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Santorini

Santorini Travel Guide Oia and Caldera

Looking out over the tranquil expanse of cobalt water that fills Santorini’s caldera, it’s easy to forget that what you’re really seeing is the result of one of the most violent volcanic eruptions in history.

Now a small circular archipelago of islands known as the “Jewel of the Aegean,” Santorini was a volcanic cone that erupted 3,600 years ago, causing the landmass to sink and fill with water. What remains is a ring of islands that surround the caldera, forming one of the most striking panoramas in the world.

The largest of the remaining islands is also called Santorini (a.k.a. Thira) and borders the caldera to the east. Its picturesque whitewashed towns, which are perched atop dramatic vertical cliffs, stunning caldera views and unforgettable sunsets, make Santorini the most popular Greek Isle among travelers.

Bordering the caldera to the west is the island of Thirasia, which has a population of approximately 300 people. Just south of that is the small, unpopulated island of Aspronisi. The uninhabited volcanic islands of Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni are located in the caldera’s center.

Santorini Travel Guide Oia

Exploring Santorini

If you only have time to see one part of Santorini, you’d be remiss not to go to the northwestern town of Oia (pronounced EE-ah). Set atop cliffs with views of the caldera to the south and the Aegean Sea to the north, Oia’s stark white buildings, blue-domed Cathedrals and traffic-free cobblestone streets make it a favorite of most visitors. This charming little town is famous for its donkeys, which you will periodically see hauling cargo up the impossibly steep stairs from the small ports below. Above all, Oia is famous for being the best place on the island to view the world renowned Santorini sunset.

Santorini Travel Guide View from FiraSouth of Oia is Santorini’s capital, Fira. Though Fira’s architecture and caldera views are similar to that of Oia, the traffic congestion makes it far less charming. A hub for shopping, dining and nightclubbing, Fira is where the action is after dark.

Since Santorini is a volcanic island, the beaches vary in color and material. As you explore, you will come across black, red and white sand and pebble beaches. The water is typically warmest on the black sand beaches because the sun is absorbed by the dark color.

Located along the southeast shoreline is the resort town of Kamari. The most popular beach town among tourists, Kamari boasts a long stretch of black pebble beach, which is accented to the south by a large rock formation, known as Mesa Vuono. The village is complete with shops, restaurants and hotels. South of Kamari, on the other side of Mesa Vuono, is an expanse of black pebble beach that stretches from Perissa to Perivolos with dozens of restaurants and beach bars within arm’s reach.

Santorini Travel Guide Red BeachOn the southwestern end of the island, you can hike out to Red Beach, which is appropriately named for the color of the red lava sand and cliffs. While visitors are allowed to sunbathe on this beach, dining and bathroom facilities are not easily accessible.

If you continue west from Red Beach, you will come to the lighthouse on the very southwestern tip of the island. If you are feeling adventurous, you should hike out on its rocks for spectacular views of the caldera and the ocean. This is also a great place to watch the sunset without the crowds.

While Santorini’s rugged coastline is dramatic, the interior is covered with vineyards, a result of the ideal volcanic soil. Unlike traditional trellis-climbers, Santorini’s vines grow low to the ground and form a basket shape that protects the grapes inside from the island’s strong trade winds. Since Santorini’s climate is arid, the vines get moisture from the nightly sea fog. The predominant grape is Assyrtiko, which creates dry whites and sweet Vinsanto dessert wines. You can sample Santorini’s wines at island restaurants or purchase a bottle from the local markets or roadside vendors.

Santorini Travel Guide Oia

Getting There

Located in the southern Aegean Sea, about 120 miles southeast of Greece’s mainland, Santorini is the southernmost cluster of islands in the group of 220 Greek isles that make up the Cyclades.

Travelers will arrive on Santorini either by air or boat. Santorini Island National Airport is located on the east side of the island. Whether you are flying into or out of Santorini, keep a close eye on your departure time, as there is very good chance it may change. Flight times are known to shift from ten minutes to two hours, even on the day of travel. To avoid problems, confirm your flight time both the day before and day of travel.

While the ferry schedules are slightly more reliable, securing tickets can be tricky. Travel agents tend to save tickets for large tour groups and have been known to tell smaller groups and individuals that the ferry is full in order to sell them plane tickets instead. The best way to avoid this is to purchase your tickets in advance directly from the ferry line.

The main ferry lines traveling to Santorini’s Port Athinios, which is located along the southwestern coast, are Anek Lines (website, +30 210 4197400), Blue Star Ferries (website, +30 210 8919800) and Hellenic Seaways (website, +30 210 4199000).

Whether you arrive by air or sea, there will be a line of taxis waiting to take you to your final destination. Always make sure you agree on the price before accepting a ride and don’t be timid about negotiating. In Greece, everything is negotiable.

Getting Around

While the cheapest and easiest way to explore Santorini is to rent a car, a boat tour will allow you to absorb the caldera’s splendor from an entirely different perspective. If your budget allows, do both.

There are a number of reputable rental car companies located on Santorini. Hertz (www.hertz.gr) has locations at the airport (tel. +30 22860 33670) and in the capital, Fira (tel: +30 22860 22221). Hermes serves travelers in Kamari (website, tel: +30 22860 32488) and Drossos Car & Moto Rental has locations in Oia and Port Athinios (website, tel: +30 22860 71990). When renting a car in Santorini, keep in mind that Greek law requires visitors to present an International Driver’s License along with their valid driver’s license.

If you hope to avoid expensive refill fees, be sure to ask the rental agent where the closest gas station is and confirm its hours of operation. Gas stations are few and far between, so waiting until your drop-off time will most likely result in a hectic end to your day.

When it comes to boating in Santorini, there are a myriad of options to choose from. A good value is the six-hour Caldera Roundtrip Tour, which costs about $32/person. Departing from Amoudi port in Oia, the stops include: Nea Kameni, allowing passengers to hike to the top of the volcano, Palea Kameni for swimming in the sulfuric hot springs, and Thirasia for island exploration and lunch. To view other boat tour and rental options, visit MySantorini.com (website, +30 22860 22220) or Thira-Santorini Tours (website, +30 22860 28115).

Santorini Travel Guide Kamari Beach

Where to Stay

Oia and Kamari are the best places to stay in Santorini, however they both have tradeoffs. Oia is preferred by travelers who wish to enjoy the town’s history and admire the caldera, but it lacks easy access to a beach. Kamari, on the other hand, has a long stretch of beach with chairs and umbrellas for rent ($7), but its location on the eastern side of the island means no caldera views. Though many travel agents will recommend Fira, it is loud from the traffic congestion, has no beach access and lacks the charm of the other two.

For a good selection of hotels at discount prices, check out Hotels in Santorini.

Oia

If you’re staying in Oia, be aware that many hotels and cave houses with a caldera view require a steep climb down the side of the cliff. Unfortunately, many travelers don’t discover this until they arrive, so be sure to inquire about this before you book your room. Also, there are no addresses in Oia due to the historical layout of the village. To make your arrival easier, you should arrange for an arrival transfer through your hotel.

VIP Suites (website, +30 22860 71507) is built into the cliff overlooking the caldera and is known for its breathtaking views and affordability. Room rates start around $150/night. Please note: this hotel does feature a steep climb down the cliff’s stairs; however, many travelers feel that the incredible view makes it worth it.

Hotel Museum (website, +30 22860 71406) is a good option for travelers who wish to avoid the steep stairs. Though it does not have a view of the caldera, some of the rooms look north over the Aegean Sea. Room rates start at around $150/night in June, increasing to $195/night in July and $230/night in August.

Kamari

Hotel Santellini (website, +30 22860 31301) blends luxury and value. The hotel is a short walk from the beach and most rooms feature an ocean view. Room rates start at around $125/night in June and early July, increasing to $165/night from mid-July through August.

Santorini Travel Guide Oia SunsetEat & Drink

Oia

Pelekanos (website, +30 22860 71553). For lunch or dinner, this rooftop restaurant pairs traditional Mediterranean dishes and Santorini wine with one of the best caldera views on the island. Lunch dishes start around $10 and dinner entrees around $15.

Santorini Mou (website, +30 22860 71730) is a good family run taverna with a lively atmosphere – the owner is a guitarist and late at night, with the music playing, the place turns into a full-on party.

For lunch or dinner, Restaurant Pizza Edwin (+30 22860 71971). is a great place to get a slice of pizza or an Italian dish without spending a lot of money. Located on the road to Amoudi beach across the street from Oia’s parking lot, what this restaurant lacks in view, it makes up for in affordability, convenience and taste. Pizzas start at $8 and pasta dishes at $10.

Kamari

Irini’s Restaurant & Café (website, +30 22860 31246) is a Kamari landmark. With beachfront tables and traditional Greek menu, it is a great spot for lunch or a snack, dinner or after-hours drinks. Lunch dishes start at about $8 and dinner entrees start around $12.

Santorini Travel Guide Lighthouse Practicalities

When to go: June. Traveling to Santorini in early June is ideal because you will benefit from cheaper mid-season pricing, fewer people and comfortable temperatures in the low 70s.

Weather: Between May and September temperatures typically range from 68°F – 80°F. The wind picks up at night so bring a jacket if you plan to dine at a Caldera-view restaurant.

Language: While the primary language is Greek, many people speak some English.

Currency: Euro

Visas: Visas are not required for Americans visiting Greece

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