You’ve no doubt seen pictures of the white washed buildings and the brilliant blue domes clinging to the cliff sides. Every blogger who’s anyone has posed in front of that quintessential backdrop. But when I saw Santorini in person, my first impression was… it was not what I had imagined.
Before you scroll down to leave me an upset comment, let me explain.
When we were first planning our trip to the Greek islands, I, along with probably every other trip-planner out there, looked at the stunning pictures of worn stone walkways and epic sunsets and just knew I needed to see Santorini for myself. I researched where to stay, what to do, where to go, but I never found a lot of real, helpful advice. That, added to the iconic pictures, had me expecting something entirely different.
The crowds and the heat and the lack of organization at the airport, I was expecting. But what was it about Santorini that had me completely thrown off guard? I’m going to share with you the article I wish I had found before going.
1. While you may be there to capture pictures like this:
Be aware that the rest of the island looks like this:
The Mediterranean climate is very hot and dry with mild, wet winters. This weather provides a perfect environment for scrubby plants and cacti. Iconic bougainvillea (pronounced BO-GAN-VEE-YA) lends a splash of color to the towns and walkways. This is a very hearty plant that needs constant pruning but definitely POPS against the whitewashed buildings.
2. Oia is pronounced “Eeee-yah”.
There is nothing more rude (in my eyes) while traveling than not bothering to learn the names of the places your hosts call home. Ignorance can be forgiven, but hearing every tourist around us call it “oy-yah” after the Greeks pronounced it correctly for them several times had me straight up cringing. This encouraged me to learn how to pronounce it correctly and even try to learn a few words of their language, besides. Spoiler: Greek is an incredibly complex, beautiful language. Don’t expect to pick it up easily.
3. The hot springs left me disappointed.
There are many, many boat tours around the islands and if you get a chance, I highly recommend you take one! Many companies offer sunset cruises, day cruises, island-hopping cruises, etc and my advice is to read the reviews of any you decide to hire, but make sure to take those reviews with a grain of salt (some people absolutely LIVE just to be a prick on online reviews). We took an all day sunset cruise that promised a dip in the hot springs along its route.
The hot springs come up from under the ocean at the island of Nea Kameni. Because they’re constantly mixing with the ocean water, the temperature is not “hot” like you’d expect if you’ve ever visited hot springs on land. This little area is usually pretty crowded with boat tours and people swimming. As you can see from the pictures, it’s not the gorgeous blue-green water you’re used to seeing on Insta. In fact, due to the sulphur in the water here, it’s suggested you remove all jewelry and not wear light colored suits because the yellow waters will stain them and eat away at precious metals.
This being said, I love adventures of all kinds. This in no way made our catamaran tour a disappointment. I travel to experience new places and this one was truly neat to check off my list.
We used Santorini Yachting Club for our catamaran tour and they went above and beyond to make our trip incredible. I always ask a million questions about where we are at and the captain answered them all with a smile. They even cooked lunch for us and there was unlimited beer available!
4. The sunset spots get crowded…like, REALLY crowded.
When the sun begins sinking low, there is a huge clamor to get to a good spot to watch it. This means the narrow streets are packed and people aren’t moving. If you’re even a bit claustrophobic or short, you may have a hard time enjoying yourself.
My suggestion is to get reservations at a restaurant that overlooks the caldera for around sunset time. That way you can relax and watch the sunset without all the clamor. Make sure to book your reservations in advance!
We didn’t know it when we booked it, but our room at Marizan Caves & Villas had THE PERFECT patio overlooking the ocean. We got to watch every sunset from the privacy of our patio and private pool. Y’all, it was MAGIC.
I’ve never been anywhere where people break out in applause after watching the sun go down. It quite literally gave me chills.
Speaking of Greek sunsets, they are gorgeous. But it’s hard to beat the sunsets here in Arizona:
5. The wind blows something fierce.
All year long. Make sure to pack a hat and/or hair tie because the steady breezes are sure to tangle long locks into knots. It’s less severe in town as the buildings tend to block some of it, but if you’re going on a boat or driving around the island, make sure to be prepared. And don’t walk too close to the edge of any cliffs! I’m not normally fearful of looking over cliffs like this but I was definitely feeling sketchy as the gusts pushed me around.
6. The beaches aren’t the best.
Even the locals will tell you, Santorini is not known for its beaches. If you want golden sand, try a different island. Most of the beaches on Santorini are rocky or pebbly and the black sand beach of Kamari gets hot on the toes!
Does any of this mean I wouldn’t go back? Not exactly. The Greek people are kind, hospitable and downright lovely. The food is incredible. The Mediterranean is a sparkling turquoise gem as far as the eye can see. We travel to experience different places, cultures, foods and people; to step out of our comfort zones. Travel stretches the mind and crushes the ego. I would never say no to any trip, given the chance. I believe that every country it beautiful in its own way and Santorini is a rugged, beautiful gem in Greece.
If you’ve been to the Greek Islands, tell me something that surprised you the first time you visited in the comments below.