Few locations in the world are as instantly recognizable and uniquely beautiful as the Greek island of Santorini. The sight of white buildings dotted along a breathtaking volcanic coastline is famous around the globe and attracts millions of tourists every year. We recently went there to experience it for ourselves, and to see if it’s possible to visit this jewel in the Aegean Sea on a budget.
Sometimes, famous tourist spots look beautiful on pictures but turn out to be quite disappointing in real life. Santorini, a small Greek island 45 minutes flight time away from Athens, is the exact opposite. Whatever you have seen of it in pictures, the reality is even more stunning. Sadly, it can also be extremely expensive to visit, especially if you do so during the summer months, so my first tip if you want to visit this beauty spot on a limited budget is to time your visit right. The main tourist season lasts from July until the end of September, and these three months can be extortionately expensive. Instead, aim for the period between October and February. We visited a few days ago and January definitely seemed like the cheapest time of the year to experience the place. The climate is Mediterranean, meaning while the temperatures do drop outside the summer months, it’s still quite pleasant, mostly sunny, and you won’t need to pack thick winter jackets or snow boots. The sea, however, will be somewhat cold, so a beach holiday and visiting outside the summer season are two things that aren’t necessarily compatible.
Of course when I say you can do “Santorini on a budget” it still means you need to go to Greece first, which is why this is an ideal addition to any European road trip you may already have planned. If you do decide to fly from Manila to Greece, then this would mean going to Athens first, a city certainly worth a visit in itself (I will post more about Athens in the near future). From there, you can take the short hop to Santorini. Flights from Manila to Athens are amongst the longest trips you will ever take and usually involve changing planes somewhere along the route, depending on who you fly with. Price wise it’s possible to get return flights for less than $1000 per person and a quick random search for flights next September showed tickets for as little as $800, or P37K, per person with Qatar Airways. It’s probably possible to get even cheaper deals if you search around a bit more.
From Athens, it’s just a short hop to Santorini and we paid around P2500 per person and including all taxes and charges for return tickets with Aegean. If you shop around a bit more and try other airlines such as European ‘no-frills’ carriers like Ryanair or Easyjet, it’s possible to get flights for less than P1000, but be careful to adhere to all their fare rules to avoid getting stung with hidden charges.
Once in Santorini, it’s recommended to get a rental car and there is certainly no shortage of these. The island has a public transport system but it’s somewhat infrequent and you can definitely see more if you take a car. We simply asked around at the airport rental car companies after we arrived and managed to secure a little runabout for EUR 30,00, or P1500, per day. The price again very much depends on the time of the year. The very same car would have been EUR 70,00, or P3600, per day during July or August. One thing that always stays unchanged is the size of the island: Santorini is small and during two days of driving we spent only around P750 on fuel.
Then there’s the matter of accommodation. Santorini lives of tourism and there are literally thousands of places where you can stay, ranging from your basic bed and breakfast to hyper luxury villas. We found that staying in Fira, a village in the middle of the island and only about ten minutes from the airport, gave us the perfect base to explore the island. If you just want to see the place and take the obligatory Facebook pictures, then two days (or one night) will be enough. We arrived on Saturday morning and left again on Sunday night. This gave us plenty enough time to experience the island and visit all the places described further down. We stayed at a place called Nonis Apartments that promised a nice sunset view and came in at EUR 65,00 (P3400) for the night, but I did see other rooms available for as little as EUR 30,00 (P1500) per night. This again very much comes down to the month you pick for your visit. The very same room we rented for EUR 65,00 costs EUR 210,00 per night during the peak summer season, so experiment around with dates. The summer season officially ends on the 20th of September and you will see prices drop from that date onwards. Also, sea view always costs considerably more, especially if it’s facing the sunset side of the island.
Now that you have a car and somewhere to sleep, it’s time to explore. There are a few must-do activities when in Santorini and top of the list is a visit to Oia. When thinking of Santorini, you automatically imagine those picturesque white buildings and little churches with blue roofs, right? That’s Oia, a small village at the northern end of the island and definitely the most famous part of the whole place. Very easy to reach by car, you can simply park anywhere in the town and walk up towards the coastline, where the world famous picture postcard view will be all yours to explore. Oia is mega busy with tourists during the summer months, but if you go there during the off season as we suggest, you get to enjoy it without having to push and shove your way through the narrow streets and around the best photo spots. Oia is breathtakingly beautiful, as I hope you can see from the pictures we took, and to see it so empty made it extra special.
Another must do activity is to enjoy the famous Santorini Sunset with a nice glass of wine. The island has more than a dozen wineries and local varieties, 80% of which are white wines, are available in pretty much every supermarket and many other shops. Grab a bottle and look for a nice spot to take in the view. This being Europe, the sun sets quite early during the winter months (it was just after 5pm when we went there this January) and quite late during the summer, so keep that in mind. For locations you could either try Oia again, or head to Fira where many beauty spots and a number of restaurants offer views across the Caldera and the sunset. We stayed at a place that happened to have a terrace with sunset view, which is of course the easiest way to do it. Grab a glass of wine and relax while the sun slowly disappears into the Aegean Sea. It’s a view you won’t forget, I promise.
Assuming that you are heading there outside of the summer months, I’m going to leave out any beach or water related activities, but I would still suggest you check out at least two famous beaches while there, namely the black sand beaches of Kamari or Perissa, and the red beach of Akrotiri. We went to the black sand beach in Kamari to take in the sunrise and this place is very easy to find as it’s right next to the airport. Like all places in Santorini, it’s extremely busy during the summer and virtually deserted during the off season period. The Red Beach is equally easy to find. Simply drive towards Akrotiri and follow the signs. To get to the viewpoint that you can see in our picture, park at the little white church and walk around the corner along the coast. After about five minutes you will see the bay and the impressive, and mightily unstable looking, cliff face towering over the red beach. On the way back it’s worth to stop by in the ancient town of Akrotiri itself and to check out the beautiful village with its small venetian castle. This ancient settlement has been suggested as a possible inspiration for Plato’s story of Atlantis and offers nice views across the northern part of the island.
If you want to get a good view of the whole length of the island, then a trip to Akrotiri Lighthouse is recommended. Very close to the red beach, this viewpoint lets you see along the whole of the island and gives a good idea about its size. Simply park straight by the light house and go for a walk around it, but be careful as it’s an unsecured cliff face.
Finally, when it comes to food, choices can be a little limited outside the summer season as many restaurants close over the winter, but you certainly won’t go hungry. We found that Fira town center had a number of nice little places where you can pick up some tasty Greek food for relatively little money. A pork gyros or chicken souvlaki will put you back around P150 each and to further save on costs, you can always stop by one of the local supermarkets as well.
While it’s still not the cheapest trip you will ever make, a visit to Santorini is well worth the money and I hope our tips on how to do it as cheaply as possible will help you to make it to this magical little island. I promise you won’t forget the beauty of this place in a hurry.
Pictures: Myka Marie Durmiendo-Schuengel