What is a Zakynthos, you may be thinking? Is it a musical instrument? A type of pastry from Eastern Europe maybe? This island didn’t pop into my radar until a few months ago when I was planning to spend time in the Greek Islands and wanted to visit the less touristy places. I heard from a few seasoned travelers that Zakynthos was a must see. I was looking for an off the beaten path Greek Island and the fact that many people have never heard of this place is one of the reasons I chose it.
It is located in the Ionian Sea on the west side of Greece. That’s the opposite side of the more famous Cycladic islands everyone is used to seeing (for those that are geographically challenged). You’re not going to get white washed villages with blue doors and bougainvillea running amok here, like in Santorini or Mykonos. What you will get is rugged and unique beaches with spectacular topography. You will find yourself in awe of what an amazing artist mother nature is.
The airport on Zakynthos Island is serviced by several low-cost airlines from other European countries. Sky Express and Olympic Airlines have daily flights from Athens. Flying time is 55 minutes.
The Kyllini Zakynthos ferry route connects Greece with Ionian Islands and is currently operated by 2 ferry companies. The Kefalonian Lines service runs up to 4 times per day with a sailing duration of around 1 hour while the Ionian Group service runs up to 7 times per day with a duration from 1 hr. Prices range from 40 to 60 euros.
This island is big, I would recommend a car. Scooter or ATV is also ok but you move faster and more safely in a car, plus you’ll have sun protection. It is almost 2 hours from one end of the island to another.
I recommend staying in the villages in the south. Argasio, Kalamaki or Laganas all have many options. If you want more
debauchery liveliness, Laganas may be your choice. Argasio has some nightlife but also can be quiet and calm. Kalamaki is in between both geographically and in terms of said liveliness. Vasillikos is a good choice for families. All of these villages are close to the capital, Zante Town, as well as the airport.
I stayed in Argasio at the Ionian Hill Hotel and LOVED It. Note, I was not sponsored. This was my favorite place of my entire two weeks in Greece. There was a great restaurant, great view and a great vibe. In addition, the hotel had a decent location from which to explore rest of island. The southern beaches are only ten minutes south. Zante town is only ten minutes north. The sites on the north and west of the island are about one hour away. The sunset view here was not too shabby!
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The north of Zakynthos Island is where many of the most stunning places are situated. I would dedicate one full day to exploring this area.
I have to keep looking at this to remind myself that it was real. This view was mouth-watering. Not to mention, sitting on the edge of a cliff is not the safest thing. I had heard that people die here taking pictures and in my efforts to stay alive, I was extremely cautious. It may not look like it, but I wasn’t that close to the edge.
The Blue Caves are a series of natural caves that you can visit via a boat trip or swim to yourself. There is a restaurant here near the windmill. The ambience is nice but the food just OK. A gyro with a bottle of water was 8 euro which is double to price for the same in Zante town. You pay for the view I guess!
From the restaurant, walk down steps to have a swim. There isn’t much room to put your stuff. There are some free sun loungers if you get there early enough. The water is gorgeous and if you are a strong enough swimmer you can explore the blue caves without the boat tour.
Just 30 minutes south of the Blue Caves you can relax at Xigia beach. This is a beautiful cove serviced by a cafe on the cliffs above. They serve beer and snacks via a basket system which is actually really cool. The water here has large amounts of sulfur in it, if you’re wondering what the smell it.
The water color reminded me of the blue lagoon in Iceland. It is kind of cold but has pockets of warmth from the sulphur. Think of it as a huge spa. The sulfur bath is supposedly good for the skin, just a bit smelly! For 8 euro you can have 2 lounge chairs and an umbrella and enjoy the gorgeous milky blue water. There aren’t many chairs so don’t arrive too late!
If you want to explore another part of the island, there are many spectacular place on the west of the Island. All of these places have great sunset views!
There’s a charming tavern with enviable views here.
I couldn’t get enough of this place. It was so fun to swim here and explore all the little coves and caves.
The tavern here is pretty good and the views even better.
There’s random abandoned boats all over this island for some reason. The sunsets aren’t too shabby!
Keri is a cute village in the southwest of the island. The cliffs are a fabulous place to watch the sunset. There’s a cafe here too in case you like your sunset with a side of alcohol.
If you walk to the left of the cliff view you will find more breathtaking views. Be careful here…it’s a bit precarious!
The other part of the island you need to visit is the southeast. South of the capital, Zante town, there are many beaches to choose from. I recommend taking one of the boat tours from the port of Laganas. They usually take you turtle spotting as well as some swimming and snorkeling. The Loggerhead Turtle breeds in Zakynthos this time of year. There are parts of Laganas beach where the turtles nest and lay eggs. Of course these areas are protected and tourists should take care not to disturb them.
These turtle tours are controversial. There are too many boats and swimmers disturbing the turtle in my opinion. You have to be careful which tour you do. I was happy to see that the guide on my boat was very respectful of the turtle. She advised us to stay quiet and once we spent some time watching the turtle emerge for air, we left it alone. Other boats, sadly, were not so respectful.
The water color is just unbelievable. You can’t wait to jump in! Swimming through the caves, you emerge into lagoons that are the bluest blue ever!
This beautiful rocky beach is really special. There is a source of natural clay bubbling up from the ground and beachgoers can slather the mud on their bodies for a free spa-like body mask! Go to southern part of beach away from umbrellas. The place where there are big rocks in the water.
If you are wondering how best to see all these things, I can give a suggestion but there are many options of course to enjoy this island.
Day 1 Explore Zante town in the morning and see the venetian castle. Spend the afternoon at one of the beaches in the south such as Porto Zorro.
Day 2 Start early and see Shipwreck Beach from above. Then hop over to the Blue Caves for some swimming and lunch. Pose with the pretty windmill. Then drive further down the east coast to Xigia beach and spend the rest of the afternoon.
Day 3 Sleep in then drive to the west coast and hang out at Porto Limnionas. Swim and explore the caves. You can have lunch or dinner here and even stay for sunset. Or you can drive south and watch the sunset from the Keri Cliffs.
Day 4 Do a half or full day boat trip from the port at Laganas. Hopefully you can spot a loggerhead turtle. You can enjoy swimming in that perfect water and explore the Keri Caves.
Day 5 Go shopping in Kalamaki or Laganas. Choose another beach to visit. Do the things you didn’t do the previous days. Sit at your hotel pool all day! So many options.
What’s your favorite off the beaten path Greek Island? Tell me in the comments!