Santorini: THE Travel Guide

 Introduction

I must have saw something funny…

How could I not visit the island reputed to be the most romantic in the Cyclades? The signature pictures of the blue-domed churches come to mind whenever someone thinks of Santorini. I had originally thought of skipping Santorini. However, it is said that one has to make an exception for Santorini, and so I did. The island was as beautiful as they said, but unfortunately, as I had expected it to be, marred by the effects of over-tourism. Another reason why I came here was because I could happily meet my friends who were travelling Greece and Albania at the same time. Santorini has uniquely black volcanic beaches instead of the typical white-sand beaches. This also makes the sand slighter warmer than usual as black conducts heat better.

I strongly suggest making at least a day trip to see Santorini even if you’re turned off by its over-touristy reputation. Despite its shortcomings, its still a beautiful island and offers one of the best sunsets in the Greek Isles.

Getting to Santorini

View from the ferry

Most people get to Santorini via 2 methods. One would be by ferries (which include several different types). The other one will be to take a flight here. Many budget airlines like RyanAir and Aegean fly into Santorini. It might even be easier and cheaper to fly here than to take the ferry. The main reason why I took the ferry was because I was coming via Ios, which did not have an airport.

I will elaborate more about that in my upcoming article on how to book Greek Ferries (as I myself had many questions and misconceptions while figuring out the booking process). However, there are 3 main companies that operate the ferries around the Cyclades Islands – Blue Star, Hellenic Seaways and SeaJets.

I got to Santorini via Hellenic Seaways from Ios’s port. The journey took a total of  45 minutes and the vessel was the Hellenic Highspeed.

Departure: 1115
Arrival: 1210
Price: €31 (economy)

The closer inhabited islands to Santorini are that of Ios and Milos. It is a good idea to head to Santorini for a well-deserved rest after non-stop days partying in Ios (like I did).

Accommodation

Caveland

Our little Cave!

Price: €19 / night (6 Bed Dorm Ensuite)

Websitehere 
HostelWorld linkhere

I stayed in this really cool accommodation in Santorini. Caveland resembled its name, and literally had little caves everywhere. It fell a little short of what I expected but it was still an interesting experience to have nonetheless. I had originally thought that the “caves” would be facing the ocean, but I guess for the price I paid, unsurprisingly not.

Comfy beds 🙂

The room was very comfy, although there was only one air-conditioner ventilating the huge amount of space. I stayed in a 7 bed dorm. There was also a common space at the entrance, which could be useful for a big group that was travelling together. Toilets were not the most aesthetically pleasing, but adequate enough, with hot water and strong showers. There were also lockers provided for your belongings which was great, though you had to provide your own lock. However, I felt that the room was not very well-lit, with only a few main bulbs illuminating the space. Perhaps it was meant to suit the theme of a cave, but it added a little gloom to the area. Not that it affected our experience by a lot though.

The surroundings were wonderful! Caveland has an enormous pool that really provided an element of luxury. The exteriors of the hostel were designed to give a homely feel, with its pastel hues and strategic flora. I would definitely recommend Caveland for a unique experience, not to mention that it is located in Karterados, the district closest to bustling Fira. It is a 15 minute walk to Fira Town, which wasn’t so bad.

such a cute dog owned by the hostel!
entrance of the room

One thing that I MUST write about during my stay here would be the social dinner that Caveland organises every Friday. Basically, you pay €12 to enjoy a wide spread of traditional Greek fare from a nearby restaurant that Caveland has collaborated with. This was such a good deal, I don’t know why only 6 of us signed up for it. I guess most people did not expect the large amounts of food that came with cost of €12. You have the chance to sample authentic Greek food, and I can confidently say that that was the most Greekish meal I had during my 3 weeks in Greece.

Activities

Hike from Fira to Oia

beautiful views midway through the hike

This hike was one of the main activities that I wanted to do whilst in Santorini. It consists of a 4-5 hours hike starting in Fira and ending in Oia. The best way to do this would be to start the hike along the coast in Fira. Along the way, you will get to enjoy amazing coastal scenery as you wind around the caldera, with the end point of Oia in sight. This was a really satisfactory hike as you will eventually get rewarded with stunning views of legendary Oia, which is know to be the most expensive area in Santorini.

trailing beside the sea

Tip: It was exceptionally windy during certain parts of the trail, so it would be wise to bring along a windbreaker or a light jacket during your hike, unless you prefer having hypothermia.

making my way there from Fira
slowly
exploring along the way, you have to walk between the beautiful villas on your way, its part of the trail!

Midway along the trail, you will bypass one stall selling an assortment of food and drinks meant for weary hikers. Keep in mind that thats the only stall you’re going to see throughout your hike, and there will be no source of water for the next 2-3 hours. 

I saw this gorgeous villa on my way
fellow hikers!
thats the stall selling refreshments and other kinds of food. Do stock up here if you’ve ran out (which you shouldn’t have after reading this post!)

Walk a little further down this stall and you will come across a shop that offers pony rides for a fee. The trails will split up in a fork soon after. Take care to avoid the trails with pony faeces on them as I’m sure no one wants some smelly poop on their precious sports shoes. Don’t be like me, my heart sank when I heard the squish. 

cute ponies 🙂 but I stepped on their poop 🙁
melting under the scorching sun
at some point the soil on the trail becomes a little more volcanic (turns redder)

From here on, the road becomes a long path which meanders along the nooks and crannies of the mountainside. Press on and you’ll find that the trail gets progressively easier. Eventually, you will start passing by some villas along the way, one in which I witnessed a joyous wedding ceremony.

you still get gorgeous beach views
passing by some churches
getting to experience wedding ceremonies in Santorini was one of the best experiences 🙂

The end point will be strikingly obvious, when elegant pavements and countless villas dot the surroundings. Take a moment and enjoy the views of Oia 🙂

Oia in its white glory
white clean streets of Oia
let me bore you with more wedding photography, what a dream to get married here 🙂

Tip: I did see a number of fellow hikers decked out in hiking gear during my journey. However, I did the hike just fine with a pair of sports shoes, an Ios pub singlet and tennis shorts. So do not worry too much about the relevant equipment as it is not that arduous a journey as it sounds.

Tip: Do grab one 1.5L bottle of mineral water from the supermarket before you make your way to the hike. You will definitely need sufficient water.

Spectacular Sunsets

Something I’ve never seen on the other islands

Known for its famed sunsets, Santorini didn’t disappoint when it came to this. Most tourists, if not all, make the great journey to Oia to capture their photos. I agree that it might be the best place to take a sunset photo in Santorini. However, I feel that it might be only marginally better than sunset spots in Fira. I chose Fira as I did not want to squeeze among the crowds in Oia after hearing horror stories of the jostling that happens during sunsets in Oia. It was a really good decision. Quiet, peaceful and you get the entire sunset to yourself without fellow photographers  and noisy humans.

happy me with my not-at-all-crowded sunset spot
🙂 looking at these photos make my brain wander and my heart so full

I actually surreptitiously climbed onto one of the rooftops to get instaworthy photos of the sunsets. It provided a clear view of the nearby islands, the setting sun and the glorious Aegean Sea without any hindrance or blockages. On hindsight, it definitely was dangerous and just a tad risky but as they say, “Do it for the gram“.

such a beautiful panorama (the sun glare though)
actually quite impressed with my tripod placing skills (as you can see its the rooftop *moon face* )

However, if you really want to venture to Oia for your sunset photos, my friends recommended a spot at the old castle, where you can sit on the ledge to get fantastic pictures . You would need to go there 2 hours in advance to get prime positions.

Explore Fira

this reminds me of cinque terre photos hmm, but its Fira at night!

Fira Town is the place to be if you want to immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of Santorini. With shops selling a myriad of goods, it can take you a whole day just to explore the shops in Fira if you are an avid shopper.

Perissa & its Black Sand Beach

The popular Black Sand Beach at Perissa

I went to Perissa as it was the rendezvous point for my friends and I. I arrived at the port and took a local bus which cost €3.20, which went straight to Perissa. Known as the backpackers’ spot in Santorini, prices were generally cheaper but no less luxurious than you will get at Fira. The seaside restaurants were awesome and gave an incredible view.

So happy meeting my friends! Yes I have friends.

Perissa also hosts the iconic Black Sand beach, one of the longest I had ever seen. It rivalled even Mylopotas Beach in Ios. Rows and rows of parasols were lined up, with sun lounges and beach goers occupying almost every one. Perissa’s Black Sand beach was evidently one of the more popular beaches in Santorini.

pavements of Perissa

Pyrgos

Old bell tower in Pyrgos

The old capital of Santorini, the village of Pyrgos, houses the highest point on the island. I was on my way early morning to do the hike from Fira to Oia, when I met this British girl who was also strolling out of our hostel. Greetings were exchanged and within a few minutes my plan for the day had changed and Voila! I was heading to this village that I had no idea existed until moments ago.

Pyrgos really offered a variety of unique goods, this diver was selling sea sponges that he had picked from the seabed (supposedly they act as good body scrubs)
Sophie looking at the intricate ornaments that they sold

im in love in the bluess

Pyrgos was so quaint and charming and I absolutely had the best Pastitio ever in this place. We trekked up the old castle which offered breathtaking views of the Greek countryside. This place was very different from most other tourist areas in Santorini. For one, it was not overcrowded with camera-welding tourists (aka me). This allowed Pyrgos to retain its serenity and quaint charm.

sweet treats in Pyrgos

Main Bus Stop at Pyrgos
Awesome views of the countryside
Candid.
we got lost at some point but it was a good experience

We visited an interior of a majestic church in Pyrgos and I finally found out what the interior of a blue-domed church looked like! There were also plenty of shops selling various handcrafted ornaments and keychains that left me in awe. Beware that the viewpoint will be extremely windy, you might find yourself struggling against the fearsome gusts at some point! Cats were also interestingly abundant in this tiny village. We even had 7 of them in one particular shop we visited!

cats are mysterious beings
Finally I know how the interior looks like – a brilliant shade of blue
prayers?

Akrotiri

This archaeological site is one of the only areas with ruins in Santorini. It was recently excavated and is said to contain one of the best frescoes in the Cyclades. However, as I had already seen enough ruins in Athens, Delphi,and Delos, I was willing to skip this one. Akrotiri is a must for the ruin fanatics!

Red Sand Beach

Besides Perissa’s Black Sand beach, the Red Sand beach is also another interesting area to visit whilst in Santorini. The sand is not actually red here. The beach was coined as such because of high, bright-red cliffs that surround it. It is not as popular as the Black Sand beach, partially due to its inaccessibility. It is also situated within walkable distance from the Akortiri archaeological site.

Day Trip to the Volcano

you can take a cable ride down on your day trip to Palia Kameni

An immensely popular day trip that numerous tourists make during their time in Santorini would be the visit to the volcanic hot springs. These attractions are situated on Palia Kameni, a nearby islet beside Santorini which formed as a result of a massive volcanic eruption in the past, which left behind its caldera and consequently, the volcanic springs.

The volcanic springs contain sulfur, which is rumoured to have healing properties for the skin, which benefits suffers of rheumatism and arthritis. Most tour-boat trips also stop off at neighboring Nea Kameni for treks up to the island’s crater to enjoy panoramic views of the Aegean.
However, I did not do this tour as I had read a reasonable number of negative reviews about the fact that expectations did not meet demand. The hot springs were deemed as “lukewarm” and “just mediocre springs” by fellow travellers in TripAdvisor. When I talked to some of my hostel mates about the tour, it elicited the same negative response. As I only had 2 nights in Santorini, I had to prioritise the excursions to make my visit to Santorini a fulfilling one. Reviews from fellow travellers are often reliable, and thus I decided to give this a miss this time.

Beware of the Spiky Plants

As I have reiterated in my previous post about Delos, the Greek summer hosts a variety of seemingly harmless threats. These are the Spiky Plants. I have taken a number of photos to warn you about stepping or brushing against them.

Transport around Ios

ATV / Quad Bike

ATVs parked by the roadside

Price: €30-35 / day depending on operator and duration of rental

Similar to the other islands, the optimal mode of transport around the island for me would be a quad bike / ATV. It gives you free rein to explore the island as and when you want, not including the thrill you get from riding an ATV around.

However, the traffic in Santorini was definitely much busier than that of smaller Ios. Buses and cars were speeding on both sides of the road. I was thus hesitant to rent an ATV here as I definitely did not want to end up in an accident.

Tip: Try to rent your quad for more than a day, you’re more likely to get discounts this way.

Bus

interior of a bus in Santorini

Overall, the buses in Santorini are reliable and safe. Though they might speed and seem dangerous, rest assured that they will bring you to your destination on time. I only had one bad experience with the bus going from Perissa to Fira, it took almost an hour to arrive which was disastrous. Take note that almost all buses leave from Fira. It is the main bus station that supplies bus lines across the entire island. If you have an obscure destination to get to , go to Fira for the bus.

Tip: You can either ask your hostel/hotel for the bus schedules, or grab a copy of them either at the Port or the bus station at Fira. 

A copy of the bus schedule can also be found here but it might not be updated.

Car / Scooter

You could also hire a cars/scooters from many reliable operators around. Take note that scooter accidents are common in Santorini, you don’t want to be driving one without much experience.

Food

Fish Tavern Fratzeskos

Price: €8 (Tomato Balls), €50 (total for the fish platter)

TripAdvisor Reviewhere 

This was the first restaurant that I ate at in Santorini when I met my friends. It is located near the main bus station in Perissa. It was one of the only times that I’ve tried the seafood in Greece and my, it was amazing. They let us select our fish from their fresh catch of the day. I remember we chose the Scorpion Fish but I can’t seem to remember the rest of the types of fish. The Tomato Balls and Fish Platter were so fresh and delicious. Had I not been with my friends, I would not have spent on seafood alone as it is quite expensive.

Santa Irini Bakery

Strawberry Cheesecake

Price: €1 (cookie), €2.50 (strawberry cheesecake)

Tripadvisor Reviewhere 
Facebook Pagehere 

This bakery in Perissa offers a wide variety of homemade sweet treats that are flavourful and yummy. I got a few of their cookies and a slice of strawberry cheesecake.  I would recommend the cookies over the cheesecake as the cheese wasn’t very thick.

Mama’s House

Price: €13 (Barracuda Fillet)

Websitehere 
TripAdvisor Reviewhere

There were a few recommendations made by my hostel on where to eat in Fira. I chose Mama’s House because of its cosy ambience. I chose the Barracuda Fillet. However, the portions were a little small for the price I paid. You might want to take note of that.

Mythos Grill House

Best Pastitzio on my entire trip was found here!

Price: €4 (Tomato Balls), €7 (Pastitzio)

TripAdvisor Reviewhere 

Another batch of Tomato Balls after I realised its awesomeness from my first try at Perissa

We actually stumbled across this restaurant randomly while struggling to get back to the bus stop in Pyrgos. Mythos Grill House offered one of the best Pastitzios and Tomato Balls that I have ever eaten. Known for its local Greek fare, this family-run restaurant also provides a breathtaking view of surrounding landscapes of Santorini.  Definitely a must-try if you’re in Pyrgos.

Tip: Sit at a table near the end, where you will have unobstructed views of the countryside.

Views from Mythos 🙂

Zotos Family Pastry

Pistachio Gelato, the best flavour ever

Tripadvisor Reviewhere

The gelatos here are bomb. Do try the Pistachio-flavoured gelato.

Κελάρι Kelari Grill House

Some Greek Salad? I spot the Feta Cheese.

We came here for the family dinner run by my hostel. As I had sampled such a large amount of authentic Greek cuisine here, there were definitely some likes and dislikes. Overall, the place was a good setting to relax, try new cuisines and make merry with your friends. It is also located reasonably close to Caveland, thus making it a good location to have dinner if you are residing there.

No TripAdvisor reviews for this one but do a quick google search and the Google Reviews will pop out!

Potato Dish (that didn’t really appeal to my tastebuds)

Overall

Santorini was indeed a touristy destination, but one that should at least be visited once. If you reside in one of the less touristy districts (like I did), you will experience a quieter side of Santorini.  I strongly suggest doing a day trip to from one of the neighbouring islands that are quieter and more peaceful. Thats what I will do if I ever return.

1 thought on “Santorini: THE Travel Guide”

  1. Hello, Wei An recommended this blog to me because I am going to Greece for my grad trip.

    Good job on the blog btw!! 🙂

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