Best Guide To Asinara Island: 11 Things to See and Do (+4 Tours)

Brief Overview of Asinara Island

Asinara Island, located off the northwestern coast of Sardinia, Italy, is a remarkable destination known for its pristine natural beauty and unique historical significance. The island, spanning approximately 52 square kilometers, is part of the larger Asinara National Park, which plays a crucial role in the conservation of the area’s diverse ecosystems and rich heritage.

From a Leper Colony and Prison to a National Park

Asinara’s history is as captivating as its scenery. The island served various roles over the centuries, most notably as a leper colony in the late 19th century and later as a high-security prison. During its time as a prison, Asinara housed some of Italy’s most notorious criminals and members of the Mafia. The isolation and strict security measures made it an ideal location for such a facility.

In 1997, the prison was closed, and Asinara was designated as a national park. This transition marked a new chapter in the island’s history, shifting its focus from containment and isolation to conservation and education. Today, visitors can explore the remnants of these past uses, including abandoned prison buildings and leper colony facilities, which serve as poignant reminders of the island’s multifaceted history.

Best Asinara Tours

Catamaran Adventure in Asinara National Park

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Discover the pristine beauty of Asinara National Park aboard an eco-friendly catamaran. With a small group of just 12 passengers, you’ll explore secluded bays, swim and snorkel in crystal-clear waters, and visit the island’s marine animal rescue center. Enjoy a delectable three-course seafood lunch with wine and coffee on board.


  • Small Group: Intimate experience with just 12 passengers
  • Pristine Bays: Swim and snorkel in crystal-clear waters
  • Marine Animal Rescue Center: Learn about local wildlife conservation
  • Gourmet Lunch: Three-course seafood meal with drinks

Book Now: Experience the Asinara Catamaran Tour

Jeep Tour in Asinara National Park

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Explore Asinara Island’s diverse landscapes and rich history on a guided Jeep tour. Traverse rugged terrain to spot wild horses, mouflon, and donkeys, visit the Sea Turtle Recovery Center, and enjoy a swim at the pristine Cala Sabina beach. This full-day tour includes boat transfers and a bag lunch.


  • Wildlife Spotting: See native species in their natural habitat
  • Historical Sites: Visit former prison facilities and a marine turtle center
  • Beach Break: Swim and snorkel at Cala Sabina
  • Convenient Transfers: Boat transport from Stintino included

Book Now: Join the Asinara Jeep Tour

Boat Trip with Lunch to Asinara

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Experience the untouched beauty of Asinara Natural Park on a unique craft boat. Enjoy guided snorkeling in secluded coves, savor a fresh seafood lunch on board, and learn about the island’s diverse marine life and history.


  • Exclusive Boat: Limited to a small group for a personalized experience
  • Snorkeling: Explore underwater wonders with provided equipment
  • Delicious Seafood: Enjoy a freshly prepared lunch with drinks
  • Guided History: Learn about the island’s marine life and historical significance

Book Now: Book Your Asinara Boat Trip

Sailing Excursions with Asinara Sailing School

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Overview: Set sail on a full-day adventure around Asinara Island. Stop at several beautiful bays for swimming and snorkeling, enjoy a seafood lunch on board, and spend an hour exploring the island on foot.


  • Full-Day Sailing: Comprehensive tour from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
  • Scenic Stops: Swim and snorkel in the island’s best bays
  • Seafood Feast: Lunch and drinks served on board
  • Island Exploration: One-hour land visit included

Book Now: Sail with Asinara Sailing School

The Best Beaches of Asinara island

Asinara is renowned for its unspoiled beaches, crystal-clear waters, and extraordinary marine biodiversity. Here are some of the best beaches the island has to offer:

  • Cala d’Oliva: The northernmost beach with breathtaking sea views, accessible by foot or bike from the village. Ideal for those seeking tranquility and a close connection with nature.
  • Cala Sabina: Located on the northeast coast, famous for its white sand and turquoise waters. Popular for snorkeling and easily accessible by park shuttle.
  • Cala Arena: A hidden gem, harder to reach but worth the effort for its natural beauty and serenity.
  • Cala Sant’Andrea: One of the largest beaches, offering amenities like a bar and picnic area. Calm, shallow waters make it perfect for families with children.

When choosing a beach on Asinara, consider your preferences: for tranquility, choose Cala d’Oliva or Cala Arena; for amenities and family-friendly conditions, Cala Sant’Andrea is ideal; for snorkeling, Cala Sabina is a must-visit.

Top Attractions in Asinara island

Asinara Island offers a variety of attractions that highlight its unique blend of natural beauty and historical significance. Here are some of the top spots to visit:

Cala d’Oliva

Cala dOliva Asinara
Tomi – CC BY-SA 3.0

Historic Village: Cala d’Oliva is a quaint village that holds a significant place in Asinara’s history. It was one of the main settlements during the island’s time as a leper colony and later a high-security prison. Today, it provides a glimpse into the island’s past, with preserved buildings and historical sites.

Former Prison Buildings: The village is home to several former prison buildings, which have been left largely intact. These structures offer a hauntingly fascinating look into the island’s use as a penitentiary, including the infamous high-security prison where some of Italy’s most dangerous criminals were once held.

Cala Reale

Cala Reale Asinara Sardinia
Di asibiri – CC BY-SA 2.0,

Visitor Center: Cala Reale serves as a central hub for visitors to Asinara. The visitor center here provides valuable information about the island’s history, ecology, and conservation efforts. It is an excellent starting point for any visit to Asinara.

Marine Life Exhibits: The area is also known for its marine life exhibits, showcasing the rich biodiversity of the surrounding waters. These exhibits include educational displays about local marine species and the conservation efforts to protect them.

Cala Sabina

Stunning Beach: Cala Sabina is renowned for its breathtaking beach, characterized by fine white sand and crystal-clear waters. It is one of the most picturesque spots on the island and is ideal for relaxation and sunbathing.

Snorkeling and Swimming Spots: The waters around Cala Sabina are perfect for snorkeling and swimming. The clear visibility and abundant marine life make it a prime location for underwater exploration, attracting both novice and experienced snorkelers.

Natural Highlights

Asinara Island is a treasure trove of natural wonders, boasting a diverse array of flora and fauna, unique ecosystems, and rich marine life. Here are some of the key natural highlights to explore on the island:

Flora and Fauna

Endemic Plant Species: Asinara is home to a variety of endemic plant species that thrive in its Mediterranean climate. These plants have adapted to the island’s specific conditions, creating unique and diverse ecosystems. Visitors can find species like the Mediterranean scrub, which includes juniper, mastic trees, and wild olive trees, contributing to the island’s lush landscapes.

Unique Ecosystems: The island’s ecosystems range from coastal dunes and rocky shores to inland forests and wetlands. Each ecosystem supports different types of vegetation and wildlife, making Asinara a hotspot for biodiversity. The coastal areas are especially rich in plant life, with species that are specifically adapted to salty, windy conditions.

Marine Life

Snorkeling and Diving Opportunities: The waters surrounding Asinara are part of a protected marine area, making them an excellent spot for snorkeling and diving. The clear, turquoise waters offer high visibility, allowing divers and snorkelers to explore vibrant underwater landscapes. Marine life includes various species of fish, octopuses, and sea urchins, making it a rich underwater world for exploration.

Sea Turtle Recovery Center: One of the island’s most significant conservation efforts is the Sea Turtle Recovery Center. This facility is dedicated to the rehabilitation and conservation of sea turtles, which are often injured by fishing activities or pollution. Visitors to the center can learn about the efforts to protect these majestic creatures and the importance of marine conservation. The center provides an educational experience, highlighting the threats faced by sea turtles and the measures taken to ensure their survival.

Where To Stay

Staying directly on Asinara Island is limited due to its status as a national park. However, there are a couple of options:

  1. La Locanda del Parco: A boutique guest house with six rooms, offering a more comfortable stay with meals included.
  2. Hostel at Cala d’Oliva: A basic hostel offering both private rooms and dormitories, ideal for budget travelers.

For a broader range of accommodations, you can stay in nearby towns like Stintino or Porto Torres, which offer hotels, guesthouses, and vacation rentals. From there, you can easily access Asinara Island via ferry or boat tours.


Stintino is known for its beautiful beaches and serves as a great base for exploring Asinara Island. Here are some accommodation options:

  • Club Hotel Ancora: A family-friendly hotel with access to a private beach and various recreational facilities. It’s perfect for those looking to enjoy both relaxation and activities.
  • Park Hotel Asinara: Located on a hillside, this hotel offers stunning views of the Gulf of Asinara and easy access to the town’s main attractions and ferry terminal.
  • Hotel Cala Reale: This hotel offers comfortable rooms and a variety of amenities, including a pool and restaurant. It is located close to the port where ferries to Asinara depart.

Porto Torres

Porto Torres, another gateway to Asinara Island, offers a range of accommodations suitable for different budgets and preferences:

  • Il Melo Residence: This residence offers apartment-style accommodations with kitchen facilities, making it a good choice for families or longer stays.
  • Hotel Libyssonis: A comfortable hotel with modern amenities and easy access to the port. It’s ideal for travelers looking for convenience and comfort.
  • B&B La Mezzanella: A charming bed and breakfast in the heart of Porto Torres, providing a cozy and personalized experience.

Activities on the Island

Asinara Island offers a variety of activities that cater to nature lovers, history buffs, and adventure seekers. Here are some of the most popular activities to enjoy while visiting the island:


Popular Trails: Hiking is a fantastic way to explore Asinara’s diverse landscapes. The island features several well-marked trails that offer different levels of difficulty and scenic views.

  • Granite Trail (Sentiero del Granito): This trail takes hikers through the granite formations that characterize much of Asinara’s landscape. It offers panoramic views of the island and its rugged terrain.
  • White Donkey Trail (Sentiero dell’Asino Bianco): Named after the island’s famous albino donkeys, this trail provides a chance to see these unique animals in their natural habitat. It also passes through various ecosystems, showcasing Asinara’s rich biodiversity.

Scenic Viewpoints and Wildlife Sightings: Along these trails, hikers can enjoy numerous scenic viewpoints that offer breathtaking vistas of the island and the surrounding Mediterranean Sea. Additionally, these paths provide excellent opportunities for wildlife sightings, including the island’s distinctive fauna such as the albino donkeys, wild horses, and mouflon.

Wildlife Watching

Asinara is home to a variety of wildlife species that thrive in its protected environments. Wildlife watching is a highlight for many visitors.

Native Species:

  • Albino Donkeys: These rare and iconic animals are one of the island’s most famous inhabitants. They are often seen grazing in open areas or along the hiking trails.
  • Wild Horses: Asinara’s wild horses roam freely across the island, offering a majestic sight for wildlife enthusiasts.
  • Mouflon: These wild sheep are another distinctive species found on the island, known for their impressive horns and agility.

Best Spots: The best places to observe these animals are in the island’s protected areas. Guided tours often provide the best chances to see wildlife, as guides can lead visitors to locations where sightings are most likely.

Historical Tours

For those interested in the island’s rich history, guided historical tours are a must.

Guided Tours of Former Prison Facilities: The island’s history as a leper colony and later as a high-security prison is a fascinating aspect of Asinara. Guided tours take visitors through former prison buildings, including the high-security facility that once housed notorious criminals. These tours provide a detailed look at the conditions and operations of the prison, offering deep insights into this chapter of the island’s past.

Insights into the Island’s Past: Beyond the prison, historical tours often include visits to the remnants of the leper colony and other historical structures. Guides share stories and historical facts that bring the island’s past to life, enhancing the visitor experience with context and depth.

Where is Asinara island?

Location: Northwestern Coast of Sardinia, Italy

Asinara Island is situated in the Mediterranean Sea, just to the northwest of the main island of Sardinia. It is accessible by ferry from Porto Torres and Stintino, making it a convenient day trip for tourists exploring Sardinia. The island’s remote location has helped preserve its natural landscapes and wildlife, offering visitors a rare glimpse into unspoiled Mediterranean environments.

Getting to Asinara Island

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Traveling to Asinara Island involves a blend of scenic journeys and unique modes of transport that add to the adventure. Whether you prefer a leisurely ferry ride, an intimate private boat tour, or an off-road adventure once on the island, there are several options to suit your travel preferences.

Ferry Services from Porto Torres and Stintino

One of the most common ways to reach Asinara Island is by ferry. Regular ferry services operate from the towns of Porto Torres and Stintino on Sardinia’s mainland. These ferries provide a convenient and picturesque route to the island, allowing travelers to enjoy the beautiful coastal views of Sardinia along the way.

  • Porto Torres: The port of Porto Torres offers ferry connections to Cala Reale on Asinara Island. This journey is ideal for those staying in the northern parts of Sardinia or arriving via Porto Torres’ well-connected transport network. The ferry ride typically takes about an hour.
  • Stintino: From the charming town of Stintino, ferries also head to Cala Reale. Stintino is closer to Asinara, making this a shorter and more direct route, usually around 30 minutes. Stintino’s La Pelosa Beach is famous, so combining a visit there with a trip to Asinara can be a great itinerary.

Private Boat Tours

For a more personalized and flexible experience, private boat tours are an excellent option. These tours often depart from both Porto Torres and Stintino, offering a more intimate way to explore the waters around Asinara and the island itself.

  • Customized Itineraries: Private boat tours can be customized to include various activities such as snorkeling, swimming, and exploring hidden coves and beaches. The flexibility of these tours allows visitors to spend more time at locations of interest and enjoy the journey at their own pace.
  • Exclusive Experiences: Some private tours offer luxury experiences with amenities like gourmet meals, drinks, and onboard entertainment. This option is perfect for special occasions or those looking to add a touch of luxury to their visit.

Off-Road Vehicle Tours Within the Island

Once on Asinara Island, off-road vehicle tours are a popular way to explore its diverse landscapes. These tours are guided and typically conducted in specially adapted vehicles, allowing access to remote and rugged areas that are otherwise difficult to reach.

  • Guided Tours: Experienced guides lead these tours, providing insights into the island’s history, geology, and ecology. They offer an educational and adventurous way to see the island’s highlights, from historical sites to natural wonders.
  • Scenic Routes: Off-road tours often include visits to significant locations such as the former prison buildings, secluded beaches, and panoramic viewpoints. The routes are designed to showcase the island’s unique features and breathtaking scenery.
  • Wildlife Spotting: These tours also offer opportunities to see the island’s distinctive wildlife, including the famous albino donkeys and various bird species, in their natural habitats.

Reaching Asinara Island and exploring its landscapes is an integral part of the adventure. Whether you choose a ferry for its ease and scenic value, a private boat for a customized journey, or an off-road vehicle for an in-depth exploration, each option provides a unique way to experience the beauty and history of this remarkable island.

Best Time to Visit

Weather Considerations: The best time to visit Asinara Island is during the late spring to early autumn months, from May to October. During this period, the weather is warm and ideal for outdoor activities such as hiking, snorkeling, and wildlife watching.

  • Spring (May-June): This is an excellent time for visiting, as the weather is pleasant, and the island is lush with blooming wildflowers. It’s also less crowded than the peak summer months.
  • Summer (July-August): These months are the warmest and most popular for tourists. The island sees more visitors, and the sea is perfect for swimming and snorkeling. However, it’s essential to book accommodations and tours in advance.
  • Autumn (September-October): Early autumn offers cooler temperatures and fewer tourists, making it another great time to explore the island. The sea remains warm enough for swimming, and the landscapes retain their beauty.

Seasonal Highlights: Each season on Asinara Island has its own unique highlights. Spring offers vibrant wildflowers and active wildlife, while summer provides the best conditions for water activities. Autumn brings a tranquil atmosphere, perfect for enjoying the island’s natural and historical sites without the summer crowds.

Importance of Conservation and Natural Beauty of the Island

Asinara Island is a sanctuary for a wide variety of plant and animal species, many of which are endemic or rare. The island’s landscapes range from rugged coastlines and sandy beaches to dense forests and rolling hills, each hosting distinct ecosystems. Conservation efforts are paramount to maintaining these habitats and ensuring the survival of the island’s unique flora and fauna.

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One of the most notable conservation successes on Asinara is the protection of the albino donkey, a rare species that has become a symbol of the island. Additionally, the surrounding marine area is part of the national park, providing a haven for marine life and offering excellent opportunities for snorkeling and diving.

Visitors to Asinara are encouraged to engage in sustainable tourism practices, ensuring that the island’s natural beauty and ecological integrity are preserved for future generations. The park authorities provide guidelines and educational programs to promote environmental awareness and responsible behavior among tourists.

Asinara Island’s blend of natural splendor and historical intrigue makes it a must-visit destination for those seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure in Sardinia. Whether exploring its wild landscapes, learning about its storied past, or simply enjoying its tranquil beaches, Asinara offers a unique and enriching experience.

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