While on the magnificent island of Santorini, every visitor should find out the best and most memorable things one should do and just as importantly, what one should not do. Read below the blog of Santorini’s do’s and don’ts, where I (an avid Santorini traveler and blog writer) examine the things I believe to be the best-of-the-best experiences and advice you should not miss out on.
· Do plan your Santorini vacation, giving yourself 7 – 10 days to really be able to soak in all this glorious island has to offer! This amount of time will guarantee you have enough time to see, do and experience most of its greatness. All the while, not feeling rushed and having the leisure holiday you deserve to explore and enjoy each new adventure.
· Don’t think you can truly experience Santorini in only a day or two. Although it is a small island (28 sq. mi. / 73 sg.km.), there is just so much to see, do and experience around each and every corner. I cannot begin to even touch on all of the culture, geology, history and fun you will discover here!
· Do take a private, custom tour in the beginning of your holiday on the island. Even is you have planned enough time and structured your days to see and do the things you have heard interest you the most, I can promise you that the best things to encounter are those things that only a local expert can inform you of. Not to mention, wouldn’t you like to start your trip with some background knowledge? Know how this island was formed, learn of its history and what really makes it so special?
· Don’t just pick any tour company to show you around on your first days on the island. While there is a plethora of choices when choosing a touring company, you will certainly get the best if you take a little time to research and read reviews. Hint: the best of the best is SantoriniExperts. Their superb ratings and thorough written reviews don’t lie. If you want to feel at home the moment you arrive, with personable, friendly locals that treat you like friends, on a customizable tour, suited to fit your personal needs, there honestly isn’t a better choice. (And… this is coming from someone who writes blogs and has rode along on several different tours with numerous companies).
· Do take a boat excursion to the volcanic islands of Nea Kameni and Palaia Kameni. This is what makes this Greek island so unique! It was formed and built upon volcanic islands that have erupted over time. The famous caldera and all of the white villages perched on the edge of the cliff are literally situated on what used to be the crater of the old volcano. You’re on a volcanic island. So, what trip would be complete without visiting the volcano? Or, how about the hot springs formed by the warm sulphuric waters?
· Don’t forget to wear sunscreen and a hat as you won’t find much for shade on the boat trip or on the volcanic islands. Plus, bring plenty of water, especially if you plan to climb to the volcano’s crater. While most boats offer concessions on board, at a fee, you will certainly need more water climbing the rocky black volcano, Nea Kameni.
· Don’t wear a white bathing suit as you swim into the warmer waters of the hot springs along Palaia Kameni. Because of the rich sulphuric sand surrounding this island, it will not remain white! I made that mistake my first time and ended up with an orangish, brown bathing suit instead.
· Do dig into Santorini’s rich history. Hear of Plato’s Lost Atlantis? Many believe that Santorini’s ancient city of Akrotiri is its location. You can delve into the excavation site that archaeologists have been digging out of the volcanic ash and pumice that covered it 3,600 years ago.
Or, how about walking through the remains on the Ancient city of Thira, located on top of the island’s only mountain, Mesa Vouno.
Lastly, if those sites get you excited and you want to see more, visit the museums on the island hosting artifacts from the excavation site of Akrotiri and Ancient Thira. Most notable is the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, which is located in Fira and hosts artifacts from the excavations at Akrotiri.
Next, visit the smaller Archaeological Museum, also located in the capital of Fira, hosting artifacts from the city of Ancient Thira.
Also, Oia has a couple museums like the Nautical Museum and the Museum of Musical Instruments. Honestly, however, always call ahead to these museums as each time I have gone to visit during museum hours, they were closed. Lastly, the traditional village of Pyrgos has the Icon and Relics Collection museum. It is in the renovated chapel of the Holy Trinity and houses a small collection of icons of religious art, ecclesiastical items, pottery, embroidery's, metallic artworks and woodcarvings. The exhibits date back to the 17th and 18th centuries and correspond to the islands period of prosperity. Hint: if you plan to visit all of Santorini’s museums, you can purchase a combination pass at a dramatically lower price than it would be to purchase them all separately.
· Don’t try to pack in all the island’s history in one day. That not only would be information overload, but it would take you at least two days to get to it all, while being able to enjoy it and truly learn what they have to show you. The two ruins sites of Akrotiri and Ancient Thira, will take you 2-4 hours at each one alone. Not to mention, the numerous museums and written information. Also, if you want to dig deeper and have someone to ask questions, you can always hire a professional guide to walk with you through the remains.
· Do explore off the “beaten track.”
· Don’t be afraid to get lost! You’re on a small island and will eventually find your way back. I believe that it is when you get lost or off the regular path that you meet your greatest discoveries. Whether that be an object you would’ve never noticed before, a new-found friend or an adventure you couldn’t have even fathomed. Take a chance and welcome the so-called “wrong” turns.
· Do immerse yourself in the clear, crisp, refreshing waters of the Aegean Sea. Bring a snorkel and mask and explore underwater. Hint: a very nice place for snorkeling are the waters in front of the famous Red Beach because of the huge lava rocks and boulders in the water, you will be able to see more plant and marine life underwater here. If you want to do so that is now only possible on a catamaran cruise, as the beach itself is closed because of dangerous stone slides.
The waves aren’t big, so make sure you float on your back and enjoy the serene cool of the crystal-clear waters. For those of you looking for a deeper underwater venture, check out the scuba diving excursion offered to take you under water to the volcanic island, where you can witness underwater the air bubbles coming from the rocks of the underground “dormant” volcano.
· Don’t pass up an opportunity to immerse yourself in some of the most beautiful waters of this world. How can you even tell people you traveled through Greek islands without having the experience of swimming in the Aegean Sea?
· Do visit a traditional village. Explore the heart and soul of Greek island living to truly see how the locals live. Hint: read our previous blogs on “Santorini’s Villages” to see which ones interest you most.
· Don’t only visit the touristic villages of Fira and Oia and think you’ve experienced this island. While they are among the most beautiful villages with their stunning views of the caldera, volcano and lagoon, they are also predominantly set up in a manner for the entertainment and production of tourism.
· Do get into nature and enjoy one of the many hiking trails. One can only observe and take in as much when you are going at a slower pace of walking. Santorini is luckily a hiker’s paradise, adorned by amateurs and experts alike. Read our previous blogs, “Hiking Santorini” and “Hiking Thirassia” to get all the details on hiking Santorini and our sister island of Thirassia.
· Don’t miss your chance to walk on the very same paths, used centuries ago, that make this historically rich island so special. For example, if you hike out to the famous Skaros rock, you are actually walking out to the very first capital of Santorini and remains of what used to be a Venetian castle, built in 1207.
· Do eat at a traditional, authentic taverna where grandma’s recipes are being cooked and everything is fresh and homemade.
· Don’t only dine in Fira or Oia at a highly touristic restaurant, where more than likely the fish is frozen and the small details that make the Greek cuisine so exquisite are missing.
· Do visit a Greek Orthodox Chapel. Speak to a priest, attend a service and ask if there are any special traditional events taking place at the time of your stay. 98% of all Greeks worship and believe in the Christian Greek Orthodox religion. If you want a pure experience and to really understand the beliefs, morals and standards that most of Greeks live by, this is the way to do it. You may not understand the language of the service you sit in on, but the feeling will tell you so much.
· Don’t make assumptions about their religion. Just ask. You may be surprised how willing and happy they are to share with you their beliefs. Do you know why there are many paintings of saints on the chapel walls? Or, how about why there are hundreds of churches, chapels and cathedrals on the island?
· Do learn a few words and/or phrases in Greek. Although, 97% speak some English since you are on a touristic island, remember you are in their country. I just feel it shows respect that you are trying to learn and speak a little. Here’s a few words to get you started:
Hello and/or Goodbye – Ya sas - Γεια σας
Thank you – Efcharisto – ευχαριστώ
Good morning – kalimera – Καλημέρα
Goodnight – kalinychta - καληνύχτα
· Don’t be shy to not pronounce them correctly. Greek is not the easiest language. However, I believe any local Greek would respect the fact that you are trying to communicate in their language, if even just a little.
· Do explore deeper and find out all the extras this island offers. For example, along the mountain, Mesa Vouno, there are several parts that have been prepared with anchors for rock climbing.
You can find these anchors with their designated paths that indicate levels of difficulty in 3 places: at the end of Perissa beach, at the end of Kamari beach and 200 meters up the mountain, where the small chapel Panagia Katefiani is situated. I asked around and found some locals with their own climbing gear, who taught me the basics and took me out for one of the best experiences I’ve had yet.
· Don’t think this is a sport that anyone, with no experience, can jump into and accomplish easily. It can’t be quite dangerous. So, make sure you have the proper gear and knowledge before attempting these climbing paths. (Oh… and wear a GoPro camera or some sort of hands-free device to take magnificent photos because you certainly want to capture the views from above, but need both of your hands for climbing.)
· Do meet and spend time with the locals. Spark up a conversation in a store or taverna, talk to the receptionist at your hotel, or even better is to stop in a local art studio and gallery. Along the main road, passing through the village of Megalochori, one can find numerous art studios and galleries. When you walk into one of these, not only will you get to witness a local Greek in the middle of creating a work of art, but you may just meet a new friend. There is something indescribably special about the hospitality that the Greeks seem to shower even complete strangers with. This is exactly how I discovered one of my favorite places and people on Santorini. You should stop in and say hello (Ya sas) to Andreas and Kristy at “Earth and Water.” Upon my very first visit there, I was invited to sit down and talk, offered wine or raki, then Andreas gave me a sample of his talent on the pottery wheel. These kind-hearted people are now people I consider family, but over the years this kind generosity and hospitality is their norm as I’ve witnessed them treating so many others in the same manner.
· Don’t always expect to understand each other completely. While most locals do speak some English, you need to realize that it is not their mother tongue (first language), so pronunciation and understanding can be broken. Yet, its beyond possible. You’d be surprised at the deep conversations that can even be accomplished through basic words, body language and the eyes.