Perhaps not exactly “nobody” but let’s say what most brochures, travel agencies and travel blogger prefer to ignore about Santorini, while stressing the positive aspects of the island. Understandably.
Don’t get me wrong though: Santorini is wonderful and one of the best looking places I’ve ever been. I don’t regret even for a second to have been there (twice) and I’d happily return another time again in the future. The amount of amazing corners and lovely views that can be had on this Greek island is unparalleled.
Yet I noticed how some negatives I found about it are rarely, if at all, named. Unfortunately, a few can easily mar your experience of the island so I believe it is important to visit it prepared, knowing what to avoid and how to best experience it. Santorini isn’t cheap and it would be a waste of money to not at least enjoy it.
Therefore, arm yourself with my list of What Nobody Tells You About Santorini.
Santorini is expensive
It comes to no wonder to anybody, true. You can’t have russian milionaries coming to an island to spend their, aplenty, money without them raising the prices for everybody. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself paying 8€ for an ice cream or 3€ for an espresso. I didn’t dabble in alcoholic drinks but I bet we are in the 9-10€ range. At least. Yes. It’s that expensive. Outrageously expensive.
Still, the island is unique and truly beautiful so you may find those prices to be justified. I personally don’t. What is important is that coming to Santorini means not thinking too much about how much money you are letting get out of your purse otherwise you won’t enjoy the island.
Crowded is an understatement
Beautiful places are popular and popular places get crowded. There’s no way around this. In the case of Santorini though, it is worse. The island is small, measuring just 73km², and 90% of all tourists concentrate in the areas of Fira and Oia, which are themselves no more than little towns (the whole population of the island is around 15000 people).
It all means you have all the elements for a very difficult experience in visiting Santorini: small area, small towns, tiny touristic areas and lots of tourists (2 millions each year). It can easily become hell. Crowded bars, a few restaurants don’t have free seats at peak hour, threads of tourists coming and going, mostly using the same 3-4 roads, groups of people trying to take pictures in the very same places because the best views over the Caldera are from those and so on. No wonder that most photographer take those great postcards’ pictures off season or at dawn.
I admit, I loathed visiting Santorini because of the sheer amount of people present in the same place, at the same moment. The first time I didn’t expect it to be so bad but the second I had to rush through some parts because I couldn’t stand wading through the crowd anymore.
The only advice possible here is come early in the morning or before, or later, the high season kicks in. Early June or late September, if you want still it to be summer-ish. Otherwise, accept you’ll have to share the visit with multitudes.
The Caldera can be extremely hot
Visiting, as most, during the hot season means having to deal with the particular situation Santorini is in. Being constituted nearly entirely of volcanic rock, without rivers nor lakes, with scarcely any trees (as typical of the Cyclades), and enjoying close to 0mm of rain in the summer months, it will be hot. Very. Extremely. Unbearably hot at times.
The effect of the volcanic rock, the darker type found on Santorini, is that it absorbs more heat than general types of rock. Lacking also any water on the island and receiving no rain, it means the very ground you’re walking on is hot and retains its heat for long periods of time as it has no chance to refresh itself. The streets of Fira and Oia are also narrow and don’t let much wind pass, plus the sun is nearly always up and hot too. It’s like a small inferno on earth.
Bring water, and lots of. I don’t drink that much but I easily drank 2 liters in a handful of hours when walking in Santorini. I thought I would faint by the heat, which had never happened before. I didn’t, in the end, but because I was “saved” by that 8€ ice cream I spoke of before.
So, get prepared to walk like in a desert. Only worse.
Reaching Santorini can be very challenging
Unless you come by plane. Then scratch this. I talk about those, like me, who are scared of heights and don’t really enjoy any vista that involves 300 hundreds meters of drop and being at the border of it.
So, if you like me come by boat/ferry, you’ll have to climb to reach the towns uphill. That will involve either taking the cable car, with all its “amazing” views, climbing a long staircase over donkeys, that is probably as bad an experience for your as for the poor animals, or taking the bus route, for 10 minutes of winding bends over the Caldera. Any of these options can be a struggle if you’re scared of heights. Trust me, take the plane instead.
For everybody else, how to get to Santorini involves finding a flight to its airport. Good luck finding a cheap one though, as in the summer Santorini is in high request as an holiday destination.
If you’re travelling on the cheap, you may instead fly into Athens, going to the Piraeus and taking a ferry to Santorini. Often adding a night or two in Athens before or after the ferry. The usual path of millions of travellers. This mean 36 hours at least of travelling and multiple changes (flight, then bus or metro, then ferry). Not exactly an easy destination to reach.
Authentic Greek? Heck, no
As much as Santorini is stunning and sports the very same typical white houses of the Cyclades, the huge influx of tourists changed the island forever. Luxury boutiques, fast food joints, souvenir shops, fancy bars and tour agencies are aplenty on the island, inevitably reducing the space for more typical businesses.
You may find the typical taverna here and there but you got to look for it. Shops that sell the normal products of the island are hard to stumble upon, Santorini being the territory of fashion boutiques, luxury shops and artistic endeavors. I mean, all pretty and fine, and expensive, but as much greek as London or Berlin could be considered. For authenticity look elsewhere. You have tens of other islands for that. Not Santorini, alas.
Don’t be discouraged, Santorini is still worth it
I loved Santorini nonetheless. Its beauty can’t be marred to the point of making it unworthy of your time to reach it. Not at all. But please be warned about all the difficulties and peculiarities that visiting Santorini entails. Come prepared but do come if you can. Santorini remains one of the most gorgeous places in the Mediterranean sea and would be a shame if you’d give up on it altogether.
Photo by Tom Grimbert on Unsplash
I wouldn’t personally spend more than a couple of days on the island though. They’re enough to visit all the pretty places and leave for nearby islands, which will be more authentic and much less crowded. And less expensive. Make sure to explore the other Cyclades then as they’re amazing too; staying only in Santorini will show you just 5% of what Greek island can offer for twice the price and the crowd.