The Logistics of Island Hopping in Greece
Island hopping in Greece - sounds magical and divine, right? We thought so too. And then, logistics. It's easy to say, ahhh, yes, let's just hop around a few Greek islands for a couple of weeks, but how do you actually set that up? You could probably shell out beaucoup bucks and have a private yacht drive you wherever you want to go. We wouldn't know, as that was not exactly an option for us! More realistically, you probably need to rely on flights and ferries.
Once we did some research, we realized that the Greek islands are waaayyy spread out, and there's a ton of them. About 6,000. But don't worry, only a little over 200 are actually inhabited, so that narrows it down a bit! =) The islands are generally broken down into about six different regions or groupings. The most well known, and the one on which we decided to focus is the Cyclades, southeast of mainland Greece in the Aegean Sea. Santorini and Mykonos sound familiar? Yeah, they're both part of this group.
We figured we'd work in one direction, and found points flights arriving in Crete and departing from Athens, basically bookending the Cyclades. Using Pinterest, Instagram, friends' recommendations, and good old Google image searching, we narrowed it down to about eight amazing-looking island options, any combination of which we'd be happy with, and then plotted them on a Google map to get a feel of a general logical order. Then it was time to figure out how to actually travel between them.
Greece has several ferry companies, and each one has different ports of call and schedules. And there's no one website that really lets you search through all of their routings. To get a handle on what was possible, we started plugging in different scenarios (based on what seemed logical from our Google Maps plotting) on Rome2Rio.com. We quickly realized that there's tons of ferries serving the islands from Athens, but not so many from Crete. Crete is Greece's largest island, and FYI, one of our favorites. We decided to stay in Chania, more on the western side of the island. There's both an airport and a ferry terminal there, neither of which we were able to use. As far as we could tell, the only routing from Chania by ferry is to Athens, our final destination. Not very helpful. Luckily, there's also several ferry options and destinations from Heraklion port, about two hours east.
Hellenic Seaways, one of the main ferry companies, had a Cyclades route from Heraklion that went to two of our top choices, Ios (€140 for two tickets from Crete) and Paros (€52 for two tickets from Ios). (It also goes to Santorini and Mykonos, but we were lucky enough to visit Santorini a couple of years before for our friends' incredible wedding! It's an absolute must for Greece, but one time is enough unless you enjoy fending off selfie sticks from cruise ship visitors all day. We also decided one party island, Ios, was enough for us, and skipped Mykonos.) From Paros, we could easily day trip by ferry to Antiparos with a different ferry company. Great, including Crete, that took care of four of the islands we had on our list!
From Paros, we had several options of islands to visit, but we knew we absolutely wanted to check out Milos, so that was our next destination. Throughout the Greek island ferry systems, some routes are daily and the same every day. Other routes only run certain days of the week (or times of the year) and might change ports of call each day they run. Originally we thought we'd spend about 4 nights in Paros, but because of the ferry schedules from there to Milos, we could either spend 3 nights and leave at 5:30am (ugh!) or spend 6 there and leave at a much more reasonable 9:30am. We opted for the latter (€26 for two tickets from Paros).
From Milos, there were actually multiple ferries (and ferry companies) that would take us on to Athens (€115 for two tickets). Route planned! (*Note: We opted for the highspeed ferry for the Milos-Athens route, which was surprisingly almost equal in price to the slower ferry. When we got on the boat, a staff member started handing out barf bags, and we noticed that they were also available in racks positioned all around the ship. This was not something we encountered on any previous ferry rides. As soon as the boat started booking it through the water, about half of the passengers were making good use of the bags, and we realized that the faster option isn't always the better option.)
As we were traveling during the high season for Greece, we purchased our ferry tickets (and booked lodging) as soon as we had our route planned. For us, that meant just a day or two before some of our destinations, which we wouldn't recommend if it can be avoided, but it worked out fine. The tickets from Crete to Ios and from Ios to Paros were purchased online, and the rest of the tickets were bought in person. There are always tickets offices / travel agencies that don't upcharge at the port, so when we landed at those destinations, we'd immediately purchase our outbound ticket as well. The ferries were often almost full, but we never encountered a situation where we couldn't get a ticket.
Through our experiences of traveling on several different ferry lines and routes, we discovered a couple of things: most of them have very comfortable seating; some have assigned seats and others have only lounge-area seating rather than traditional row seating; unless your port of call is the origin of the route for the day, the ferry will be late. Every. Single. Time.
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