Mention Santorini to just about anyone and everything you hear is nothing but positive. While I did have some mixed feelings during my visit, I have to say, it did live up to the hype and was a beautiful island.
Getting to Santorini
Santorini may be a tiny little island, but it’s really easy to get to. You can take a ferry from a lot of nearby islands, or you can fly directly to Santorini from numerous places. A ton of different airlines serve the Santorini Airport, including Lufthansa and Vueling.
Be sure to check all of your options first before making any final bookings, because you might be able to fly directly from Santorini or with just one simple connection, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be Athens, either. Before making any final bookings, try a booking engine like Cheapflights.com that will compare flights from different airlines.
Visiting during the economic crisis
My trip to the Greek islands this summer just so happened to fall during the height of the country’s economic crisis. Concerned friends and family members reached out to me, some even urging me to cancel my travel plans. But unless there is a crisis so severe that the airlines are offering refunds to affected cities, I have learned by now to not really pay attention to how the media spins things. I’ve dealt with worse—international travel when the Swine Flu was a huge concern, and being stuck in Japan during their worst earthquake in history. Bad things can happen, anywhere, anytime. Be careful, be aware, and plan accordingly, but think twice before canceling your travel plans. As far as my time in Greece? It was business as usual and from a tourist’s perspective, you wouldn’t even know there was anything wrong. We had no problems whatsoever, so if you’re still on the fence about visiting, please—GO!
Where to stay
There are a lot of options when it comes to lodging and city choices in Santorini, many of which offer sweeping views of the Caldera and the island’s beautiful architecture. Imerovigli, Fira, and Oia are popular choices, but seriously—choose Oia. This is such a unique little village and I haven’t really encountered any place like it anywhere else in the world. My only issue with it is that it is completely loaded with cheesy little tourist shops and it sure does get packed. The village itself is almost so perfect looking, that at night when all the little lights come on, I felt like I was in one of those fake countries at Epcot’s World Showcase—although, I’m not too sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.
One thing to consider about Oia is that it is all stairs, and you will pretty much hike to wherever you need to go. I actually enjoyed this, as I was eating way too much on this trip and I welcome a little bit of forced exercise. However, if you have mobility issues or just can’t deal with tons of stairs, skip Oia. You may also want to bring along a backpack instead of a suitcase, which will make transporting your stuff a whole lot easier. You can get some pretty good backpack-style luggage on Amazon.
Overall, I highly recommend staying here. It really is the heart of Santorini and what makes it such a unique island. In Oia, I stayed at the Charisma Suites.
About Charisma Suites
Charisma Suites is at the very end of Oia, so it’s peaceful, quiet, and private. Compared to some of the other hotels in Oia, you have to walk a little further to get to the restaurants and to the parking lot areas, but I didn’t mind this. It really comes down to convenience versus seclusion. If you want to be disconnected from the crowds in Oia, this is definitely the place for you. (Super romantic, btw.) But if you want to be right in the middle of the action, you may want to pick another hotel.
Another thing I liked about this place, which I believe is the same for most hotels through Oia, is that there are only a few rooms. The main pool area is a bit small, and shares a floor with the reception desk, but since there aren’t many people staying at once, it never feels crowded (and oftentimes is empty). However, there are only a couple sunbeds, so I suggest you get there early and claim one if that’s how you want to spend your day.
With that being said, however, I think this is the kind of hotel where you really just want to stay at your suite. All rooms have private patios that offer amazing views of the Caldera, and some of the rooms also have private hot tubs. The hotel serves breakfast every morning on your patio, and at your chosen time.
The inside of the hotel is pretty amazing, too. It’s a cave hotel, and even if you don’t stay here, you should definitely pick a cave hotel if you’re coming to Santorini.
And check out that bathtub!
I’d recommend this place for anyone just looking to unwind, relax, and forget about the rest of the world for a few days. It’s perfect for couples—especially if you’re looking for the ideal honeymoon destination, or if you’re celebrating an anniversary.
They also have their own sparkling wine, which is delicious, by the way.
If you’re interested in learning more about Charisma Suites and booking a room, you can do so right on Expedia.
One of my favorite things about Santorini? The beautiful sunsets. These aren’t the sky-on-fire, explosion-of-rainbow-color-type sunsets, yet there is something special about them. If you are spending more than one night in Santorini, you should view the sunset from different perspectives.
The first night, we watched it from our balcony at Charisma Suites. While this didn’t offer that postcard-esque view of the sunlight hitting the whitewashed structures of Oia, it offered an unobstructed, peaceful view of the Caldera.
For our other sunset, we battled the crowds of people who gather on Oia Castle for the money shot: it doesn’t offer the best Caldera view sunset, but this is where you get the breathtaking view of the village as the sun goes down.
Oh, and one tip—don’t be so quick to scurry off, like most people do, once the sun disappears. The lighting gets even better, the lights go on in Oia, and it’s even more amazing.
What to do
When it actually comes down to beaches and things to do in Santorini, this is where I feel the island is lacking a bit. Relaxing in your hotel, exploring Oia, and watching the sunsets—those are the highlights. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a great way to spend two or three days. But beyond that? There isn’t much else to see or do. You’ve got the black sand beaches, which are neat and all, but overcrowded and nothing special compared to some of the other black sand beaches in the world. The red sand beach is definitely worth a visit—a unique little place that is also overly packed and with cold waters—so it’s really just a short visit. The hot springs seem to top all “must-see” lists in Santorini, but I’d say skip it. The water was lukewarm, at best, and an orange-brown color. It also smells really bad from the sulphur. Once someone said it felt like we were swimming in a sewer, I was ready to go.
If you want to leave all the planning in someone else’s hands, there are several different types of tours you can go on. Contiki offers a few that hit some of the main sights.
There was one beach I did like a lot, however— Vlychada Beach (pictured above). This is pretty close to Perissa, and the sand is also black(ish), but it has very unique mountain formations (almost reminds me of something that was designed by Antoni Gaudi). It’s a wide beach that you’ll almost have to yourself, too.
Another disappointment to me was the food. It was mediocre and expensive. In fact, everything in Santorini was pretty pricy, but I expected that.
We had already visited Zakynthos and Milos, where the food was absolutely delicious everywhere we went and dirt cheap. As much I did enjoy Santorini and Oia, I enjoyed the other islands we visited more. Milos was our favorite by a long shot.
I don’t have intentions of ever returning to Santorini—not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because it’s really, really hard for me to find a place that I love enough to go back to (I’m looking at you, Thailand and Italy). There are just too many places in this world that I still need to visit.
With that being said, I would absolutely return to the Greek islands one day. There are a couple hundred of them, and we only visited four on this trip, so I would love to explore some of the others.
If you visited the Greek Islands, which were your favorites, and why?
Essential Travel Information
Hotel booking information: We stayed at the Charisma Suites in Oia, which you can book directly on Expedia.
Getting to Santorini: We took a ferry to Santorini from Milos, which we booked once we arrived in Milos. They are plentiful and you don’t have to worry about booking it ahead of time. Santorini does have an airport, however, so if you won’t be taking a ferry, you can find flights on CheapOAir.com.
For something a little out of the ordinary: You can charter sailing trips to, from, or around the island of Santorini with G Adventures. They also offer a lot other fun Greece activities, tours, and itineraries.
Photos #4, 6, 7, and 8 were taken by Christos Drazos. All other photos were taken by Amber and Joe Butch.
Charisma Suites hosted us during our visit to Santorini. All opinions, as always, are our own.