honest advice for visiting santorini
There's no question this island is postcard-perfect. Yet, it's not all sunset shots and strategic lighting. Here's some real advice from a low-budget traveller who's been there, done that and got the picture.
If you’re wanting to do the hike from Fira to Oia, sensible walking shoes and walking clothes are a must. Don’t believe what you read online about being able to do this hike in sandals and a dress – it’s a lie. It’s a tough, hot, steep and at parts, slippery with loose shale, trek up and over the caldera. You’ll need to pack plenty of water, food and sunscreen. Also, because of the breathtaking scenery on-route, the hike takes hours. It took us around five hours from start to finish, and we’re no strangers to mountain walks. There’s also no toilet after Imerovigli, so make sure you go when and where you can. If not, I can confirm there's a cave on-route.
The sunsets are spectacular everywhere in Santorini. It's a myth you'll only experience the best in Oia. The town at the northern tip of the island is so popular at sunset as back in the day, taxi drivers would tell tourists it was the most beautiful place to be for golden hour only because it's the furthest distance from the airport. It meant they could charge more.
In Oia, the sun stains the white buildings on the hills in a postcard-perfect display. However, it’s no secret the crowds here are ridiculous. It’s not the romantic atmosphere you see in photographs; it’s visitors crowding every path and viewpoint. So, if you’re wanting to experience this during your stay, stake out a spot and stay there hours before sunset. There are great – and slightly quieter – alcoves to sit and wait along the path to Amoudi Bay. Also, when the sun has set and you’re ready to leave, wait until the crowds have gone. It’s a mass exodus out of the town to the taxis and buses if you’re accommodation is elsewhere and if, like me, you’re not great in tight crowds, just wait. There are far worse places to do so, that’s for sure.
Can’t stretch to a white-washed, luxury resort with an infinity pool? I feel you, sister. If you want unique, clean and stunning budget accommodation – Caveland. Yes, we stayed in a white-washed cave and it was magical. There’s a pool, cooking facilities, yoga on the roof, two incredibly friendly dogs, en-suite and shared bathrooms and if you’re more socially inclined, daily group activities like games, movies and pub crawls. You can also arrange transfer to and from the airport for a reasonable price.
The island actually has good public transport if you’re not hiring a car or quad bike. The buses reach all the major tourist points and they’re really cheap – singles are between €1.80 and €2.40. The only thing is knowing where and when to get on which is why it’s a good idea to have the schedule and route planner handy. There are different buses depending on where you’re going on the island, so make sure you’re on the right one. Next, you get on the bus, drive off and a ticket officer comes around at some point to collect money in cash. There’s also no bells to ring when you want to get off so make sure you tell the ticket person where you want to go. If you're heading to a popular spot, chances are that other tourists will be getting off, too. When in doubt, follow the crowds.
It’s insanely expensive for food and drinks in Santorini. In Fira, I paid €10.00 for a small iced coffee. Mollie paid €10.00 for a glass of orange juice. If, like me, you travel on a tight budget, stock up on supplies from supermarkets and embrace the picnic lunch lifestyle. That way, you can spend the money on experiencing the destination.
Santorini Airport is tiny – so tiny, in fact, that you can't wait inside until an hour before your flight is due to depart. There’s a lovely café outside of the building to wait and it’s much quieter than the one on the roof of the airport.