As a result of the nightmarish ferry ride from Athens that took 23 hours instead of the scheduled 5, we only had a solitary day (plus a couple of spare hours) to explore the wonderful island(s) of Santorini (also known as Thira). Not ideal, but we actually ended up seeing everything we wanted. So if you too are strapped for time, rest assured, it can be done!
Santorini is widely regarded as the most beautiful of the Greek Islands, and even though I only saw 4 other islands apart from it (Melos, Hydra, Poros, Aegina), I would find it difficult to believe otherwise. Santorini is actually a family of islands which used to be one single island before a major volcanic event around 1500 BC. Some believe it is the legendary lost city of Atlantis!
Part I: Taxi tour
Anyway, we arrived at the port of Athinios at around 7am or so, and we got straight to it. No spare time for messing around. There were surprisingly few taxis awaiting us and they were very selective in their passengers, only willing to take multiple groups of people to maximise their fares. With 4 people in our group, it just wasn’t possible to get a cab, so we caught the bus to Fira (the main town on Santorini), and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it only took around 10-15 minutes and was a fraction of the price.
After checking in at the superb Hotel Atlantis (really magnificent, probably the best location in Fira) with rooms that overlook the spectacular sea and white houses along the majestic caldera (and the volcanic island of Nea Kameni) and enjoying a delicious, freshly made breakfast on demand (including fresh OJ!), we got down to business and hired a cab from the hotel. If we were going to see Santorini in a day we couldn’t afford to go cheap.
Our plan was to hire the cab for a couple of hours to go see a few of the main sites around the main island. It was not cheap, costing at 1 Euro a minute (so for 2 hours that meant 120 Euros, or 30 Euros per person). If you have more time or less money you can hire a car, or if you are more adventurous a bike, scooter or one of those 4 wheelers (quads) which looked like a lot of fun, if you don’t mind the scorching sun and heat.
The driver spoke a bit of English and was ultra-friendly. On our way to the first stop, the Red Beach, the driver took us to a lovely little look-out point where we took some mandatory snaps of the stunning caldera and the ocean. Words really don’t do it justice.
We then had to climb some rocky terrain to get to the viewing point of the Red Beach (we didn’t make the long trek down to the beach itself), which was, not surprisingly, red! Volcanoes can do some freaky things, because the cliff walls and sand were both dark red, unlike any place I had ever seen before.
Unfortunately, the nearby archaeological site of Akrotiri was closed (and will remain closed until at least the summer of 2010 due to some roof collapse accident several years back). Unfortunate because the site is apparently a ‘must-see’, so if I ever go back it’s going to be at the top of my list.
Nevertheless, we ventured on to the next stop, east towards the other archaeological site of Ancient Thera near the black Kamari Beach. It was a long climb up, and we were running short on time, so we didn’t get to see it all, but a lovely couple who were on their way down were nice enough to show us their photos. I’m glad we didn’t go all the way up because it was super hot and there wasn’t all that much to see to be honest (especially after visiting Delphi). On the way down we got to see the black pebbles of Kamari Beach, and the driver even stopped by when we reached the bottom. He also got us some local fruits and vegies to try which was cool.
Part II: Volcano cruise
One of the best things you can do in Santorini is to take a cruise out to Nea Kameni, the old volcani island in the centre that made Santorini the way it is today. The one we took cost 18 Euros per person and lasted for 3 hours.
The adventure really starts even before you make it down to the Old Port in Fira. Some walk or take a donkey down (which smells a bit in my opinion) but we took the cable car, which cost 4 Euros each way (cheaper than donkey) and offers stunning views of Fira and the port. The boat first took us to the Hot Springs, where we stopped for around half an hour and allowed those with their costumes to take a dip in the water. We just chilled on board and took some photos, and time passed pretty quickly.
Then we headed around the corner to Nea Kameni, passing the black volcanic shores along the way, taking in the awesome destructive and creative power of the volcano. Nea Kameni costs a small fee to enter if you want to walk around, and I would recommend it because it is well worth the money. It’s about a 90 minute walk to and back, and in the summer heat it can be pretty brutal, but if you make it to the top the view is truly spectacular.
The boat took us back to the mainland by 5pm.
Part III: Oia sunset
Perhaps the most common photo taken of Santorini (or even all of the Greek Islands) is the sunset from Oia, a town located at the northern tip of Santorini. We took a cab there which costed 13 Euros.
Oia is extremely picturesque, and has a different feel to what you get in Fira. Walk through the narrow streets along the white squarish houses, with the sun setting in the background. There’s no words to describe the beauty. We had a Greek dinner and then followed the crowd to the look-out point. You’ll know where it is because that’s where everyone is heading.
The sunset we got to witness was okay. Certainly very pretty but not as beathtaking as one would envisage, probably because of the clouds on the horizon that blocked the last remaining moments. Furthermore, here’s a tip: don’t go to the popular look-out spots! There’s actually plenty of places where you can get an awesome view of the sunset, so ask around and avoid the crowds. This is particularly important if you want to get out of there as soon as the sun sets, because when the crowds start moving it can take a long time.
We were lucky to make it on one of the first buses back to Fira, which only cost 1.60 Euros each. However, the ticket seller on the bus (who walks down the isles once the bus starts moving) is quite a chunker and if you are standing you’ll probably be crushed by his enormous ass and gigantic breasts.
Part IV: Museum
On the last day we had a couple of hours before we had to head to the airport, so apart from wandering the streets of Fira, we also went to the nearby (virtually next to the hotel) Museum of Prehistoric Thira, which is quite small but well worth it as it houses much of the artifacts from Akrotiri. Since we couldn’t visit the archaeological site, this was the next best thing, and it was highly interesting, with lots of things I did not expect to exist 3,500 years ago, such as advanced wall paintings and pottery, stamps, jewelery and even giant clips (which look exactly the same as their modern-day counterparts)! It was also cool to learn about how Santorini became the way it is today, for those who like to spice up their trip with a bit of knowledge.
After that and some final snaps of the memorable views, we checked out and caught a cab to the airport, just 10-15 mins away and costs 15 Euros. And there you have it, Santorini in a day (and a little bit)!
PS: I’m trying to set up some link where I can post more hi-res pics from my travels…