TRAVELING IN SICILY
Let me start out by saying: traveling in Sicily for the first time can be tough. Luckily, I had someone with me who was very familiar with the roads, the customs, and the language, or else I don’t know if I would’ve made it back in one piece!
I like to think of Sicily as a place of untapped potential. It is undoubtedly a beautiful island with picturesque landscapes, ancient historical sights, and glistening blue waters, however, it does struggle at times to be tourist friendly.
Here are some of my top Tips if you plan on visiting Sicily soon:
Ok, the drivers in Sicily are crayyy. I found that a lot of the time they don’t obey basic driving rules, speed limits, or stop signs (“Stoptionals” as I like to call them.)
Drivers in Sicily will pass you on the main roads if you’re going too slow. Although, I have to say, passing is actually very useful at times, and drivers in Sicily are very courteous to pull to the right and slow down to allow you to pass them, something I wish American drivers would learn to do more.
Passing of slow cars is also a necessity while traveling in Sicily because most of the main roads spanning across the island are one-lane “highways” and you could be stuck for hours behind a slow driver if you don’t work up the courage to pass.
RENTING A CAR
If you end up renting a car here, please be sure you are proficient at driving a manual transmission. This is not the place to hone your skills from 10 years ago when your friend let you borrow their stick shift in high school. The streets are narrow, steep, bumpy, and you will have to stop abruptly due to all the crazy drivers. So be prepared!
When it comes to cars in Sicily, size also matters. The smaller the better! Some of the streets in the older towns are so narrow that barely a single car width can fit through. If you go for that big SUV rental you may have trouble navigating through some tight areas of the cities (pop in those side view mirrors, everyone!)
As you may have heard, Sicily is on a time schedule all of their own. The sooner you learn to get on their clock the easier it will be to efficiently plan your day.
Especially in the summers, most stores are closed from 1pm-5pm in the afternoons. During this time, everyone comes home from work to eat a big meal (lunch is their largest meal of the day-comparable to a dinner in the US) and take a nap. Yes, that’s right. Just as in some parts of Spain, people actually go home and take a 2-3 hour nap in the middle of the day. Lucky them!
During this time the whole town is quiet. There are no kids screaming or playing outdoors. All of the shops are closed including restaurants, banks, grocery stores, gas stations, and most other retail locations.
In some touristy areas this might not be the case, but I can tell you in the smaller towns it is 100% accurate. A local actually described it to me as equivalent to our 1am-4am time period in the US, when everything is quiet and it’s time to sleep.
The stores do open up around 5-6pm (ish) and stay open until 8pm or later. But just don’t plan on them re-opening when they say they will.
We arrived at a store just before 5pm and even though the owners were sitting in their cars watching us, they didn’t budge until 5:15 and then proceeded to take another 10 minutes to open their doors.
In Sicily, time is just not of the essence.
But, if you plan your day accordingly (get your errands and shopping done in the mornings) and avoid the down times, you won’t run into any issues trying to coordinate activities during your stay.
This goes hand-in-hand with driving in Sicily. Besides the drivers being crazy, the roads are also pretty sketch.
Sometimes GPS works well, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all.
For instance, on our drive from the Catania airport to the beach town where we stayed, we were instructed to follow a road called “Unnamed Road” for about a half hour. If this was a small dirt path I could understand it not having a name, but this was a major roadway.
Luckily, we knew where we were going so it didn’t affect us, but as a novice driver in Sicily I could see how it would be a major problem.
If you plan on doing day trips while traveling in Sicily, driving directions on secondary roads can also be a little tough to navigate.
Even though you may have a GPS route laid out in front of you, there are tons of roundabouts and even more signs inside them pointing in all different directions (see above photo!). Combine this with aggressive drivers nosing their way into your roundabout lane, and you have a recipe for disaster.
If you have a passenger, try to have them act as a navigator for signage or rogue vehicles coming your way.
I do not speak Italian or Sicilian, so I cannot “speak” from experience here. I can only go by what others tell me, and they tell me this:
Just because you speak Italian does not mean you will understand Sicilian.
Sicilian is a dialect of Italian, and some even consider it a language all on its own. It has words, phrases and pronunciation that are very different from Italian.
Also, very few people in Sicily speak English proficiently. I found this very different from the rest of Europe where you could get by on knowing a few phrases in their language, and relying upon them knowing enough English to understand the rest.
This can make communication in Sicily a little tricky, and what makes it even harder is that Google Translate does not support Sicilian as its own language, so you can’t even type in a phrase and translate it for them to read.
If you are not traveling with anyone who speaks Sicilian, I recommend at least downloading an Italian translation app on your phone, and hopefully you will be able to communicate a little bit easier. Nowadays, many Sicilians are adapting to understanding the mainland language due to TV and radio shows that are locally broadcast there.
*Pro Travel Tip: If you have any serious food allergies, I recommend typing the sentence “I am allergic to ______” into your phone and translating it to the native language of the country you are visiting. When you visit a restaurant and are not sure about a menu item, you can show the server your phone to alleviate any miscommunication. This has been a lifesaver (literally) on more than one occasion!
In many of the shops in the touristy towns you can negotiate your way to better prices. I was fortunate enough to be with family and friends who spoke Sicilian, which helped greatly in this situation.
However, I visited one of the same shops the next day and she was ready to charge me a higher price than the day before. I promptly corrected her, and she was fine with it, so it just goes to show you what a little negotiating can do.
EAT ALL THE FOODS
It is no surprise that Sicilians love to eat! There is so much delicious food in Sicily; I recommend you lose about 5 lbs before you go, because you will definitely be gaining that back (and then some!)
As I mentioned before, lunch is their largest meal of the day. It typically includes 3-4 courses, including a meat or fish course, pasta course, salad course, fruit course, and occasionally dessert.
Lunch is usually served between 1-2pm, followed by a mid-day nap. It’s really an ideal kind of life. *sigh*
Click here to read my post on the Top 10 foods you must eat while in Sicily!
Since everyone naps during the day, they are usually wide awake late into the night. Dinner is rarely served before 9pm, and it’s not unusual to be eating at 11:30 at night.
After dinner, everyone usually strolls over to the piazzas for socializing, people watching, and eating some gelato.
It is also not unusual to see little kids running around the piazza (and even in the bars and clubs!) until 2-3 in the morning.
Cell phone service, wireless internet service, and even land line phone service in Sicily is spotty at best. If you need to be connected to the internet to check work emails (or to Snapchat your favorite pics), I recommend getting a wireless hot spot device such as a TEP.
The TEP device was super simple to set up, only two clicks to connect my phone and I was ready to go. The TEP is also very affordable and starts at under $10 a day for unlimited data usage. (You can also get 15% off by using this link and entering code: TEPON)
You can connect up to 5 devices per day so it worked out perfectly for all of our phones and laptops. We even shared it with a couple of local residents and they were loving it!
I was not expecting much from the TEP, particularly because Sicily is notorious for poor communication signals, but I was pleasantly surprised at the level of service we had at all times, and especially in the car.
The TEP really came in handy in the car while traveling in Sicily because we could use it to power the GPS on our phones, allowing us to forego paying a daily fee for a GPS unit through the rental car company.
I would, however, recommend carrying an external battery charger and a car charger so you can keep the device fully powered at all times.
So, all in all, Sicily is a beautiful place filled with rich history and beautiful scenery. If you plan accordingly, do a little research, come with an appetite, and don’t go in with expectations of it being anything like mainland Italy, you’ll have a great time!
Have you ever been to Sicily? What are your tips for traveling in Sicily? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!