News & Events
Chasing Sunsets in Santorini – Greekzuelan
- November 20, 2020
- Posted by: Aradhana Pandey
- Category: Education
Since I was a child, my mom always told me that the number one place she dreamed of visiting was the Greek Islands. I grew up seeing their beautiful landscapes through a computer screen, and fantasizing every time I saw The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or Mamma Mia dreaming I will be able to one day take my mom there and live her dream together. Fast forward 10 years later and I was living in Crete, the biggest island in Greece, for my co-op and thinking of my mom non-stop.
From the time I found out I was coming to Greece, I knew I had to go to Santorini because it my mom’s favorite among all of the islands and, although I have plenty of stories to tell you about my time in Crete since I moved here, on this occasion, I am going to tell you all about my adventure — with nine other of my friends — to this island in particular.
First of all, I will lie to you if I tell you my visit to Santorini was totally planned out. I got to Crete at the end of September thinking I had an entire six months to eventually plan a visit to all the islands and I will always have boats to take me to any of them and they will have perfect weather awaiting for me to visit them any time of the year…
Oh, how wrong was I. Turns out that, against all odds, the Greek Islands actually have a winter season (although it is not nearly as cold as Philly; it’s more of a fall-ish weather). The problem is that when the winter season comes, the tourist season ends; when the tourist season ends, the islands literally die: no more boats go there, and all the restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions close. So, as soon as I found out that the last ferry will be sailing from Crete to Santorini in the last week of October, I emergency-texted all of my friends in Greece, and four days later we were all on our way to this beautiful Cycladic island.
Day One — Friday
Our day started at 6:30 a.m. when we all met to catch a bus for an hour-and-a-half-long ride to the city where the port in Crete is, and then at 8:30 a.m. catch the two-hour-ish-long ferry ride to Santorini — needless to say we were all sleeping on the ferry. As I mentioned before, we were a group of 10 students: a Spanish girl, two French girls, two Italian girls, three Polish girls, and an Azerbaijani guy who studies in Poland, and me, a Venezuelan girl who studies in the US. Once we got to the port (which is honestly, the least cute place in Santorini), we got our rented cars and went straight to our hotel. There, we left our luggage and the people in the reception very kindly gave us a map of the island and told us the best places to visit for those three days and how to get there with a car.
We immediately started our adventure by going to the oldest part of Santorini: the settlement of Akrotiri. This is an archeological site of excavations from a civilization from the Minoan Bronze Age, and we didn’t have to pay to get in because anyone with a student ID from the European Union can get in for free. The settlement was destroyed in the Theran eruption sometime in the 16th century BC and buried in volcanic ash, which also helped preserve it until it was discovered in 1967 by a Greek archeologist — there’s also a theory that this eruption was what inspired the legend of Atlantis, which is really cool. There were a couple of Archeology and History students among us, so that made the experience extra-special because they kept telling us interesting facts about the place.
After that, we went to eat at a restaurant that the manager of the hotel suggested us, and then we headed to the Red Beach (although on our way there, we found a gate filled with pink bougainvillea flowers and we had to do a quick photoshoot because I started to feel the emotion of being in the place I have dreamed of visiting since I was a child). To get to the red beach it was a little hike — which I later discovered is how you basically get to everywhere in Santorini — but it was totally worth it. The beach gets its name because it is composed of black and red volcanic rocks from the Santorini caldera because the island is the result of a big volcano explosion that happened centuries ago and destroyed its ancient civilizations. This beach was nothing like I have seen before; the colors of the sand and the clearness of the water honestly left me speechless. And although the water was starting to get a little chilly, my friends and I could enjoy a little dip in the ocean and sunbathe while listening to a perfect Santorini playlist.
We left the beach 30 minutes before sunset and headed to Profitis Ilias which is the highest point on the island. As soon as we got there, we started to feel it was the end of October because the temperature dropped 10 degrees, but the breathtaking panoramic view of Santorini at sunset made us completely forget about it.
After that amazing experience, we drove to a supermarket to get a few groceries to have for dinner, breakfast, and snacks for the rest of the days of the trip. We had dinner together in one of the suites and we spent the rest of the night talking, listening to music and drinking cheap (but incredible) wine.
Day Two — Saturday
Saturday started early as well (“we will sleep at Crete” was our motto for this trip). This was the day I was looking forward to the most because we had planned to visit the village Oía a couple of hours before sunset and also see the sunset there — the place where you see all the pictures of postcards from Santorini with white houses and blue domes by the sea. Nonetheless, the first village we visited that day was Thira, the current capital of Santorini, which was located close to our hotel and it’s also a big touristic location filled with gorgeous white houses and churches that also left me speechless. As soon as we got to one of the balconies in the border of the village and saw that beautiful view, I had to pinch myself in the arm (no joke!) to realize that I wasn’t dreaming and I was actually living my mom’s biggest wish. In Thira, we even saw a local climbing the stairs riding a donkey and I couldn’t feel more like in those movies I have watched while fantasizing that I was in Greece! As we climbed down the village, we found the Archaeological Museum of Thera where you can find relics of the Minoan civilization that have been found in the Akrotiri excavations and the entrance is also free with a student ID from the European Union.
Afterwards, we went to the village of Pyrgos which is the old capital of Santorini and is less touristy than Oía and Thira. This village was also not as big as the other two, I can say we climbed all of Pyrgos in half an hour and saw beautiful houses, cathedrals, and shops, which also seemed more authentic than the ones at Thira and Oía which are a little bit more “made up” for tourists. Once we got to the top, my friends lasted double the time that it took us to climb the stairs of the village taking a lot of pictures and shopping, and I got really worried because it was about to hit 3 pm and we hadn’t had lunch yet. I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to have a lot of time to see Oía before the sunset. I started to panic and now I regret a lot having panicked there because I didn’t get to enjoy the beauty of the authenticity of Pyrgos.
After eating in a Greek restaurant nearby, we finally got to go to the highly awaited village of Oía. As soon as I got there, I was in complete awe — to say the least. The first thing I saw when I got into the village was a balcony with the views of all the white beautiful villas and the sea, and it was just like what I saw in all the pictures growing up. As we walked through the main road (and one of the few public roads) of Oía, we just kept finding more and more balconies perfect for pictures. One of my friends took out a speaker while playing our Santorini playlist while we were walking through Oía and it suddenly the moment became more magical (and even locals joined us dancing!). We kept walking until we found another gorgeous bush of pink bougainvillea flowers and, a few feet ahead, we found the perfect spot to watch the famous Oía sunset. We secured a place and then waited half an hour while we got our cameras ready, ate some snacks, and slow-danced a little while we waited to be blessed by the red sunset. Once the sun made its magic and the show was over, we walked back to the entrance of the village but, on our way, we found one of the cutest book shops we’ve seen in our lives called Atlantis Book which had books of all genres in English, Greek, Spanish, French, German and Russian and had signed copies of books by renowned authors like Virginia Woolf and (my absolute favorite) George Orwell.
I definitely loved visiting this village and seeing everything my mom and I wished to see one day, I was super thankful I got to live our dream, but I also have to admit that Oía did not feel as authentic as Pyrgos: all of the villas there were only luxury hotels and not the homes of real Greek families, the cathedrals were all closed and are only located there for the aesthetics of the village, and most of the roads in the city were private roads that belong to the hotels. This definitely made me think a lot about how Oía was nothing like I imagined it to be and made me realize why Santorini dies when the tourist season is over: the beauty of Oía lies on the people who visit it and romanticize it. Regardless, I cannot deny that it is a really gorgeous and breathtaking village, but if you’re looking for a totally authentic Greek town and not a place overcrowded with tourists, this is not it.
After that, we got back to the hotel to have dinner and get ready because that night we had planned to go out and explore Thira’s nightlife. After pregaming a little with the cheap wine and our very diverse music, we discovered that some of the places in Thira were closed because of the end of the season. Thankfully, we found a small place where they had good music and we had a great last night in Santorini.
Day Three — Sunday
Sunday was our last day in this Cycladic island, so despite having gone out the night before, we rushed to wake up to enjoy the day to the fullest. Firstly, we went to the Perissa Black Sand Beach where we ate breakfast, took naps, sunbathe and swam in a warmer season than what we expected for the end of October. To be honest, this beach didn’t surprise me as much as the Red one because I had already been to a Black Beach in Crete, but it was still really stunning.
After a couple of hours there, we went to another village called Megalochori. Despite being the smallest village we visited, I think Megalochori was the one that surprised me the most, and it ended up being my favorite. It was like everything I imagined Santorini and Greece to be like: a town filled with authentic white houses with blue doors and windows, and pink bougainvillea flowers where locals live and are wandering around the churches and squares. I think what I loved the most about Megalochori was how authentic it is; I would 100% recommend visiting it if you’re ever on this island!
And just like everything good has its end, we ate at a restaurant in Megalochori and then headed back to the port to go back to Crete.
Even though this trip was really spontaneous, we were all sure we didn’t want to waste all of our money on this trip — especially since Santorini is one of the most expensive Greek islands because of how touristy it is. Thankfully, we were a big group of friends so we were able to split a lot of the prices and I am very proud to say that, in total, I spent less than 200 euros for the 3-day/2-night trip to Santorini. Let me break you down some of the prices and deals we got so you can take them if you ever go there:
- The ferry ticket was 68 euros in total for the round trip (34 euros each way). We were all able to get the ticket by half the price because we had IDs from a Greek university (my friends were all European exchange students at the University of Crete and I work there as a researcher for my co-op), so if you are ever doing a study abroad program in Greece, take advantage of this deal! The ferry company we took was SeaJet because it was the very last one in the season going from Heraklion, Crete to Thira, Santorini, but bear in mind that if you go during the high season you will be able to find more ferry options by other companies and also different prices.
- We moved around the island by renting two cars — five people traveling in each car. For the three days, the rental of each car was 45 euros plus 20 euros for gas, so we ended up paying 9 euros each for the car rental and 4 euros for the gas. Renting the cars was honestly one of the best ideas we could have had; this enabled us to travel all through the island and explore everything we wanted to see without worrying about spending too much on taxis or bus schedules. The only downside of renting cars in Greece is that you have to be at least 21 years old, and have a European or an international driver’s license for at least three years.
- After looking at every possible place for this big amount of people to stay on Airbnb and Booking.com, we found a hotel called Villa Manos where we reserved two big and cozy villa-style suites with enough beds for everyone, and we each ended up paying up 15 euros per night (30 euros in total per person, which is a steal in Santorini).
- Food-wise, we all committed to only do one big meal (which was usually lunch) outside, and on average, we spent around 10 euros on this meal eating really good traditional Greek food each of the times. For the other two meals of each day, we went to a supermarket and bought bread, cheese, ham, prosciutto, nutella, cookies, wine, water, etc… and we ended up spending around 6 euros each person for enough for the meals of the three days.
Things we missed
Even though we explore pretty much everything that needs to be done in Santorini, we missed two things that are very popular but we didn’t have the money nor the time to do them. The first one was going to the White Beach which looked amazing in pictures! The thing is that you can only get to that beach through a boat and we didn’t have a lot of money budgeted for that. We found what, in my opinion, was an OK deal of a 10 euros boat trip that took you to the three colored beaches — Red, Black and White — but since we didn’t have a lot of time and we already had paid cars for that trip, we didn’t want to spend money on that. Plus, we didn’t know how many hours we could be in each of them, so we didn’t know if it was worth it.
And finally, the other cool thing people told us about Santorini that we couldn’t do during this trip was going on a catamaran trip to the three beaches and snorkeling there while also having an open bar at the boat through the entire trip, and then going to the volcano’s hot springs and take a bath in thermal waters while seeing the sunset. However, this trip cost more than 100 euros, which was way above our budget, so that was a sad no — but hopefully, one day I will be able to do it.
Overall this trip was one of the best ones of my life so far because, despite being so short, I got to cross so many places off my bucket list on a trip that I financed myself while being so young — which also made me feel really independent. Additionally, I got to experience all of these with other nine people from other five nationalities who two weeks before the trip were complete strangers and, after the trip, ended up being nine of my greatest friends. Without any doubt, I would hands-down repeat this trip again if I’m given the chance, and hopefully one day I will be able to take my mom to Santorini to live her dream as well.
Have you ever visited this magical place? Please leave me a comment below and let me know how your adventure was.