Language(s): Greek, English
Currency: Euro (1 euro = $1.12)
Must-See: Oia, Ammoudi Bay, Fira, Perissa Beach, Caldera, Hot Springs
Let’s take ourselves back to the moment we all fell in love with Santorini when we watched The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants for the first time. It was magical. The water was turquoise, the boys were cute and the friendship was forever. THAT WASN’T STAGED. THAT’S REAL LIFE. Every morning you wake up to a new postcard (Ok, so the crowds are a little worse for us common plebes, but that’s what fame and fortune can do for you. We’re on a budget here, so you’ll have to deal with the crowds).
There are a few main towns within Santorini. We focused on Oia (the older part of the island), Fira (the capital) and Perissa (the one with the black sand beaches). These are three great places to visit if you only have a few days. While I’ll go into each in just a bit, let’s start with transportation between them. The island might only be 12 square kilometers, but you won’t be able to walk everywhere.
No matter if you arrive by plane or boat, there will be a local bus that you can take for around 2.80 euros to wherever you’re going. Taxis are few and far between and start at around 20 euros for a very short ride. Better to conquer the bus system. It’s a bit disorganized, so you may have to ask the driver for the bus’s direction. Simply wait at one of the white huts or signs labeled “Bus Stop” in English and flag down the next one you see. They won’t stop unless you flag them, so even if you’re just asking a question, don’t be bashful. For the most part, drivers and those collecting money are very hospitable to tourists and most speak enough English to get you to your hotel/hostel. Again, don’t be bashful or you’ll surely get lost. Also, you pay on the bus only.
When hopping a bus to another part of the island, just repeat at prices similar to or less than your fare from your port of entry to your lodging. Another great resource in regards to buses is the main bus terminal in Fira. If you’re near there, you can ask a real, live human being how to get from one place to another, which is a lot more useful than Siri on an island in the middle of the Aegean Sea. P.S. The bus schedules posted everywhere are WRONG, so better to ask around to find out what time and how frequently the buses come and also when the last one is for your town.
Other forms of transportation include renting a quad or scooter or even a car. Because the island is full of tourists, I suggest staying away from car rental. They’re running out in the streets like chickens with their heads cut off, and it’s not fun or convenient for anyone. Traffic within the towns can be madnes, so better to rent a quad for the day to get around, if you prefer. I found my own two feet and the bus system easy enough to navigate, so I saved 25 euro/day.
Now that you know how to get around the island, let’s talk about where you might want to go. On our first day, we hiked from Fira to Oia. This gravel/dirt/rocky trail follows the cliff along the sea for 9 km (about 5.6 miles) and offers breathtaking views of the island, its towns and the water. It’s a tough trek, but honestly the best way to see the best parts of Santorini. It’s not well-marked, so once you get to Fira, ask a ton of people along the way if you’re headed in the correct direction. We got lost and ended up walked an extra 5 miles around the island and missed some of the best views. DON’T BE LIKE ME. Ask, ask, ask and eventually you’ll get there. It takes about 3 hours and you should wear your hiking boots if you’ve got them.
Once you arrive, get lost amongst the stark white buildings of this city. Oia offers tons of those postcard shots you’ve been dreaming about, just don’t get sucked into the shops. They’re overpriced and identical to their half-priced cousins in Fira and Perissa.Take your photos, enjoy a coffee, and then descend down the town stairs to swim in Ammoudi Bay and cool off. If you can’t find the stairs, just… You got it. ASK. Once you’re down, turn to your left and continue the path along the sea until you see a bunch of people swimming (Note: a recently rock slide caused part of the path to break. Just know that you might have to climb over a few rocks and that you’re not lost). The water is super clear and that lovely turquoise color. Take a dip or even jump from the rock across the way.
When you’ve had your fill of swimming, head back to the stairs and pay the 5 euros to take a donkey back up. You might think that “you got this,” but those stairs are killer after your 9km hike and then a swim. Also, it’s just a fun thing you have to do in Santorini. If Alexis Bledel did it, you have to, too. Once at the top, prepare yourself for the sunset. It sets around 7:30ish, but you’ll need to stake out a spot at least an hour before. We secured ours at 6:00pm and we were lucky even then that we found one. Everyone on the island will be there, and it’s so worth it.
On the second day, we took a tour of the nearby caldera and hot springs. Because of its nearness to the African tectonic plate, Santorini has both an active volcano (no worries, because there won’t be another earth-shattering one for the next 20,000 years…hopefully) and hot springs. For 20 euros, Kamari Tours brought us by bus to the port, where we jumped on a boat and visited both locations. There is another option to visit a nearby island called Thirassia, but after so much activity, we decided it wasn’t worth the extra 10 euros.
Our first stop was to the hot springs, which are actually more like patches of warm water in the middle of a bay. Think less hot tubs and more a warm dip in the Aegean Sea. Either way, it’s a wonderful experience and said to be extremely beneficial for the skin (Have you seen Blake Lively’s skin? I’m a believer).
The second stop was a trek up the actual live volcano. Be warned, it’ll cost you 2.50 euros to climb up and the rocks are slippery so, again, wear good shoes. Once you arrive to the top, you’ll see breathtaking views of Santorini and the sea. Feel the ground. It’s still hot. You just climbed a freaking volcano. Go you. After your 4 hour tour, head to Fira for some shopping (it’s cheaper here, so go for it) and another sunset. This one is just as great, but you won’t have to wait for it. My suggestion is to splurge and eat at a restaurant along the cliff. It’s magical at sunset.
On the third day, we decided to treat ourselves with an entire day devoted to the black sand beaches of Perissa. The sand is black because of the nearby volcano and is a real site to see. Pick a restaurant or cafe and sit in their lounge chairs all day. Be sure to ask their policy, as most of them require a minimum spending fee. We found one for 15 euros and so enjoyed a couple of coffees and sat for hours. The water is crystal clear and so refreshing. There are a ton of great restaurants along the beach, too, so once you’ve had your fill of the sun, grab a mousaka and watch the sunset over Perissa.
Speaking of food, while in Greece you’ll want to try the following foods: feta cheese, mousaka, baklava, gyros, souvlaki, Greek salad and anything with tzaziki on it. There’s so much more but these are the must-haves. Look them up if need be, because if I describe them here, I’ll drool all over the keyboard and that will be the end of this blog post. Also, while in Perissa, be sure to stop by the Santa Irini bakery. It’s open 24 hours, which is brilliant, and the man that works there is the kindest soul I’ve ever met. You can tell he adds extra love to his pastries, because they’re divine.
Last, but not least, let’s talk lodging. We, being the budget-conscious travelers that we are, chose to stay in hostels during our time here. We stayed in two to get a mixed feel of the various towns on the island. For those of you who want to be close to activity, stay in Cavelands in Karterados. This little town is just on the edge of Fira, so a quick 10 minute walk gets you to restaurants and nightlife. Cavelands is absolutely gorgeous, includes breakfast and has a lovely pool. It was about 20 euros/ night for a 4-person bedroom. If you wish to be close to the beach and a calmer town, choose Holiday Beach Resort in Perissa. It’s close to restaurants and the beach with a great pool (and only a 5 minute walk to that little bakery I mentioned above). It was 10 euros/night for a 5-person bedroom. My only rule is to stay far, far away from Oia if you wish to stay on budget. It’s hectic, crowded and the hotels are luxuriously out of price range.
Santorini is everything that the Sisterhood taught me and more.
As always, comment with questions.
Bye, Bye, Bye,