Our time in Italy had come to an end, and we hopped a plane to fly to Santorini, one of the most beautiful islands in Greece.
After a short layover in Athens, we were back on a plane and headed to the island. As we landed in Santorini, the views were extremely underwhelming. The airport is situated on the “ugly” side of Santorini, and it looks like you’re actually landing in the Southwestern U.S. desert.
We soon grabbed our bags, disembarked, and walked across the small runway to the Santorini airport. In recent years, tourism has made Santorini a popular destination, but the local infrastructure hasn’t been able to keep up with the increased traffic. The airport was very tiny with no amenities, so we waited on the sidewalk for a local bus to take us to our hotel in the town of Oia (pronounced Ee-yah) 30 minutes away. It turns out that local buses in Greece operate with a very laissez-faire attitude, not adhering to any particular schedule or route, so we waited and waited. Eventually, a large greyhound-style bus pulled up, and we anxiously asked the driver if he was headed to Oia. He nodded, threw our bags under the bus, and motioned us to get on. We boarded the bus, paid our fare to the bus driver’s assistant, told him our stop, and crossed our fingers we’d actually reach our hotel.
We were dropped off at our stop, and walked about 15 minutes down the road to our hotel, Aspa Villas. We signed a release stating we would not throw any toilet paper down the toilet, but place it in the trashcan instead (Greece’s plumbing is as ancient as its ruins), and were free to relax in our room. With the exception of the plumbing issues, Aspa Villas was by far the nicest hotel we stayed at during our trip. They had a fully stocked refrigerator free for us, with lunchmeat, bread, jam and honey, and a bottle of Greek wine, a private terrace, queen bed, and a beautiful view overlooking the famous caldera.
We enjoyed our bottle of wine and the beautiful sunset from our hotel balcony, and spent the next morning walking through the town of Oia, enjoying the fantastic views overlooking the Aegean Sea.
Since this was to be the relaxing leg of our trip, I had only one activity planned- an afternoon sunset dinner cruise and volcano tour with Bella Aurora and Thalassa. We managed to find and catch the local bus in Oia, and headed the 30 minutes back to Fira to the Old Port to meet our cruise. Upon reaching Fira, we found that the Old Port was located several miles below us, down thousands of steep and treacherous stairs. After watching several unlucky people face plant on the steps while trying to avoid stepping in donkey manure, we opted to wait in line to take the cable car down to the port. This turned out to be just as risky, as the cable car had not been well-maintained. We finally made it to the Old Port without mishap, and ran into another issue- our cruise company was not at the designated meeting point. Our ship finally appeared, almost 45 minutes past the time we were supposed to board, and we set sail.
Our first stop on our cruise was the volcanic lava island of Nea Kameni. Called the “young island” it has been formed from repeated volcanic eruptions, the last eruption occurring in 1950. The completely barren island is closely monitored for volcanic activity, and has many active sulfur vents. Our guide led us on the long hike up to the edge of the volcanic crater, where we stopped to smell the sulfur vents and feel the heat of the volcanic activity below. We stacked up lava rocks to show we made it to the top, and hiked back down to the ship.
Our next stop was at the hot springs, with “healing” thermal sulfur water for a short swim, followed by the island of Thirassia, where we had another opportunity to swim or photograph the islands while our crew prepared our Greek dinner buffet. After dinner, we headed to Oia, and watched the sun set over the sea from our ship. Sailing back to Fira, we enjoyed live music and drinks as we enjoyed the views.
Our last day in Santorini, we toured Oia on foot, enjoying the beautiful views and Greek food. My favorite restaurants in Santorini were Melitini, Pito Gyros, and for dessert, Lolita’s Gelato.
Things to remember if you’re traveling to Santorini:
While the caldera side of Santorini is breathtakingly beautiful, it is a volcanic island and the vast majority of it is desolate away from the caldera.
It’s hot. Like 7th layer of hell hot. And we visited in the fall during a normally cool month. There’s very few trees, so pack your lightest layers of clothing, sunscreen, and hats.
Drinking tap water here is not recommended, so use bottled water.
You can’t flush your toilet paper. This is actually true for most of Greece, the plumbing systems just can’t handle it, so do as the Greeks and throw it in the trash.
It is a major cruise destination, expect lots of crowds, and stores to cater to the cruisers by opening when the cruisers get to town.
Santorini is expensive. Expect to pay more for hotels, food, transportation, and souvenirs.
Santorini is a popular destination for Asian couples, who fly from all over to have their wedding photos taken against a beautiful backdrop.
Within the last few years, crowds of people have come to watch the sunsets in Oia, and many tourists cruise around the island on ATV’s. If you’re one of them, be sure to become familiar with the laws and road signs BEFORE you get on the road. I saw several near-misses with tourists driving the wrong way down one-way roads, and swerving over in front of bus and car traffic for a photo-op.
I would strongly recommend that you arrange for a transfer with your hotel if you are not planning on renting an ATV or car while in Santorini, as the buses are not reliable and somewhat scary. We had one driver who was simultaneously shifting gears on the manual bus, drinking a bottle of water, and talking on the phone while weaving through traffic on winding roads in the dark. We didn’t have an accident, but it would have been worth the 30 Euro for a private transfer.
Greek food is amazing. Try everything, it’s all delicious, and make sure you get a Greek salad with Santorini tomatoes!
Expect airline delays. It’s just a Greek thing. They make up a lot of time in the air, but I would definitely not schedule an immediate connecting flight if you’re travelling through Greece.
Stray cats and dogs are everywhere. Don’t touch them, they can carry diseases, and don’t worry, they are fed and taken care of by the community.
Go with the flow. The Greeks don’t operate on a specific time schedule, and you’re on vacation. Just relax, and enjoy the Greek culture.
Santorini is both ugly and beautiful, frustrating and fun. It can be your worst vacation destination or your best, depending on what you make of it. Once you embrace Santorini as a whole, you discover it really is a magical place, and you’ll be sad to leave!
What are your best tips for travelling Santorini? Comment below!