Greek Islands on a Budget

Who hasn’t heard of those beautiful Greek Islands? Practically every travel website, every travel magazine, every travel show has been featuring them again and again and again. And when you see pictures and videos of those islands, you’d naturally expect a trip to even one of them would cost an arm and a leg. Well that’s partially true. Since so many tourists flock to these islands, everything would naturally be more expensive than elsewhere in Greece. But you can still visit these islands even if you’re a budget traveler. If your only goal is to set foot on these islands and you don’t need to stay at those posh hotels and resorts that are frequently featured, then a cheap trip to these islands is definitely doable.

For this entry, I’m mainly going to focus on the most popular islands since a lot of people have this impression that heading to those islands– Santorini and Mykonos specifically, would entail breaking the bank. Also, it’s easy to find a cheap place to stay on the other islands so it’s a bit pointless to talk about them. Try looking for a place to stay on any booking website and the accommodations are mostly at par with those on the mainland. Santorini and Mykonos though are different. Because of their popularity, most accommodations are really expensive.

The first thing that you should consider would be the time of the year. Naturally, most people go to these islands during the summer to enjoy the beaches so it’s gonna be hard to find a cheap place to stay. If you don’t want to go swimming and you just want to see the sights, going in the off season (mainly during the winter) is the best option. Though a lot of the accommodations are closed, you can stay at the ones that remain open for less than half their usual rates. I did want to go swimming though, and I wanted to experience the famed nightlife in Mykonos which is non existent during the winter. So I went during the shoulder season— mainly September. It’s still hot enough during this time of the year— I was practically sweating buckets the entire time, but it’s gonna be less crowded. I heard the weather is the same during April and May so those months are good options as well. And since it’s no longer peak season, prices of accommodations are cheaper by about a fourth to a third. For me, if you’re traveling on a budget but you still want to experience a number of summer activities, the perfect time to go is during the shoulder season.

The next thing you should decide on is your mode of transportation. From Athens, you’d either have to ride a plane or take a ferry to Santorini or Mykonos. (most of the other islands don’t have airports so you have to take ferries). Most budget travelers take ferries. The Blue Star Ferry is the cheapest option. From the Piraeus Port in Athens to Santorini (one of the farthest islands so it’s one of the most expensive) the cheapest economy tickets usually cost 40 Euros. If you buy early enough you can get one for 32 euros but these are limited. It takes 8 hours to get to Santorini. Those 8 hours would zip by though since it’s gonna be like going on a cruise. The view on the deck is amazing. Since the ferry leaves early in the morning (7:25 AM), a lot of travelers purchase reserved seats so they could sleep. It’s a pretty good deal since it only costs 45 Euros (a 5 euro difference). The seats are comfy and i was able to sleep for about 4 hours– of course it helps if you have a hangover lol. If you plan on heading to Mykonos from Athens, it’s cheaper cause it’s a lot closer. A one way ticket costs about 35 euros on the Blue Star Ferry.

Most of the time, riding a plane to the islands is expensive. That’s not the case if you buy early enough. Forget Aegean Air or Olympic Air if you’re on a budget. Even if you buy your tickets early it’s still cheaper if you take a ferry. If you check out Ryan Air though, if you buy tickets several months or weeks before, it can be a lot cheaper. I was able to buy a one way ticket from Mykonos back to Athens for less than 30 Euros. That’s a really good deal and it saves a lot of time too. I found no need to take a ferry back since I already saw the views on my way to the islands. From Mykonos, i was back in Athens in 30 minutes.

If you’re gonna be traveling on a tight budget, the mode of transportation would actually make the bulk of your expenses. The good news is, once you get to the islands it’s possible not to spend a fortune. I first headed to Santorini because it was the farthest of all the islands I wanted to visit. So I took the Blue Star Ferry and all passengers were herded like cattle downstairs a few minutes before we reached the island. It took about 20 minutes before the gates were opened, then there was utter madness as people rushed outside. Apparently people were rushing out since there were only a limited number of buses to the town center from the port. If you miss em, you have to wait for the buses to come back again. And there’s a huge chance of that happening if you’re one of the last people to come out since those ferries can carry more than 2,000 passengers. So upon disembarking you’re gonna see a lot of locals offering shuttle rides. The average price was 20 euros per person. Ignore them. Turn left when you reach the exit and continue walking. In less than 5 minutes you’ll see the bus station where a lot of public buses are parked. You only have to pay 2.30 euros to get to Fira (the town center). All the public buses were air conditioned and quite comfy.

As with many others, I mistakenly had the impression that there are no cheap places to stay in both Santorini and Mykonos. A simple search on hostel booking websites would show several options. Looking at those booking websites, i saw a number of cheap options. In Santorini, the cheapest ones by far were located at Perissa Beach— one hostel was only charging 8 euros for a dorm bed. So if you’re on a really tight budget, staying at Perissa makes the most sense. However if you want a bit of convenience, it’s not really a good location. For one thing, you’d have to take multiple bus rides to get there from the port or airport. You need to head to Fira first then take a bus from there. Also Perissa isn’t actually a nice beach. I dunno why some people are raving about it, maybe they haven’t seen the other beaches in Greece :). I went there one day and i honestly have no idea what people were raving about. I didn’t even bother taking pictures. lol

So if you’re looking for convenience, staying in Fira is a much better choice since you’ll be staying in the town center. And since you’re in the center of town, there are lots of cheap places to eat. And it’s easy to get to anywhere on the island from Fira. There are actually some cheap places to stay, though not as cheap as the ones in Perissa. The cheapest one I could find was called Santorini Camping. I only had to pay 20 euros for a dorm bed. The room was air conditioned and it was very cold inside— such a complete contrast from the extreme heat outside. If you’re really on a budget, they offer tents with beds for only 12.50 euros a night. I heard though that it can still be quite hard to sleep at night due to the heat. I was expecting the worst because almost all of the other options in Fira were quite expensive. All those negative reviews made me hesitate a bit, but i figured budget travelers can’t be too choosy lol. The booking process on their website also wasn’t secure and that made me hesitate as well. So i sent them a message on their Facebook page asking about it. Turns out you can make a reservation without paying. You just have to email them which room you want to stay in and for how many nights. You just pay when you get to the property. So if you plan on staying here just send them an email and don’t make a reservation using their antiquated website. One more thing, you need to give a 50 euro deposit for the keys upon checking in. I know that’s too much but as long as you don’t lose your keys you won’t have any problems. I actually enjoyed my stay. As I’ve mentioned the dorm room was actually pretty good. And the place has a huge pool that gave us all a respite from the intense summer heat. There’s a pretty good view by the pool too. And if you’re too lazy to venture to the center of town, they have their own restaurant and convenience store within the premises. The prices aren’t too expensive too. Of course it’s still cheaper to eat outside, good thing the center of Fira and the bus station are only less than 10 minutes away by walking.

IMG_3450
Santorini Camping

Those pictures of Santorini that are frequently featured on travel magazines and websites are in Oia. There’s no way you can stay there if you’re on a tight budget, but Fira is still a good option if you want to head there since it is only 30 minutes away from Fira by bus. Alternatively you can walk the trail from Fira to Oia and it take about 2-3 hours, more or less. Oia is the most popular place in Santorini so expect a lot of people when you get there. If you want to avoid crowds at Oia, then avoid going there for the sunset. I was there at around 4 PM– too early for the sunset. Yet there were so many people already waiting for it on the viewing area. You’d think there was about to be a performance by a popular celebrity or something. I didn’t get to see the sunset in Oia. Maybe it really is spectacular. But sunsets in general area gorgeous anywhere in the world. And practically any tourist attraction proclaims that sunset is the best time to visit. I just didn’t think it was worth the time and effort to brave the crowds just to get a glimpse of another sunset.  It was ridiculous how crowded it was, it was hard getting from one end to another. With the number of people waiting for it, it better be the best sunset in the world. I believe I made the right decision when I decided not to wait for it. Public buses in Santorini are limited. So you can imagine the chaos that ensued after sunset when everyone decided to simultaneously go back to their hotels/ hostels. One of my room mates waited for the sunset and he had to wait for almost two hours before he was finally able to board a bus back to Fira. And yeah i did see pictures from his camera. In my opinion, I’ve seen better sunsets elsewhere lol.

I felt three days was enough in Santorini. After seeing the sights, I was starting to get bored. The fact that the island was filled with couples and honeymooners wasn’t helping. I loved the laid back vibe in the less crowded places, but if I was looking to relax and chill, I think going to the other less popular islands would be the better option since those islands are a lot cheaper. And maybe it’s just me– but aside from Oia, nothing really sets Santorini apart from the other islands. They all look just as beautiful.

I decided to head to Mykonos from Santorini since it was almost the weekend. Mykonos is known for its party scene, so i figured it would be great to spend my weekend there. From Santorini, there are no Blue Star Ferries to Mykonos. For this route, there are two options. I had to pick between Seajets and Hellenic Seaways. Both are high speed ferries, and some people warned me that some folks get sea sick on high speed ferries but I felt fine the entire time. I picked Seajets since they left Santorini a little later than Hellenic Seaways. I just didn’t want to wake up too early. It’s easy to buy tickets in the center of Fira where there are a number of travel agencies. If you really have to leave on a certain date, you can buy tickets online if you’re afraid they might run out of tickets. Still, you have to pick up your tickets in person. If you bought a Seajets ticket online, you pick up the actual tickets at Nomikos Travel. If you bought a Hellenic Seaways ticket, you have to get your tickets at Pelican Travel. I paid 67 euros for a one way ticket to Mykonos— that’s quite expensive, but there’s not much choice since traveling between Santorini to Mykonos and vice versa is a very popular route. Good thing I didn’t spend much in Mykonos, even if I partied for 3 consecutive nights.

If you search for places to stay in Mykonos on hostel booking websites, one place would pop out because of its unbelievably low price— Paraga Beach Hostel. The next cheapest place doesn’t even come close. 10 euros for a dorm bed in Mykonos??? Even cheaper if you stay in a tent? Unbelievable! Even if it was a crappy place I would still stay there. And I have to tell you, it’s totally not! The experience starts as soon as you arrive because they have a free shuttle service to and from all ports and the airport. As soon as I got off the ferry I immediately saw the driver waiting with a Paraga Hostel sign. The shuttle stops on all ports so it may take a while before you get to the hostel, but you wouldn’t mind the delay thanks to the beautiful scenery. The dorm room was very basic with only one fan, but why on Earth would you want a fancy room in Mykonos when there’s so much to see and do outside? They have their own pool, their own restaurant, their own bar, their own convenience store– they have everything you’ll ever need so a lot of the guests found very little reason to leave. Of course everything they are selling is more expensive than outside, but it’s not that much expensive. You’re not allowed to bring food from outside but they don’t check your bags so i was able to eat some snacks and breakfast in my room. lol. The location is awesome too, it’s right by the beach and several top clubs in the island are within walking distance. It’s a bit far from the center of town though— about 20 minutes away by bus. But good thing the bus stop is right outside the hostel. And buses on the island run until the wee hours of the morning so you can party in the center of town without worrying how you’ll get back to the hostel. If you plan on exploring the island though it would be practical to rent a car so you also won’t have to worry about getting back to the hostel at night. You might say renting a car in a place like Mykonos would cost a fortune. Surprisingly, it doesn’t! You can rent a car for about 30 euros per day, and that’s quite a steal if you can find 3-4 people to split the cost with you!

Since you can work your way around accommodations, transport options, and food, the only way you’ll spend a lot of money in Mykonos is if you plan on partying in the top clubs every night. The popular clubs charge about 25-30 euros just to get in. And if you’re gonna order drinks, the cheapest ones cost 10 euros. If you just want to party, there are many cheap options. For instance, the bars along Paradise Beach don’t charge anything for entrance, and the drinks are cheaper. They have the same party atmosphere too, I even prefer partying at those bars since people were more laid back and didn’t seem stuck up. I went to one of the top fancy clubs just to experience it. And to save money for drinks, me and my room mates just pregamed and we just went to the club when we were already tipsy so we didn’t buy any more drinks inside lol. So if you just want to party, there are a lot of cheap options. You don’t have to go to those fancy and expensive clubs just to have fun.

So you see, you don’t have to spend a fortune to visit these two popular Greek Islands. I spent most of my money on those ferries and partying, and there are ways around those. Contrary to popular belief, there are cheap accommodations on both islands. There are lots of cheap places to eat and drink as well. And the best part is, you don’t have to pay anything to see a lot of the beautiful spots in both islands. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to experience what these beautiful islands have to offer.

 

 

 

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