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 fantastic Mediterranean sunlight, creates an unforgettable sight.
But the traveler's first questions are how to choose among the islands and how to get there.
Each of Greece's approximately 100 habitable islands will show you a different personality.
If you only have time for a day trip to the Greek Islands, try the tiny Saronic islands near Athens.
Got a little longer? Consider sailing in the Saronic Gulf to spend more time around the beautiful islands of Poros, Spetses, and Hydra. Booking a Saronic yacht charter is a relaxing and stylish option.
Crete, the largest island, and the capital, Heraklion, 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, beautiful villages, and the archaeological site of Delos.
At the south end of the island group, nearer Crete, you will find the famous Santorini, whose dramatic volcano shell with whitewashed villages clinging to the black and red lava cliffs represents Greece in many a travel book and article.
Sailing into the caldera of Santorini ranks as the most breathtaking moment I have experienced in the Greek Islands, 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 sleek jetboats.
The jet boats and hydrofoils get you there fast but don't cope well with high winds and waves, so the weather may stop them before the slow ferries.
Greek Islands Travel Advice
1. Ferry Reservations
Although you can reserve online, don't. Wait until you get to Athens and go to one of the multitudes of tourist agencies around Syntagma Square or near the port at Piraeus.
You have no guarantee that the schedule you saw online will be the schedule on the day you sail.
Schedules for the Greek Islands are set weekly. While they probably will go on the same hours they did last week, month, or year, there is no guarantee.
Don't worry; they are not going to run out of tickets.
2. Ferry Schedule
The Greek National Tourism Office puts out a weekly ferry schedule.
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.
3. Booking Accommodation
Because of the whimsical nature of ferry schedules, it is best not to guarantee room rental.
Unless you go to the islands in July or August, which is a terrible idea as it's the peak tourism season and, therefore, more expensive, you will not need a reservation in advance.
4. Ferry Reliability
NEVER count on a ferry, even a high-speed one, to get you back to Athens on the same day you fly home. Give yourself a day or even two in Athens before your departure.
5. Avoiding Crowds
If you yearn for less-visited Greek Islands, remember that the fewer visitors, the smaller the population, and the less frequent the ferries are.
6. Embrace the Culture
Think of all this uncertainty about schedules as your crash course in Greek culture, and instead of getting uptight about it, shrug and say, “Endaxi.” (Okay.)
Photographs by Vera Marie Badertscher. All rights reserved.