the village located at the top of the hill. The buildings on the island have been transformed by artists who have painted landscapes, trompe-l'oeil, portraits, still lifes all over the walls. The town is dominated by the Tower of Santa Maria, which is home to the Archaeological Museum and houses prehistoric artifacts that were found in the village near the Faraglioni and in the Hellenistic-Roman tombs of Capo Falconiera. 

At the top of Capo Falconiera there are the remains of a Bourbon fortress and a settlement from the III century BC, along with pools to collect rainwater and a staircase cut into the rock. At the foot of the fortress there is the former necropolis and hypogea of the early Christian era. Near the Faraglioni, in the area of Colombaia, there is an extensive excavated settlement dating back to the Bronze Age which has similarities with the prehistoric village of Panarea, characterized by circular huts with square plan huts. Along the western slope, just inside the reserve area, there is the Secret Cave, or Grotta Rosata, whose sea and land access is hidden by rocks. Beautiful pink limestone algae is encrusted on the inside of the cave, which is the reason for its name 'the pink cave'. For those who love exploring the sea, but want to stay on the surface, the reserve organizes guided tours of the  reserve, where the guide will point out the various organisms and fish that live on the reserve.


The jagged coastline is full of caves that can be discovered by boat. The fishermen at the port accompany tourists with their small boats that are suitable for entering the caves. But you can also reach the caves by foot via small beaches, such as Cala Sidoti, Punta dello Spalmatore, al Faro. There are also beautiful rocky bays and natural pools located along the western slope. The eastern side of the island has beautiful caves such as the Blue Grotto, the Green Cave and the Grotta delle Barche, perfect for snorkeling. They can be reached along a beautiful path in the middle of pines and prickly pears that departs from the Tower of St. Mary, if you continue along the hill side which offers beautiful views of the coast. You can also  take a ride during the day or night on a glass bottom boat that can accommodate up to 20 people. The Grotta dei Gamberi is also worth visiting, along with the incredible fans of red gorgonias near Punta Gavazzi. For an underwater archaeological itinerary check out the lighthouse of Punta Gavazzi, where you can see anchors and amphorae from the Roman period. One of the most popular destinations for divers is the Scoglio del Medico, which due to its shape, rich in caves and ravines even at great depths, offers a spectacular underwater panorama. Another beautiful excursion is the Secca della Colombara with sponges and gorgonia with incredible colors. In 1987 the Ustica Marine Reserve was established to preserve and protect the incredible fauna and environmental heritage of the underwater world around Ustica.

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