Santorini in August: looking for solitude in a crowded beauty

“Santorini in August”: say that to a savvy traveller and he will probably get a headache from rolling his eyes too hard. The island, ten times smaller than Las Vegas, receives nearly two million visitors per year. In August, close to sixty flights and several of the world’s largest cruise ships will dump there dozens of thousands of tourists every day.

This time, we were among those tourists. Truth be told, we were worried. Expecting something akin to visiting Beijing on a national holiday, we even booked accommodation in advance, instead of playing it by ear like we usually do. We arrived to Kamari, a small beach village near the airport, a bit before midnight. Instead of a horde of half-drunk and over-sunburnt tourists, we were greeted by Dimitrio, the owner of the small villa where we stayed. After tending to his last dinner patrons, he sat with us and chatted away. Over a mixture of English, Spanish and Portuguese (the latter aided by a dictionary he had recently bought to cater for the increasing number of Brazilian visitors), we talked throughout the evening.

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Kamari Beach, Santorini (16mm, 3s, f14, ISO 200, 9-stop ND filter)

The first thing that will strike you about Santorini is that bona-fide Greek hospitality. You’ll be hard pressed to find bad food anywhere.  Out of genuine concern, waiters will ask you how your meal was.  At the end they’ll offer you fruit and Ouzo (an anise-flavoured hard liquor that will knock you down at the first punch). Sure, not everything is rosy: there’s crowds and too many pizza places. The temperature is high and the sun unforgiving. Roads are busy and drivers are mad (oddly enough, tourists in rentals are much worse than locals).

All of this is manageable though. Going to the beach, for instance: after 6pm you’ll get it pretty much for yourself, as most visitors will be gone for dinner. It’s actually a double blessing: you get to see the sunset and can have dinner afterwards, once the restaurants have cleared out.

Don’t spend all your twilights at the beach though, as watching the sun set over the traditional white-painted houses of the Cyclades islands is a spectacular sight. Most visitors will go to Oia for that, so at the end of each day hundreds of buses pour down thousands of camera-bearing tourists onto this small village. Go to Fira instead: the island’s capital is larger, less crowded and the Sun is of course the same one.

The rest of the island is barren, but nevertheless beautiful. Hiking to the highest point of the island, where a monastery and a NATO radar station coexist, offers spectacular 360 degree views of the island. It will be just you and the wind howling down the valley.

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Santorini’s highest peak, overlooking the island’s ‘caldera’ (3 picture panorama at 16mm, 1/350s, f9, ISO 200)

The trail also passes by the ruins of Ancient Thira, a settlement perched on a magnificent hilltop that was inhabited between 9th century BC and 1st century AD. Thira is still the Greek name of the island, while Santorini is the Latin name given in the 13th century as a reference to St. Irene.

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Hiking trail overlooking the hilltop that once hosted the Ancient Thira settlement (5 picture panorama at 16mm, 1/350s, f9, ISO 200)

Have another look at the pictures we took. These reflect equal parts of reality and our own dispositions. Pointing the camera at the opposite direction would have often resulted in a completely different message. Don’t expect to go to Santorini in August and have it all for yourself. But look hard enough and you’ll find solitude anywhere.

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Jules’ self-portrait at Fira, Santorini (35mm, 1/25s, f2, ISO 200)

After Santorini we hopped on a ferry headed to Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades islands. See you there!

Verne*

48 thoughts on “Santorini in August: looking for solitude in a crowded beauty

  1. We went there in June, and it was already so very crowded, despite our search for solitude. I can’t imagine August! We had a choice between Naxos and Santorini in our limited time, and I half regret not choosing Naxos instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Expectations might have played a role: we were anticipating the whole island to look like Piccadilly Circus on a sunny Saturday morning, and it didn’t! Sure, going to Oia close to sunset was mad, but I recall doing a hike where I didn’t cross paths with anybody for the better part of three hours.

      I’m sorry your experience was different. It certainly wasn’t due to lack of planning: I just read your post on Portugal (my home country), where you managed to pick up on well kept secrets like Sagres in Algarve, Bordeira Beach in Alentejo and Alfama in Lisbon 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If you want to get away from the crowds on Santorini, go in October! I was there the last week of October. The weather was phenomenal! I walked all over and there were no crowds at all, except at sunset! I even got one of those great carved-out “rooms” for $75 US. That night there was, as one longtime resident told me, one of the top 5 sunsets on the island noted for it! The town pretty much goes on holiday at the end of the month, so there were a lot of local things going on that you are more than welcomed to join in on. It was also a major holiday when the Greeks said, “No” to Mussolini, who wanted the country to surrender to him. There was a town parade, great World War II era music playing and lots of fun. Was in Santorini for 5 days and wish I could have had more!
    for more see thewandererstales.com for a blog I posted in 2013.
    A resident told me that a lot of the children do not move away as there are jobs there and it is such a good place to live—- no doubt many kids want to travel and see the world out there, but I’m sure even they come back often!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a great name for it! In Angkor Wat we literally went anticyclic: the first thing we said to our guide was “listen, we want to do the classic circuit, but in reverse order”. It worked great! 🙂

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  3. As cliché as it might be now, I am desperate to visit Santorini! Thanks for the great tips, i’ll be sure to bear them in mind when I finally get over there. Your sunset photos are gorgeous by the way!

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  4. We were indeed scared of crowds and went to Crete in June instead!
    I was wondering how you can post so many photos without reaching some limit in WordPress. Resize photos? If yes what is the best size to aim for? Pay for the account? But I imagine it is also limited at some point.

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