Santorini, Greece; The Hardcore Truth.
Have you read in all the best travel publications that Santorini is one of the best islands of all time? A top 20 island to visit before you die? A magical island where dreams come true? Ok. So we are the same page. Except after visiting Santorini and several other Greek islands, I have to tell you if your travel style isn't about blowing your budget, traveling with more tourists than you can count, and pulling luggage around the cobble stone hills, this might be an island you skip or wait to do when you are 100% committed to wasting money.
Let's dig a little deeper shall we?
Santorini has several beautiful and iconic views. Wonderful restaurants that provide a terrific ambiance for watching the sunset. And fun boat tours that allow you to see more of the natural wonders of the island geography. It's not all bad. But compared to other Greek islands I think this beauty comes with a price and more inconvenience than it might be worth.
Here are 11 examples of why Santorini can be considered overrated:
1. When you arrive at the airport you can take the local city bus to the town where you are staying. If you stay in Thíra, the local bus will cost you €1,80. Great price right? But it may not be direct. We jumped on a bus that was leaving right away. We were psyched. But then we quickly realized they pack the bus, including tons of people (including smelly) standing down the middle, not all of the busses are in great shape (my seat was broken) and the bus circled the nearby neighborhoods and wound up back at the airport before we actually headed off to Thíra. This resulted in nearly 20 minutes of extra traveling on a hot bus. They don't tell you this part in the beautiful travel guides online.
2. Staying in Thíra isn't a bad option. It's the capital city and central between about a 25 minute ride north to Oia and neighboring towns to 25 minute ride south to Red Beach and neighboring areas. But everyone travels to and through Thíra so when 2 million tourists travel through the island in the summer season you feel it. Long lines for the cable car, bumping into people walking through shops, long lines for taxis. There aren't many taxis on the island so be prepared to wait or/and share with strangers.
3. Because Santorini is so popular and during common vacation seasons the prices are outrageous. You may have read that because of Greece's economic situation things are cheaper and it's a good time to travel. That may be so on other islands, but there is no sign of a cheaper travel style on Santorini. Everything is a premium. There are limited laundromats in town. So a fluff and fold service for a load could cost you €15 euros! When you get a taxi anywhere with a set of strangers, you don't split the fare. They charge you each a separate flat rate. So if the taxi driver tells you it's €20 euro to the port. They will also charge the other riders €20 euro unless he'll make a deal and discount to €15. A taxi ride anywhere is generally €25 euro so best to take the local bus. Be aware that the lines can be long. And the buses are not always on schedule. So if you have to be anywhere at a certain time, plan to give yourself plenty of extra time to arrive so you aren't cutting it close or missing your transportation.
4. Accommodations also come at a price. Again, with high travel demand you have to book quite early to get what you want. But the prices aren't always easy to digest. Admittedly we waited longer than usual to find accommodation, so most of what we found was a minimum of $250 a night. Too high for the travel budget we were on. So we searched Airbnb accommodations. We found one in the heart of Thíra, a stones throw from everything you want to see in the city. It was on the gross side and was still over $100 a night. It was tough to swallow. When we stayed in Zakynthos our Airbnb (which was not gross) was $60 a night! And paradise. (More on Zakynthos here). If you want to do Santorini like you see in the magazines plan to come with a budget for hotels that range between $250 and $500 a night to get the most of the gorgeous architecture and views.
5. The climb from the sea up to the cities are real! What I mean by this is as part of the beauty, the cities provide you with cobblestone stairs that are riddled with donkey dung to climb if you elect not to ride a donkey up to the top. If you are taking a boat tour and getting off in Oia, know you will have to face the climb in the heat. It may be best to wear sturdy footwear and leave your gorgeous sandals for your photoshoots in your tote or backpack. You can also change riding a donkey or mule up to the top for €5. I rode up on one in Thíra, as did my brave friend. This was the first time I ever rode on an animal that was provided for tourist because I always have concern over the way the animals are treated. And I think my concern is warranted. I built a bond with my donkey. I let him take his time going up and I thanked him throughout the climb. It was hot and steep and the cobblestones weren't cared for properly, so my donkey had to go around the potholes. I had a productive climb, although I didn't feel 100% safe. That feeling was a result of the donkeys and mules climbing with people around me. Some were temperamental, kicking at others or stopping and not wanting to carry forward (the epitome of being a stubborn animal). Others would take off much faster than expected or start to change direction. So in Thíra you wait in long lines to take the cable car up, talk a mule or do the walk. In Oia there isn't a cable car so mules or walking it is! See for yourself here.
6. ATVs. It is very popular to rent ATVs to get around. However on our first taxi ride, our driver warned us against getting them. The roads are very windy and holey and drivers generally don't respect the lines on the road, so ATVs aren't for the faint of heart. You will have busses honk at you, cars will come wildly close and everyone will pass you and want you to pull out of their way. Our driver also told us there is a high incidence of accidents. Many drivers choose to get intoxicated and still ride on their ATV. Feel free to rent one and get that Santorini wind in your hair, but know it comes with these warnings.
7. Shopping. There are many many fun and pretty shops and art venues to check out around the island. And the shopping is quite nice. Beautiful jewelry, art pieces, and dresses. But again, all with markups that are staggering. And most places do not take credit card. Cash only. So you will need to craft your budget accordingly and take out the euros you think you need at your local bank. The ATMs on the island generally come with higher than normal fees as well and you don't need wasting funds on these service charges.
8. Island culture. Everyone will tell you, "no problem", "why not", "don't worry", "one is coming". And this can be nice during your holiday, but if your time on the island is limited or you need to get somewhere by a specific time, make sure you plan ahead. Try not to cut anything close or you'll waste precious time. Or worse miss your ferry or flight.
9. Restaurants. Anything with a view is going to have an extra markup. So if you have the budget to spend LA or NYC prices on food, you're fine. But if you want regular suburban prices for meals be prepared for the fancier locations. Instead of a Greek salad costing you €5, it may end up costing you €12. And they all taste the same. And especially make sure to make a reservation at any place you read about as a top spot to watch the sunset. It all books up quickly.
10. Your suitcase. As I mentioned earlier Santorini is hilly and has a lot of cobble stone. If you are staying on a street where there aren't cars permitted (so a taxi can't drop you off right at the front door) or you're not in a higher end hotel that will have someone carry your bags for you, you will need to schlep your stuff. Best to bring a very small suitcase with 4 wheels or a backpack to navigate the streets in the heat. This is definitely an island where being in good shape works in your favor.
11. Santorini isn't known for its beaches. They are volcanic rock and hard on the feet. Bring shoes that can get wet easily so you are most comfortable getting in and out of the water.
All of that said, if you want to see the iconic views of Santorini, go for it! Spend no more than three days there and then make your way to another less crowded and laid back island. Then are hundreds!
For the top 10 tips for what to see and do in Santorini, click here