Over-Tourism in Santorini: What’s the solution?

October 03, 2019
Anula Galewska

I’ve travelled all over the world but only one country has stolen my heart; Greece. I lived in Athens when the economic crisis hit the country in 2010. Thankfully, tourism  provided a lifeline for Greece during these uncertain times and it still does today. The problem is the limited distribution of tourists; the majority of holiday makers visit the same places year on year, following the same touristy routes instead of taking a chance on lesser known areas, who often need your tourism dollars more than their inundated neighbours…

When the ‘bucket-list’ becomes a problem

Oia Village at Sunset, Santorini
Join the tourist scrum to get an instagram-worthy snap of Oia Village at sunset.... | Photo Credit: Santorini Urban Adventures

One of the world’s most well-known travel experiences is to watch the stunning sunset over Santorini. If you ask locals about the sunset however, it doesn’t always evoke a positive response. Every evening huge swathes of tourists, often in buses, swarm around the vista points to get their most instagrammable shot. To do so, they often noisily pass residential houses, stepping on the roofs.

Visitors to Santorini tend to stay in Fira and Oia as those are the destinations that are written about the most, unwilling to explore any other parts of the island. So while these towns suffer from over-tourism, others on the island suffer from the opposite problem: under-tourism.

Rebecca Skevaki, Urban Adventures Destination Manager in Santorini says:

“Santorini is a unique place with a very delicate ecosystem. Over-tourism has become a critical problem in recent years that urgently needs addressing. Not only is the traveller’s experience of Santorini negatively affected by large numbers of people with selfie sticks jostling for prime position above the caldera, but the ecology, urban geography and infrastructure of the island are all negatively affected. The soul of the island is also obscured when there are too many visitors all at once. This is a huge problem we have to deal with collectively on a daily basis.”

What you the traveller can do to help combat over-tourism in Santorini

Santorini village
Urban Adventures Santorini tour itineraries have been carefully curated to ensure that the tourism love is spread around the island, not just in the touristy hot spots. | Photo Credit: Santorini Urban Adventures

Rebecca and her team launched Urban Adventures Santorini in 2018, with the specific goal of improving the tourism experience on the island for travellers and locals. Here, she suggests 4 practical ways you can be a better traveller and help preserve the island for future generations:

1. Don’t stay in Fira or Oia

Spread the tourist love and enjoy a more relaxed experience by staying in a different town. We think Akrotiri is home to the best sunset in Santorini, while the traditional villages of Pyrgos and Emporio provide history and culture without the tourist hordes.

2.Visit off-peak

Santorini is at it’s busiest from May to September, but visit outside this peak period and you could have some of it to yourself! By visiting out of season you’re ensuring that tourism is benefiting locals all year around, not just for a few months each year. While some of the bars and restaurants may close, you can still enjoy the beaches, go hiking and watch magnificent sunsets (without the crowds!). Most wineries are open so you can enjoy a leisurely wine tasting, as are the island’s museums and historic sights. In fact, from November to March, museums waive their entry fee on the first Sunday of the month. The only downside to visiting in winter is you can’t fly direct, you’ll need to fly to Athens then take a ferry but that just adds to the adventure in our opinion.

3. Take a tour with Santorini Urban Adventures

The best of Santorini is not only the ‘Caldera’ cliffside of the island; it can also be found in the traditional villages. Urban Adventures love taking our guests to these off the beaten path places, showing them that there’s more to the island than selfie sticks and high end hotels. The views from Pyrgos village, the highest point on Santorini, are our favourite views anywhere on the island. The nearby Monastery of the Prophet Elijah (Profitis Ilias), shares these views and is a real hidden gem. Another favourite village of Rebecca’s is Emporio, a labyrinthine hamlet that’ll make you feel like “Indiana Jones” as you try to navigate your way around its narrow paths between houses. Every corner holds a different architectural gem and it’s one of the most peaceful spots on the island. We visit a small family-run cafe in the village that serves up authentic homemade goodies for your delectation. Take a tour with us safe in the knowledge that locals outside the main touristy spots are also receiving a piece of the tourism pie.

4. Avoid Donkey Rides

Santorini was built by donkeys. There are no roads among all the magnificent high-end properties that you see built on the Caldera, so throughout history right up to today, donkeys have played a vital role on the island as a key mode of transport. While most donkey owners treat their animals with care and respect, there are some that abuse their donkeys. We strongly believe that more strict rules should be enforced on the island around specific working hours/conditions and regular health checks should be carried out. Until this is put into effect, Urban Adventures will not offer donkey rides on the island. Happily, using a donkey isn’t the only way to reach Fira from the old port. You can also use the cable car, or even better, walk up the stairs and be rewarded for your efforts with stunning views.

Rebecca’s words were taken from a recent interview she did with Agrophillia, a local news site. 

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