If there is one place in Greece every traveler should visit, it’s the island of Santorini. Famous for its stunning sunsets and breathtaking vistas, this little Aegean Island has long been a favorite for honeymooners and lovers.
The half moon-shaped island is famous for its unique landscape and the volcano that erupted around 1450 BC, causing the center of the island to sink into the sea. While the outside of the island is characterized by its red-and-black, sandy beaches, the inside of the moon is made up of the sheer cliff face of a caldera (volcanic crater) which looks out over a bay filled with the remains of the sleeping beast that tore the island in half centuries ago.
The history of the island dates back to at least 3000 BC when settlers made their first appearance. The resilience of man is demonstrated in his ability to survive and adapt to the destructive forces of nature. The cliff face is home to villages that seem to defy gravity and are privy to some of the most memorable views and sunsets imaginable. Visitors flock from all over the world to line the caldera each evening and watch the sun make its daily descent into the Aegean Sea.
The island can be reached by plane from Athens with a convenient 45-minute flight from Aegean Airlines or by boat with Blue Star Ferries, offering daily service from the Athens port of Piraeus. Although the nautical route is considerably longer, it is the preferred method of arrival at this beautiful destination. As the boat pulls into the harbor you immediately begin to appreciate Santorini’s unique beauty. The seemingly enormous ferry is quickly dwarfed by the cliffs of the caldera. Buses and taxis are available to take you to your final destination, whether it be Fira or Oia (Ee-a) and one of the cliff-dwelling villages of the caldera or one of the beach villages, such as Kamari, on the outside of the island.
While the natural beauty of the island is an obvious reason to visit Santorini, this Aegean Island also offers numerous opportunities for travelers to let loose and have fun, Greek island style. A daytrip to the hot springs at the base of the volcano is a one-of-a-kind experience. Take a boat to the hot, muddy waters of the sulfur beach and immerse yourself in cleansing volcanic waters, said to be an excellent, natural skin treatment.
While the caldera seems impossibly steep, there are plenty of ways to get from top to bottom. From the capital village of Fira, take the cable car ride all the way to the bottom to visit the old port, now only used for boat tours around the island or to the volcano. Many prefer to take the steps down, then return up by cable car so they can experience both methods without wearing themselves out.
Wine enthusiasts love Santorini for its delicious local wines and wineries. Venetsanos Winery is ideally located with fantastic views of the caldera. It is a great way to spend a day sampling wine, enjoying the fresh island air and tasting expertly prepared local dishes.
The villages of Kamari and Perivolos on the outer rim of the island are home to the unique black beaches of Santorini. Unlike the caldera side of the island, the beach villages offer a traditional Greek island stay of spending your days relaxing on the beach. The villages are quiet with friendly locals and good food. By night, beachfront bars and clubs keep you on your toes, dancing the night away. By day, visitors — no matter what age — can relive their childhood building sandcastles on the beach. The waters are warm and the sand is warmer, thanks to the volcanic nature of the island, so be sure to bring shoes for the beach in case the sand is too hot for your toes.
Perhaps one of the most unique ways to enjoy the island is by staying in one of the many cave dwellings on the face of the caldera. Aroma Suites is one such place, offering a romantic and relaxing stay in one of the suites converted from a natural cave. Guests can enjoy a delicious glass of local wine while they watch the sun set over the volcano from their balcony before heading to town to enjoy some of the local nightlife Greece is famous for.
While visiting the island, you will be inundated with the local lore of Atlantis. Many believe Santorini is the actual location of the legendary lost city and, with a large portion of the island lying at the bottom of the Aegean Sea, it is easy to believe. Local shops, hotels, restaurants and even local wines use the name of the ancient city, hoping to capitalize on the legend.
No matter how you choose to spend your Santorini vacation, make sure you take in as many sunsets as possible. The best place on the island to view the sunset is from Oia, on the northern tip of the caldera, but make sure you get there early to stake out a good viewing location before they are all taken.