On Day 3 in Santorini, we decided that it was time to get out of Oia and check out the rest of the island. For those who are unfamiliar with Santorini, it is a small 35 square-mile island shaped like a horseshoe. Getting around can be quite a breeze. And if you want to go explore Santorini, I have one recommendation:
Rent a four-wheeler.
Four-wheelers are the perfect way to get around the island. They can be driven on roads (although it’s recommended that you pull over and drive on the shoulder to allow larger vehicles to pass when they come up behind you). Online prices are a bit steep (30+ euro/day) but if you bargain hunt you can find deals for under 20 euro, especially if you reserve it for a few days. Commenters on TripAdvisor seem to advise against renting an ATV, making it seem like you are in imminent danger and will definitely die; I had never operated an ATV before this and I felt completely safe. Just pull over when you have cars coming up behind you, and start off slow before ramping up your speed to avoid hitting a curve at too high a speed. And wear sunglasses; you’ll get dusty.
There are two roads into Oia: the high (steep and winding) road and the low (slow and gradual) road. After all, Oia is located on the edge of the cliff looking over the water, so there has to be a way to make it up to the cliff. We took the high road out of Oia. It is precariously carved into the side of a mountain and is full of hairpin turns. Despite the setting of the high road, it is not particularly dangerous if you drive carefully. We took it slow, pulled over to allow cars to pass, and enjoyed the view as we made our way on the meandering path.
Our route on the high road
Views to the sea-level eastern coast of Santorini
Our first stop was just outside of Imerovigli. Imerovigli, as you may remember, is the highest-elevated village on the island. We stopped for some pictures and a quick refreshment.
Looking back to Oia
A roadside snack stand
From there, we drove our ATV down to Red Beach. Red Beach is a 40-minute drive from Oia, but on an ATV, allow yourself a good hour and 15 minutes. Take it slow, be safe, enjoy the view. Red Beach is probably the most famous of Santorini’s beaches, and from seeing the pictures, you can immediately see why it’s called “Red Beach.”
The beach is made up of dramatic red rocks that provide for a unique setting. Many of Santorini’s beaches are rocky, and Red Beach is no exception. Instead of sand, Red Beach is covered with a layer of reddish colored rocks. When you walk on the beach, you don’t necessarily need sandals, as the rocks are smooth enough to walk on barefoot (although they heat up in the summertime in the sun!) However, it is highly advisable to use sneakers to make your way down the rock path to get to the beach – it is steep and treacherous. Once you get down to Red Beach, you will find yourself amongst a relatively large group of vacationers, as the spot is extremely popular in high season. The beach is enjoyable for swimming and relaxing, but if you’re looking for seclusion, you’re in the wrong place.
While Red Beach is definitely worth visiting for the sheer peculiarity of the red rocks (something that you wouldn’t experience in many places in the world), we didn’t feel any burning desire to return. It was a bit too crowded for our tastes. It’s rated highly among Santorini tourist attractions, but we felt like it was a bit overrated.
After a couple of hours relaxing at Red Beach, Jolyn and I found ourselves to be quite hungry. We saw signs advertising a beachside restaurant and pointing down a long, winding, dusty path. We decided to go for it, and took the trip down to Remezzo, a taverna in the small town of Akrotiri. The porch area of the restaurant provided a relaxing view of the inside of the horseshoe of Santorini, including the villages of Fira and Imerovigli.
Craving my usual (tzatziki and pita with a beer), I ordered quickly. Unfortunately, they were already out of the fresh caught (regular-sized) fish, so we ordered the picarel (small smelt-like fish, slightly bigger than sardines). I wasn’t a huge fan, but I devoured the tzatzki and pita like a champ.
On the way back to Oia, we decided to take the low road. The low road took quite a bit longer, as it hugged the sea-level eastern coast of Santorini rather than simply cutting up the mountain. Most of Santorini’s permanent residents live along the lower road. This is an area with very few tourists, as the tourists are mainly interested in the sheer cliffs and exotic caldera views, not the agrarian low country. About 15 minutes outside of Oia, we noticed a small sign pointing toward Kouloumpos Beach. We said, “hey, why not?” and pulled over.
It ended up being our best decision yet.
Kouloumpos Beach was EMPTY! There was nobody selling refreshments, nobody offering umbrellas to sit under, nobody sunbathing within hundreds of feet of us. While the shore was still rocky underfoot, it was manageable and not too sharp. With just a few people on the beach, quite a ways down, we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves.
It looked like we had found our spot! But more on that next time…