As I’ve mentioned to many people, many times previously and will probably repeat many times in the future: I am not a hiker.
I’m not a “mover” by choice – I do exercise when I’m home in South Africa but only so that I don’t face an untimely heart attack. And so that I can eat more cake.
Overall I’m definitely not a hugely physical person. I believe I was built for comfort and not speed. Just ask the poor ladies who had to stand next to me and protect themselves from the missiles of sweat that rocketed off of my body during Zumba classes back in Durban (TMI) (Soz). Or bear witness to the husk of a human being I turn into when I get home from the above mentioned classes and descend onto my spot on the couch for several hours.
So you can imagine my shock when I tapped on the health app on my phone to find that I had walked 61.24km over the five days that I was in Santorini. And my body was not hating me for it.
Wrap me up and send me to the Olympics!
Just kidding. Never do that unless they need someone to test the real athlete’s food.
On a serious note, the first things that came to mind when I though of Santorini before I had arrived was beaches, sun and meandering through towns full of whitewashed walls and blue domed roofs.
Surprisingly to me, the island is full of activities to get you moving away from the pool and onto the island.
Santorini is a gem to explore. The island is small enough that you can walk to and from most areas and bus (or use and ATV/scooter) to get to the ones that are further away. Its also big enough that there are tons of things to see and do while you are there.
It’s the perfect size; especially for budget travellers who want to save some money and get a feel for a space by walking through it.
During our five days and 60-ish kilometers, my travel buddy Caitlin and I did three majorish walks:
Ancient Thira is an ancient city (first dated at around the 9th century BC) that sits on top of a mountain on the island. Placed on a natural fortification between the famous black beaches of Kamari and Perissa, it is easily accessible to people visiting the area on the east coast.
On our first full day in Santorini we caught a bus from Fira to Perissa (we later figured out that we could just wait at the bus stop in Karterados where our hostel was and the bus would come past there and save us a 15 minute walk). We had decided to tackle the 2km walk and visit the city first and then chill on the beach for a few hours afterwards.
This was a bit of a rookie error as it meant we were hiking – yes hiking, as it was very rocky and incredibly steep most of the way up – just after midday when it was still quite hot. After 30-40 minutes, with some much needed breaks in between, we made it to the top. The hike was pretty challenging for me as I had not expected I to be so steep but the views on the way up (when I looked up from concentrating on where to place my feet so as to not fall off the mountain) were stunning.
Entrance to Ancient Thira is usually €4 but our student cards got us a €2 discount. After a few hundred more meters of steep stairs we were able to spend a few hours exploring the ancient area full of houses, places of worship and an agora (pretty much a central market place) before the site closed at 3pm.
We made it down the hill in 20 minutes and rested our jelly legs on the beach.
From Perissa side, it is only possible to hike up to Ancient Thira but there are donkeys available to walk you up and down for a small fee. I personally don’t support the use of donkeys as transport as many of them are not kept in humane conditions. However, if you are going to use them, always check that they have adequate shade, food and water; that their riding equipment is good quality and that they are not in any visible distress.
Coming from Kamari side, there is a very windy road that cars, scooters and ATVs can drive up. A lot of tour companies do return trips to the entrance for about €10.
There is also a little kiosk right next to the ticket booth to grab some cold drinks (and even baklava) once you make it to the top.
On our second day, we splurged on a boat tour that cruised around the Santorini Caldera and included a visit to Therasia island, swimming in a volcanic hot spring and a volcano walk.
When I first read about the volcano walk I assumed we would be traipsing around boiling lava (*reads in trump voice* wrong).
Nea Kameni is an ancient volcano that is presently dormant and last erupted relatively recently in 1950. But it was safe enough to walk around when we were there.
The boat tour group spent an hour and a half being guided around the black rock and hardened lava by our guide Tanya. The landscape felt like being on the surface of the moon and the surface was tricky to traverse in my flip flops. There were even spots where you could see the steam rising from the rocks; emanating from the molten lava below. As well as spots that you could place your hands in to feel the heat.
FIRA TO OIA
One of the most popular things to do on Santorini ‘to-do lists’ and online itineraries is to hike from Fira to Oia to watch the sunset. The Hike is 12km long, runs along the cliffs of the Santorini Caldera, and takes 3-4 hours depending on pace.
We did the hike on our third day and even though it was the longest distance, it was the most pleasant and most beautiful walking I did on the trip.
Starting from Fira, the trail goes through the town and on to Imervogili, through smaller villages and past some historical churches until it reaches Oia. One of the smaller churches was preparing for a wedding and the two of us sat and watched the people set up (sort of creepily) while we stayed hydrated.
If you time your hike well enough, you can give yourself enough time to look about the town before finding the perfect spot to watch the sunset from. Be warned there are many tourists.
Oia’s sunsets are famed, for a good reason I realized, as I watched the glowing circle dip beneath the horizon.
Not feeling particularly keen for another 12km walk back in the dark, we caught the bus back to Fira and had some well deserved wrapped pita falafels for dinner.
JUST FOR FUN: GAIA WINES
This one doesn’t technically count as a hike, but it was a 2.5km walk we embarked on in search of wine so I thought I would chuck it in considering it was such a noble quest.
Caitlin is very into wine so she wanted to try some Santorini wines before we left the island. There are quite a few wineries on Santorini, with Santo Wines being the biggest, but we chose Gaia Wines as it seemed close to get to from Kamari beach. This also meant we could chill on the black sand beach after our wine tasting.
The busses don’t go straight to Gaia Wines so catching a taxi, driving yourself or walking are the only options. The road was a bit on the dodgy side so in hindsight a taxi probably would have been safer but we made it eventually with the help of google maps.€6 later and we had tasted four of Gaia’s creations (two whites and a rose and a red for me, two whites and two reds for Caitlin) while watching the tide creep up onto the pebbly beach.
Any Greek island is the perfect place to combine kicking back and relaxing with adventuring but Santorini is a special one. I would say ditch the ATVs, lace up your shoes and get a feel for the streets (ad the hiking trails) to truly appreciate the beauty of the island.