You probably already know that the main modes of transport in the Cinque Terre are foot, train and ferry. Add to that the Explora 5 Terre, a new bus system that expands upon (and improves) the already existing bus service in the Cinque Terre. Whereas before the ATC buses in the Cinque Terre traveled vertically (going up and and down within the villages themselves as well as connecting to secondary villages on the hilltop) the new service actually goes between the main villages of the Cinque Terre. At the moment, the stops are as follows:
- LA SPEZIA (on most days there are two stops, one at La Spezia Centrale train station and one at Piazza del Mercato, although on certain days an extra stop is added near the cruise facility)
- RIOMAGGIORE (two stops,one at the roundabout at the top of the village and one on the road just above the castle)
- MANAROLA (one stop, at the church square)
- CANTINA SOCIALE (where the Cinque Terre D.O.C. cooperative wine is made, tastings can be arranged by contacting them directly here, 3 days advance notice requested)
- VOLASTRA (one stop, near the parking area)
- SAN BERNARDINO (one stop, it’s a teeny-tiny village so it’s a cinch to find the bus)
- CORNIGLIA (one stop, on the square near the church of San Pietro)
- VERNAZZA (one stop, near the parking area)
You might be wondering why Monterosso isn’t an option. That’s because the road connecting the villages (SP-51) is currently closed between the villages of Vernazza & Monterosso. Once this stretch of road is reopened, Explora 5 Terre intends to add Monterosso as a destination, thus connecting all five villages by bus for the very first time, ever.
WHAT’S TO LIKE
Why do I like this new bus transport option?
- Because you can beat the crowds (as well as the pickpockets) at the train stations and on the trains. The buses are small (22 seaters) so you won’t find yourself packed like a sardine (or should I say an anchovy?) between large tour groups. Explora is targeting individual travelers who are really wanting to delve into the Cinque Terre and discover its wonders, not the big groups that congest the villages.
- The cooperative that created and runs the Explora bus system (called Manario) is small & local (therefore you’re supporting locals and their entrepreneurial spirit, something I champion).
- The buses have A/C (a godsend in the warmer months) and are promised to be “low-impact” on the environment.
- The views from the bus are vast and panoramic (unlike the train, which runs almost exclusively through tunnels). Just keep in mind that the roads in the Cinque Terre are narrow and a bit winding.
- Most Explora passes can be purchased online in advance (check it out here) but it’s also possible to purchase day of at one of the Cinque Terre National Park Info Points or even on the bus itself.
- Unlike the Cinque Terre Express trains, Explora offers a reduced rate for children (see pricing below).
- When you board, you’ll be given a handy map showing not only the bus route but also trail heads that you can reach along the way. Flip the map over and you’ll find individual village maps with recommended sites to visit and points of interest. In the near future there will also be the possibility to buy an optional audio guide (in English) so you can learn even more about the area.
- Lastly, and quite possibly what I like best about this new transport option, the Explora buses will take you off the beaten path to places that most visitors to the Cinque Terre either overlook or cannot reach.
You might be wondering how the Explora 5 Terre stacks up price-wise with the more traditional means of transport in the Cinque Terre. Here’s my comparison (prices are valid for the summer of 2016):
Explora unlimited all-day pass: €22*
That’s hopping on and off the Explora buses at your leisure for the entire day (the first bus leaves La Spezia at 8:30am and the last return finishes up right around 10pm). And don’t forget that kids ages 0-3 ride free with an adult and ages 4-12 pay a reduced rate of €17.
*Are you staying in authorized accommodation inside the Cinque Terre National Park? If so, have your host contact Explora directly to reserve for you and you’ll pay a reduced rate of €18.50 for the all-day pass!
Cinque Terre Card (with unlimited trains for the day + hiking on the coastal trail):€16
You can find more details about the Cinque Terre Card in my previous post here.
Combined Explora Card + Cinque Terre Card: €26 (a savings of €14)
The Cinque Terre National Park has teamed up with the Manario cooperative that runs the Explora buses to offer this option, which is a lot of bang for your buck (basically you can hike the coastal trail, bus and train throughout the Cinque Terre). I would recommend this only if you plan on packing in a lot in just one day.
All-day pass for the Cinque Terre ferries: €22
Hiking pass for the Cinque Terre: €7.50
Only required if you plan to hike the coastal trail, read more details here. All other trails within the Cinque Terre National Park can be hiked free of charge.
ROOM TO GROW AND IMPROVE
The Explora bus system is brand spanking new (it was inaugurated on July 26, 2016). To get Explora up and running the small, local cooperative had to splash out lots of cash, not leaving much left over to fund marketing and advertising. Explora will rely heavily on word of mouth and the brightly colored buses themselves to attract attention and passengers. I’m hoping that as word spreads Explora will widen its customer base and thus create the positive cash flow that is needed in order for it to survive.
Because Explora is so new, their website is still a work in progress (as duly noted when visiting the site). The schedule on the website is incomplete and can be confusing (or at least it was for me). Hopefully they’ll get that fixed ASAP. In the meantime, to hopefully simplify things for you I’ve taken some creative liberties (please pardon my photography and doodling skills). Below (in green) you’ll find the current default schedule for 2016, which I’ve dubbed SCHEDULE A. This is the schedule you’ll find posted on their website:
Below, you’ll find the red SCHEDULE B (not currently posted on their website but available in paper form once you’re here). This schedule will only run on the dates within the blue box:
So, just to be clear, the Explora bus runs 365 days a year. Unless it’s one of the dates highlighted in the blue box, SCHEDULE A (which is the default schedule) will be running. If it’s a date in the blue box you’ll need to consult SCHEDULE B. The main difference between the two schedules is that there’s an added stop in La Spezia in SCHEDULE B (Largo Fiorillo, which is just outside the cruise terminal) and there are more buses running.
My final thought and probably my best endorsement: If my family was visiting, I’d be sending them on the Explora buses to check out the villages. It’s safe, easy (minus some uphill walking to reach the bus stops, but this is Cinque Terre and that’s to be expected), relaxing and picturesque. What more could you ask for?