Santorini - A backpackers guide
We Last Visited Santorini in 2003
A 40 minute flight from Athens is all it takes to reach the bottom row of the Cyclades and this jewel of an island. An appropriate superlative because there must be more goldsmiths in Fira than any other town in the Aegean and an indication of the financial stature required to afford a room with a view of the caldera.
If you are a wealthy backpacker - surely a contradiction in terms - you will be looking to pay perhaps 75 Euros or more per night in Fira but if you are of the energetic kind - surely a qualification - much more reasonably priced rooms are available in Karterados. A 20 minute walk east of the capitol, Karterados has a whole host of accommodation, many with pools and bars, to suit most budgets. We can recommend the Villa Agas run by the very friendly Nikos and family (30 Euros for double room 09/2002). Situated just off the main road it is easily recognised by it`s unusual pool with a bridge over the middle and the complex is close to the bus stop, mini-market and the original village centre.
The main attraction to Santorini of course is the spectacular position Fira commands. Precariously clinging to the cliffs, created by the massive eruption some 3000 years previous which positioned the islet of Thirassia to augment the setting sun. This evening pastime attracts large crowds along the upper most alleys with enough optical power to put the Hubble Telescope to shame but it is after the crowds have disbanded that Fira becomes almost magical. Aimlessly wandering around or simply parking up to people watch is highly enjoyable and easier on the wallet. For dining out use the same rule as for rooms and head inland for more reasonably priced meals. A couple of take-away joints are tucked amongst the cobbles or the main thoroughfare has a wide range of both fast food and more traditional tavernas.
The usual K-tel bus service is excellent with a fare of only 85 cents to the northern village of Oia (pronounced ee-a) some 12km away. It is feasable to walk and the coastal path runs along the caldera edge for most of the way after passing through Firostefani and Imerovigli (both of which have rooms and marginally cheaper than Fira). If you don`t take water, which you should, there is a canteen where you meet the road section but no facilities or shade after this and you should reach Oia after 3 hours in total.
Arguably as pretty and certainly more relaxed, Oia could make a more suitable base and boasts (allegedly) an excellent youth hostel close to the centre along with some good rooms which you would have seen on your way in. The shiny metal & stone shops are still strong in evidence but also a collection of art galleries and outlets help soften the feel of the village. Having said this, restaurants seem to out number tavernas but few with outrageous price lists.
For beaches on Santorini you will need to head to the eastern side. A forty minute walk from Karterados village centre (There is a bus via a different route) will bring you to the shore at a rather scruffy hamlet. Turning left here will take you to a grubby beach which you will almost certainly have to yourself or turn right for Monolithos. A low-key little village with a couple of tavernas, mini-market and 2 black sand beaches - one with sun loungers and umbrellas and another nudist tolerated. Make sure you get a mat for any of the beaches because a towel just allows you to be cooked from both sides, the sun and the sand.
Further south from Monolithos and just before the Mesa Vouno promontory lies Kamari. A long sand beach backed by an incredible number of tavernas, bars and restaurants required to service the package holiday industry. If you want to stay here you will probably be better off contacting your travel agent. There is a zig-zag road ascending up to the saddle of the mountain and ancient Thira and running parallel to this a cobbled path climbing to a church encased in a cave. One of Santorini`s few natural springs can be found inside to supply welcome refreshment while you catch your breath. Continuing up the path will bring you to the road and the top with panoramic views of both Kamari and Perissa. Like Kamari, Perissa is very much package dominated but with a lazier feel. Walking south down the beach will give you the possibility of an umbrella-less stretch but by no means solitude. Both resorts are linked to Fira by the reliable bus service.
Fira makes it for Santorini with a high `must see` factor and some fabulous sunsets. After a little while though you begin to feel a touch claustrophobic and start yearning for a little more greekness to your holiday. You should also be aware that if you are arriving by ferry you will dock at Athinios and not Fira so you will be at a disadvantage with regard to room owners if there are no buses (like in the early hours).