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Irresistible Santorini - A trip from South Africa

Deutsche Fassung German translated articles
Fira, Santorini - Volcano View Hotel

Santorini or Therasia (the official name of Santorini) is undoubtedly one of Greece’s most romantic and picturesque islands. 

There are more than 600 blue dome churches, and not surprisingly, this is what you mostly see of Greece in photos. 

Despite reading many negative reviews focusing on overcrowding and Santorini being the cruise liner mecca of the world, it remains the most idyllic island with unimaginable beauty. 

It has everything you would expect from a Greek Island holiday and more. Besides, the best way to avoid crowds at any destination is to enjoy the sunset from your hotel’s terrace, pool or, in my case, our hotel room’s balcony.

My article aims to give you essential travel advice to plan a trip to Greece from South Africa. I will cover everything from the most convenient (and cheapest) airline, visa application, where to stay, and best spots. I even make suggestions to avoid ferry disasters.

Santorini sunsets
Blue-dome churches on the island

What makes Santorini irresistible?

Santorini has everything from unprecedented caldera views to stunning sunsets and authentic Greek food. 

In unimaginable settings, you can take photos of bone-white cubic houses and blue-dome churches.

Blue-dome church in Oia, Santorini

Best time to visit Santorini

Because Santorini is an island destination, you want to enjoy great weather while avoiding the mad crowds. 

The peak season is from July to August, so you want to go a month or two just before or after these peak months. 

The first week in September, we experienced awesome weather and fewer crowds.

The average temperatures in Santorini can be viewed at this link.

Caldera views from Fira, Santorini

How to apply for a Schengen visa from South Africa for Greece?

South African passport holders need a Schengen visa to travel to Greece. The Global Visa Centre is appointed to handle visa applications. There is a collection centre in Houghton (Johannesburg), Cape Town, and Durban. 

The application process is easier than you think. First, you register your application online. During this step, you schedule an appointment, select an application centre (VAC) and complete the application online. 

You will provide your travel date and passport details, including information about your parents’ names, date of birth, and previous visas. Once the application is completed, you need to print it out and take it to your appointment with the required documentation, such as a flight ticket, travel itinerary, a permission letter from your employer, travel insurance, three months’ bank statements, etc. 

You must apply for your visa at least six weeks in advance to make your trip stress-free.

You can use this link to apply.

The website for visa applications

Flights from Johannesburg to Santorini

Santorini forms part of the Cyclades, a group of islands that can be reached by ferry or flight.

We took an evening flight from Johannesburg to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, a direct 9-hour 10 minutes flight. We arrived early morning in Istanbul and then only had a two-hour layover before connecting to Athens, again with Turkish airlines. This was a very short 1 hour 25-minute flight. I cannot recommend Turkish airlines highly enough. Besides their excellent customer service and great onboard hospitality, they served mouthwatering dishes prepared by their flying chefs. The seats on both flights were super comfortable and spacious. They will undoubtedly be our airline of choice for future flights. 

PRO TIP: While we waited for our connecting flight to Santorini, we purchased an 18 GB sim card for 30 euros at Athens airport, valid for 14 days.

Instead of taking a ferry from Athens to Santorini, we took a flight. Best decision of our trip (you will understand when you get to my explanation about ferries). Also read our article: “The shocking truth about Greek ferries”.

We were lucky and only had a short 2-hour layover to connect with Aegean airlines to Santorini, and this flight only took 30 minutes. We arrived from Athens in Santorini on flight A3356 at midday. These flights fill quite fast, so booking these a bit in advance is recommended, particularly during the high season. We booked our flights six months in advance and found good fares. 

We use Skyscanner to ensure we get the best offers available. See link below!

Turkish Airlines from Johannesburg to Athens via Istanbul
The flying chefs preparing delicious meals on board the Turkish Airline flight
Aegean Airline flight from Athens to Santorini

We chose a flight over a ferry because ferries take much longer (4 to 5 hours), and are not the most pleasant way to travel between islands. 

We were glad to have made this choice once after taking several short ferry trips between the islands. Refer to the ferry article.

 

PRO TIP: Use Ferryhopper to check available fares and book your tickets online. They have a great app that allows you to download your ticket to your phone.

How to get to your hotel from the airport or ferry port?

We booked a hotel transfer from the port. Although this is not the most budget-friendly option, we got a relatively good deal from Volcano View hotel. They  charged only 25 euros for two people (one way) for a private transfer (although the confirmation booking summary states 20 euros). To put this in context, the Archipelago hotel in Mykonos and Artemis Deluxe Rooms charged 30 euros for pickup on arrival. In comparison, the Archipelago hotel increased the price to 45 euros on the day of departure.

 

Port transport

There are only a very limited number of taxis serving the entire island, and unless you are first off the ferry, you may not get a taxi for several hours.

PRO TIP: Confirm in writing the transfer charges before your arrival.

We booked pre-booked a private transfer with welcome pick-ups from Santorini port to the airport on our last day, and the cost was around 35 euros. There are no taxi ranks at any ports or airports, so you must plan ahead of time. 

Our driver monitored our ferry and waited with our names as we got off. 

Hotel with the best sunset view in Santorini

Fira, Oia, Imerovigli and Firotefani are located along the caldera cliffs (the more expensive side of the island). We stayed at the Volcano view hotel in Fira (Thira or Thera). Although no beaches are nearby, the island’s western side has the best caldera and sunset views. Oia is the most picturesque, crowded and expensive part of the island. But because the island is so small, you can easily ride your scooter, take a taxi (very expensive) or even take a bus to Oia and rather stay in the less crowded Fira. We stayed at the fabulous Volcano view hotel, which is 5km from the centre of Fira.

Volcano view Hotel, Fira, Santorini

We spent six nights at Volcano view hotel in a superior room with a sea view. Our room rate of 485 euros per night included breakfast, but excluded government taxes of 4 euros per night. If you’re not keen on taking many steps to and from your room daily, confirm with the hotel before arriving at which level your room is located. Our room was located on the hotel’s lowest level, causing us to take 97 steps daily to the reception. This was no problem as it gave us a good workout, and we felt less guilty enjoying the delicious Greek food.

PRO TIP: Confirm if government tax is included or excluded from your booking before arrival.

Views of Santorini caldera views and hotels in Greece
Volcano View Hotel, Fira Santorini
Sunset at Volcano View Hotel

Parking is an issue on the islands; therefore, renting a scooter rather than an ATV (four-wheeler) or car is highly recommended. With our scooter, we could park right next to all the spots we wanted to go to (parking is free). We paid 30 euros daily, and they delivered the scooter to our hotel. You will need an A1 bike license that must be endorsed on your international driver’s licence. It costs around 10 euros to fill the scooter. There are no Ubers on the island, and taxis are very limited and expensive. There are free (unreliable) public bus services.

Are you ready to book activities in Santorini NOW?

 

Scooter rental on Santorini

Best Instagram spots in Santorini

Akrotiri, Santorini

There is much to see and do in Santorini, from unique black and red beaches to cliff-hugging restaurants, cafés and boutiques with breathtaking views. 

We found the best way to explore the island was with our rented scooter, and over six days, we drove 170 km with our scooter across the island.

Here is our list of things we most enjoyed at Santorini:

Red beach near Akrotiri, Santorini

The red beach near Akrotiri

Lunch at Ammoudi Bay, Santorini

Ammoudi bay is a tiny port with several seafront restaurants on the water’s edge. It is accessible on foot from Oia, but it is not recommended if you are not a fitness freak. Access is via a steep staircase with approximately 278+ steps. 

We went on our scooter and found parking at the bottom of the bay near the restaurants. Car parking is very tricky and almost impossible to find. Here are many restaurants serving awesome seafood dishes, particularly for dinner reservation is a must. 

After lunch, we wanted to go to the ‘beach’. 

It took us a while to figure out how to get to this mysterious ‘beach’ everyone was so secretive about. 

View of Ammoudi Bay showing ample scooter parking nearby

How to get to Ammoudi Bay?

You must walk along the water’s edge (through all the restaurants) until you get to the end of the walkway. This is where the path to the bay starts. 

Prepare yourself for a rugged (but breathtakingly beautiful) hike, and make sure you take enough water with you, as this secret hideout has no restaurants, cafes, or facilities. 

This hike is not for people with walking or balance difficulties. 

After walking for about 10 minutes, you will reach a crowded (rocky) spot (depending on the time of the year) scattered with towels. 

The colour of the ocean here is truly spectacular!

Just to let you know, there is no beach, no place to relax (besides a few rocks), and we found it very crowded. 

 

Where are Santorini's black beaches?

41 Forty One, Beach bar

The most popular black beaches Perissa, Perivolos and Kamari, are found on the southeast coast of Santorini near Fira.

Santorini’s unique black beaches with contrasting clear turquoise waters are due to the volcanic activity and eruption that occurred around 1600 BC. These eruptions shaped the rugged cliffs and caused the black sand and pebble beaches. 

Summar beach resort

Summar beach bar at Mesa Pigadia is a great place to spend the day on the beach. There is a fabulous restaurant with a seating area, or you can order snacks to your sunbed. They have a delicious menu with great variety. We enjoyed a Greek salad (13 euros) and a club sandwich with ham (14 euros) (see photo). Reservations can only be made for front-row umbrella sets or gazebos. They charge 40 euros for two sunbeds. The only annoying thing at this resort was that after every order they insisted you pay immediately. This was the only place we experienced this during our entire trip to Greece. All other beach bars run a tab which you can pay when you leave.

Kamari beach

Kamari beach is the largest of all the beaches and is 7 km from Fira. Kamari has a pebble beach and a long pedestrian beachfront walkway. It has a fabulous island vibe with many restaurants, beach bars, shops, and cafés. Here you can use the restaurant’s adjoining sunbeds (without any charge) as long as you order from their menu. Unfortunately, I got stung at this beach by blue bottles on my arm. This might have been an isolated incident.

Perissa is a blue flag beach at the base of the Mesa Vouno mountain range; it is 12 km from Kamari beach.

Perivolos beach

Perivolos is 12 km from Fira and only 3km from Perissa. It is a separate resort, although it looks like an extension of Perissa. There is no border between them, and they share a long, wide beachfront with fine black sand. According to the locals, this is the best beach in Santorini as it is a bit less touristy with many water sports activities. There are super nice beach bars and tavernas. 

We spent the day at 41 forty-one restaurant and cocktail bar. They offer shisha, massage, water sports, an extensive food menu, and live music. 

Is it expensive to rent a sunbed in Santorini?

At 41 Forty-one, we paid 50 euros for our sunbeds in the back row, including towels and a selected cocktail. Beach cabanas in the front row cost 350 euros, including champagne, a fruit platter and a bottle of sparkling water.  

Summar beach
Kamari beach, Santorini

Fira's alleys with spectacular viewpoints

Restaurant with spectacular ocean view in Fira

Fira is the capital of Santorini. Plateia Theotokopoulou is the main square with a bustling of activities. You can sit on one of the many benches and enjoy the magnificent caldera views. 

There are many traditional Greek buildings to admire, such as St John the Baptist Cathedral and the Orthodox Metropolitan cathedral. 

You can walk a few kilometres along the streets amongst several restaurants while admiring the views with cruise liners below.

Fira's alleys with spectacular viewpoints

Fira is the capital of Santorini. Plateia Theotokopoulou is the main square with a bustling of activities. You can sit on one of the many benches and enjoy the magnificent caldera views. 

There are many traditional Greek buildings to admire, such as St John the Baptist Cathedral and the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral. 

You can walk a few kilometres along the streets amongst several restaurants while admiring the views with cruise liners below.

Sunset dinner in Fira

The rooftop bars in Fira offer the most spectacular caldera views no matter what time of the day. 

You should make a book if you’d like to enjoy dinner at one of these popular spots. 

We were lucky to find a nice table at Fanari restaurant, although we didn’t have reservations. 

In our previous article, “Santorini versus Mykonos”, you can read more about this restaurant. 

Sunset dinner in Fira, Santorini

The lighthouse, Akrotiri

Akrotiri refers to a specific village nearby, but people generally use Akrotiri to refer to the southern peninsula of Santorini, which includes the archaeological ruins and the lighthouse.

The lighthouse is located on the southern tip of the crescent, on Santorini’s west coast. 

You will find the lighthouse at the end of a narrow, fairly rugged road with a small parking area and cafeteria. There is a cool Instagram spot; a table for two against the incredible backdrop. 

Unfortunately, the lighthouse is not open to the public, but you get spectacular views from nearby rocks.

Views from Akrotiri lighthouse, Santorini

Taking a ferry from Santorini (Athinios port) to other islands

Athinios port is 8km from Fira and 7km from Santorini International Airport.

This was our first trip to Greece; we thought taking a ferry was the easiest. Naturally, we thought you pick a convenient time, see which ferry is available, and off you go. Eagerly, I booked our first ferry trip through Ferries.gr website. I paid a whopping 424.80 euros for two passengers from Milos to Santorini with Sea Jets (Seajet2 vessel). I am still trying to figure out why these tickets were so expensive. I thought that was the going rate…clearly NOT! I hope this costly mistake can save you some money! 

Why is there a price difference in ferries?

There are two types of ferries, regular and fast ferries. The fast ferries are more expensive, and they use smaller vessels. There is a bit more to this, but keep on reading. 

Shortly before we left for Greece, I started reading blogs about ferries. Oh my, then my fear started setting in! I often read how ferries were the last transport option between islands. I don’t necessarily agree, but come prepared. Our article “The shocking truth about Greek ferries” is a MUST read!

Good, to know…nobody checks your identity to see if it matches the names on your ticket 🙂

Tips and guidelines for booking a ferry in Greece

  • Don’t book a speed ferry (e.g., Superjet). Although they save you time, you are more likely to get seasick because the vessels are much smaller. From Milos to Mykonos, we took a Superjet (business class), which cost 117 euros per ticket. This trip took 2 hours and 45 minutes.
  • Don’t save money on the booking class. Instead, invest in a business class (club class) ticket. Not only is the seating area much more comfortable, but the toilets are also much nicer (much needed), no unwelcome odours, and you have a lovely restaurant. You are less likely to feel seasick because this class is on the top deck. There is a door to the outside for fresh air.
  • DO take seasick tablets! On our first trip from Santorini to Milos, we didn’t take them. It was the most unpleasant trip. So many passengers got sick as the seas were rough that day. Trust me; you don’t want to experience this. They sell tablets at some small cafés at the ferry ports for a ridiculous amount (as much as 3 euros per tablet). Make sure you buy tablets from your pharmacy at home.
  • When possible, book the Santorini Palace ferry. We paid 95 euros per person for VIP (table) tickets for our trip from Mykonos to Santorini. This was a 3-hour cruise and the most comfortable trip we had of all three ferry trips.
  • Use ferryhopper to book your tickets. They have a great phone app, allowing you to download your tickets on your phone and use this for check-in at the ferry terminal. Ferries. Gr didn’t have this option, so it was challenging to do online check-in or when ferry times changed.
  • Ferries are often cancelled due to unforeseen weather conditions, and we were lucky. Several ferries were cancelled between our trips, but none affected us. Ensure you check your ferry’s status the morning of your trip before going to the port.
  • There is no need to be at the ferry terminal more than 1 hour before your trip, you will just be standing in a queue, and there are limited places to sit.

Don’t take your time getting on and off the ferry. Ferries stop very quickly at ports for passengers to get on and off. You will be cruising until the next port if you’re not off in time.  

Passenger lining up to board the ferry
Santorini port
The inside of the Superjet ferry
Getting ready to board the Speedrunner ferry from Santorini to Milos

We give Santorini 5 stars!

Why you should visit Santorini

Santorini is more beautiful than you can ever imagine View from Volcano View Hotel, Fira

Santorini is the Greek island that dreams are made of. This most romantic and picturesque island will leave you with the best memories for years to come. 

Will I return? I often asked myself this question. It was the most expensive and exquisite holiday we’ve ever been on. 

Nevertheless, considering we celebrated two significant milestones in our lives, I believe it was worth every euro spent. Still, it is not the type of holiday you would take every now and then just for the sake of going on holiday. 

Similar destinations, like Portugal (one of my favourite places in the world), Mauritius, and South Africa, offer similar experiences at much lower price tags. 

If you have any questions about Santorini, please DM me on Instagram.

Your travel buddy 

Bernie xx

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About Author

As a freelance travel journalist and seasoned business professional, Bernie van der Linde has made it her mission to explore the world's most unique and luxurious destinations. With a PhD in business studies from the University of South Africa, Bernie has channeled her passion for travel, web design, and writing into founding the travel blog Travel Buddies Lifestyle. Here, she shares her adventures alongside her best friend and travel business partner, Petra, who seamlessly translate and compile articles relevant to their German and European audience.

Bernie's love for exploring new places has taken her to some of the world's most exotic locations. Whether gazing out at the glittering skyline of Dubai or enjoying the tranquillity of a private beach in Mauritius, Bernie is always looking for unique experiences that will inspire and entice her readers to travel.

Through her thoughtful writing and unparalleled passion for travel, Bernie van der Linde has made a name for herself in the world of travel writing. Her knack for uncovering hidden gems and sharing her experiences with her readers has made her a trusted source of inspiration for those looking to explore the world in style.

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