Have you ever been to a Greek diner and been absolutely memorized by those beautiful panoramas of Greece on the walls; but also thought to yourself that this is probably photoshopped or somehow enhanced. Well it’s not, and it wasn’t. Greece is literally THAT beautiful! Imagine the bluest skies you have ever seen in your entire life contrasted against the whitest buildings, creating a magically enchanting visit. You won’t have to photoshop a single shot from Santorini.
It’s a trip of a lifetime that may be challenging to get to, but worth the effort in the end.
We chose the low-cost carrier RyanAir. Our flight route was Wroclaw (we were travelling with family from Poland) to Chania (Crete) (dropping off family in Crete) to Athens (required stop over since there are no direct flights from Crete) to Santorini.
This flight cost us around $135 for the total itinerary one way. *But, be aware of low cost airlines* We ended up missing our Crete to Athens RyanAir connection due to a delay out of Wroclaw. When we finally landed in Crete we were forced to book an alternate flight on Aegean Air (which we booked right at the airport 20 minutes prior to the flight). We were ridiculously lucky. Had we tried to do this during high season we would have been stranded in Crete or Athens for three days (not the worst place to be stranded, but not Santorini either). In the end, the delay caused us to miss the last flight from Athens to Santorini, and we had to sleep in the Athens Airport overnight, and then book a new flight from Athens to Santorini in the morning with RyanAir. So as a point of reference, it is important to note that a number of the low-cost airlines (i.e. Ryan Air) do not consider multiple legs as a ticketed journey. Their flights, as they state, are point-to-point. So if one of the legs is delayed in a multi-leg itinerary, you will lose out on your money and RyanAir will not rebook you on a different flight for free. This is the main caveat of traveling with a low-cost airline. But once you know your restrictions, you can plan ahead.
There are a number of low-cost airlines that fly into Santorini from all over Europe. Here are some of those airlines: Aegean Air, easyJet, EuroWings, Olympic Air, Ryan Air, Norwegian Air, Thomas Cook Airlines and Vueling.
Once we arrived at the Santorini (Thira) International Airport, we decided to take a local bus to our hotel. The bus does not go straight to your hotel, instead, it heads to a transfer station. We could have taken another bus at that point to get us to our final destination, Imerovigli, but we decided to hike through the pathway along the cliffs to enjoy the view and get our bearings on the area, which we quickly figured out. The bus is an affordable way to get around the island, however, it does not run late into the night. If you decide to party you will have to find alternative transportation either walking or taking a cab (both relatively cheap options).
From the bus transfer station, we walked into Fira up a small hill and basked in the glorious morning sun and beautiful cliff views of the Aegean Sea. We also decided to walk the remaining 2.4 km from Fira to our hotel, Prekas Apartments in Imerovigli, with very heavy bags strapped to our backs. Although this option may sound nice to some people (we thought it was a great idea at the time – we are able bodied, but clearly the lack of sleep from the night before clouded our better judgment), we immediately regretted this decision about half way in. It is a painful journey up and down stairs, through narrow and winding corridors, and at times we had to venture off the main walking path since it becomes private in certain areas; next time we will take the bus transfer.
Walking for us is not usually a problem, but Santorini is an especially tough walk since it seems you are always walking uphill on an extremely uneven and old stone pathway (we blew out a flip flop on our quick 2-night trip).
PRO TIP: Wear sneakers.
We decided to stay in Imerovigli, because according to “Santorini Dave”, we would have one of the best sunset views of Nea Kameni (the remaining crater of the blown volcano) on the Caldera. Also, as an extra added bonus, Imerovigli is extremely quiet. In the end, we decided if we wanted to party, Fira was either a 2.4 km walk along one of the most beautiful views in the world (this time without bags), or a short cab ride.
STAY: We chose Prekas Apartments and their Captains Cave Spa Double room for its price and amenities. It had its own private balcony, a spa tub in the bathroom, and the most unbelievable view right outside the front door.
Prekas is a privately owned family business. Their service and hospitality is exceptional; nothing is missed. They greet you with a welcome drink when you check in (either a local wine or beer) that is swiftly brought to your room once you get settled. We also found a bottle of Santorini wine on the kitchenette that we uncorked for our first Santorini sunset. The family was incredibly accommodating with all our questions, giving us excellent recommendations for food and drink, and also arranged a shuttle back to the airport on our last night.
Prekas was also very close to a local grocery store where we were able to pick up all of the fixings for a great sunset dinner outside of our traditional Santorini cave dwelling. The grocery stores sell everything from olive oil to beer and wine.
We were only in Santorini for 2 nights (thanks to our flight delay), but my wife and I are notorious for traveling hard and living easy.
On our first full day in Santorini we made the Fira to Oia cliff walk starting from Imerovigli. If you are going to do this hike you should take lots of water (hydrating before you start out), sunblock (we trekked directly into the high noon sun), sturdy hiking shoes with support (this is not a flip flop walk, in fact most of the trek is on loose gravel) and a snack. It is about 8 km starting from Imerovigli and takes around 2 hours. There are two cafes on the trail where you can stop for food, drink or a bathroom break. The trail is a fantastic trek full of tremendous views, but it is not for everyone. If you are not in shape or have a hard time walking, this will be a difficult journey.
However, if you are the adventurous type there is not a more rewarding way to get to Oia for the first time than the cliffside trail.
Once we arrived in Oia we realized why we didn’t stay there. Oia is definitely the high-end district of Santorini, there is no hiding it. It was way too busy and touristy for my liking. If you are honeymooning I would consider staying in Oia for the luxury hotels and amenities, but if you are looking for quiet and solitude it will be hard to find it here unless your hotel provides extreme seclusion.
After purchasing a large bottle of water and sunscreen (FYI bottled water in Santorini is extremely inexpensive; sunscreen is not), we headed down to Amoudi Bay for a refreshing swim after a long hot walk. If you have aquatic shoes I would suggest bringing them; the landscape surrounding the swimming bay is rugged lava rocks. Both my wife and I had our feet torn up.
If you are young and looking for like-minded tourists or locals, this is where you are going to find them during the day; there is definitely a high energy party vibe here full of cliff jumping/diving and music thanks to smartphones and Bluetooth speakers.
After our swim, we decided to take a linner (late lunch/early dinner) at one of the top seafood restaurants in Amoudi Bay – Katinas. When we started asking about local fish the host brought us into the kitchen to show us all of the different seafood displayed on ice. He explained that shrimp is not locally caught in Greece and to stay away from it if you want a more authentic experience.
After our exhausting first day we took a bus back to Prekas. It is only a few bucks and worth it. Thanks to exhaustion and sunburn we stayed in that night following an awesome sunset.
The next day we decided to walk to Fira and down to the Old Port for the epic boat ride to the Hot Springs and Volcano. The trip takes about 3 hours and you have better be a decent swimmer if you want to experience the hot springs. Unless of course you purchase a ticket for one of the boats that provide a life jacket. Our boat did not. The experience requires you to jump off of the boat (Edyta temporarily lost her bikini bottoms) into a VERY frigid and deep Aegean Sea. From that point, you have to swim about 50 m (~150 ft) into the cove where the hot spring is located. The swim is not for the faint hearted as you have no safety net and wakes of upwards of 4 ft thanks to the constant stream of tour boats coming and going. Once you make the terrifying swim you are greeted with a nice warm mineral bath. Rub highly rich mineral mud all over your body and face for a free spa treatment.
*Warning, the sulfur-rich brown colored mud will permanently stain your bathing suit. So you might consider using an old suit for the journey or stopping by a thrift store for one before you head out to Santorini.
The swim back was the worst part of the experience as you go from very warm to extremely frigid waters; both of my hamstrings cramped up immediately. Edyta (I don’t know how she did it) literally pushed me the entire way back to the boat while swimming herself. She should have tried out for the swim team. I think she missed her calling.
After nearly drowning, I immediately went to the on board boat bar and purchased two Mythos beers. We downed these as our boat made the trip to Nea Kameni, a small uninhabited island of volcanic origin. As you hike Nea Kameni you will notice various scientific equipment since the island is closely monitored by scientists. You can cover the entire island quite quickly and I liked the brisk walk following the trepidatious swim. It gave us time to dry off in the Greek winds.
As we arrived back at the port we decided to take the Cable Car; it was worth every penny not to have to hoof it up the path with the donkeys and their relentless gas emissions. Plus, the view isn’t half bad.
The swim/hike had made us incredibly hungry, so we headed over to Lucky’s Souvlakis for the best Souvlaki of my life. The place is small and they only take cash, but who cares when you are eating something reserved for the deities.
From there we went on a site seeing, food and Donkey Beer crawl for the remainder of the day. Donkey Beer is the local unpasteurized craft beer brewed on Santorini. We tried every beer they sell. Maybe it was the spirit of adventure or maybe it was their great branding, either way, I fell in love with Donkey beer on this trip.
THE END OF A JOURNEY: The trip was quick, but in just two days and two nights Edyta and I saw as much of the island as possible and enjoyed the local cuisine to the fullest; dining on yogurt with honey, olives, bread, olive oil and salads every spare minute.
Travelling to Santorini is all about the pre-planning. Deciding where to stay, how to get there and what you would like to do will really help you enjoy your visit more.
If you want more information on high season and low season travel along with detailed hotel reviews and locations check out Santorini Dave. I found this website incredibly helpful.