Pulling into the Santorini harbor felt like a warm hug from an old friend. We were in rough shape after the carnage that was Mykonos — I pretty much feel that this snap from the ferry says it all. I knew we’d come to the right place to recover. I’d already spent five blissful days here earlier in the trip, and knowing I’d be back so soon was the only thing that made that departure bearable. I had a feeling that seeing Santorini through the lens of my first Contiki tour would be a completely different experience — and I was right.
For starters, this time, I’d be based in the heart of Fira, Santorini’s capital. Our digs, New Haroula Hotel, were the simplest of the trip, but the location could not be beat — a three minute stroll into the town’s main square. Despite this being my third trip to Santorini I’d barely spent any time in Fira, and couldn’t have been more excited about being based there.
We had three nights and about two and a half days. With tons of freedom of movement and lots of flexible time, Santorini was a very relaxed stop on the tour for me. I caught up on work poolside, I grabbed lunch and a manicure with one of my favorite new girlfriends on the trip, and I ate more than one gyro while sitting hunched over the street curb laughing at someone’s antics. It was very similar to how I would have spent my time if I was backpacking Santorini independently, and I liked that. I also liked the exceptions.
Contiki offered two Me Time optionals for Santorini. One was a sunset excursion to Oia — I gave that a pass, as once was simply enough. The second was Santorini Island Chill Out, a day tour that I was pretty pumped to see included a whole host of things I’d never seen/done on the island before. One thing that I loved about this Contiki was that if I was traveling independently, signing up for a day tour like this would be a total gamble. Whoever you share your bus seat with can make or break it, and so you just have to hope you’ll get lucky. Whereas here, I was going on a private day tour with thirty or so of my new crew of hilarious friends. Fun was guaranteed.
Our first stop was Profitis Ilias, the highest point in Santorini. While I admit I actually think the views are better from the crater rim, we had a pretty darn good time goofing around, and checked one major Santorini tourist attraction off the list.
Next up, the town of Pyrgos. This was the stop I was most excited about. I started foaming at the mouth with excitement a little bit when we reached the picturesque little village, and lost the entire group in record time while fiddling with F-stops on my Rebel T2i. It wasn’t an intentional move, but I shrugged my shoulders and kept shooting.
What a magical place to wander.
Pyrgos might just be my new favorite spot on Santorini. While I wouldn’t stay there — accommodation and dining options would be extremely limited, and it’s not exactly anywhere near the action, it was a lovely place to get lost. It has all the charm of Oia, with none of the crowds. It’s a must-see, for me.
And I made sure to carry on my Greek tradition of either one frozen yogurt or one nutella crepe per day. Sometimes both. Always delicious. Rarely good for my waistline.
Next up we piled back into the bus and made our way to Akrotiri and the Red Beach. Having already been to Akrotiri, I chose to head directly to Red Beach, as did all but four on the tour. While I had an absolutely fantastic experience at Akrotiri, I can’t really blame them for skipping it — I do believe it is the kind of place that’s mind blowing with a great guide, and mildly boring without one. And with only about fifteen minutes available for them to stroll through, they wouldn’t have the time to get the full scoop.
We didn’t have time to go down to the Red Beach, which I was kind of okay with considering the mixed reviews I’ve heard of it in the past — apparently the crimson sand is pretty dirty — but I did love the view from the top.
Our next stop, however? They couldn’t have stopped me from going in. Years ago, Santorini was the first place I’d ever seen black sand, though I’d yet to get the chance to dig my toes in it. This Black Sand Beach was the undoubted highlight of my day, and I briefly considered launching a toddler style tantrum when it was time to leave.
I simply couldn’t get enough of the Aegean.
Finally, it was time to get our inner winos on. While I’d already taken an entire Santorini winery tour, Santo Wines was a new stop for me. While this tasting was far less personal and educational than the eight person ones I’d done led by a professional sommelier, there was tons of enthusiastic cheers of “Yiamas!” and I loved both the modern design of the winery and the insane views of the caldera it was perched on.
It was the perfect end to what was one of my favorite add-on tours of the trip. A sampler platter of all things Santorini.
One side of the island that I got to experience completely for the first time? Its nightlife. My first trip to Santorini involved just eleven hours in port off a cruise ship, and my second involved nursing a week-long hangover post-Tomorrowland. And regardless, Santorini is known more for honeymoon romance than hectic raging.
I had a feeling this Contiki crew would find a way to work around that — and I was right again.
photo courtesy of a fellow Contiki-er
Fira’s nightlife might be relatively tame if you compare it to Mykonos or Ios, but it’s still a damn good time, and it’s inspiring how almost anywhere can become a scene of after dark carnage if you really put your mind to it! I’m pretty sure I saw that on a motivational poster once.
No surprises here — I loved Santorini all over again, and found even more reasons to gush about this magical isle and daydream about my eventual return. Most of all, though, I loved sharing it with a special new group of friends.
Next stop, Ios!
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As great as the ferry ride from Mykonos was, I much preferred the view from above. Thomas Cook flights go directly to Santorini from several cities in the United Kingdom, which makes your next trip to the island even more accessible.
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This post was brought to you in collaboration with Thomas Cook. Many thanks to Contiki for hosting me on the Greek Island Hopper. As always, you receive my honest opinion regardless of who is footing the bill.