I know that it’s been a while since my last post and I must admit that I needed time to write this post on Santorini, Greece. Reason being, I needed to really digest my experience in order to write something of value to our loyal readers (Hi again!) and to the new readers who just googled “Santorini” and this happened to pop up! (Welcome!)
Let’s get logistics out the way….
Athens to Santorini
Traveling to Santorini from Athens is quite simple and the flight is less than an hour away. Taking check-in time and driving time into account, I’d estimate about +-3 hours in total. Another option is to take a ferry from Athens to Santorini. You can check ferry times here . If time isn’t an issue, I’d recommend traveling by ferry because it’s scenic, relaxing and who doesn’t like a good ferry ride? I had limited time in Santorini and catching a flight was the better option for me.
Getting from Santorini (Thira) International Airport to your hotel
Arriving at Santorini (Thira) International Airport was quite an experience considering the actual “airport” is really small. We decided to rent a van for the duration of our stay. The Greeks drive on the right-hand side of the road, so if you feel uneasy driving on the “other” side of the road, then maybe a manual transmission car isn’t a good idea. I’d recommend hiring an automatic instead.
If renting a car is not an option, then do pre-arrange transfers from the airport to the main town. If you’re booked into a hotel, they usually offer free transfers from the airport.
There are loads of taxis waiting at the airport. However, they will try to overcharge you. The recommended rate from the airport to Kamari should be about +-€15. Bare this in mind when negotiating rates.
There are loads of hotels, bed and breakfasts and Airbnb’s to choose from. If you decide to go during the popular months of July – September, I’d recommend booking in advance. Accommodation can get very expensive over those periods.
Logistics out of the way, let’s get into the REAL Santorini….
Santorini through my eyes
Disclaimer: This blog is about Santorini through my eyes and my experience. Santorini is a beautiful island and I’ve always wanted to visit it after watching The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants! It has always been a “bucket” list item and I am so glad I ticked that one off!
Looking at pictures of Santorini, I was immediately drawn to the beautiful blue and white houses, the cobblestoned streets and the beautiful houses along the cliffs. Beautiful to look at, very hard to get around! I burned loads of calories walking up and down those cobblestone streets. In reality, it’s beautiful to look at (from a distance) but when you actually walk up and down those pathways several times a day, you kind of wish you had someone to carry you! There is no easier way to walk up those steep elevations, unfortunately. I would recommend wearing shoes with thick soles and good grip. It can be very painful on the bottoms of your feet. I would also recommend packing light and using a backpack type of bag. It is much easier walking up and down with backpack luggage than rolling your suitcase up and down those cobblestones!
Here are a few suggestions of activities you can do while you are there:
1.Explore the Island and the town of Oia
When you google Santorini, this is probably where all the beautiful pictures of the blue and white houses come from. Narrow streets, beautiful houses and breathtaking views are what to expect! This is a definite must to do! It’s better explained in pictures…..
2. Check out the beaches
There are a few beaches to check out while in Santorini…
- Kamari Beach: This beach is South East of Fira. This powdery black sand beach borders the popular town of Kamari – do not expect peace and quiet. It can get super busy and getting there early will guarantee you a good spot. This is more of a family spot! However, I was reading about this beach in more detail and apparently after the sun sets, the beach becomes a romantic hotspot as they screen movies on the beach. Read about it here.
- The Red Beach – This beach earned its name because of its reddish volcanic sand. This beach is far less crowded than Kamari beach because it’s much further away from the main town of Kamari. There is quite a steep walk up a hillside in order to get to this beach. There is free parking available right at the end of the road leading you to the beach. Do not be fooled by the “pay to park” parking lots. There is a little café / shop before walking over the hill to the Red Beach where you can buy snacks if you need. Obviously, it’s a bit pricier than bringing your own snacks.
- Perivolos / Perissa – known as the Black Beach. This beach is known for its black sand, crystal clear waters and amazing atmosphere. There are various water sports available such as sea bananas, sea – ski and jet ski’s.
- Vlychada and Eros Beach – a romantic beach. Vlychada beach ( aka “ white beach”) is more romantic because there are no noisy bars, just beautiful white sand and stretchers ( not free of course)
- Perissa / Perivolos – The party beach!
- Ammoudi Bay – This bay lies below OIA (where the donkey path is). It’s not really a beach exactly, more like, volcanic rocks by the sea. It’s the most crystal clear waters you will see and an awesome place to swim.
3. Explore the Santorini Volcano and swim in the hot springs
We booked a volcano and hot springs tour which left from the harbor (a long walk down the donkey path!). The boat ride was really nice and it took about 20-25 minutes to get to the Volcano Island. It is extremely hot on the island and I would recommend taking loads of water, walkable shoes (no slip slops) and a wide brimmed hat.
The walk itself is extremely long and strenuous. The terrain is dry and rocky (hence the recommendation to wear comfortable shoes with rubber soles). Once you reach the top of the volcano, a guide talks about the history of the volcano and you can see the sulphur steam emerging from a few of the rocks. It’s hardly noticeable but once he points it out, it’s a bit easier to see. Is it worth the long walk up? Um, maybe the views and photo opportunities – not so much to see “imaginary” steam coming from the rocks….lol. you can read some more reviews here.
The walk down is a bit faster than the walk up and once you’re back on the boat heading for the hot springs, the excitement does creep in. Once you get to the hot springs, they stop the boat about 20-30 metres before the hot springs and you need to jump off the boat and swim towards it. They give you 30 minutes in total. I felt that it was definitely not enough because the current is quite strong and if you are not a good swimmer then I recommend you don’t do the swim. The hot springs are more like “lukewarm” springs and If I asked all my friends if the effort was worth that +-15 minutes of swimming, they said no.
It’s actually quite sad the whole experience really feels rushed because it feels like the tour companies are trying to make more money by taking more and more tour groups out in a day.
The experience would have been better if it wasn’t so rushed!
4. Take a Donkey Ride (or don’t)
The walk down to the harbor (see point 3) is quite long and you pass many donkeys along the way. It’s quite an experience avoiding donkey poo! There is the option to actually pay for a donkey ride to the bottom and a large part of me wanted to try it but I was largely put off by the sadness of it all. Seeing these poor donkeys standing in the sun the whole day being made to walk up and down that very steep pathway. It’s just sad.
5.Sleep in a traditional cave house
Cave houses or ‘yposkafa’ were historically built by island locals to protect themselves against gusty winds. Many of these cave houses have been converted into luxury places to stay with the most spectacular views. These could be pricey but on Airbnb, it’s not too bad if you sharing with a big group. We managed to secure quite a nice cave house for an affordable price and it was well worth it!
The things no one tells you about Santorini:
- It’s all about the money! Sadly, I felt that the island was very “commercial” and over-populated with fellow tourists. The beaches were always crowded, the streets buzzing with buggies, cars and scooters. In other words, not very “Island life” like. There were even traffic jams on the island! Restaurants push to get you in and out quickly so that they can turn more tables. It just kills the buzz of a relaxed island vibe!
- The beaches are filled with rubbish! You imagine seeing these beautiful beaches and as you approach the beach, you are welcomed by rubbish. The water is un-drinkable in Santorini which leads to higher consumption of water from plastic bottles and that equals rubbish on beaches. Just because it’s not your country, doesn’t mean you can litter! It really is a sad sight to see.
- You are not allowed to flush loo paper. Yes you read it right! I was quite taken back by this when arriving at our digs (cave house). The owner advised that loo paper cannot be flushed down the toilet. Huh? What? So what do you do with it? Well…. You basically wipe and drop it in a bin next to the loo. Gross!!!!. But why? The island’s sewerage system is so old that it cannot handle loo paper. It will probably cost way too much to get an upgrade and it doesn’t seem to bother tourists too much. If this grosses you out then this place is not for you. I understood the whole “drop it in the bin next to the loo” concept, but I couldn’t understand why it was an ordinary plastic bin? Surely it should be like one of those hygiene (with a lid) type of trash can (that you find in the ladies loo).
- Donkey poo paves the way to and from the port! If you decide to walk the path to the port (through the donkey path) just be weary of the donkey poo. The donkeys poo as they walk, so I spent a great deal avoiding the poo piles!
- Everything is really expensive! The food, the tours, the gifts, the club entry fee! You can try and budget on food by buying things from the local supermarkets and cooking your own meals. There are a few food places (like take away places), that have specials on certain food items. But all in all, very expensive.
I hope that this blog has provided you with some insight into Santorini and what to expect if you decide to go there!
But don’t listen to what I say, just go see! We all need a little Wanderlust so go see the world!
Deets and references
Images self taken
External images : Santorini secrets