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The Stunning Scandola Nature Reserve, Corsica

Do you love boat rides through amazing rock formations and scenery? Then you must visit the Scandola Nature Reserve in France. It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and is a must-do for families, boat lovers, and photographers.

We love a boat ride.  Wherever we go, we like to take boats or ferries, just to get a different perspective and take a ride on the water. We’ve ridden electric boats through canals, cruised down the river on a jungle safari, went puffin viewing in the Faroesferried around the Baltic, floated on a felluca down the Nile, really, we love the water. 

So, getting on a boat for a half day tour of the Scandola Nature Reserve off the coast of Corsica was a no-brainer.  In fact, it was one of the main reasons we were visiting this amazing island, and we couldn’t wait.

In this article:

What to Expect on a Scandola boat trip
Where is the Scandola Nature Reserve
How to Get There

A timeless Genoan tower sits above the port of Porto Ota where you can a boat tour to the Scandola Nature Reserve.

What to Expect on a Scandola Boat Trip

We booked the first outing hoping that the morning light would still be golden. This is the problem with hiring tour boats, you are completely limited to the announced sailings and most tourists don’t want to be up and out of the hotel until after breakfast.

We headed down to the tiny dock in Porto Ota, just Porto for short, where you can pick a tour from a few companies with smaller boats or take a tour, of course.  Our boat held ten passengers which gave everyone plenty of space for taking photos.

When the captain was ready for us to board, all ten of us clambered to be first in line. This is one of the reasons I’m not a fan of tours, but sometimes, like in this case, it’s what you have to do to see a spectacular sight.

Since the Scandola Nature Reserve was inscribed on France’s UNESCO World Heritage List, access to it has been strictly monitored. Only the controlled and approved boats may go into the reserve, and if you rent your own boat, you still cannot land or swim.

Beautiful rock formations in the Scandola Nature Reserve.

We found that going with the captain and his one mate was not only informative, but he knew all the caves, arches, and hidden gems that really made the ride that much more special. We didn’t see any of the rental boats in the harder to navigate areas, and I have to assume they are forbidden from them for safety reasons.

Once boarded, we sat back and relaxed for a few minutes as the boat traveled to the heart of the reserve. The light was wonderful bouncing golden off of the red pinnacles of rhyolite rock that we maneuvered around and through. The scrubland and dwarfed trees were bent and gnarled as you would expect from a windy, deserted island.

Morning light illuminates the rocks of Scandola.

For the next couple of hours, we enjoyed the spectacular cliffs, sea birds, and even a fishing boat here and there. For lunch, the boat pulled into Girolata where we could climb to the ruined fortress, sit on the beach petting cows, or enjoy a bite to eat and a cool, icy drink. We chose the latter, but oh what a view!

We climbed back on the boat and headed off to the dock in Porto with still the majority of the afternoon ahead of us to enjoy more of Corsica’s fabulous beaches, cliffs, and views.

Stunning holes peek through the cliffs in the Scandola Nature Reserve.

Where is the Scandola Nature Reserve?

The Scandola Nature Reserve is located on the western coast of the French island of Corsica. A magnificent land and water nature reserve, it has been inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List and is strictly maintained and overseen.

If you are traveling to Corsica by boat, you will undoubtedly want to explore the reserve on your own, but please take extra precautions, because there are a lot of rules and regulations. Most people will drive to the port of Porto Ota and catch a boat out to the amazing rock formations jutting from the sea.

On a Scandola Nature Reserve tour, you will most likely spend some time in Girolata.

How to Get To Scandola

Getting to Scandola (Porto Ota port) from various cities in Corsica can only be done by bus or car. We highly recommend that if you get to Corsica and do not have your own car, to go ahead and rent one. Buses go at least once a day, but they are slow.

Driving times from the larger cities in Corsica to Scandola:

From Ajaccio = 1.75 to 2 hours
From Bastia = a little over 3 hours
From Bonifacio = about 4 hours

Rugged rocks hide lots of inlets and caverns in the world heritage site, Scandola Nature Reserve.

The entire island is stunning, with plenty of places to stop and see old churches, quaint towns, museums, and of course lots of beaches. We loved our road trip around Corsica, and it made it very convenient when it came to getting to Porto first thing in the morning.

Of course, if you want to really relax and have someone else do all the driving and getting the tickets, you can take a number of tours which we talk about below.

A tiny tower peeks over the scandola nature reserve cliffs.

Do you need reservations to explore the Scandola Nature Reserve?

Reservations are always a good idea when planning a boat trip into the Scandola Nature Reserve, but especially during August. August is a very busy vacation time in France, so there will be more local tourists as well as many foreign tourists.

A fishing boat runs close to land in the Scandola Nature Reserve.

What are the best tours to get the most out of the Scandola Nature Reserve?

The great thing about taking a tour from your hotel is simply the fact that you are taking the stress out of the experience. You cannot really enjoy the Scandola Nature Reserve without taking a boat, so why not take a tour that includes your transportation and tickets. It will be much more relaxing.

Scandola Nature Reserve fisherman.

Where to Stay

We highly suggest that you stay as close to Porto Ota as you can for your trip into the reserve. Here are a few hotels we found in Sagone, which is a great place to stay, especially if you are interested in doing the sunset tour above.

There’s one good hotel, Le California Hotel, which comes with a great pool and has studio apartments complete with kitchenettes. If you want to walk to a restaurant, it will be about a ten-minute walk. If you have your own car, there are plenty of villas in the town, as well, you might be interested in.

A stunning rock formation greets you on a Scandola Nature Reserve boat trip.

More Resources:

Have you been to Corsica and the Scandola Nature Reserve? 

Rugged rocks hide lots of inlets and caverns in the world heritage site, Scandola Nature Reserve.

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Visit Corsica's Amazing World Heritage Site, the Scandola Nature Reserve. We'll tell you how to do it right!

anna parker

Wednesday 8th of April 2015

Stunning scenery - we were sailing in Sardinia last year but on too big a boat to really explore (and we were racing) - your photos have me wanting to go back!

Corinne Vail

Sunday 12th of April 2015

Anna, It sounds like you should have some good stories! Yes...go back. It's pretty amazing!

Christy Swagerty

Wednesday 8th of April 2015

Corsica is just so rad! I didn't know this place existed, so thanks for posting and sharing with #AllAboutFrance!

Corinne Vail

Sunday 12th of April 2015

Christy, Yes, yes it is! I love it!


Sunday 5th of April 2015

Those rock formations are so cool! I do hate having to book tours in advance when I don't know what the weather/conditions will be like - but it can definitely be worth it.

Jim Vail

Tuesday 7th of April 2015

Jess, Coming from Alaska, you really learn that lesson well, I think. YOu would absolutely love Scandola!

Irene S. Levine

Friday 3rd of April 2015

We haven't been there yet but the blue waters and rock formations look so inviting...

Jim Vail

Tuesday 7th of April 2015

Irene, They truly are. GO!


Friday 3rd of April 2015

Cool, love the pics! Never been to Corsica but I'm going in September and can't wait!

Jim Vail

Tuesday 7th of April 2015

Diane, You will simply love it!