“That will be 12 euro,” the cashier said without looking up, one palm outstretched.
“Oh, no. Just two frappes please.”
“Yes. Twelve euro,” she repeated blankly. I stared longingly out past the cafe’s shabby wooden chairs and plastic tablecloths, to the blue and white domes tumbling down the craggy cliffside beyond.
Outraged, I wanted to tell the cashier that just yesterday we’d paid four euro for the same order elsewhere. Even for Greece’s most iconic island that was an extortionate price.
Five minutes later, I was sipping a watery, sorry excuse for a 6 euro frappe begrudgingly taking in one of the most beautiful views on Santorini. The scrooge in me lamented.
It’s a common theme here – if you want a view, be prepared to pay for it. If you’re headed for Oia, Imerovigli or Fira, expect to pay more for food and services than you would in say, Kamari, Perissa or Akrotiri.
While each of the areas have their own sweeping sea views and landmarks, the northern tip of the island is where it’s whitest, steepest and social media-worthiest.
With two million visitors descending on the caldera each year – all the more impressive considering tourists all but dry up for five months – travellers are at the mercy of the tiny island’s savvy tourism operators when it comes to shelling out for food, accommodation and transport.
It’s not exactly the kind of destination that evokes a sense of do-it-on-a-shoestring, but there are actually plenty of ways to visit Greece’s most iconic island on a budget:
Things to do:
As much as Santorini epitomises the archetypal island holiday, many people don’t realise it is lacking one key ingredient: good beaches. Instead, beach-goers to the island have taken to transforming almost any strip of sea-level ground into a thronging ‘beach’ of sorts. Red Beach is no exception.
If it weren’t for the cliffs that frame it and the island it’s found itself on, this would be a rocky, pebbly, sorry excuse for a beach elsewhere in the world. But here, on any given day this strip of stones is crammed towel-to-towel with sunbathers and swimmers alike, due in no small part to its russet-coloured volcanic cliffs. Regardless, the water is clear, and there’s plenty of icecream.
Hike from Fira or Imerovigli to Oia
his particular hike should be high on your itinerary – shoestring holiday or not. From Imerovigli to Oia it’s about 9 kilometres of relatively easy hiking, with plenty of people going either direction. However, if you do get tired or lazy, there are donkeys and their minders loitering at regular intervals along the track.
An add-on to consider is Skaros Rock (the iconic nub jutting out of the ocean in front of Imerovigli). Just be wary of the faux track that trails off just before the top – if you’re game, you’ll need to hoist yourselves up a pretty hairy rock face to reach the ‘summit’.
Watch the sunset from Oia Castle
Just arrive at 6am in anticipation. Well, not really, but we must stress the necessity to arrive early. Chances are, if you’re there even 30 minutes before sunset on any given day – you’ll be stuck in a line moving slower than those at Disneyland crawling towards the vague direction of the castle. Worse yet, the closer you get and later you are, the more people are willing to take what they can get – meaning a lot of cameras being hoisted above heads at the back of crowds, pointing in the direction thought to be sunset, and snapping haphazardly.
Granted, a Santorini sunset is pretty special regardless of where you are, but one from these castle ruins at the northern-most tip of the island is where it’s at its most picturesque, if you can deal with the masses.
Hire a scooter (safely)
You’ll probably note that many tourists seemingly have a death wish on Santorini; namely, those who zip around on their scooters and ATVs without a helmet, nor barely a clue how to drive them. Safety regulations aside, if you are capable of handling a scooter and have a motorbike licence (not that you’ll be asked for any evidence of it), it is the best way to see the island. We’d recommend Rent Me Love Me in Akrotiri, who dropped the scooter off for free and offered a 125cc bike for 23 euro per day. Just please, wear the helmet.
These are your most affordable options for inter-town transport. The Ktel buses are large and modern, and ferry people regularly to all corners of the island; there’s even one or two waiting for the ferries as they pull up. Most tickets will cost you €2, but the port to Fira jaunt will ping you €2.30.
Remember: From the port, you can only reach Fira on a public bus. From there, you need to catch another bus to your destination.
Where to eat:
Inevitably, if you want to eat in the most iconic spots on the island, you’re going to pay at least double for a substandard Greek salad than you would elsewhere. Luckily, if you’re willing and able, the south of the island offers both vista and veritable Greek fare. On the main road, just before Akrotiri, there are a couple of family-run tavernas, set in an enviable position on a sloping hill with sweeping views out over the bottom of the island. The food here is exceptional, and for a grand total of €22 for two people for four dishes, you could forget you’re in the most touristy island in the Aegean.
It will either horrify or excite you to know the German discount behemoth has somehow made its way onto Santorini. But regardless of how you feel about Lidl, it’s undeniably going to aid you in your scrimping ways. It’s a reasonably small store, but it’s got a decent bakery section (most importantly) and a good cookie aisle (second most importantly), which together make for a solid picnic. You’ll find it just south of Fira.
Cavo Santo Hotel, Akrotiri
Naturally, for relative comfort at a knockdown price – you’re going to have to sacrifice on a few points. Cavo Santo Hotel is located in Santorini’s south, but still managing to cling onto pride of place on the caldera side of the island, this ‘3-star’ family-run hotel seems to boast all the aspects that make Santorini so popular: an infinity pool on the edge of the caldera, a hotel built in cave-style architecture, and a front-row seat to the sunset.
Because the hotel is facing in essentially the exact same direction as Oia – just on the opposite side of the crescent-shaped island – the sunset from here is just as good as it is there. So while thousands of other people are jostling each other out of the way and taking pictures with three other people’s heads in it, you’re reclining on your sun lounger watching the sun dip below the ocean with a beverage.
The cons are only minor – dodgy wi-fi, no shuttle service, limited buffet breakfast – so if you’re willing to forgo perfection for a cheap(er) price, then this is a good option.
Fly via Athens on Etihad / Aegean Airlines from Dh5000.
TWO-DAY BUDGET FOR TWO
Accommodation: €160 (from Dh300 per room per night; cavosanto.gr, or Chez Sophie, www.chezsophie.gr, from Dh350 per room per night)
Food: €48 (two dinners, Lidl lunch, frappes, ice-creams)
Scooter hire: €30.50 (including fuel)
Bus fees: € 18
Total: €256.50 (not including ferry tickets/ airfares)