I am kicking off the Greece series on the blog today, having just recently gotten back from my vacation to the land of the Adonis (seriously, too many good-looking people there). If you follow me on Insta, you would have seen that I headed off to Greece to visit Athens, and two of the islands I have been dreaming about- Mykonos and Santorini. Santorini especially, because this place was even included in my Bucket List, and I have been wanting to visit it for years. Santorini means Saint Irene, and since Irene is my name in Greek, I always felt a connection to this island!
Our Greece itinerary went like this- 2 days Athens, 3 days Mykonos, 3 days Santorini, 1 night Athens and then fly back. The reason I am starting with Santorini and going backwards is because this was definitely the most interesting part of the trip, and the trickiest (I will tell you why in this post!). I always imagined Santorini in my mind as a set picture- white washed buildings, blue-domed churches, and sea for as far as you can see. Well we got that and we didn’t, and today I am here to share my Santorini photo diary and travel tricks with you so you will be better prepped then I was!
Getting to Santorini
I think I was so excited about this island, that I actually did little to no research about it, I wanted it all to be a surprise. I mean I knew what I already knew- that Santorini is what remains of the formerly round island that was destroyed in the volcanic eruption in the 16th century. It is now a crescent shape, and the part that was left is somewhat just one huge cliff (if that makes sense). Santorini is not a big island (it has an area of 96 km2) and you can get to it from Athens by a boat or a plane. We chose the boat (because I hate flying), and this is where we made the first mistake- it is just too long and you waste too much time!
A flight from Athens to Santorini is just 45 minutes and costs usually just over R1000, where the speed ferry took up nearly 6 hours and it cost the same. Plus, the ferry was 2 hours late which no one bothers telling you before hand over an email or a text message. We did waste almost 8 hours transporting ourselves from Santorini to Athens, and note that this was a speed ferry- the normal ferry will take over 12 hours! We booked all of our ferries on Go Ferry a few months in advance, and while they were handy getting from Mykonos to Santorini and Athens to Mykonos, I rather recommend you take the quick flight from Athens to Santorini so you have more time to spend in these two beautiful places.
Next thing about transportation- try to arrange your transport from ferry/airport to hotel directly with your accommodation, because boy, do they rip you off at the ports! We didn’t know this, so when we arrived in the Thira port in Santorini, we caught a mini bus that was advertised there. At first, they wanted to charge us 25 euros per person (that 100 euros in total!) to get to Oia where we were staying, justifying it with the fact that it is going to take an hour to get there. I was a little confused- this is a tiny island and questioned the guy, after which he negotiated his fee down to 20 euros per person. We paid 80 euros to get to Oia and the reason it took an hour…was because he filled the mini bus with 15 other passengers who had to be dropped along the way in Fira, Imerovigli and other villages along the way. Once we got the hotel we found out, that actually the whole trip costs 30 euros for 4 people(if arranged directly with the hotel) and not 80 euros like we paid! We were shook, shook, shook, not realizing how badly we were just ripped off. So yes handy tip- DO NOT get the taxis/mini bus straight from the port and rather organize it before hand with your hotel at a much lower rate.
Where To Stay in Santorini
This is where we made our second mistake. Having researched only a little bit about this island, we settled on the thought that we all wanted to stay in Oia. Now, the Caldera View(caldera meaning a large volcanic crater, one formed from an irruption) that you see in all of the pictures of Santorini can only be achieved in 3 places on the island- Oia, Imerovigli and Fira. Even then, what you have to realize is that you need to be inside the caldera (and not across the road) in order to see this view. The reason we decided in Oia(pronounced Ee-ya) was because that’s also where you can see those legendary Santorini sunsets- the sun sets in the North, so it faces the Oia village directly.
We took great care booking our accommodation with this trip, because Greece was a bucket list destination for all 4 of us, Santorini especially. We set a budget of R1000 per person, per night, which gets you to a five star hotel in Greece (given that you share rooms between two people). As usually, I booked everything through Booking.com- it’s trusted, I have used it lots before and it has never failed me. The hotel that we booked for Santorini looked great- it was rated 5 star, had a 9.5 rating and beautiful images showed a lovely, boutique like atmosphere. We were aware that there was no pool(which we thought would be okay, because we didn’t expect it to be hot when we were there- we were wrong), and while pictures showed no view of the Caldera, it promised a lovely “City View”. We paid R5900 for 3 nights for two people after looking around (most of the prices were similar), and got excited about our hotel. By the way, it is called Fileria Suites.
Sadly, when we got there it wasn’t much like the pictures- the “city view” was that of a bus stop, so we struggled to sleep with cars and buses going past. The deluxe junior suite smelled like smoke, and the view on our private balcony had someones laundry hanging out in front of us. What disappointed us the most was that we realized how much we actually wanted the classic Santorini view! We wanted to wake up to the sea and the Caldera, and our accommodation was not anything how we pictured it. Being close to tears, we decided that screw it, we are only in Santorini once in our lives, and we decided to change accommodation(without getting a refund, but after I called Booking.com and spoke them through this so-called 5 star accommodation and send pictures, we were refunded 1 of the 2 nights that we didn’t stay there).
My whole point is this- if you are going to Santorini and you dream of seeing the “white-washed building and blue-domes view”, then save your money and make sure you book a place in the Caldera! Fira is slightly cheaper than Oia, but then you will not have the amazing sunset view, and Imerovigli is a little bit expensive but it also has an amazing view (it is actually the highest point of the cliff). There is no point going all the way to Santorini and staying in a shitty place where you view is someone’s laundry, in my opinion.
We decided to change our accommodation for the 2 nights, because it took us a whole day climbing up and down the village of Oia, to find another place within the budget that we all liked. We settled on Caldera Houses Namaste Suites, which is situated right in the heart of Oia, right by those famous blue domes! The suite that we had was a 2-bedroom house, with a private pool, a kitchen and views to die for. I’m not going to lie- this was R6000 a night so yes it is expensive, BUT if we booked an advance we would have gotten a 20% discount, plus turns out there were lots of similar looking villas and hotels in the price range. For Oia, take a look at Armeni Villages and Aperanto Suites– both beautiful places that we also had on our list.
Is Santorini beautiful everywhere else? No. This is what Santorini looks like once you’re out of the Caldera views- in my opinion, nothing special (I took these pics on the bus so it’s a little blurry). I came to see the dream, and I’m so glad that I got it. If you’re not bothered by the view and don’t mind walking to the caldera, then sure there are lots of other options to stay at. But in my opinion, after having visited the island, Santorini is best enjoyed with the dreamy view (that I saved my ass for, and turned out to be worth it).
Things to do in Santorini
Besides enjoying these majestic views and relaxing, Santorini has a few cool things to do for the visitors. There are the different colored beaches- Red Beach located in Akrotiri, the Black Beach located in Kamari and the White Beach (in Kamari as well). Santorini is not really a beachy place because the sand is all black, due to the volcano, and the beaches are away from the caldera views, on the South side of the island. You can also take a Catamaran Cruise (which is about 150 euros per person) that will take you to all three beaches as well as the volcano, and the thermal springs (make sure to bring a swimsuit that you do not mind damaging because the iron from the thermal water stains your costume).
Santorini is also home to some amazing wine (the rose is especially divine), so you can take a wine tasting tour, which is about 75 euros per person. The main town in Santorini is called Fira, and that is where most of the shopping and the nightlife lies. I you want a party, then visit Koo and Tango, or just visit the capital if you want to stroll around and see the shops.
We really enjoyed just staying in Oia and walking around the village. It was a lot hotter than we expected- we packed for a 19-degree weather and it turned out to be 25-27 degrees. There are so many cute coffee places, little shops and photo ops around Oia, that kept us busy the whole time, but we also took some much needed “off-time” to tan and enjoy the pool while it was hot in the afternoon.
What To Know about Santorini
Inside the villages it is just stairs FOR DAYS! Do not worry if you have not done your lunges before your trip- you will catch it all back walking around Santorini! The only mode of transportation inside the villages is by foot or by donkey, and since we did not want to take the donkeys, we walked up and down, all the time. We got some man power and help transporting our big bags to the suites, but we carried our carry-ons down what feel like, 100s of stairs. You will most probably fall in Santorini- a lot of the stairs are marble, and there are no railings anywhere. At least when you fall, you fall to a good view 😉
You can get around from town to town in Santorini via a local bus or a taxi, it’s only inside the villages that you have to work those muscles.
You can see it in a day
I did read this in a couple of blogs, and I saw that first-hand when I saw lots of cruise ships dock for the day and leave that night- you can see Santorini in a day, two days max. Three nights in Santorini was definitely too much, especially because we traveled as four girls and in an off-peak season. If you are on your honeymoon, then sure, you can stay there for long enjoying the views and each other. But if you are a group looking for a party, you will not find much in Santorini- Santorini is for romance, Mykonos is for partying 😉
The Greek food is amazing!
I am a huge fan of the Greek cuisine, so Santorini was a bit of a food heaven for me (Mykonos is a bit more “European” style of food, which I will talk about on the blog this week as well). Santorini offers a delicious variety of Greek treats almost everywhere- starting from a true Greek breakfast! A Greek breakfast usually starts at around 10am (seriously, the shops are closed until then), and it includes lots of fresh bread, an omelette, a Greek coffee (which is very strong, black coffee) and my fav- yogurt with honey. The yogurt is on another level in Greece, you have to try it! Then for lunch, you can grab a yummy gyro (a Greek version of a wrap), a Greek salad(a must!), or just a meze of dip platters, especially the fava beans dip. For dinner there are also some yummy choices like moussaka, traditional kebab and a souvlaki.
Best times to visit are May and September. During the summer months it just gets too crowded and too hot, so we visited in just the perfect time. The island operates from April- November, and while we went at the end of April, the place was already so busy! Inside the villages, the streets are tiny, so they fill up quickly; I cannot imagine trying to fight through the crowds in the heat!
Overall, I thought Santorini was an amazingly beautiful island and the best view I have ever seen in my life. From my lessons learn this- book a flight instead of a ferry, arrange transport from the ferry/airport beforehand, and most importantly- stay somewhere where you can enjoy these magical views.