You may laugh, but it can be done…
Sure, the most iconic island In Greece and quite possibly the world doesn’t exactly evoke a notion of affordability – or a quick stop-off on your backpacking trip on a shoestring – but there is a way to spend time in Santorini without selling your kidney for science. Luckily, you don’t always have to steer clear of the caldera side (the famous, craggy side of the island with the views and all of the blue and white) either.
Sure, you’ll have to nestle in beside hundreds of other people crammed onto a rocky, pebbly, sorry excuse for a beach – but at least the cliffs look cool. The volcanic rock of Red Beach is – surprise! – what gives its its name, and though trying to fit your towel in is at times like trying to find a sunbathing space on a postage stamp, the water is warm and it’s rather a nice outlook. The one thing that might get under your skin is the endless boats who only seem to employ really nasal, screechy men who yell their destinations at least three dozen times before retreating having not picked up a single customer Every. Damn. Time. There are also nicer beaches on either side of this one, but hey – this is the famous one. Plus, it’s free.
Hire a scooter (safely)
Ffs if I see one more person driving an ATV without a helmet and taking a selfie whilst attempting a blind corner, I’m going to lose it, but we did end up giving in and joining the masses on their two or four wheeled death machines. We checked a bunch online before settling on Rent Me Love Me in Akrotiri, who dropped the scooter off for free and offered a 125cc bike for 23 euro. No they didn’t ask for a motorbike license, and yes they kind of cared if we had experience with them or not. More below.
Hike from Fira or Imerovigli to Oia
There’s no real signs on how to get to the start of this, and to be honest, we’re not even sure where it is – but if you’re wanting to attempt to walk off the last 15 days of carbs, wine and cheese: give this a try. It also might be the best way to take in the caldera in its entirety, and get a nice view over Oia. From Imerovigli to Oia it’s about 9 kilometres of not particularly strenuous hiking, with plenty of people going either direction. However, if you do get tired: there’s donkeys and their minders loitering at regular intervals along the track – just completely setting you up for failure.
You can either get a bus back to your starting point, or hitchhike like we did.
Watch the sunset from Oia Castle
Just get there at 6am. Or better yet, camp there overnight directly after the crowds disperse from the last sunset. We kid, we kid… but in order to actually see this, you need to be there early. We showed up 30 minutes before the sunset, and there was already a line that moves slower than Disneyland crawling to the start of the castle. As we got close, people had all but given up, and were instead just hoisting their cameras above their heads, pointing in the direction they thought to be the sunset, and snapping haphazardly – not even worried about whether they saw it with their own two eyes or not. If, like us, time is dwindling on the sunset countdown clock, get your elbows out and shove people out of the way to get down the streets to the actual castle. The view from there is second to none, and much better than stuck with your head under some fat guy’s armpit while he smooches his girlfriend, as your significant other watches from behind a selfie stick, as the sun dips behind the horizon in the most romantic spot, at the most romantic time, on the planet. No shit, we saw that happen.
Walk out to Imerovigli Rock
Note: do not do this in a tight dress and jandals as I did. The iconic rocky nub that juts out from the ocean directly in front of Imerovigli looks as though it has a track all the way to the top, but my friends, we’re here to tell you that that is certainly not the case. This faux track winds its way to the back of this trendy rock, and then just clear disappears. So, if, like us, you’re a complete idiot and up for rock scrambling in shoes with less tread than the surface of a balloon, and a dress ready to split at the sides with even the abrupt lift of a leg: here’s how to get up. Follow the track to where it ends, look to the right and hoist yourself up that sheer rock face. People do it, we swear.
All the best Insta photos (vom, don’t remind me I ever said that) come from the white-washed resorts and cafes clinging to the volcanic cliffs in either Imerovigli or Oia, so just head for them and wander down the alleyways.
Scooter or ATV
Though the blatant lack of health and safety regulations (why does nobody wear a helmet?!) and complete inability of the majority of drivers to drive, it has to be admitted that hiring one of these is the best way to see the island. As a general rule, a scooter tends to go for about 25 euro a day, and an ATV between 35-40. You can search online for a good deal, or just show up to your nearest shop (there’s almost more of them than overpriced tavernas. And that’s saying something) and pick one up. For the love of god, though, although it doesn’t seem to be illegal – please be one of the minority and actually wear the helmets you’re provided with. Apparently the lead cause of death on the island is ATV crashes, and we heard too many sirens to care to think about in 48 hours.
Though they’re not exactly cheap, these are your cheapest options for inter-town transport on the island. The Ktel buses are big and modern, and ferry people fairly often across the island, to every corner. There will even be at least one or two waiting for the ferries as they pull up. Most tickets will cost you 2 euro, but the port to Fira jaunt will ping you 2.30 euro.
Remember: You can only go from Fira to the port. From there you need to catch another bus to your accommodation, or wherever you want to go.
Inevitably, if you want to eat in the most iconic spots on the island (Oia and Imerovigli, we’re looking at you), you’re going to pay at least double the price for a Greek salad here than you would elsewhere, for substandard food at the expense of an amazing view. Luckily, if you’re willing and able, the south of the island offers an amazing view, with amazing food. On the main road, just before Akrotiri, there are a couple of family-run tavernas, set in an enviable position on a sloping hill with sweeping views out over the bottom of the island and surrounding ocean. The food here is exceptional, and for a grand total of 22 euro for two people, including four dishes and bread, we weren’t disappointed we weren’t paying double the price for the same view and double the people.
Mama Mia, Kamari
Kamari is known for its cheaper cuisine and accommodation, being on the other side of the island – which slopes down to the sea rather than perching on a cliff that would be a nightmare in an earthquake, but nonetheless the food here was particularly good. For 5.50 euro for a lamb gyro plate overflowing with oven-roasted potatoes and slow-cooked lamb in a tomato sauce, set in an atmospheric, hippy-type locale with friendly staff, we’d fork out more than 2 euro for our favourite Greek fast food again.
It will either horrify or excite you to know everyone’s favourite… supermarket chain has somehow made its way onto Santorini – but regardless of how you feel about Lidl, it’s undeniable that it’s going to aid your shoestring budget. It’s a reasonably small outlet, but it’s got a decent bakery section (most importantly) and a good cookie aisle (second most importantly). You’ll find it just to the south of Thira.
Cavo Santo Wines
We know, we know, this isn’t exactly a grand idea if you’re trying to stick to a strict budget – but if you’re careful, you can share half a dozen wines between the two of you alongside a jaw dropping view, and pretend like you’re with the rich people in the table next to you dropping hundreds. The winery offers tastings for around 2 euro per 70ml pour, as well as packages that include food. While we couldn’t afford to fill our gullets, we did however, enjoy five tastings of top-notch wine while sampling some of the best views over the entire island. You will inevitably see at least one lucky bride too, we came across two.
To put it simply, this might just be the best frappe you’ll ever have. This unassuming little place near the bus station is bustling with locals, or Greeks at least, which is always a good start. It also sells 1.20 euro frappes, which had us sold. Thankfully, this didn’t turn out to be gritty, instant coffee you’d expect from the cheapest frappe you’ve ever come across, but a delicious, perfectly-blended and strong elixir of the gods. There isn’t much seating, and the seats they have are often taken by smokers puffing nicotine in your face, but take one on the go (before you get on the bus and are forced to throw out half of it. This was literally a point of heartbreak for us). We’ll also break it to you: it’s not exactly a hidden Santorini gem, it’s all over Greece. But go everywhere you can.
Cavo Santo Hotel
Okay, we’re going to be completely honest with you here: this hotel is great in theory. It’s located on the south of the island, away from the masses and the high prices, and it still has all the things that make Santorini so popular: an infinity pool on the edge of the caldera, a hotel built in the same cave-style architectural fashion, and a front-row seat to the most beautiful sunset on the planet. However, there are some glaring flaws that we hope they address soon.
First of all, the positives: the garden rooms are essentially a glorified cave room. This means one window, and a relatively dimly-lit room with a view over the ocean if you crane your neck from the singular window. We did get an upgrade after cheekily asking, and moved up to the third floor which had an incredible view out over the ocean and caldera, and a private balcony, but still only one window. But, whatever – that’s the traditional room and in fairness, they’ve done it well. The beds are new, the rooms are large and the bathrooms are trendy.
The pool is another drawcard, flanked by comfortable hanging chairs, sun loungers and palm tree-esque shade umbrellas. And, because the hotel has been built facing in essentially the exact same direction, just on the opposite side of the crescent-shaped island, the sunset from here is exactly the same as the famous spots on the island. So while thousands of other people are jostling each other out of the way and taking pictures with fifteen other people’s heads in it at Oia Castle, you’re sitting with a beer on your sun lounger watching the sun dip below the ocean with not another human in sight. The staff here are also quite lovely and welcoming, and it is a family-run business. Unfortunately, that’s where the pros stop.
The cons start with the breakfast – which could be a nice spread of Greek favourites, but actually turns out to be a lukewarm selection of eggs and soggy bacon, stale bread and midget-infested fruits. On the plus side, the mini cheese pies are delicious.
The wifi is largely non-existent, too. When we asked about it, the woman at the front desk told us it was only accessible in some spots near the hotel or in some rooms, and because it was windy that day it wasn’t working (?!). But, being on an island holiday – we won’t dwell too much on the need to stay attached to our phones (because we probably needed to stay off Snapchat anyway).
However, when the power went off on our last night there and we were left with a blinding emergency light that would not switch off all night, and no running water in the morning – we knew we had a problem. Sure, these things happen – but a whole night without sleep for an entire hotel because of faulty, blinding lights in each room is just not acceptable.
Furthermore, it’s social media-worthy locale in the end worked against it. The shutters on our window didn’t shut properly, so when a group of ignorant females spent two hours at midnight taking flash photography of each other lazing around the pool – we felt we’d fallen victim to an unwanted strobe light party.
If you’re willing to forgo perfection for a cheap (er) price, then by all means this is a good option. But we’re sure there’s plenty better places if they don’t fix the problems that are hampering them from being great.
BUDGET FOR TWO
Accommodation: 160 euro for two nights
Food: 22 euro (taverna dinner), 11 euro (Mama Mia dinner), 4 euro (snacks from Lidl for lunch), 3 euro (beach ice-cream), frappes (2.40 euro)
Scooter hire: 23 euro hire fee, 7.50 euro for fuel
Bus fees: 18 euro
Wine tastings: 12 euro
Total: 262.70 euro (not including ferry tickets to get there)