When you think of Santorini, Greece, you probably think of white buildings and churches with blue tops etched into the side of a cliff. Santorini is that and so much more. The iconic images you are probably thinking of are in Oia, only one of the many towns throughout the island. Oia is located at the top portion of Santorini, with Fira about halfway down and the ruins of Ancient Akrotiri at the other end.
Our stay in Santorini began after a 5 hour ferry ride from a port in Athens. We disembarked at the port in Fira, at the bottom of a long and windy road on the edge of a cliff. From here we were driven through the main tourist town of Fira towards Oia, where we were staying. In only a few minutes time it became apparent what made this place so magical. Cliff edges leading to deep blue waters and bright blue skies dotted with fluffy white clouds. The engaging hues of blue are vividly enhanced by the contrast of black volcanoes and other smaller islands surrounding Santorini. A view that can only be described as breathtakingly beautiful and which blew me away every time I looked. Maybe it’s the calm, surrounding waters or maybe its something else, but the overall energy of this island is one of complete and utter relaxation. The perfect place to truly get away, the definition of vacation status.
Our first night in Santorini, we walked to the old castle ruins to catch the sunset. Let me just say that the sunsets in Greece are the best I’ve ever witnessed. No matter where you are on the island, you will see something spectacular and awe inspiring. On a strategic note, it is definitely worth the wait to get to the castle ruins about 60 minutes before sunset to get a spot for your perfect sunset photo. You get views of Amoudi Bay, the cliff side and the sun setting over the water. Its fairly easy to find, as there is a main pedestrian road through Oia’s town center and if you walk towards the edge, you will come right to it.
If you plan on visiting multiple towns or areas on the island, I recommend renting an ATV for the day. It should cost around 40Euro and it allows you to really see the beauty of the island and explore on your own time. You can drive down to the ruins of Akrotiri, an archaeological site for an ancient city that was covered in volcanic ash in the late 17th century B.C. This should only take about an hour to see and costs about 20Euro without a guided tour. On your way back from Akrotiri, stop by the small shop on the side of the road for some locally made Greek wine.
If you come to Santorini expecting beaches galore, you may be disappointed. While there are a few different beaches like White Beach and Red Beach, named for the color of the sand, there is really only 1 beach that is easily accessible and which people go to for sunbathing and swimming. That would be the Black Sand beach in Perissa, located on the lower part of the island. The sand is black from the volcanic ash and while cool to look at, is quite pebbly and uncomfortable to walk barefoot. While you are there, maybe grab a bite to eat at Tranquilo, which was recommended to us by our local guide. This place is right off the beach and they even have seating on the beach if that’s more your pace. Super chill vibe with mostly outdoor seating and hammocks. I recommend the hummus and the pita stuffed with falafel.
Amoudi Bay is another great spot to catch the sunset while dining. There are a few different ways to get to the bay, the easiest being by taxi. However, if you are looking for more adventure on your way to or from Amoudi Bay, there is a pathway of stairs that you can take to the bottom by walking or by donkey ride. If you choose to walk the stairs, be advised it’s a similar experience to an Indiana Jones movie, dodging donkey traps of doo doo left and right, breathing through the mouth is recommended. The plus side is that you will get plenty of spots to stop and take in the view or take your next selfie.
There are only a handful of restaurants in Amoudi Bay, and we chose Taverna Katina after it was recommended by both our local guide as well as the hotel staff. We made a reservation a few hours in advance and were seated right by the water around the time of the sunset, where the view was absolutely amazing. Besides the atmosphere, the food was also great and if you choose to eat any of the main seafood dishes, they will take you back to the kitchen so you can pick out exactly which fish you want cooked. Sort of like an interview process for your dinner. I highly recommend the fried calamari and any of the fresh fish dishes.
Amid all of your relaxation, your biggest decision every day will be where to eat. Let me just say that we did not have a single bad meal in Greece. Everywhere you go will have great food and you can expect mostly Mediterranean or traditional Greek dishes. There was one place is particular that we enjoyed so much we came back a second time. Located in Oia, just off the main pedestrian road you will find Karma. This cozy, secluded restaurant has only a few tables with a warm, romantic atmosphere. You will definitely want to make a reservation for this one, as walk-ins may be turned away until 9:30pm. Our first night we dined on hummus dip, chickpea stew and seafood pasta. We were so impressed that we came back the very next night for the same chickpea stew and to try some of their other fantastic dishes. Finish off your dinner with some ginger tea and you are guaranteed to leave with a full, happy belly.
In terms of excursions or things to do on the island, there is no shortage of activities. Boutari Winery offers a wonderful tour and wine tasting experience. Your wine expert will tell you about the long family history of the winery and locations, as well as about the different grapes used in making their wines. Then you will pair your wines with a variety of snacks and cheeses. The winery also offers transport to pick up and drop off from your hotel, all for a decent price.
Seeing as how you are staying on an island with very few beaches, there are of course many options for boating and catamaran trips. We decided on the Semi Private Catamaran Day Trip with Pelican Travel Services. I recommend the semi private trip, as the max amount of people is 18, and the large boat trips could have anywhere from 40-50 people. The catamaran offers plenty of seating both in the front where you can lounge in the sun, and also in the back if you prefer to sit in the shade. This specific trip took us first from Amoudi Bay to the active volcano where we were able to swim to the hot springs. Just a few things as a heads up on this particular activity. In May, the water in Santorini was really cold and you need to jump in and swim through it to get to the area with the hot springs. Now the hot springs are not actually hot, but more lukewarm since the heat from the active volcano is mixing with the cold water surrounding it. However, that lukewarm water was a welcome escape from the cold. The hot springs water is also an orange/red rust color. This is from the sulfur coming from the volcano. I would not recommend wearing your favorite bathing suit as it will probably stain and your skin will look like you got a spray tan once you get out.
After about 45 minutes your trip will continue sailing around the island to the White Beach where you will stay for a while for some snorkeling and barbeque lunch. Again, since the water was really cold, I chose to stay onboard the boat for this one. From what other passengers said, the water was very clear, but almost nothing to see while snorkeling. No fish, no coral reefs, no sunken ships. So, I didn’t feel like I missed much by not going in.
The last stop on your daytime sailing trip will be at Red Beach, named from the color of the sand due to the volcano that erupted there. This beach is more difficult to access by foot as the pathway is susceptible to falling boulders. Unfortunately, we were not permitted to swim to the beach either, as there was too much boat traffic and they wanted us to stay close and stay safe. The option to swim and snorkel was there, but I had already had my daily dose of shockingly cold water. Overall, it was a really nice day trip, out on the water with a delicious lunch and unlimited free wine. What more do you really need? Oh, and it only cost around 240Euro for 2 people.
My intention behind this blog was for other travelers to find it useful in planning a trip to Santorini or just to get some more information about this fantastic island. I hope your next trip to Santorini is full of relaxation, adventure and delicious food, and that you fall in love with it just as I did. For information on travelling to Mykonos or Yoga in Greece, check out my other blogs.