Welcome back everyone,
Today I will share with you, my trip to the island of Santorini. I think that everyone at some point – while scrolling on the internet – came across an article, photo, or an ad for Santorini- selling the dream, of signature white and blue dome-shaped houses and charming narrow alleyways all stacked up on a sea-drowned caldera, overlooking glass blue waters and dark volcanic archipelago islands.
You can’t escape the dreamy photos of fellow travelers or influencers who talk about the magic of this place. Well, it got me. I was visiting a neighboring Greek Island and while being so close, I decided to visit this place and see what everyone is talking about.
To my surprise the reality was in fact quite different to what was presented. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s start with the journey first.
Early in the morning, I took a ferry from Crete to Santorini. The trip was 2 hours long, and I have to say that from the get-go it wasn’t a great way for me to begin the journey. I was trying to beat the seasickness while also attempting to convince myself to eat the dried up omelet meal that came with the purchase of a ferry ticket. I gave up at some point and decided to head outside for fresh air. And that’s where I stayed for the majority of the journey.
Being outside helped immensely, not just because of the breeze but because of all the views. I watched the Heraklion harbour painted with morning haze, get smaller and smaller in the distance. The sun was shining bright as we reached the first island views. We passed a small white lighthouse settled on the rugged volcanic cliffs. Santorini revealed itself beyond it. The black lava rocks contrasting with white houses that looked almost like snow-covered mountain peaks.
The excitement kicked in as we started approaching the harbour. The yellow cliffs stretching ahead of us. As people got off the boats and the ferry, the chaos was unreal. Different tour guides attempting to locate their bus drivers, and bus drivers doing the same, amongst crowds and crowds of people. I stayed waiting patiently for our tour guide to find our bus. It took 35 minutes before we were able to get on it. I was SO READY to start exploring.
Santorini is a fascinating place. It had some of the largest volcanic eruptions in history that changed the previously circular layout of the island to today’s half-moon shape. It’s being claimed to have connections to a mythological place of Atlantis. As a more experienced traveler now, in hindsight, I realize that there is so much more to discover in Santorini. But my journey that day was mainly centered on visiting the village of Oia and the town of Fira. The tour guide that was with us for the day, stated that these two places are what most travelers and tourists come to Santorini for.
Village of OIA
Arriving at Oia, I jumped out of the bus, ready to scout as much of the village as possible feeling like there was enough of the delay already. But I was instantly stalled. There was just SO.MANY.PEOPLE. For the majority of my exploring I was just trying to navigate through crowds, find corners of the tiny narrow streets and pathways with the least people to snap some photos. Though many times, I found myself wedged between people with nowhere else to go -but forward, at a very…very slow pace.
I knew Santorini was a popular tourist destination, but I truly underestimated the number of tourists and fellow travelers there. Santorini has approximately 2 million visitors per year, and most of them come only to visit the village of Oia and town of Fera of which pictures you see on every postcard or tourism advert of Santorini. With this magnitude of people, navigating through narrow pathways can be very challenging at times. And so is finding a good spot to take some photos without the crowd’s photobombing each shot.
Notice how the majority of photos of Santorini are taken in the early morning hours of sunrise. I believe that this is the best time to visit those villages. If you decide to stay in Santorini, it would be best to avoid afternoons because of the influx of people arriving from cruises or ferries (just like me).
Walking around, I found a lot of cute cafes and small gift shops. All different in character, some were selling local herb blends, others handmade jewelry with gemstones and rocks sourced from the island, while others were for handmade crafts made by talented locals. One I visited was filled with porcelain dolls and puppets. I looked around, marveled at the talent and craftsmanship of them.
With time, and a lot of squeezing through crowded alleyways, I eventually managed to get to the coastal views, and indeed they were beautiful. Water glistening in the sun, houses stacked up on the rocky cliffs, sun shining bright. But felt often taken out of the moment as loud groups of tourists would bump into me while walking past, everyone aiming to get that perfect selfie.
I walked around the village looking for quieter places with fewer people, and only then I was able to take in the scenery around me. The small alleyways were indeed dreamy the white houses had so much charm. Flowers were blooming at full force, carrying a sweet scent. A little kitten basking in the sun, the lady in a hat reading from her kindle. I was so grateful to find those little peaceful moments amongst the hustle of crowds.
Town of FIRA
With that, it was time to head over to the next destination – Fira. Much bigger in comparison to Oia, this town is the capital of Santorini. I found myself more at ease sightseeing there as the town is more spacious and the crowds were more spread out.
Fira is full of restaurants, hotels, apartments, cafes and shops of all sorts. With more freedom to move around, I found myself enjoying the atmosphere of the town more. It felt like I could finally breathe and take in the beautiful views around me in more detail.
I scouted the areas around town and came across so many pretty little places. But I was truly in awe when I made it to the coastal views. Outstretching before me before views of Nea Kameni volcanic Island and other neighboring islands. Created by volcanic explosions these islands are now accessible by boats to scout the volcanic landscapes. Nea Kameni island has a volcano that has been dormant since the ’50s, which you can easily hike to. People visit this island to have a dip in the surrounding waters as they are full of minerals and said to have healing properties.
Is Santorini worth seeing ?
I feel like Santorini has become so commercialized, those postcard views of pretty dome-shaped houses is what draws people in most. Oia and Fira are not the only great places to see on the island. and Angelina Jolie’s house, celebrities that visited the island and good local wine are not the only worthy things mentioning about this place. There’s so much rich and exciting history, so much cultural treasures worth seeing and activities worth experiencing.
That being said the place is so over-marketed and advertised that majority of hotels and apartments come at a premium price. I was so happy, that I came to Santorini on a tour rather than as a stay. I feel like there are so many places around Greece where you could stay and have similar or better views, for much cheaper. If I had a chance to visit Santorini again, I would stay close in neighboring islands and then organize another day trip to Santorini, but this time with my own itinerary. And within very early hours.
While there is a lot to do in Oia and Fira, the towns are so over-saturated with tourists, that you’d have to schedule your timing wisely each day to avoid the debilitating crowds. And while there will be a lot of opportunities for cute Instagram photos, if you don’t research and plan your trip thoroughly prior, you might find yourself starved of information and lacking the experience of real Greek culture. For example majority of restaurants in those two main towns, cater to tourists- so you’d find it challenging at times to indulge yourself in traditional Greek dishes if you don’t research places to eat prior.
What to take away from this?
Every person is different, so while I found crowds exhausting, you might not. Just make sure to dig deep below the surface level of what this place is presented as. There are many beautiful gems hidden underneath the over-commercialised and over-marketed places on this island. Make sure to plan your trip well ahead of time researching places in Santorini that may be less popular but rich in culture. I recommend staying on one of the neighbouring islands (Crete, Athens etc.) and then taking a day or even a 2 day trip to explore Santorini. Avoid afternoon hours to visit Oia or Fira as it’s most busy during this time. And if you do stay on the island, and want to save some money choose hotels and restaurants in less popular areas.
The beautiful coastal views are definitely worth seeing, but there are many other activities to do in Santorini and things to see – boat tours, wine tours, museums, hikes, visiting other small villages and beaches. If I ever visited Santorini again, I would make sure to visit Nea Kameni volcanic island, the ancient city of Thira, ruins of ancient Akrotiri, museums to dip deeper into the fascinating history of the island, especially of the Minoan civilization.
As my time was nearing the end on this island, I decided to head back and catch by the last stop for some much-needed caffeine. I walked into a coffee shop and felt at home with my fellow coffee beans. The barista prepared a cold brew for me, and I took it with me to enjoy on the ride back.
Fiery Sunset & Goodbye Views
Sipping the cold, strong coffee with some caramel syrup, I was watching the sun go down and light the golden volcanic cliffs. The deep orange and red colours were dominating the scene making the cliffs look as if they were on fire, harmonizing with the dark blue water. It was such a breath-taking sunset. Soon I was on the ferry and the warm air now was accompanied by a gentle fresh breeze as we left the island of Santorini.
I stayed outside watching the fiery glow until it got dimmer and dimmer and the island disappeared from sight. I feel grateful to have visited this island, there’s a lot of charm and beauty there. Perhaps, as a better traveler now- I will return one day with a more focused personal itinerary. For the time being though it was time to say goodbye. Until next time.
Thank you so much for reading,
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See you again,