We rented kayaks (approx. 5 euros per hour for one person) and headed along the coast. Although the trip was a dramatic one (see Riomaggiore travelogue), the views and experience were amazing. It was a beautiful day and the kayaks were well-outfitted for the conditions.
When needed, the owners were willing to "rescue" us (again, see Riomaggiore travelogue) in a boat and even capped off the day with a shot of limoncello. Because of the service - and the amazing opportunity to kayak the sea - I would highly recommend this as part of an trip to Riomaggiore.
Advice: If you haven't kayaked before, wait for a very calm day. This kayaking was not difficult, neither was it simple with a bit of wind and the tide's changes.
Equipment: We kayaked in swimsuits and sandals. Both are available in the surf shops in Riomaggiore if need be. The rental agency can provide dry bags for the kayaks.
If you have more than a day or two in the 5 Terre, a hike from Riomaggiore to Monterosso. As it's a national park, you must buy a pass (available in all of the towns) for 1, 3, or 5 days. It works for both the trains and the trails. The trail is not technical at all, but is still not an easy hike. It can take anywhere from 2-5 hours. We cruised through it in an hour and a half...but my hiking partner was in a hurry!
There are narrow place on the trail where, if people are coming from both directions, one will have to step aside. Prepare to hear and say "thank you" in a number of different languages!
If you have all day, it's worth it to stop in each village for refreshment and a look around.
Riomaggiore - don't stop at the train station, there are two sections of the town.
Manarola - this is a great town and worth a stroll around
Corneglia - you'll be ready for a rest at the top of the steps that lead to this village - it's the quietest by far.
Vernazza - those hiking in bikinis end up on the beach here! great options for lunch and drinks
Monterosso - we ended here for lunch and some time on the beach - find the free one!
Equipment: Although people will be hiking the trail in all sorts of clothing (bikinis, sandals, etc.), it isn't an easy hike and it's best to have good trainers. Also, the weather can change so we started in windbreakers and ended in short sleeves.
The highlight of a trip to the Cinque Terre is a hike between the 5 villages. The distance from Riomaggiore to Monterosso al Mare is 12kms, and a lot of the trail is steep and rocky.
The walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola is the easiest. It is paved all the way, and the hardest part is probably the flight of stairs from the station at Riomaggiore up to the start of the path. Other than that the path is fairly flat and suitable for prams and high heels. This section of the trail is called the Lovers Lane. The walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola is 1km long and takes about 15-20 minutes, depending on how long you stop to gaze at the view!
The next section of the walk is from Manarola to Corniglia. This section is 3km long and takes about 1 hour. Parts of this trail are again pretty easy, but it is steeper and at times the ground is uneven under foot. The most exhausting part of this section is at the end, once you arrive at Corniglia train station. The station is located at the bottom of the hill, by the ocean, but the town of Corniglia is located on top of the hill....and there are approx 365 stairs to climb up to get up to the village!!
My favourite part of the hike is the section between Corniglia and Vernazza. This is the most scenic part, through varied landscapes - you walk through olive groves and forest, and then along the cliff edge, with spectacular views coming into Vernazza. This section is 4km long and takes about 1.5 hours to complete, though we found ourselves stopping quite a bit to admire the views - not because we were tired or anything ; )
The section between Vernazza and Monterosso is the most difficult. It is 4kms long and has lots of ups and downs and steep stairs. It is little less scenic than the others, but you do get a good view of some of the local vineyards. The beauty of Monterosso makes up for it all, plus the availability of a gelato or refreshing vino bianco at one of the many bars helps to ease those weary legs!!
Equipment: Good walking shoes, water and your camera!
This first part of the Sentiero dell'Amore is not a real hike, but maybe a warm up: it's 1 kilometre long and it takes about 20 minutes to walk it - provided you don't get stuck in a human traffic jam. Everyone seems to want to talk it - with the consequence that the much advertised romantic love walk turns out to be a bit of a nightmare. The views over the cliffs are superb, however... so maybe it's worth to go there early in the morning and avoid the crowds. Remember that you have to buy a ticket to walk it (3 euros in 2003)
Equipment: nothing special at all... it's whellchair accessible, which means that it's wide, flat and easy. High-heels, however, might look ridiculous (and yet we saw so many people wearing them)
Kayaking with a mixed group of French, Italian, and American friends was hilarious! After about 3 spills, the Italians got the hang of it and we were off...
Equipment: Hard-soled shoes like Tevas or Aqua Socks. Docking the canoes on hidden beaches is fun, but can be a bloody experience after having to walk over the sharp rocks.
Also, it doesn't hurt to carry a lifejacket in the boat (even if you're too cool to wear it).