The Greeks call the island Thira, after the Spartan King who led a group of his people to settle the island and eventually set up colonies along the North African coast. The name Santorini came from the 17th century when the Venetians named the island after St Irene (hence, Santorini). As a volcanic island, Thira (Santorini) has many fascinating volcanic characteristics. And there are several ways to see these interesting features.
You can take a tour. Now, usually, I don't like going on tour groups, but in this case, I made an exception. I booked a tour to see the volcano and the surrounding islands. I found a great price at a place about ten minutes from the hotel.
Greece Travel Tip #16
If you want to go on a tour, shop around for the best deal. Some places charge less than others for the same tour! For example, I found a place that charged 30% less than the other agencies. Save your money for the shopping!
If you look around town, you can find really good shopping deals. Try the minimarkets, because they usually carry the same local merchandise for a lot less than what the tourist shops are charging. Take your time to look around. If you pay cash and buy a lot of items, you may be able to get a discount if you haggle with the stores. Remember, the farther the store from the main shopping and dining avenues, the less expensive the items and the more likely you'll find great deals on quality merchandise.
A tour bus picked us up from Kamari and picked up other tourists along the way to the port. At the port, we got on a ship that took us to the volcano, Nea Kameni. Remember, if you want to avoid the splash from the sea, try to seat on the inside or at the top of the ship. Keep in mind that the people who sit near the exit are usually the first ones off the ship.
The trip to the volcano was smooth. And we were the first ones off the ship. I didn't bother hanging around to wait for the tour guide. We just took off and started exploring the volcano.
It was a very rugged, jagged landscape, so wear comfortable shoes. Some areas were slippery with the rocks sliding when you stepped on them. There were hazardous areas blocked off. I saw some really unique and intriguing rock formations.
Of course, I couldn't resist going up some of those precariously perched rocks. I thought it'd be fun to pretend I was ready to go forth and conquer!
Here I am as Atlas holding up the world.
It's a small rock because it's a small world after all. Also because that was the biggest rock I could find to take up the climb with me.
After seeing the volcano, we went to the hot springs on the island of Palea Kameni. Now, here is where we had a miscommunication. When we booked the tour, we were told that we had "two hours to swim and spend in the hot springs."
What they meant was you had two hours to spend at the hot springs, but you had to swim to get there! That's right! You had to swim 50 meters to get to the hot springs! The ship could only safely anchor about 50 meters away from the hot springs, because the water was full of jagged rocks and shallow in some places near the shore. They even gave a warning that if you're not a swimmer or have a medical condition, then do not attempt to swim out to the hot springs. There were no little boats to ferry you over safely to the hot springs.
I swam out there. This being May, the water was cold and deep. And it didn't warm up til I got close to the hot springs. But here's what you should know. The hot springs aren't really hot! They were like warm. There was no steam rising up from the springs, and the water was rusty colored from the volcano and probably mountain goat droppings. That's right. There were mountain goats up the hills, and I bet they crapped in the hot springs! I saw some people pick up rusty mud and rub them on their faces. Ewww...And that stuff stains and smells funny!
Was it worth it? Well, I enjoyed swimming towards the hot (warm) springs and soaking for a little while. But it sure did suck swimming back towards the ship in the cold water! And there were some people who were injured by bumping into the sharp rocks, or their heart conditions were acting up with all that swimming. I swam quickly to the ship, because I was afraid the sharks might smell the blood and come out! Still, I'm glad I did it. I paid for the damn tour and I was going to get my money's worth. But if you go, just know your limits and don't hurt yourself.
After leaving Palea Kameni, we headed to the island of Thirassia. Check out the crocodile's head formation on the island.
Thirassia is really rural and less populated than Thira. It was very quiet but the harbor was beautiful.
The only people out were the restaurant people and the small shops people along the harbor. They also had steps going up to the town perched on the top of the caldera. Naturally, they had donkeys if you wanted to ride them up and down the steep, zigzagging stairs.
Of course, I walked. It was quite an intense hike climbing up those steps. I had to stop a few times to drink some water and catch my breath. And after exploring the quiet sleeping town, we took the ship to our last stop, the village of Ia (Oia). The ship dropped us off at the harbor and to get back up the caldera to the town, you either walked or rode the donkeys on the those steep winding steps. It's a real workout, quite the hike. So, take your time and drink some water. Make as many stops as you need. If you do decide on the donkey ride, just remember it'll be a bumpy ride and you'll smell like an ass, I mean, like your donkey!
Now I had been to Ia before. I had taken the bus there to explore the town of Ia, its shops, beaches, and steps. It wasn't as big as Fira, but it was still pretty busy and had some great features. I particularly enjoyed the underground homes and garden windows. I imagined Hobbits lived here.
But the best thing about Ia is the location. Just find a good spot along the caldera, be it a lookout point or a bar, and just enjoy the beautiful sunset.
And what a glorious sunset it is!
Even the lesbians loved it!
I saw a wedding party out there, enjoying the view. And I can totally understand now why Thira is considered such a romantic place. The sunset view is romantic and breathtaking.
And after the sun went down, I got on the tour bus to take me back to the hotel at Kamari.
Another great way to see Thira's captivating volcanic characteristics is to take the bus. The buses take you into Fira. You can explore the big town of Fira, or catch the buses to other towns like Ia, Perissa, or Akrotiri. Now I was determined to get to Akrotiri. I'm a big fan archaeological digs and I luv history and mythology.
So imagine my disappointment when I learned that the Akrotiri archaeological sites were closed! Still, I was determined to make an effort and get out there. At the very least I could say that I went there. Also, I had learned from the maps that there was a red beach there. That's right. A red sand beach! And it was a very fascinating sight seeing that red beach.
Now the red sand wasn't really fine sand, but it was still comfortable enough to walk on barefoot. It was a little crowded though, so we hiked on a little farther, hoping to make it to the white beach. I had seen on the map that there was a white beach further down. We never made it to white beach.
We took some pictures along the way.
After hiking for an hour, we stopped on a cliff and took some pictures of the view.
That's when I noticed what looked like the remains of a little house way down this hidden cove. There was no clear path down there, but I had a feeling that there had to be way down. So feeling adventurous, I started working my down the cliff, hoping to find some sort of path.
I could only find some fragments of what used to be steps--some rebars and broken off steps. It was all jagged rocks and loose piles of stones down the cliff. It took me half an hour to work my way down, kicking out piles of rocks and feeling for solid stones on the way down. I confess that I was a little scared, worried that I might slip and fall or go down in some landslide. It was quite steep!
But I made it! And I was happy!
And as soon as I made it down, four other brave souls followed the path that I had cleared and joined me in discovering the hidden cove. Just the five of us, enjoying the beach, the seclusion, and cool waters. We swam out to the small rock islands and jumped off them into the water. It was all smooth hard rocks on the beach, but the water had sand. We spent some time swimming, sunning, laughing, eating snacks, enjoying our little discovery. The others included three backpackers from France, a very nice and wonderful group.
A few boats made some quick stops, the tourists on board having paid a premium price just to swim in the water for about twenty minutes before they moved on. I waved at them, inviting them over. They waved back but couldn't stay long enough to swim over to the shore. It seemed unreal, having found this secret cove, and it made for quite an adventure.
We spent the whole afternoon on that beach. And when it was time to leave, we had to make the hazardous climb back up the cliff.
And it felt good when I reached the top.
That was quite a fun, adventurous day. We caught the bus back to Fira; then got on the bus to Kamari. I'm really glad that I took a lot of time exploring the island. There's a lot to see and experience in Thira, and if you take the time and the chance to venture off the beaten paths, you can find some really fantastic discoveries.