This is a guest post by Vera Marie Badertscher of A Traveler's Library.
The Greek Islands have been luring travelers since Ulysses made his meandering way home to Ithaca from Troy. The beauty of the Aegean Sea, ” wine dark”? in the greater depths, but translucent turquoise in shallow waters along the shore, combined with the whitewashed buildings that glow in the amazing Mediterranean sunlight, creates an unforgettable sight. But the first questions that face the traveler are how to choose among the islands, and how to get there.
Each of the approximately 100 habitable islands of Greece will show you a different personality. If you only have time for a day trip, try the tiny Saronic islands near Athens. Crete, the largest island, takes the longest to get to, but is well worth the trip.
At the northern end of the central Cyclades island group, Mykonos has resorts, crowds, nightlife, but also beautiful villages and the archaeological site of Delos. At the south end of the island group, nearer Crete, you will find popular Santorini, whose dramatic volcano shell with white-washed villages clinging to the black and red lava cliffs represents Greece on many a travel book and article.
Sailing into the caldera of Santorini ranks as the most breath taking moment I have experienced in Greece, so if you go, fly back if you must, but take the ferry, in daylight hours, on your approach.
Greek ferries range from rusty old tubs (fewer these days, thankfully) to very sleek jet-boats. The jet boats and hydrofoils get you there fast, but don't cope well with high winds and waves, so weather may stop them before the slow ferries.
Tip One: Although you can reserve on line (http://www.greekferries.gr), don't. Wait until you get to Athens and go to one of the multitude of tourist agencies around Syntagma Square or near the port at Piraeus. You have no guarantee that the schedule you saw on line will be the schedule on the day you sail. Schedules are set weekly. While they probably will go on the same hours they did last week or month or year, there is no guarantee. Don't worry; they are not going to run out of tickets.
Tip Two: The Greek National Tourism Office (http://www.gnto.org) puts out a ferry schedule weekly. If you can find their office, pick up a copy, because if the line the travel agent represents does not sail today, they will not tell you about another line that does go today.
Tip Three: Because of the whimsical nature of ferry schedules, it is best not to guarantee room rental. Unless you are going to the islands in July or August, which is a rotten idea, anyhow, you will not need a reservation in advance.
Tip Four: NEVER count on a ferry, even a high speed one, to get you back to Athens on the same day that you are flying home. Give yourself a day or even two in Athens before your departure.
Tip Five: If you yearn for a less visited island, remember that the fewer visitors, and the smaller the population, the less frequent are the ferries.
Tip Six: Think of all this uncertainty about schedules as your crash course in Greek culture, and instead of getting uptight about it, just shrug and say ” Endaxi.”? (Okay.)
Vera Marie Badertscher is a travel writer (http://pen4hire.com) who lives in the United States, but gets homesick for Greece when she is not there. She blogs at A Traveler's Library (http://atravelerslibrary.com).
Photographs by Vera Marie Badertscher. All rights reserved.