Greek Island Hopping
When first outlining our Itinerary we were planning to be in India in early to mid August. We thought the monsoon would be over with for the most part, especially in the south, where we were hoping to get started. However, while we were in Istanbul we had some time to plan our trip. While looking the weather over, we decided that it’d be wise to delay India by a few weeks. More on India in a future post, but, where would we go?
After some brainstorming and some quick research, we considered going on a cruise. All of which were too expensive, even on budget cruise lines. We had always wanted to see the Greek Islands and they were close… but that’d be hard to plan an island-hopping trip with such short notice. And they’re not exactly cheap or backpacker-friendly for that matter.
We through together a spreadsheet and estimated our costs for cheap hotels (there aren’t many hostels), transportation, and food to compare what we could pull off versus what Greeka’s quote was. It turns out that they were within about $150 of each other, so that was a no-brainer. Even though we’d be splurging to do it, we’d finally get to see the islands and using Greeka would help considerably with the itinerary and bookings.
For our honeymoon in 2010 we went on a 12-day Mediterranean cruise. We had a one-day stop in Athens and were able to see all the hotspots: the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the Temple of Apollo in Ancient Corinth. Along with sampling Greek food, we were satisfied with what we saw in Athens. I think it’s a place that you should definitely see in your lifetime, but it doesn’t live up to the hype. The tourism industry will make you believe that the whole place is historical and beautiful. In any case, we only had a few hours in Athens on this trip and we’d be departing by ferry early in the morning.
We traveled on the Blue Star ferry to Mykonos early in the morning. The ferries are a very reliable and efficient way of traveling around the islands. This trip from the port of Piraeus to Mykonos Town took about five hours, but it was a comfortable ride.
We’d be staying at Hotel Jason, which turned out to be our favorite hotel of the entire package. This has to be the best “two star” hotel in the world. The rooms were nice and we really loved their pool. The guests were an upbeat bunch and we made some friends.
While it’s possible to rent a scooter or quad while on many of the islands, I didn’t really see it as an option. The roads were winding and narrow. Worse yet, the drivers were pretty crazy (we heard a car hitting a pole within minutes of arriving to our hotel). We were within a 30-minute walk to Mykonos Town, so we opted to play it safe.
The maze of tiny streets in Mykonos Town was beautiful. There were many cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops tucked in every little corner. The downtown area is right on the water and is affectionately called “Little Venice”.
This time we traveled on a hydrofoil ferry called SeaJet to the port of Parikia in Paros.
The highlight of our stay in Paros, was actually a day trip to Antiparos for snorkeling (an activity chosen by our Facebook Fans). Antiparos, the smaller, sister island of Paros seems to be a celebrity favorite – the likes of Tom Hanks, Madonna, Bruce Willis, and Pierce Brosnan. Antiparos is a beautiful, volcanic island that is a bit secluded. While it’s less than a 10-minute ferry ride from Paros, it remains private and relatively untouched.
Our hotel, Hotel Kouros wasn’t quite as nice as Hotel Jason, but it was nice enough. The atmosphere there wasn’t as upbeat, maybe because so few people were staying. It was also about a 45-minute walk from Naousa, the nearest village. However, we did really enjoy exploring Naousa. Like we had seen in Mykonos Town, the downtown area was mostly comprised of narrow pedestrian roads that were full of shops. Naousa seemed to have more character and livability than the party atmosphere of Mykonos Town.
Santorini is one of the best-known islands for good reason. It’s quite different from the other islands – it’s the mouth of an ancient volcano. It does feel like it’s a bit of a victim of its own success as there are hoards of tourists there looking to get drunk and party like the goons on Jersey Shore.
The main city on the island is Fira. Clubs and expensive drinks aren’t our thing, but there is still a lot to see and do there. Since Santorini is a part of an extinct volcano, there are huge cliffs around Fira. Years before a funicular was installed, the only “quick” option to ascend was by donkey. Now that there is a very nice funicular, the donkeys are still available for a little adventure.
Santorini is also the best-known island for its wine. They have some really great dry whites that we tried. We were able to visit a few wineries including: Santo, Art Space, and Canava Roussos. We have read about Santorini being the Napa Valley of Greece, which is quite an exaggeration. While the wine can be good, the facilities themselves come nowhere close in capturing a similar experience.
Oia, the smaller city on the northernmost part of the island has some very stunning views. It’s known for it’s sunsets and is the most photographed part of Santorini. Even though it’s a smaller town, we had even more fun in Oia than in Fira.
We had another nice stay in Naxos – another non-pretentious island that felt quite a bit like Paros. The small port town of Naxos was beautiful and extremely windy! There wasn’t much to see or do in Naxos – we walked through Old Town, which was nice, but very much like we had already seen throughout the islands.
Right near the port, you can see the Portara. There are some great views of the sea and especially sunsets from this vantage point. You are likely to get soaked by the huge waves on the walkway out to it.
Our hotel was right on a very nice beach with some really great views of the sunset. We spent our last few nights in Europe relaxing as we knew we’d be hit hard with culture shock in India.
The Greek Islands
The islands lived up to the hype. The sea food is great, the atmosphere is fun, and they are a photographer’s dream.
While the Greek islands aren’t truly great for a round-the-world trip or for backpacking, they can be done on a fairly modest budget. If you have a little more time to plan than we did it would be worth it to stay in two star hotels. However, by running quick numbers, we’d be spending basically the same with the package as we would if we went through the hassle of planning and booking everything separately.
If you’re looking to spend less than we did, it can be done by staying in hostels or by camping. Just be sure to book as far in advance as possible as they’re few and far between. Couch Surfing may also be an option, but frankly it doesn’t seem that they have much of a community there.
We ended up spending much more time in Europe than we originally planned, but no regrets. We had a great time in the first half of our trip. Next up, Mumbai, India.