Santorini is a Greek island made of dreams and technically speaking volcanic rock. It is a top honeymoon/wedding destination and to be quite honest; I can’t blame anyone for having their special day on the island. Santorini is incredibly picturesque. But for those of us who are not planning on a wedding or honeymoon anytime soon, Santorini is also a great European destination that allows you to take in spectacular sunsets, soak up the rays on their many beaches, ride a donkey (if you dare), eat amazing Mediterranean food and get sick off the Greek version of moonshine, ouzo. This Greek island is small enough that you can get from one side to the other but large enough to keep you from feeling cramped. I’ve visited Santorini 4 times, twice by myself and twice with friends, and I could probably visit 40 more without ever getting bored. I’ve come up with what I feel is the perfect way to spend a day in Santorini if you are looking to visit the island, but you are doing island hopping of other Greek islands or if it’s merely a layover. I’ve got you covered.
As I mentioned before, Santorini is a small enough island that you can get from one side of the island to the other in an hour via car, but my favorite mode of island transportation is an ATV. I grew up riding ATVs because my stepdad thought it was a great idea to teach a four-year-old how to drive not only ATVs but dirt bikes as well. I know, I’m lucky to be alive, BUT his crazy idea ended up working for me later in life when I found myself at a rental car places in Fira, Santorini trying to decide if I wanted a car or an ATV. I went for the ATV and was happy that I did. Finding parking on the island can be difficult, and when you see the number of motorbikes and ATVs around the island, it makes you want to join in on the fun. After signing the standard rental paperwork, I was on my way.
The itinerary that I planned was to see the three different types of beaches on the island in one day. Santorini has a red sand beach, white sand beach, and a black sand beach. After checking out the map, I realized that the white beach is the further from Fira where I was staying so I decided to head there first. I also noticed that there is a lighthouse near that side of the island, so I decided to head to the south end of the island early and explore and then make my way back while making stops to the red beach and black beach.
I arrived at the lighthouse within 40 minutes and began to look around. Once I arrived, I noticed that there isn’t much to see besides the lighthouse building and a cliff below it that makes for some lovely photos. If you’ve never seen a lighthouse before then definitely check it out but if you’ve seen a lighthouse, then you can probably skip it and head straight to the beach. I hopped back on the ATV and headed straight for white beach. It was easily accessible, and there were people renting lounge chairs. I found a sweet spot on the beach and was able to catch some rays for about an hour before I decided that it was time to head to the red beach and check it out.
The red sand beach doesn’t seem like much when you first arrive at the parking lot. There are a few small food vendors and some artists selling jewelry near the parking lot and when you look around the “beach” looks underwhelming until you realize that the actual red sand beach is a small hike away. I would suggest bringing tennis shoes along because the walk can be a little rough, especially for someone in flip flops (thongs) like I was. Once you begin your hike you start to notice the landscape change and the dirt becomes red, hint the name. As you come to the final, descend to the beach to see a huge cliff that looks like it has been carved out. The beach is directly in front of the cliff, and the view is simply amazing. I had never seen a red beach before, and since it was my first time, I was beyond impressed. I decided that I would take some time to swim and lay on the beach while I was there. The atmosphere is pleasant, and there isn’t anyone trying to bother you while you are on the beach relaxing. I spent a few hours on the red sand beach, relaxing, swimming, and just taking it all on. After a while, I started to get hungry and decided it was probably best to go ahead and head to the black beach Perissa to check it out and grab a bite to eat. I hopped back onto the ATV, and about 20 minutes later, I arrived at Perissa.
Perissa has a very resort-type feel to it in the fact that there are lounge chairs everywhere and there are plenty of restaurants lined up one after another. I decided to grab a quick bite to eat that I could take with me on the beach. I later found out that you can order food on the beach if you decide to rent a lounge chair. Renting a chair isn’t overpriced seeing how it was 5 euros the last time I was there, but since I was by myself, I decided to just lay my towel down in an area that I liked.
Now it was time to take a dip in this famous black beach. One thing that I didn’t realize was that the sand was going to be extremely hot because it’s black and it holds in heat, so obviously it was going to be extremely hot. Guess who forgot that tiny bit? I did, of course. As soon as I felt the hot sand burning the bottoms of my feet, I ran directly for the water. The water was cold and refreshing, and I was happy about it, considering that my feet felt like I ran across hot coals for an hour. After spending some time cooling down in the water, I decided that I had enough of the beach for the day. I wanted to check out another side of the island before heading to the very northern tip of the city Oia for sunset. I then made the mad dash back to my towel to gather my things and head out to my next destination and also where I was staying, Fira.
The Fira Port is known for three things; it is where you can catch the boat to go to the active volcano of Nea Kameni, take the cable car to get to the port, and last, but not least, donkey rides. That’s right; you understood correctly — donkey rides.
Since it was my first time in Santorini and I had no clue about donkey rides, I decided that I would take the cable car down and ride a donkey up the mountain. Today, I can 100% say that I would never do this option again. One reason is that I’m pretty sure someone gave my donkey a Redbull as it decided to shoot up the mountain at an insanely fast pace. I was holding on for dear life as I thought I was going to fall off at any given moment. It was the scariest animal ride of my life and one of the reasons why I am glad that I will never do it again.
The other and MOST crucial reason being that after educating myself and finding out that the donkeys in Santorini suffer from spinal injuries and sores caused by the saddles, I can say that I will never do it again. I love animals, and I would never want to harm one just because I was too lazy to walk up steep steps or because I didn’t want to ride in a cable car. I understand that there are people who cannot climb the steps and that it is more convenient for them to take a donkey, but if you are physically able to choose another option, please do so. While I don’t suggest riding a donkey, I do suggest petting one if you have the chance. They are adorable, and if you enjoy photography, you can get some beautiful shots of them walking up the hill.
One I was finished being an irresponsible twenty-something-year-old, I decided to head to Oia. Oia is at the top of the island. It is the location of the sunsets that are posted all over the internet, and it is the first thing that pops up when you google search Santorini. Every evening hundreds, upon hundreds of people (tourists), head to Oia to take in one of the best island sunsets that you can experience. I suggest googling the time of the sunset for that day and getting there several hours before. Finding a place to park on that side of the island before sunset is incredibly tricky, and having an ATV comes in handy. There are plenty of places to stand to watch the sunset but just as the parking lots get full quickly, so do the public areas to stand. Get there early and enjoy a walk around Oia since there are heaps of lovely shops that sell anything from paintings to jewlery to clothing. There are also lots of cute hotels and resorts on the walk to the end where the sunset occurs. A lot of the more expensive hotels are on this side of the island, and you can see how some rooms have private pools that light up at night. If you’re like me and you can’t afford that life, but you like to plan ahead for when you will be able to, take a while to write down some of the names of the places you wish to stay in for future trips. I mean, a girl can dream, right?
After you fantasize about spending a week in one of the plush hotels with your model boy toy, (I can’t be the only one who does this.) make sure to find a spot to stand to watch the sunset and get ALL of the pictures possible to send back home to mom and dad, just kidding. Take as many photos as possible because one, it’s a gorgeous sunset and two, social media. If you do decide to put the camera down and take a look around, you will notice that everyone around is either taking videos or pictures with their phones, gopros, or cameras. The sunset in Santorini is truly a spectacle, and although it doesn’t last long, it capture’s the audience. Once the sun actually sets, the crowd begins to cheer and clap, and then they start to make the mad dash to leave Oía. If you are impatient and hate slow walkers, I suggest staying behind a while longer and getting a nice glass of wine or a cold beer to pass the time. A lot of the shops stay open so if you didn’t have an opportunity to check them out before, now is a good time to do so. I had to get the ATV back to Fira in 28 minutes after the sunset, so I was one of the crazy people who made the mad dash to her ATV. Note to self and reader: Ask to return the ATV at 10:00 p.m. if you are staying in Fira. I luckily got it back in time but not without driving incredibly fast through dangerous curves. Sorry, mom!
At this point, most people would call it a night and head home or get back on their cruise ship, but since I was staying in Fira and it is very lively at night, I decided to grab a gyro to go and walk around the city while I enjoyed some people watching before headed back to my hotel. I could have easily gone out seeing how Fira is where the nightlife scene is in Santorini. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to check out if you want to explore the late-night scene. I suggest Two Brothers Bar if you are staying on the island and looking for a wild night out. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you. Seeing how I had a pretty packed day and was tired from soaking up so much sun, I skipped the bars for that night.
This was how I spent an entire day on the island and got to know the major tourist spots. There are plenty of other things to do while on the island such as checking out one of the wineries, taking a tour to the active volcano and hot springs, or visiting the prehistoric ruins at Akrotiri. If you are short on time or you are like me and try to see as much as possible in a day, then this itinerary is perfect for you. It can also give you an idea of what to do while the island and how to spread it out over your stay. Santorini is a gorgeous island and for those who have always wanted to go but they aren’t sure, I recommend that you take the trip!
Here are a few photos from my last visit to Santorini where I rented an ATV, again, and explored the island some more.