The Prettiest Volcano
If you have at least 3 days to spare on the beautiful island of Santorini, one of the things you should do is layer up on that sunblock and take a boat ride out to the volcano of Santorini!
As marked on the map, the island we all refer to as Santorini is actually named Thira – there are a few other small islands also under the collective name of ‘Santorini’, namely Thirasia, Nea Kameni, Palea Kameni, and Aspronisi (which is actually just a big rock).
There’s an interesting myth saying that Santorini was actually the place referred to in the legend of the lost city of Atlantis! Historical accounts say that Santorini was once a whole island, but a massive volcanic eruption a loooong time ago caused huge portions of the island to collapse and vanish into the depths of the ocean, leaving behind the land masses that are the islands of Thira and Thirasia today. The island of Nea Kameni, on the other hand, is the lava plug formed by the volcano that has erupted numerous other times in the past.
The volcano hasn’t erupted since 1950 though, and now, you can take a boat ride to visit the islands of Thirasia, Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni in a day. Boats leave every day from Fira and Oia and it’s not hard to book a ride – you could Google around and book a spot online on one of the many companies offering the cruises if you’re afraid of it selling out during high season, or you could just walk around town and you’re bound to come across a tour agent selling them (which is what I did). There are various options such as sunset cruises, or visiting just the volcano, but the most popular option seems to be the whole three-island cruise. The whole cruise will normally cost you about 25 euros I think, but it was the low season, so I managed to get it at a discounted price of 19 euros.
I started my cruise at the port of Fira, and was thrilled to get on one of this traditional boats!
After waiting for everyone to get on board, we set sail, and about 20 minutes later, we arrived at the Nea Kameni Ecological Park, the lava plug of the volcano.
There’s an entrance fee you have to pay to go in to Nea Kameni though, it’s another 2 euros, which is not included in the package.
Be prepared for a fair bit of walking here, and it would probably be best to wear proper shoes! Our guide took us along a few trails and pointed out the craters to us while telling us about the history behind the volcano, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t get slightly out of breath sometimes – those paths were a bit steep. But then again I’m not the fittest person on earth, so don’t be put off by that 😛
The landscapes on Nea Kameni are pretty surreal; everything is brown, gray and barren, almost moonlike, but there is still some strange, brightly coloured vegetation growing at some places. It makes for a rather interesting contrast of colours all around, especially against the backdrop of the impossibly blue oceans.
This is one of the biggest craters there!
You can’t really see it in the pictures, but there are some spots where there are wisps of steam emanating from the ground, because this is still an ‘active’ volcano after all. There is also the unmistakeable smell of sulphur all around, though it’s stronger at some parts than others. Spot the white sulphur patches!
Our tour guide also asked us to stick our hands in this vent in the ground, where you can definitely feel the heat!
After about an hour and a half there, we left Nea Kameni and headed for Palea Kameni.
There isn’t much at Palea Kameni; the boats usually stop only to let people off to swim in the hot springs, which is that patch of yellowish-green water in the picture. Normally, a typical stop at Palea Kameni is 45 minutes, but because it was really cold springtime weather despite the sun, nobody wanted to brave swimming past the icy cold waters to get to the hot springs… except that one crazy German guy in the picture! The rest of us just cheered him on as he made his way to the hot springs, and swam back again about 10 minutes later 😛
We then set off for the last stop of the ride – the island of Thirasia!
Thirasia is a small island which has largely managed to escape the commercialization of the bigger villages on Santorini. There’s literally only like 1 small hotel on the island, so the “touristy” places on the island are pretty much limited to the line of tavernas by the waterfront, and also a few restaurants in the village of Manolas, about 200+ steps up from the Thirasia harbour.
We only had 2 hours to explore Thirasia, so I apologetically hopped on a donkey to take me up to Manolas, because I knew my weak self wouldn’t be able to make the return journey on foot in time.
Hang on tight, and watch out for the uh… flying donkey poop. Yeah… they just let it out real casually while climbing up the stairs. Luckily my legs weren’t in the way.
There’s a restaurant called Panorama Restaurant, just at the end of the stairs up to Manolas, and they have a pretty spectacular view of everything from up there.
The food is pretty good too (potatoes and aubergines with fried tomatoes), although my picture doesn’t do it justice. I’m sorry. There’s a reason there aren’t a lot of food pictures on my blog.
According to our tour guide, Manolas is a good representation of what Santorini was like in the 1970’s, before it became a tourist magnet. And it definitely seemed that way – there was a noticeable lack of the showy glitz and glam that’s everywhere in Oia and Fira, and was absolutely quiet, save for a villager or two walking by.
I was standing on the edge of the rooftop of an abandoned building when I took these pictures. Shhh don’t tell my mom.
After two hours there, we finally headed back to Fira. But before that though, the boat will usually make a short stop at the Oia port for anyone who wants to disembark there to catch the sunset. Get out onto the decks even if you’re not getting off there, because you’ll get this awesome view of Ammoudi Bay and Oia at the top from the boat! 😀
Up next, the less glamorous, but no less charming side of Santorini 🙂