The island of Santorini is popular among billionaires and celebrities, so it’s no wonder that backpackers and budget travellers often choose to leave it out of their itineraries. But this fear is completely unfounded – the island may cater to a wealthy clientèle, but it also has plenty of hostels, affordable food and amazing pastimes for penniless travellers like – maybe – you and – definitely – I.
I opted for a holiday package with a direct flight from Prague to Thira – the island’s official Greek name – and a hotel in Kamari. This lovely village located at the foot of a mountain has a long beach with black sand and many seaview taverns. It is about a 30 minute drive from the capital city, Fira – to get there you can either rent a car for about €35/day or take a trip with the public bus. While rarely on time, the buses are air-conditioned and comfortable – and all tickets cost €1.60-2.20. See what I mean? It’s cheap! So here are some more budget-friendly ways to enjoy Santorini.
1. Climb up Profitis Ilias
“Who is this Profitis and why should I get so intimate with him?” I can hear you ask. Don’t worry, Profitis Ilias is not a hunky Greek playboy – but would you really complain if he was? Profitis Ilias is the tallest mountain on Santorini, separating the villages of Perissa and Kamari and offering beautiful views of the island.
I recommend you wake up early and start in Kamari. On your way up stop at the spring Zoodochos Pigi. Its name means ‘life-giving spring ‘and it’s the only site with fresh water on the entire island. After resting and snapping a few photos, continue climbing – don’t worry, you’re almost there! On the summit, you will find Ancient Thera (€2), a well-preserved excavation site of an antique city which was abandoned in the 8th century AC. Afterwards, climb down the other site of the mountain and you will reach Perissa, where you can jump straight into the sea or wind down with a delicious lunch.
This is a three-hour trek, so, just this once, leave your heels at home.
2. Pay a visit to Akrotiri
While you’re in Santorini, don’t pass up the opportunity to visit Akrotiri, an ancient city which was buried underneath volcanic ashes during the explosion of 17th BC and, much like Pompeii, has been spectacularly well preserved by the lava. The entrance fee is €5 (€3 for students), which completely blew my mind – I would have happily paid double.
Archaeologists have only excavated a small part of the village so far, but the complex is surprisingly large and closed off in a weather-resistant shelter – that means no sunstroke for you! Akrotiri is easily accessible by bus from Fira or by car. It is located right next to the infamous Red Beach, which can make for a fantastic detour before or after – just don’t plan on staying there too long if you’re not a fan of crowds.
3. Watch the sunset
The fairytale island is world famous for one thing in particular – its beautiful sunsets! Whether you’re a die-hard romantic or the type of person who watches zombie movies without flinching (or both, I suppose), you’re going to enjoy the beautiful sunsets on the island.
I graciously dedicated my time to hunting for the most spectacular sunsets – what a chore! – and here is what I found… Oia, the blue-and-white village we all know from postcards, is hands down the most popular spot. However, I like to gaze at the gorgeous orange skies without being deafened by the thunder of camera shutters, so I prefer areas with fewer visitors. You could go on a sunset cruise, but these can get a little pricy. Instead, rent a car or a quad bike and drive to Akrotiri Lighthouse or take a bus to Fira. Both places offer spectacular views, are completely free to enter and not as crowded.
4. Catch a movie in Cine Kamari
Cine Kamari is an open-air cinema near the village of Kamari, which shows contemporary Hollywood films with Greek subtitles for €8. As if that wasn’t enough, the place features other popular forms of entertainment – a fully-stocked bar and ice cream. Watching a newly-released film with one of their strawberry daiquiris in hand will make you feel like a rom-com leading lady.
Doors open at 8.50pm and you should get there on time to find the perfect spot without feeling rushed – the place gets quite busy at times. Bring a cuddly sweater, because the nights are nippy.
5. Visit Museum of Prehistoric Thera
If you’re yearning for something a little more highbrow, the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, located in present-day capital of Fira, is an absolute treasure. For a mere €3 (for free if you’re a student) you can admire intricate wall paintings and pottery from the ancient city of Akrotiri mentioned above.
Naturally, there’s a lot more to Fira than a single museum! Once you finish admiring its vast collection of vases with nipples – seriously, they have dozens – you can head over to the promenade for spectacular views of the caldera or some window shopping.
6. Eat and drink till you pass out
With street food – including my beloved gyros and souvlaki – or a glass of ouzo priced at around €1-3, Santorini has all it takes to fulfill all those Gen Y bacchanalian fantasies or to put a hedonistic twist on a family holiday. Souvlaki are meat-and-veg skewers while gyros is much like a kebab, with the addition of thick fries and dollops of tzatziki.
I’m probably lying to myself – and now you – but despite being loaded with meat, oil and a creamy dip, gyros feels quite healthy. I’m not sure why – it must be the three slices of tomato inside. You can hardly go wrong with any vendor, but the pork gyros (€2) from “Myth of Santorini” in Kamari never disappointed – and I could also never finish it.
Santorini definitely left an imprint on my heart, but it left my sad little debit card cold. I am glad I finally took the plunge and visited this beautiful island – I’d go as far as saying it’s a great budget destination. What do you think? Would you visit the island or are you still scared of the havoc it might wreak on your wallet?Tweet