Are you an explorer that likes to take your time, enjoy each moment, and truly take in your new surroundings with all your senses? Do you like to stop and take many photos to create lasting memories and ones you can share with others? Do you enjoy breathing in the fresh air of your new environment, soaking in the sunshine, nature, plants and animals you encounter along the way? Do you like to stroll at your own pace, stopping when and for however long you like? If you answered yes to these questions and would consider yourself an adventurer and nature lover, then hiking Santorini is the perfect way to experience and truly absorb all its glory! Santorini is a hiker’s paradise!
What to Expect
When coming to Santorini and planning hiking excursions, it’s important to remember that this is not the mountainous, forest hikes you may be used to. In fact, dense vegetation is a scarcity on this island with a dry, arid climate. You are in the Cyclades, so things are certainly different. The hiking trails on Thira and Thirassia are diversified, including footpaths going through villages, to walking the black and red sandy beaches, to moderate climbing through the rocky dirt paths on the mountain, Mesa Vouno. Don’t expect a whole lot of places to rest in the shade and to see a plethora of wildlife. What you can expect, however, is the most breathtakingly beautiful scenes of cliffsides covered in white and blue-domed shaped buildings, geological masterpieces of layered colors on the famous caldera, the serene crystal-clear, blue Aegean Sea, terrain that will include cobbled-stoned paths, dirt and cement roads, rock and sandy paths, while hosting an array of unique flora and creatures like lizards, porcupines, cats, dogs and domesticated donkeys, mules and horses. I guarantee that the views will enchant you beyond belief and you will have tons of “postcard” pictures to take back.
Trekking Solo Vs. Local Guide
To be completely honest, it is possible to hike Santorini’s trails without a guide, however, there are many factors to consider when planning your trekking adventure. It really just boils down to what type of experience you are looking at having. First and foremost, Thira island offers 13 mapped out hiking trails in which all of them have signposts at their trailheads. While these trailhead markers are informative, the problem is that the trails themselves are not always well-marked, if at all. I consider myself to be an avid hiker, yet, upon my first attempts on several different trails on the island, I somehow managed each time to get side tracked, off the main path, turned around and lost. With some extra time and help of local passersby, I was able to get back on the main path or to reconnect to it at a different point. So, if you only have a few days and want to see as much as possible, wouldn’t it be better to have a local, expert guide show you the way? Plus, as I’m sure you can make it to edge of the caldera and gaze upon the majestic views of the volcanic islands and lagoon, would you know how the island was formed, its genesis, its history, its traditions and its culture? That’s just one difference of being accompanied by a local, knowledgeable guide. Further, there are so many unique and interesting stories to be told about this Greek island and its making. For example, as you are walking along the caldera through the capital, Fira, and come across the cable car, which takes guests to and from the old port at the bottom of the caldera. Would you know who, when and how it was built? What about the donkeys, their history, their care and how they are still used all over the island? Not to mention, as you stroll through the busy capital, would you want to know the best places to have an authentic Greek dinner, away from the heavy touristic restaurants? As you’re walking along the caldera and you reach the village of Firostefani, did you happen to get a picture at the famous “postcard” blue-domed church? Did you know where to look or how to set up the best photograph possible?
An expert guide would make sure these are the things you do not miss. What about as you pass through the village of Imerovigli. Would you understand the relevance of this village and its purpose in shaping the island? Or, how about the “tooth-like” rock protruding from the village’s outskirts. Would you know what makes this rock, named Skaros, so famous or that there once stood a Venetian castle at its peak? Nature-lovers, would you understand the horticulture in an arid climate and be able to identify all the island’s flora? Would you recognize the wild growing sage, thyme and rosemary? Or what about Greece’s famous caper bushes, fig and almond trees? If you’re accompanied by an expert guide, I can guarantee these wonders would not only be pointed out to you, but encouraged to touch and sample, if they are ready and safe to eat. On any of the island’s many hiking trails, you are sure to pass many delightful chapels and beautiful churches, but what do you truly know about Greece’s religion? Are you aware of any of their beliefs and principles? Or how about its traditions and celebrations? If you’re hiking to the northern most village of Oia, you would also pass the island’s water desalination plant. Would you know when and why this was constructed? How about what life was like on the island before the plant was built? Then, as your walking atop the marble in Oia, do you know where it came from and from what time period? You would be amazed at the history right under your feet. Truly, there are so many hidden treasures and secrets, along the way, as you hike this island. You are sure to see wondrous sites as you go it alone. Yet, it is only with a local, expert guide that all those treasures and knowledge will be happily uncovered for you. It’s in all the details that a guide will gladly share with you that will make this excursion beyond incredible.
Luckily, SantoriniExperts offers a guided tour on the most famous and picturesque hiking trail of the island. The Caldera Hike Tour will take you from Fira, all along the caldera’s edge, to the northern village of Oia. And trust me, they will not let you miss out on a thing. So, come make some new friends and experience Santorini on foot! From someone who has experienced this trail both ways (solo and on this guided hike), you certainly do not want to miss out!
There are a few tips to keep in mind and be prepared with before starting out on your journey. In the summertime, the islands can become extremely hot, so plan ahead. Take plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and wear appropriate shoes and a hat. It’s also advisable to strike out in the morning when the sun is cooler or in the evening to glimpse the magical Santorini sunsets. In my opinion, if you are planning your Greek island holiday with days of hiking, the best time of year is in the Spring (March – May). It is then that you will encounter a plethora of glorious colors of flowers and the most green the island ever sees. Plus, you could not ask for better weather as at this time of year it is neither too hot or cold.
Fortunately, in 2011, some avid hikers and a local Greek company got together and established signposts at each hiking trailhead on the islands of Thira (Santorini) and Thirassia. There are 13 designated hiking trails with marked signposts on Thira (Santorini) and 6 on the sister island of Thirassia. As you can see from the following picture, the signposts are quite informative, providing its hikers with distances, difficulty, terrain and a map.
Yet, the paths themselves are not so well-marked. You may notice a few markers along the way on the more popular trails like the famous caldera hike from Fira to Oia, but even on this path, you can easily get sidetracked by taking a turn towards intriguing aspects, luring you off your trail. Don’t worry, though, by heading the correct general direction, you will almost always end back up on your trail. For those of you who plan on truly experiencing the assortment of magnificence on Santorini through hiking, I would recommend downloading the hiking map on your phone, which can be used with GPS and without Wi-Fi (you are sure to run into areas where it is not so easy to get a connection). You can download a map on your smartphone, iPhone, or tablet and use the built-in GPS receiver to locate yourself on the map. Below, I have also included a picture of the map that is available for download along with instructions.
Instructions for Map / GPS app:
1. Download a free PDF Maps App from your PlayStore or AppStore. (Avenza offers a nice free App, which is easy to locate the hiking map)
2. Find the map by typing in the link: http://www.pdf-maps.com/maps/62748/
3. Buy the map online from the Avenza store at a small fee of a few Euros (2-5 Euros).
4. Open the map.
5. Tap the GPS button (looks like a circle with 4 lines like a compass) to view your current location (blue dot).
6. Drop placemarks (looks like a lollipop symbol) to mark your location, to edit notes, or to take pictures.
As you look at the map, the trails will be numbered, 13 main trails on Thira (Santorini) and 6 on Thirassia. The map will also include the smaller routes of Thira, which are marked by letter(s). For example, (S) indicates the path from Imerovigli to the famous and historical Skaros rock. Following, I have listed each trail that is on the map, which you can find on the islands with signposts at their trailheads. For each trail, I provide you with a general description of what type terrain you can expect, the distance in length and estimated time it may take. Regarding the times, however, keep in mind that these estimates are of those hikers that are walking at a steady, consistent pace without stops for pictures or resting breaks. So, you can adjust your anticipated times according to your ability level and type of experience you desire. Another option is to purchase the hiking map directly through the Anavasi company in either paper http://www.anavasi.gr/product.php?lang=en&id=13 or digital http://www.anavasi.gr/product.php?lang=en&id=117 format.
Thira Hiking Trails (Santorini) Marked as red, numbered circles on the Anavasi hiking map
1. Pyrgos – Profitis Ilias Monastery – Ancient Thira (4,3 km / 2 hours)
Path – partially cobbled
This trail starts at the central square of Pyrgos in which a wide cobbled path / road leads to the highest peak of the island, some 567 meters or 2000 feet above sea level, providing its guests with a beautiful 360-degree panoramic view of the entire island. At the top, you will discover the Monastery of Prophet Elijah (Profitis Ilias), which dates back from 1711. Next, continuing from the top of the mountain, you will start on a footpath that soon gives place to an ancient cobbled path, slightly descending Mesa Vouno until you reach the amazing archaeological site of Ancient Thira. The ancient city and the views from the highest altitude on the island is worth the hike alone. If you plan on spending time wandering the archaeological site, keep in mind that it does close early (approximately 14:00) and costs a small entrance fee of 2-4 Euros. This path presents its guests with a variation of a tradition Greek island village, a monastery where monks live and worship and an important archaeological ancient city.
2. Mesa Gonia – Pyrgos – Emporio (4,4 km / 2 hours)
Path – partially cobbled
This is hike that takes you through 3 traditional, non-touristic villages of Santorini. The charming village of Mesa Gonia is the starting point of this very interesting trail. The stone-paved path climbs smoothly to Pyrgos and then descends smoothly through vineyards to Emporio with the impressive Venetian Kastelli (castle), which is the most beautiful and best preserved of the five castles of the island. The 2 hours estimated time is if you are just briskly strolling through each village. I can promise, however, that you will want to spend much more time exploring these villages with small, labyrinth pathways, authentic Greek family tavernas and quaint cafes where you will encounter more locals than tourists for sure. Also, both the villages of Pyrgos “the tower” and Emporio “commerce” have the remains of Venetian castles in which you can enter and explore inside the fortress walls.
3. Kamari – Ancient Thira – Perissa (2,9 km / 1 hour 30 minutes)
Path – partially cobbled
This trail is for the beach and history enthusiasts. This route starts form the touristic village of Kamari, known for its volcanic, black sand beaches lined with restaurants, tavernas and souvenir shops. The wide and steep cobbled path ascends, past Zoodohoos Pigi chapel, to Ancient Thira. A brief visit to this very important archaeological site requires at least one hour. From Ancient Thira, you will descend a dirt and rocky well-trodden path to the lively beach of Perissa. On the footpath descending Mesa Vouno, I highly suggest a short deviation to Panagia Katefiano, a small Greek chapel, nestled in the huge rock, halfway up the mountain, approximately 200 meters from the base. This chapel was used as a refuge or hideaway back in the Venetian times from pirate raids. If you pack a lunch, this is also a perfect spot to have lunch as there are cement benches and tables in a shaded area next to the chapel to relax. Plus, the view of the longest black sandy beaches and the surrounding villages is superb from here. Once you reach the bottom, head towards the beach where you will most definitely want to spend the rest of your day. This organized black sand beach is 4 kilometers in length and offers its guests numerous choices of activities, shopping and dining.
4. Pyrgos – St. George to Katefio – Episkopi (2,8 km / 1 hour)
Path – partially cobbled
A route connecting St. George to Katefio and a nearby ruined fortified monastery nestled among cliffs to the Byzantine church of Episkopi. On the way, we cross the impressive fortified spring of Agas, dating back to the Ottoman period. This route is will not take you along the caldera of the island, but the views and historical monuments are not to be missed.
5. Pyrgos – Exo Gonia – Mesa Gonia – Episkopi (2,8 km / 1 hour)
Path – partially cobbled
This route takes us to visit the fortified Venetian Kastelli of Pyrgos and walk along the paved streets of the villages of Exo Gonia and Mesa Gonia, ending at the Byzantine monument of Episkopi. Another trail, which explores the hearts and souls of traditional villages, yet a bit shorter than the one through the vineyards to Emporio.
6. Pyrgos – Megalochori (2,2 km / 40 minutes)
Dirt road – path – cobbled path
This is a short route that connects two traditional villages of the central part of the island, ending at the picturesque village of Megalochori. This village was built in the bed of a smooth stream and is the largest village for exporting wine. Here, one has many choices of wineries and vineyards to visit including Venetsanos, Santos Wines, Boutari and Gavalas Winery.
7. Megalochori – Plaka – Megalochori (3,4 km / 1 hour 10 minutes)
This route starts in the heart of the traditional village of Megalochori then heads toward the caldera, following a well-trodden path that ends at the thermal baths of Plaka beach, where one can find hot springs that bubble to the surface of the sea.
8. Pyrgos – Vothonas (1,9 km / 40 minutes)
Cobbled path – cement road – path
A trail, which was forgotten for years until its recent clearing and reopening. It serves as a connection of the two villages of Pyrgos and Vothonas as it sweeps you through authentic landscapes of farmland and local traditional island living.
9. Fira – Firostefani – Imerovigli – Oia (9,8 km / 3 hours)
Paved path – dirt road – footpath
A spectacular and very popular hiking route, moving along the edge of the most famous caldera in the world. Starting from the main square of Fira, then crossing the pedestrian market street and the catholic district, you will stroll through the delightful neighborhoods of the villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli. After exiting the village of Imerovigli, you will follow the path along the caldera traversing dirt roads and rocky footpaths, featuring many ups and downs. Lastly, you will reach the northernmost village of the island, Oia, past the chapels of the Stavros and the Prophet Elias. The hike includes spectacular, cliff-top walking with the sparkling, azure Aegean Sea stretching for miles before your eyes—if you’re going to hike in Santorini, this one is not to be missed.
There’s a good reason this hike is the most talked about trek in Santorini. It is absolutely incredible and offers a real taste of the Aegean experience! This is a “must” experience, especially if you are only allotted enough time to enjoy one hike. The view from every point is awe-inspiring and the trail presents its guests with such variety of picturesque villages, nature and adventure! I’ve included several pictures from my hikes on this trail to give you a taste of what you will experience.
10. Finikia – Kyra Panagia – Kouloumpos (4,6 km / 1 hour 20 minutes)
Paved path – ruined road – path – sandy beach
Talk about variety as you trek through this trail. It starts at one of the most untouched villages by mass tourism, Finikia, with its many “canaves” or cellars, used for making and storing wine. Next, you will move through the vineyards of Pano Meria and then along the long sandy beaches of Baxedes and Karra as it ends at Cape Coloumbos. For those that want a little bit of everything, this is the hike for you.
11. Akrotiri – Bay of Balos – Apothikes – Akrotiri (1,85 km / 50 minutes)
Cobbled path – path – sandy and pebble beach – dirt road
This is a circular route starting from the village of Akrotiri, then descending towards the Bay of Balos, with the hidden beaches of the caldera and the picturesque Agios Nikolaos, which leads to the beach Apothikes. Finally, you will return to the village of Akrotiri following the dirt road. Traditional village, caldera, hidden beaches, oh my!
12. Lighthouse – Mesa Pigadia – Taxiarchis – Kambia – Kokkini (Red) Beach – Prehistoric Town – Akrotiri (9,6 km / 3 hours 15 minutes)
Path – dirt road – paved path
This is a long, diversified terrain route that takes you around the southwestern part of the island, starting at the stone-built old lighthouse with breathtaking views of the caldera, the Kameni islands and Thirassia. This newly opened trail follows paths, ruined dirt roads and old cobblestones, on hilly ground. Moving alternately north and south we have the opportunity to view both the caldera and the steep southern coast. Past the beaches of Mesa Pigadia, Kambia and Kokkini (Red) we reach the Prehistoric Town of Akrotiri. The excavation site of the Prehistoric city of Akrotiri is a marvelous experience, taking you back in time to a place some consider to be Plato’s “Lost Atlantis.” It is also commonly referred to as the “Pompeii of the Aegean” as it was covered in volcanic ash from the catastrophic volcanic explosion of 1600B.C. Lastly, a cobbled path leads you uphill to the village of Akrotiri where there are also the vestiges of a Venetian castle. This is surely a half day adventure that you will leave you with lasting memories and views never to be witnessed anywhere else on this Earth.
13. Akrotiri village – Agia Anna – Vlychada (5,2 km / 1 hour 20 minutes)
Dirt road – path – sandy beach
This route starts in the rural landscape of the village of Akrotiri. Next, after descending hills made of pumice, you are led to the sandy beach of Vlychada, with its wonderful earthy formations in which the surrounding walls are made of volcanic ash that has been weathered over the years. It feels as if these cliffs can tell a myriad of stories. This is a more quiet and tranquil beach as well, since it is not commercialized. So, make sure you bring some supplies and enjoy a swim in the beautiful Aegean after your hike.
Short Paths – Marked by blue circles with letters on the Anavasi hiking map.
(AM) Oia – Ammoudi (0,8 km / 15 minutes)
Wide paved path
This is the path from the village of Oia, descending over 200 large cobbled stone steps to the famous Ammoudi port below. The main port of Oia, Ammoudi, has evolved over the years into one of the busiest spots of the island, providing guests with a choice of fish tavernas, souvenir shops, boat excursions to Thirassia, the Kameni islands, the volcano and much more. The cliff jumping spot and the swimming route from Peramataris jetty to Armenaki is a memorable experience, not to be missed.
(AR) Oia – Armeni (0,55 km / 10 minutes)
Wide paved path
This is another path, taking you on descent from the village of Oia to the old port of Armeni. From below, you will witness a picturesque, small settlement, protected from the northern winds and considered one of the jewels of Santorini.
(G) Fira – Old Port (Mesa Gialos) (0,65 km / 15 minutes)
Wide paved path
The paved track of 300 steps from Fira to Mesa Gialos was for many years the only route connecting the capital village with the sea. Nowadays, many tourists still use this path down to the main port where tender boats await to take passengers back to their cruise ships. Keep in mind, though, that is you chose this path, you will be sharing it with the donkeys, which you can choose to ride for 5 Euros. Or, you have the option of taking the cable car, built in 1982, which is 6 Euros and only a 3-minute descent to the bottom.
(D) Diapla (0,65 km / 10 minutes)
This is a very short stroll that will take you to the point with a unique view towards Emporio and the entire southern part of the island.
(M) Messaria (0,9 km / 30 minutes)
Paved streets of the village
This is a circular route that follows the signposted, narrow streets of this charming village with the imposing mansions, churches and its industrial buildings, from the late 19th century.
(S) Imerovigli – Skaros (1,5 km / 1 hour)
Path – partially paved
It is hard to imagine now, but the famous Skaros rock was the capital town of the island during the Venetian occupation, established in 1207 and built atop the impressive promontory of the Skaros rock. This medieval town was destroyed by a terrible earthquake in 1650 when they moved the capital up the cliffside to the village of Imerovigli. A stroll towards the church of Theoskepasti via the ruins of Skaros is a unique hiking experience as you stroll the same paths that the locals did centuries ago.