I can see a pattern forming here – I love small, laidback islands. It started with Caye Caulker, then Zanzibar, and now Santorini. Of the three islands, Santorini is the most developed one, but it still keeps that certain atmosphere that makes you feel like you are truly in a secluded place.
One of the most interesting things about Santorini is that the island itself is “a volcano”. When you see its shape you can actually recognize the caldera that stood active until not long ago.
Contrary to Caye Caulker and Zanzibar, where I was a beach bum and culture explorer, here I was an active hiker and passive admirer.
I enjoyed walking all around Thira, the main town, and hiking down and up the over 500 steps that connect the pier at the bottom of the caldera. And you know what I found funny?! People in Santorini love donkeys! They use them for everything, and today of course, they are a tourist magnet when going up and down the caldera. Donkeys are everywhere! (And they do register them like they register cars)
Another curious aspect of Thira was the fact that there were churches everywhere too. At one point, I stopped in the middle of the street and counted all the churches visible from that place. I could count 22! (There are actually over 550 churches) Those are a lot of churches in such a small area, but culturally interesting, though.
Since I was in a volcano I could not miss hiking the volcano! A quick sailboat ride took me to Nea Kameni (where the volcano is) and for an hour and half I hiked the black, arid, and dynamic landscape that has changed through every major eruption in the last thousand years.
Right in the caldera, at another island called Palea Kameni, there is the so-called “hot springs”. I was so excited to get in those hot springs; to get a bit of a contrast of the chilly spring weather. But let me tell you… Even the coldest beach in Puerto Rico is warmer than those “hot springs”! I’ll give it to them though. It’s a nice effort, but not quite there yet. The hot springs are natural, of course, and warmed by the sulfur that leaks through the ocean floor at a specific point in the island. But, since it is in the open sea, the ratio of hot sulfur with the cold Mediterranean waters is not balanced enough to produce even warm waters. Maybe in the hottest months it’s decently warm.
Despite being cold, I enjoyed the experience. The water had a peculiar brown color, produced by the sulfur, which stained my whole body and bathing suit (though it was easy to rub off), and the view of Thira was spectacular – from the distance, it looked like a white snowcap over a mountain. Around me where a few goats, as well as some chicken, climbing down the steep rocky slopes.
There is one place in Santorini I couldn’t miss visiting – the town of Oia, in the northernmost part of the island. Oia is a true icon of Santorini. Its white buildings, contrasted with the sharp blue domes, windows, and doors, make this place feel like a living postcard. And well, it is. The best time to be at Oia is during the sunset. Actually, sunsets here are considered to be some of the most beautiful in the world. Sure, it’s the same sun, but the scenery is unique. There are the white traditional buildings of Oia, sloping through the top of the caldera, the caldera meeting the sea, other fragments of caldera and islands in the distance, and the infinite sea horizon. It is quite a majestic place to be.
I walked through Oia, went to its edge, and sat there for a couple hours until I saw the sun disappear in the horizon. It was a beautiful experience that I’ll remember for a long time.
Well, I admit that I still had to experience a bit of my beach bum attitude in Santorini. The next day I had to experience Santorini’s beaches. While the water was cold (and I wasn’t getting in it), the sun was warm and shiny enough to make me want to take a bus to the black beach in Kamari. Yes, it is literally a beach of black, volcanic pebbles and sand. Not fun to walk on barefoot, but so comfy to lay on.
There’s a say that goes: In parts of Santorini, there are more churches than houses, more donkeys than men, and more wine than water. From my experience, I will have to agree.