When you think of the Greek island of Santorini, romantic images of sun-drenched white villas on a cliffside undoubtedly come to mind. Hot tubs. Wine bars. Sunsets.
What you may not know, though, is that Santorini is quite the hiking destination in its own right. Santorini is not an island, but rather a group of six islands that together comprise an enormous volcanic caldera. Thira, the largest and most populous of Santorini's islands, features the majority of Santorini's population and tourist attractions.
In March of 2016, some friends and I visited Santorini. Along with visiting the usual tourist spots, such as Oia, Ammoudi Bay, and Akrotiri, as well as hitting up Santorini Brewing Company and numerous restaurants and cafes, I made it my mission to seek out the best hikes on the archipelago. Though in Month 9 of my ongoing battle with Lyme Disease, I thankfully felt good enough while in Greece to conquer some short hikes.
Featuring soaring cliffs, black and red sand beaches, and an active volcanic cone, Santorini is a little-known hiker's paradise. Depending on how you define a hike, some would argue that the best hike on Santorini is the trek from Fira to Oia along the caldera's rim. Since much of this hike takes place on roads and alleys, I've decided to leave it out of this article. Plus, I didn't have a chance to hike it myself. However, from everything I've heard, it's still very much worth checking out if you have 4 or so hours to spare.
Without further ado, here are my three favorite hikes on Santorini.
1. NEA KAMENI AND PALEA KAMENI
These two volcanic islands lie at the center of Santorini's caldera, and remain active to this day. They feature stunning views of Santorini's islands, hot springs, volcanic steam vents, and incredible geology. Early one morning, I grabbed a $25 island ferry from Fira's Old Port. After crossing the caldera's deep blue waters, we disembarked at Nea Kameni, and headed up the dusty hiking trail to the highest point on the island. Along the way, we passed several volcanic craters, including one that was actively steaming sulfuric gas from multiple vents. At the top, we took in the dramatic 360-degree views while our tour guide filled us in on Santorini's destructive volcanic history. I climbed a couple of rocks and a concrete post to get to the island's true highest point, of course.
After heading back to our boat, we circumnavigated Nea Kameni to a bay on Palea Kameni, the older of the two cones. Myself and a couple other brave souls jumped out of the boat and swam 40 meters through freezing Aegean waters to reach Palea Kameni's hot springs. These springs were the only real letdown of this tour and hike. Our tour guide assured us that they were as close to paradise as one could get. They were not. Muddy, tepid and full of seaweed, these "hot" springs barely passed as lukewarm, and their red clay forever stained my shorts. Wild goats roamed nearby, and I swear they were laughing at me.
After swimming back to the boat and barely eluding hypothermia, we made the short trip back to Fira.
Do the hike. Skip the swim.
2. RED BEACH
Red Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches on Santorini, and definitely the most unique. Close to the archaeological site of Akrotiri, and featuring shockingly red volcanic rocks and sand, it requires a short, rough hike to access. We parked in a dusty parking lot and headed down the short trail, stopping to take in views of Red Beach's sweeping crescent-shaped cliffs.
While short, sturdy shoes are recommended for this hike due to a significant amount of scrambling over large rocks. My friend Sally wore flip-flops, and her feet paid the price.
Once we reached the beach itself, we were taken aback by the blaze of color that filled our eyes. We investigated some interesting dwellings built directly into the stunning red cliffs behind the beach, and walked the short length of the beach with red sand between our toes as aquamarine waves crashed at our feet.
Don't let the lack of length of this hike make you doubt its worth. The views are unreal, and your soul won't be disappointed.
3. AKROTIRI LIGHTHOUSE
While reaching Santorini's famed Akrotiri Lighthouse is a matter of walking a few steps from your car, the hike begins where the lighthouse ends.
Akrotiri Lighthouse was built in 1892, and lies on the southwestern tip of the island of Thira. It's active to this day, and is a worthy destination in its own right.
Below the lighthouse lies a series of rough trails and rock scrambles which lead you directly to the ocean over 200 vertical feet below. In my opinion, this hike is second only to Oia when it comes to the best sunset views on Santorini.
We drove to the lighthouse some 30 minutes before sunset, pausing on the rocks below the lighthouse to take pictures in the strong breeze. From there, I left my friends and scrambled down towards the ocean and the setting sun. The wind whipped my hair around as I found my way down the rough, loose slope towards a cove below. The noise of the pounding surf grew louder and louder, and after one particularly sketchy scramble next to a cliff, I reached the final slope and made my way carefully to the water's edge as the sun dipped below the horizon.
I had the place to myself. Wind, water, rock. I felt alive. This dramatic place is not on most tourists' radars, but I highly recommend it.
For the fit, the descent to the ocean will only take about 15 to 20 minutes, but exercise caution, as many of the rocks are loose, and several portions of the trail require some minor scrambling skills and skirt substantial cliffs. Don't venture too far to either side of the obvious ridge that leads to the ocean. Do this hike around sunset, and make sure you have a flashlight or flashlight app for the trek back to your car.
Heading to Santorini? Bring your hiking boots. These three hikes are all short, sweet, and feature incredible payoffs. The trails are calling, and you must go.