Greece was actually a country I had little interest going visit. I ended up spending three weeks in the country only because I requested weeks that went into the monsoon season of Southeast Asia. I was trying to celebrate my 21st birthday in a stunning way without breaking my bank account, and Europe is the quickest way to realize you didn’t bring enough money. However, seeing the pictures of Santorini was enticing enough to give it a look. I have not had one regret going.
I spent a week in Santorini with two days traveling there from MCO airport. One of my favorite hostels that I have ever stayed at was Caveland. It was cheap with about 17 euros a night and located in Karterados, which is a town located almost center of the island. I was about a 5-minute walk to the bus stops for Kamari, Perissa, and Akrotiri. Add 10 more minutes to walk to Fira and the bus stop for Oia.
The food in Katerados was amazing and cheap too. My friend brought me to a few places up the road from my hostel, not even a two-minute walk. We paid about 6 euros for a main entrée. They brought us bread, a free shot of raki each, and a huge piece watermelon for desert all for free as well.
One of the other notable places that I ate at was for lunch at a restaurant in Pyrgos, a small village on top of the largest hill on the island. We had just finished roaming the small allies of the place when we found this little gem. I think the place had just opened as it was 11 o’clock and there was no one else around so we were able to score a table with an incredible view. You could almost observe the whole island from our seats. And the menu had a wide variety of options for picky eaters such as myself. My friend and I decided to each share an appetizer, she getting the grilled octopus and I getting the smoked sausages. Each of ours didn’t cost us more than 8 euros and they were big enough to act like an entrée. And like the restaurant in Katerados, we received free olives, bread, raki, and a Greek honey cake.
My whole worry about Greece breaking my bank washed away seeing that a lot of local restaurants were this cheap. It’s because of the economy coming out of bankruptcy so the whole country is cheap especially where the locals like to dine. For my birthday, I tried to treat myself to a nice view of the caldera while eating out in Fira. I paid almost 40 euros for a lesser quality food than if I were to walk 15 inland to less touristy places. Eating in Fira and Oia is a lovely atmosphere, but they do charge you a lot for the atmosphere.
Hiking along the Caldera from Fira to Oia is one of the easiest ways to appreciate the views this island has to offer you. It’s not a strenuous hike at all either; half of it was wondering if we were actually on the right path due to how simple it was. It went through a lot of the towns overlooking the caldera. I did NOT realize that the path also makes you walk on the main road for a hot second. That was probably my least favorite part about the road, especially after some horrifying experiences on the busses. But I would still do the hike in a heartbeat. There was even an old Greek Orthodox Church on the path. My group and I stopped to take a peak inside and the owner was so excited to talk about his little gem. Apparently his family owned it for generations, and now it was his! Though his English wasn’t easy to comprehend, I could still see the joy he had for this place and it was really incredible.
Once we reached Oia, we headed towards Ammoudi Bay to take a well-deserved dip into the chilling waters. We dived off the little cliff, which was incredibly thrilling. The water was really clear so you could see some of the rocks fifty feet below (probably not that deep, but deep enough to not knock your coconut). Though if it’s a little too intense, plenty of people just sat back and watched while either sunbathing on the rocks or just dipping their toes into the bay.
And once you’re done cooling off, you can easily walk up the 300 stairs back to Oia. Or you can be like me and take the donkey for a mere 5 euros. The donkey I rode was so anxious to get to the top that I thought numerous times I was going to be thrown off the staircase. One of the other donkeys would’ve pooped on my shoe if I hadn’t paid attention. It was an experience; one that I don’t regret and would recommend to anyone, especially if it saves you from walking up the full 300 steps.
There we explored the city a bit more before grabbing a spot on the old castle to watch the sunset. The sunset was at 20:30 o’clock. We arrived about 19 o’clock and it was packed. If you want a good space, I recommend getting there about 18 or 18:30. Want to know a good way to pass the time waiting for one of the most notorious sunsets on this world? Read a book that you just bought at Atlantis Books. They aren’t paying me to advertise for them (yet at least), but I would recommend stepping into this little shop at least once during your visit in Oia. It’s a wonderland of stories and they have tiny little notes with their thoughts next to some books. It really was worth a stop.
Another great experience I had was renting an ATV. I know some people who have rented one their whole trip, but I only budgeted for one day so we used it as much as possible. We went to explore the picturesque village of Pyrgos first. I mentioned the city for having one of my favorite restaurants with a remarkable view for a great reason. Being one of the tallest villages on the island, you can really view the whole paradise from this one spot. And each turn in the village streets brings an amazing photo opportunity. The best part about the village? It’s not over crowded with tourists. The public bus stops here on the way to Perissa, but not many people get off to explore it.
The next stop on our ATV excursion was Perissa’s black sand beach. I’m not a huge beach fan to begin with. I hate sand with a burning passion. But the sand at this beach was more like tiny pebbles and I loved every bit of it. I went a total of 3 times to this particular beach, and then Kamari’s similar beach twice. Coming back to the beaches in America is cruel agony after knowing the beauty of these.
- Red Beach isn’t really a beach to swim at and can be a hassle to get to compared to the others. It’s also awkward and dirty to try to lay down on. I would only recommend going here if you are planning on seeing Ancient Thira. Both are at the same bus stop in Akrotiri.
- They have an outdoor cinema in Kamari that changes movies every week for their summer season.
- The beach chairs in Kamari are a lot of times free when it’s not busy season (not in July or August). The people at the restaurant that owns them will generally come up and offer you a menu but will let you relax if you say no.
It’s pretty easy to get around on the island depending on where you’re staying and budgets. As I said, some people rent an ATV for their whole trip and it’s a wonderful experience to begin with. It’s 20 euros a day and can sit two people. If I hadn’t splurged on that birthday meal, I would totally consider renting an ATV for longer. You’re able to reach those parts of the island where the busses don’t stop and aren’t tied to a bus schedule either. I know people who had to wait an hour to catch a bus trying to come back from Perissa!
I used primarily the bus transport while on the island. It’s about 1.80 euros a person per ride, but depends on where you are going. The busses run really frequent actually and stay on schedule much of my surprise. The people who had to wait an hour was because the amount of people trying to get on a bus. I managed to get on a bus for free a few times because of how jam-packed they cram people on there. And if you’re going to Oia, I would recommend the bus for sure. The roads back up very easily with the tour busses stopping randomly on the two lane road, and I loved being able to relax on vacation rather than fight with road rage on the ATV.
When the sunset has ended and you victoriously fought the crowds to get to the bus station in Oia, they organize the lines amazingly well. After working at Disney for over two years, I think it’s something when I say I was very impressed with their organization of the lines. But when another bus comes into the station to get ready to load more people, get out of the way! There isn’t much room for the buses to do a three-point turn especially with tourists in the way. And the drivers of the busses really test the limits to navigating the roads on a cliff at night. I always hold on tight when traveling in-between Fira and Oia. I might’ve almost squeezed a random guy’s arm off with how nerve-wracking it was.
I’m glad I spent a week in Santorini. I boarded a ferry and headed out to Athens where I spent the rest of my vacation in the capital of Greece. Many people stated that Santorini was the highlight of their trip, and I can easily see why they say that. Though it’s pegged as a honeymoon vacation, it’s got something for everyone and it’s worth a see at least once in your life. It’s incredibly a lot cheaper than I anticipated and would come back later in life.
All photographs were taken by Seth Stelly. Like them? Check out more at this website.