Written by Misty Foster
With white and blue dome churches, winding streets, crystal blue waters and sunsets that produce the pinkest sky you’ll ever see, it’s no wonder Santorini is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. For such a small island, it packs a punch for those seeking a slice of Greek life.
Santorini is the result of a massive volcanic eruption that is estimated to have happened some 3,600 years ago during the Minoan civilization.
It’s said to have been one of the largest eruptions of all time. The island is still susceptible to earthquakes–and the last major one took place in 1956.
While the caldera is currently dormant, there is always the possibility that it may become active again. Despite this fact , many call the island home, and plenty of visitors flock to see the caldera.
The Greek economic crisis of 2015 left the country weary and vulnerable.
Not surprisingly, the cost of traveling to Greece dropped significantly. Despite global fears, many took the journey to the Aegean Sea to visit the Cyclades islands, which Santorini is a part of.
With nearly 2 million visitors each year, Santorini has a lot of consumption for such a small island (only 35.12 miles in length). Because of this, it’s becoming increasingly important to look at how the tourism industry is impacting the landscape and people of the island. We’ve comprised a list of resources for those looking to travel responsibly while visiting.
WHERE TO STAY:
What most don’t realize is that the “Instagram-worthy” resorts, where you see pristine pools overlooking the sea, are quite detrimental to the structure of the island. The weight of the water in hotel pools is causing cliffside erosion and sagging.
Pleiades Eco Houses — Luxury
If a high touch, but environmentally responsible accommodation is what you are looking for, The Pleiades Eco Houses are the answer.
The houses are bioclimatic and made from materials traditional to the ecological environment. Guests can stay cool during the summer months with air saving cooling systems and warm during the winter season with passive solar heating. They also collect and harvest rainwater during the wet season for the pool and the garden. Even the bedding is eco-friendly and luxurious (made by Coco-Mat).
The houses are far enough away from Thira that you get to experience a quieter and more private stay. The complex is comprised of four individual homes and guests can enjoy the south-eastern side of the island, Vothonas.
Our runner up for luxury accommodations? Native Eco Villa.
Caveland Hostel — Budget
Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you have to skimp on quality or that “wow” factor. Luckily, Caveland Hostel in Santorini is the perfect option for students or those who’d rather spend their money on other aspects of the trip.
This 5-Star hostel was once a former winery turned into cave homes. The owner of Caveland has carefully curated the decor and environment in a way that honors the natural resources of the land. Many of the items in the hostel are refurbished and repurposed and give the place a unique and vintage feel. Social events are held weekly and you can rent equipment for outdoor adventures like biking or kayaking.
The hostel is big on recycling and offers many community driven amenities. The coffee bar is donation based and there is a book-swap section. All in all, this is the perfect location for those looking to spend less but still have a comfortable experience. There is a bus stop right outside the Hostel that can take you into Thira. Or, if you prefer to walk, it is a 25-minute journey into town with no shortage of breathtaking scenery.
WHERE TO PLAY:
Santorini is a paradise for those who love adventure sports. The island offers plenty regarding water and land activities. Beyond the beaches and caldera tours, visitors can enjoy some epic hikes, wineries and bike tours.
Santorini MTB Adventure is much more than biking through the hills and getting in a workout. The tour takes you on a journey to hidden spots on the island like a church, a winery and a rock formation that is shaped like a heart. The level of intensity is moderate, and you don’t have to be a huge bike enthusiast to participate.
In fact, for the more challenging parts of the tour, the bikes are equipped with electrically charged motors. You can adjust the power to your level of comfort to help you up the steep hills. The tour guides, Vassilis and Katarina, are so gracious and friendly. They want their guests to enjoy every moment and are very knowledgeable about the history of the island. They offer three different tours to different parts of Santorini, one of which is a custom tour.
Sailing around the Cyclades at sunset is one of the most dreamy activities we can think of. If you want to charter a sailboat while in Santorini, Barca Sailing is the ideal choice. Captain Yiannis and his crew are attentive, fun and provide an unforgettable time. They cook for you with fresh and local ingredients, take you to the best snorkeling spots and once will even turn up the music and host a dance party for you. It’s the perfect activity for couples, friends, families and anyone who loves the open seas. The best part, it’s a sail boat…so it’s already pretty eco-friendly!
For those looking for a more low-key activity, head over to Hatzidakis Winery for a tour. The well-drained volcanic soil of the land lends its way to some seriously tasty wines. While most know Santorini for its Vinsanto (sweet holly wine), there are many indigenous varietals, such as the Athiri, Aidani, Roditis and more. What makes Hatzidakis special is that they harvest their wines using natural raw materials and free from pesticides. They also practice linear planting and use the left over skin and seeds from the grapes as compost.
WHAT NOT TO DO:
Much like the elephants in Thailand or the tigers in India, the donkey rides in Santorini are a tourist trap. The 588 steps down to Thira port are daunting, and you don’t have to walk them if that’s not your jam. That said, the alternative–riding the donkeys– is not a great one. The animals are poorly treated and whipped regularly when they get tired.
According to a source at The Society of Animal Welfare Administrators (SAWA) animal shelter, when the animals get old and are no longer able to carry passengers, owners will often push them off the cliffs. Luckily SAWA takes in mules and donkeys for rehabilitation. Those looking to get involved in community engagement can volunteer to walk SAWA’s dogs on the beach or help out around the shelter.
Even cruise ship U.K. publication The Daily Express has urged visitors not to ride the donkeys due to their mistreatment.
HOW TO GET AROUND:
If we’ve convinced you not to take the donkey rides and you are now asking yourself, “How do I get back up those stairs?”– you can take the cable car for a mere 6 €.
Once you are in Fira town again, the next thing you’ll probably wonder about it how to get around in general. While riding ATV’s is another hot activity for tourists, you’ll often see a lot of reckless driving. Since the terrain generally is full of hills and winding roads, take precautions if you do decide to rent an ATV.
Our recommended alternative is to take the Santorini public buses if and when you can. They have stops along the entire island and are well equipped to handle the curving roads. Other suggestions are to rent a bike with Santorini Bike Rental or arrange transfers with your hotel and excursions.
Having the time of your life in Santorini isn’t hard.
In fact, you’d have to try hard to not have a lovely time. The people are lively, welcoming and there is no shortage of ways to have an authentic experience while there. As always, look into the customs and culture while you are there and be respectful of this ancient and magical island.
*This article was originally published on about.com.