Our trip to Europe in April was a whirlwind, visiting 4 different countries and when we booked it, I really wanted a destination at the end of the trip that we could just relax a bit. Santorini has always been lingering on our travel list and so we figured it would be the perfect stop over for a bit of relaxation at the end of our travels.
In truth, it ended up being our least favorite spot on the trip, for a number of reasons. Overall, I felt it wasn’t very genuine, in that I didn’t really feel like if tourists didn’t come to the island, it wouldn’t really look like it does. I was also a little blown away by how just a few feet away from the tourist areas, the island is literally falling apart and overrun by garbage. Maybe this was just our experience and maybe just how we explored the island, but it’s not a spot I think I would return to in the future. In an effort to be completely transparent and honest here on Land of Marvels, I think it’s important to be open about our experiences while traveling. And while I’m not sure we’d return, this famous island is still pretty incredible to see in person as it’s known world-wide. If you’ve always wanted to visit this famous Greek Isle, here is everything you need to know before going to Santorini!
There are basically 3 main towns: Fira, Oia and Imerovigli.
When you look at Santorini, there are basically 3 main towns around the crescent shaped caldera of the island. The town of Fira is the capital of the island and a busy tourist hub. Oia (pronounced “ee-ya”) is the town that you always see the typical Santorini photos of. Oia is where the famous windmills are and the hillsides that you always see photos of. Imerovigli is a small, more local town, situated between the two others. There are definitely other sections of the island, but for tourists, these are the 3 main towns you’ll probably frequent the most.
It’s kind of a pain to get around the island.
We stayed in Imerovigli, which is located about 20 minute walk from Fira and about a 25 minute drive from Oia. One of the things that I didn’t like about Santorini was how hard it was to get around if you don’t want to rent a car. To walk, there are no sidewalks in many areas along the main roads. To get a taxi, it’s not an easy task. In Oia, we spent an hour wandering around trying to find the taxi stand which was not easy to find. Then when we finally found it, we had to call (thank goodness we had added cell service for our phones while traveling) for a taxi to come get us, which then took another 20+ minutes. I felt like for a destination with so many tourists, they don’t make it very easy to get around the island.
Now if you’re going and just staying at your hotel, then I guess it wouldn’t matter. But we wanted to explore a little and it wasn’t very easy without having to rent a car.
Don’t flush toilet paper.
One of the things that I found strange on Santorini, at least in Imerovigli, was that you can’t flush toilet paper. Now I get that the island is old but for some place that caters to millions of tourists each year, there are plenty of other old places in the world that have been able to upgrade their sewer systems to modern standards. Regardless it’s something to be aware of.
I’m not sure if all hotels are like this or if some of them have their own systems, but this was pretty standard in public areas and our hotel.
It’s a resort island and hence, everything is overpriced.
Greece has had a rough go of it lately with financial situations and so I was expecting everything to be cheaper than other spots in Europe. Not the case at all! Santorini is definitely charging prices for tourists since it’s a resort island. Food was not cheap, nor were souvenirs or anything else.
Expect to walk a lot.
Whether it’s long stretches of walking with caldera views or going up and down the stairs to your hotel, you’ll walk a ton on Santorini. Bring comfortable shoes and strong legs to get up and down those cliffsides!
Traveling to Greece?
See all of my posts on the country!
In most of central America you can’t flush the TP either, it definitely took some getting used to and made for a few interesting stops in Costa Rica.
Yea it was like that in Peru in public places but at all the hotels they had their own systems that you could. It’s definitely weird to get used to!
You can’t flush toilet paper anywhere in Greece/Turkey/Cyprus
Is it similar to South America though that some of the higher end hotels have their systems that you can? I visited Cyprus years ago and don’t remember that.
Not meaning to be difficult, but there are many more villages on the island the same size as Imerovigli. A couple popular ones on the other side of the island are Kamari and Perissa, both not on the caldera, but much closer to the beaches – a friend of mine really enjoyed her stay in Kamari recently.
My feeling is that Santorini is what you make of it… if you want touristy resorts, you (definitely) got it. If you want excellent hiking and to see the small villages that are more local, you can have that too. It’s just a matter of staying out of Fira and Oia if the latter is more of your thing. I found the bus network to be pretty decent with frequent connections between Oia and Fira (in the summer, that is). We rented a four-wheeler and enjoyed getting around that way too. I will agree with you though that getting around Santorini takes some strategy and is not the easiest thing I’ve experienced, hah.
That’s good to know! We were only there a few days so we didn’t get a chance to explore the whole island but everything I read before hand pretty much outlined those 3, perhaps because they are all on that side of the island? And yes, I see what you mean about “what you make it”… I think for us, we like to explore instead of just laying in the sun and it was somewhat difficult to do that without making a ton of prior arrangements to get around as taxis were difficult and we didn’t necessarily want to wait around for buses. But I agree, I think it’s a place for a specific kind of traveler and it just wasn’t the best for us, which is why I like sharing even not so great experiences here on Land of Marvels since not every place is for everyone.
Santorini has been on my bucketlist and I almost went for my honeymoon. But after much research I kept seeing comments about animal cruelty and the horrible conditions of the donkeys they try to shill for tourist donkey rides. As an animal lover I didn’t think I could enjoy my vacation seeing/knowing that. Is that consistent with your experience or hopefully just a rumor?
Interesting… I didn’t encounter that at all but I do know that occurs in lots of places around the world. I’ve even heard similar things about the horses in Central Park in NYC… so I don’t know, wasn’t something we encountered!
Van @ Snow in Tromso says
It’s nice to read a more critical view on Santorini for once. I’ve only read dreamy posts so far and would totally be disappointed if I’d arrive to heaps of trash on the island and what not…
So glad to hear that! 🙂 And yes, I agree. I really want to always be honest about our travels and I think I do as a disservice as a travel blogger to sugar coat everything. And yes, Santorini is beautiful in the way you expect it to be, but it’s also dirty and has some other issues, which we weren’t blown away by. So honesty first! 🙂
Angie SilverSpoon says
I’ve never been to Santorini but I found similar issues in Mykonos. Difficult to get around and everything very expensive.
Yea I’m wondering if it’s just the infrastructure on all the Greek islands? I was shocked at how expensive everything was on Santorini considering Greece’s financial situation in recent years!
I went to Santorini recently too, and whilst I found the views and landscapes absolutely incredible, it wasn’t quite the destination I was expecting. I found some things quite disappointing, like the lack of local culture and the fact that everyone is a tourist! Literally everyone. Maybe that’s just because I’m used to going on city breaks but I found it really strange. I’m glad I went, because I’m still swooning over some of those views, but I’m not in a rush to go back.
That’s a really good way to put it and exactly how we felt. We also felt like for a tourist island, everything is kind of difficult. It was really strange how everyone is a tourist, even a lot of the hotel staff was from somewhere else, which is why I felt the whole place a bit un-authentic. Like would that island really be like if there were no tourists… probably not.