Neither photographs nor words can accurately portray just how beautiful Santorini is. And no trip to the Greek island is complete without making the cliffside trek from Fira to Oia. The whitewashed vertical villages clinging to jagged volcanic cliffs that plunge down to the sparkling Aegean Sea are truly breathtaking. The approximate six-mile hike from the bustling village of Fira to the picturesque village of Oia is hands-down the best way to soak in all the sights. However, the hike itself requires a little planning to maximize the fun and minimize any problems. Read on for seven things you should know before making the unforgettable journey along one of the most beautiful cliffs in the world.
1. Bring your camera to take photos of the incredible views.
The best part about the trek from Fira to Oia is how the views of the cliffs, sea, villages, and landscape change. You'll experience the quaint villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli, as well as the bustling villages of Fira and Oia. Along the route, you'll also encounter donkeys, blue-domed churches, farmland, distant vineyards, and vistas overlooking almost the entire island. From the highest point (almost 1,000 feet above sea level), it's easy to feel like you're at the top of the most beautiful place in the world. We recommend taking the hike early in your Santorini visit, as it's the best way to get acquainted with the island.
2. Start in Fira.
Most trekkers start at the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral in central Fira and work their way north from there. It's about a six-mile trip to Oia (the northernmost village on the island), and most adults can make the walk at a comfortable clip in about three hours. But plan on adding extra time for photo stops and shopping and perusing in the village boutiques. The path is almost entirely free of cars, though you will cut through some parking lots and walk down a short stretch of highway at one point in the journey. The path is only occasionally marked, and the way can be a little confusing in Firostefani and Imerovigli when there are winding streets that lead down the cliffs to hotels. Just remember to keep the Aegean Sea on your left and keep moving north. The last third stretch of the hike is the most physically demanding, as parts of the path aren't paved and the incline gets steep.
3. Bring water and go early.
Temperatures can spike into the high 80s from June through September, and the sun is intense since there's little shade on the island. If you're planning the hike during this time, it's smart to leave around 9 a.m. and bring bottled water. Wearing sunscreen is a must year-round. There are restaurants and shops in Fira, Firostefani, and Imerovigli, but the last place to buy anything (or use the restroom) is a small concessions stand with fresh orange juice, Coke, and a few snacks a long way from the finish line in Oia. Hours of operation can vary, so it's best to buy bottled water at the beginning of the trek in Fira. Wear comfortable shoes and avoid bringing heavy items.
4. Ride a donkey.
If you're tired or feeling adventurous, the area just behind the snack shop has donkeys for rent. The bell-decorated burros take riders up the steep part of the path (it's not the steepest portion of the hike, but it's mostly loose gravel and can be tricky to traverse). A guide travels with the donkeys to ensure everything goes smoothly.
5. Don't bring the kids.
A 10-year-old could handle the hike, but they'd likely be tired and it will take longer than a few hours to get through the whole thing. That said, it's easy enough to walk for an hour or two, and then turn around or hail a taxi when the kids are beat. You definitely do not want to bring a stroller on the path. Senior citizens with good mobility can also handle the hike. We saw several agile European seniors with professional walking poles breeze right past us.
6. Make the trip to Skaros Rock.
The six-mile hike offers all sorts of memorable views, but for trekkers who want something truly special, plan on an hour-long (or longer) detour out to Skaros Rock. You may recognize the conical rock formation from the church wedding scene in "Mamma Mia!" The rock originally served as a fortress in the 15th century to protect the island from pirates. Today, it has steep crumbling steps, an ancient church, and some incredible views overlooking the Aegean and back to the island itself. To get there, look for the well-marked Saint George church in Imerovigli, right by the Blue Note cafe. You'll wind down wide, flat steps (and past a luxury hotel swimming pool) and then start the climb up to the rock.
7. End with a cliff jump.
After a six-mile hike, you'll likely be ready to hide out in a taverna with a bottle of beer. But if you still have energy and want to continue the adventure, there's an excellent option. There's a huge winding path at the tip of Oia that leads down to picturesque Amoudi Bay. Yes, a visit to the bay will add 300 steps down (and back up), but donkeys are available to make it easier. The beautiful bay is where yacht trips arrive and depart, and there are also several touristy seafood restaurants here. You can't swim right off the bay, but there's an area for cliff jumping and swimming just around the corner. Even if you skip the cliff jump, stay for Oia's world-famous sunset and then take the city bus (about two euros) back to Fira.
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