Whenever I talk about Santorini, I usually start by making a loud and slightly awkward sighing noise. To everyone who has asked me about the island and received this reaction, I sincerely apologize - it's just that our time on this volcano in the Aegean Sea was absolute perfection. Oh yes, I'm talking about salty skin, ocean views, and lazy mornings. (That's your definition of perfection too, right?)
I know that Santorini isn’t typically thought of as a budget-friendly destination, so you may be wondering how two backpackers were able to pull off five days in a Greek paradise. It's true that the island was more expensive than most of the cities we visited, but we found some easy ways to cut costs and can highly recommend Santorini to everyone, even budget conscious travelers like us!
Here’s how we spent five fabulous days vacationing in Santorini without breaking the bank.
1. We went during the off-season
Visiting this popular getaway during the tourist off-season (October - February) is arguably the best way to make your Santorini dreams a reality. We went at the end of October and found an ocean-view Airbnb for three times less than it goes for during the summer. The island was also considerably less crowded - a local told us that during the summer, up to 10,000 cruise passengers come ashore every day! Cheaper accommodation and fewer people...yep, off-season wins!
2. We took the ferry (and the bus)
To get from Athens to Santorini, you can either fly or ferry. The ferry ride takes eight hours, but it's a lot cheaper than hopping on a plane; it's also a unique way to get a peak at some other Greek islands. The ferry/ship is very comfortable with various types of seating, food and drinks, Internet, and an outdoor patio. Once we landed in Santorini, we opted to take the city bus to get to Oia instead of a taxi. The bus system on the island is incredibly easy to use and a much cheaper option than hiring a taxi.
3. We collected photos instead of souvenirs
I'm not a souvenir person, but I'll admit that out of all the places we visited in Europe, Santorini had some of the most tempting treasures. I resisted the urge to pick up a few things and looking back now, I have zero regrets about that decision. Instead of spending money on souvenirs, we took a lot of photos. Instead of spending time combing through shops, we explored local streets and hidden corners of the city. You may be tempted to buy those sandals or magnets or whatever, but just remember that it starts to add up. Taking photos and exploring the city are free and, in my opinion, a much more memorable way to spend your time.
4. We ate a lot of cheap (and delicious) gyros
Pita, French fries, Tzatziki sauce, three dollars - need I say more? Okay, I will. There are fancy ocean-view restaurants all over the place in Santorini, but most are overpriced and serve underwhelming food. Instead, talk to some locals to find out where they like to eat - it will probably lead you to a cheaper, better restaurant. We were recommended to a small gyro shop and ended up eating there almost everyday. We also purchased some locally sourced foods from Oia's small grocery store - another fabulous way to get a great taste (no pun intended) for the local culture.
5. We enjoyed the sunrise & sunset every day
Santorini is known for its dramatic views, blue and white buildings, and stunning sunsets and sunrises. That said, I recommend staying in a room where you can enjoy all these things! Staying somewhere with a view meant that we didn't feel the need to splurge on expensive sunset catamaran trips or dinners - our balcony was the perfect spot to sit out with our morning coffee or evening drinks and soak up that epic island horizon.
6. We walked along the caldera from Fira to Oia
Between the cities of Fira and Oia there's a 5-mile path along the caldera. It's free to trek between these two cities and I highly recommend it to every Santorini visitor as the views along this trail are spectacular, to say the least. We took the bus from Oia to Fira, spent some time exploring the city and then hit the trail. It took us about three hours to do this walk at a lazy pace, and because we were there during the off-season, we almost had the whole trail to ourselves.
7. We swam and relaxed at Amoudi Bay
Probably my favorite Santorini activity was spending the afternoon swimming in the clear and salty water of Amoudi Bay. To get to the water you have to hike down the 300 steps from Oia Town and dodge large quantities of donkey poop along the way, but it's worth it. We found a corner of the bay all to ourselves and spent the better half of the day floating and sunbathing and being completely mesmerized by the color of the water.
There is so much about Santorini that I loved - from the loud and friendly people to the fascinating history, delicious local cuisine, and epic views. Visiting this island was an experience that will stick with me for a long time. To my fellow budget travelers, I hope you feel inspired knowing that a dream trip to Santorini can be a reality for you, too.