For those of you that know me personally, you know that I try to keep it real. I'm not going to pretend something was amazing when it wasn't. I'm not going to tell you to go somewhere that isn't worth it. And, I'm not going to photoshop the shit out of my photos to a point where they are unrecognizable. So, although my opinion may not be a popular one, it is the truth, well, the truth through my eyes and experiences. I work hard for my money, (Yes, I work full time!) so when I go on vacation, I want to get the most bang for my buck and I'm sure you do too. This is why I'm writing this post.
Every summer, dreamy photos of jet setting Instagrammers vacationing in the luxurious cliff side villages of Santorini invade my feed. Iconic white washed churches with bright blue doomed roofs, overlooking the backdrop of the turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea, all the while, teetering on the caldera of a volcanic rim. It is truly a site for sore eyes. But behind those edited and carefully selected photos, sits the real Santorini.
I'm going to start by telling you all of the great things about Santorini because, afterall, it's still a beautiful little island. BUT I think it is important to know that it is not at all what I expected.
Do not get me wrong, Santorini IS beautiful. The cliff-side white washed villages I mentioned above ARE real, but not the way you think they are. The vast majority of the landscape in Santorini is dry, desert like mountain. The white washed villages are very few and far between. Most of the photos you see (you know, that postcard image of Santorini) are literally photos of the same buildings from many different angles. If you don't believe me, just do a simple google search of Santorini and you will see the same couple of churches from different angles.
We spent most of our time on the completely other side of the island, in Kamari. This area is a little less popular - meaning, it is not bombarded by tourists. It is however, not white washed or blue. It is not a sand beach, but rather a black stone beach. I personally LOVED Kamari Beach, it was beautifully unique. Luckily, our hotel was a cool 15 minute walk from here.
2. The Food
Mediterranean cuisine is amazing! The tomatoes and fresh fruit are so juicy and ripe, I could not get enough. It was so easy to eat healthy because everything is so full of flavour and freshness. There are a few unique veggies such as the white eggplants which are only grown in Santorini. Also, the abundance of advertised vegetarian and vegan cuisine was perfection.
3. The Wine
We visited a few local wineries and all of them were amazing. You should definitely do a winery tour, even if you are only mildly into wine. My favourite was Estate Argyros, where they have been honing their skills since 1903. It is still family owned and covers 30 hectares of land, making it the largest estate in Santorini.
4. The History
It is truly an ancient gem with so much amazing history. Santorini has been home to many famous civilizations over the centuries, including the Phoenicians, the Minoans and the Dorians from Sparta. Many people also believe it is linked to the ancient city of Atlantis.
5. The Volcano
In 1500 BC, Santorini was devastated by an enormous volcanic eruption that destroyed half of the island, giving it the unique shape we see today. There are day trips to see the volcano but it is a long and exhausting trek. Geologists expect the next great eruption to come in about 15 years so visit it while you can!
1. The Tourists
The sheer amount of tourists that flock to this island make the villages almost unbearable. And yes, I am part of the problem, since I am also a tourist that went to the village. However, never in one single photo posted by any of my instagram buddies did I see 10,000 tourists pushing them out of the way or stepping on their feet. I also did A LOT of research prior to my trip and none of my favourite bloggers mentioned this problem either. So, I guess you could say I had expectations of Oia. I pictured an untouched fishing village nestled on the cliff-side. What I got was a romantic sunset shared with my man and 9000 obnoxious stranger's in the way. We took the bus from Fira to Oia at around 4:00pm so we could watch the "iconic" sunset, which was at 8:00pm. We were hanging on the side of a cliff for 1.5 hours in a bus that had no air conditioning in 36 ℃ weather, trying to get into Oia. Upon arrival, people starting climbing aboard the bus before anyone had a chance unload. This resulted in strangers screaming, yelling and another delay while people continued to shove and trip each other. Not fun, to say the least.
Pic from Pappaspost.com
2. The Fish Farms and Stray Animals
There are stray cats and dogs EVERYWHERE. At night, all we could here was cat and dog fights. In the news we heard that someone had shot a 5 month old stray puppy because it was a pest. People don't seem to have any regard for the lives of dogs and cats, not to mention donkeys, goats and cows. They definitely need a spay and neuter program here, which could be a simpler solution to huge problem. When most people think of the Mediterranean diet, they think fresh fish pulled from the ocean daily. Well, think again. Pulling into the Port we saw a MASSIVE fish farm which immediately made me sad. I don't eat fish BUT I know how bad open ocean fish farming is for the environment, so this was a bad first impression. Want more info on Fish Farming?
3. Expensive AF
I visited 4 islands on my Greek Island Hopping Adventure and Santorini was by far the most expensive, even compared to Mykonos. The food, drinks, hotels, EVERYTHING is insanely inflated. For example, Ios, which in my opinion is as equally or MORE beautiful than Santorini was about 1/4 of the price and 1/8 as busy.
4. The Cruise Ships
The cruise ships dump 8000 people PER DAY at the port. Then, they park 3 - 4 of those massive things right in the way of the volcano and sunset. I also found most of the people who off boarded the ships incredibly rude and disrespectful. We heard quite a few interactions where they were belittling servers and making comments about how they do things "back home". Why are you even travelling if you want things to be done how you do it wherever you came from. I even heard someone complaining about how they should pave the ancient ruins and make them "baby stroller and wheelchair accessible". I am all for making life accessible to those with disabilities but YOU ARE AT AN ANCIENT RUIN!
5. Public Transportation The main terminal in Fira is a confusing free for all. It is highly unorganized and the people that work here seem absolutely miserable. I feel for them, they have to deal with confused tourists everyday, asking the same questions. There are no transfers, you have to pay twice, even if you are just going one way, which we found really strange. Make sure to bring cash! To top it off, there is little to no signage explaining how the system works. We spent the first 2 days being confused, watching buses ALMOST run down 100's of other confused tourists. We finally got the hang of it by the end. All of this being said, at least they have public transport, unlike the other islands in Greece. Here you do not need to rent a car to get around, which was nice.
Don't get me wrong, I still had a good time in Santorini (mostly thanks to the ingenious idea of picking a hotel in the more secluded part of the island) - but it just wasn't what I anticipated. It also depends on what kind of vacation you enjoy. If you enjoy being around a ton of people and have money to blow, then this might be the place for you. I personally do not enjoy that type of vacation. There are many other amazing islands in the Cyclades that offer a better experience than Santorini. So, to sum it all up, I'd recommend going for a day or two, just to say you saw it but definitely do not plan to spend your entire vacation there.