Santorini is not known for its beaches. People kept telling me that before I visited Greece and it didn't make any sense to me. Why would Santorini, consistently heralded as one of the world's greatest islands, not be known for its beaches?
As I started looking into hotels last summer, it became a little clearer. Santorini is beloved for its caldera, the semi-circular crater-cliff sticking out of the Aegean Sea that comprises the west edge of the island. Usually, beachfront hotels are the most expensive and desirable. But in Santorini, it's all about being on the cliff so you have the best views.
We stayed in Villa Illias, which offers an excellent cliffside location in Firostefani for the price. The rooms were clean and well-maintained, but nothing fancy. Its best perk was that not its terrace not only offered incredible views (pictured left) but also a pool. (Because of the cliff set-up, surprisingly few hotels offered pools with great views.)
The pool was good-sized by Santorini caldera standards but it was not the kind of pool where you would want to spend the entire day. As tough as it was to tear ourselves away from the view, we wanted to go to the beach. Santorini has several beaches and the first one we decided to visit was Kamari. A black sand beach that wasn't too far away, it seemed like a good choice for the first day.
We walked to Fira to catch the bus to Kamari (pictured right). Getting on the bus was a little crazy — first we had to figure out where to buy tickets and then everyone stormed the bus, which was a large luxury coach-type. But we succeeded in getting seats and then it was about a 15-minute ride.
We had a nice few hours at Kamari, but overall it was a bit of a disappointment. The black sand beaches I had been to in Hawaii had fine, soft sand. The sand here was actually pebbles that were so large that it was painful to walk barefoot. I even went swimming in my flip flops. I was learning the hard way why Santorini is not known for its beaches.
The next day we rented a car so we would have the freedom to explore the island without relying on the limited bus system. We focused on the southern half, hitting Pyrgos, Monastery of Profitis Ilias and Megalchori. We finished up the day at the Red Beach, which is by the southern tip of the island near the still-closed Minoan archaeological site of Akrotiri. We were intrigued by the name of the Red Beach and by the idea of red sand. We didn't know much about it beyond that and we didn't want to get our hopes up because of Kamari. However, it turned out to be among the most spectacular beaches I have ever seen. It has to be best beach in Santorini.
When we arrived in the parking area, we couldn't see much of anything because of the way the beach is situated. Then we climbed up one up a small hill and saw that there was a fantastic beach on the other side. To get there, you had to walk along the rocks on a narrow path. It looked a little scary, but it wasn't when you were actually on it. And the hanging out at Red Beach was more than worth the mini-hike.