Travel

'I fell in love with gorgeous Greek island six years ago – but I'm reluctant to return'


Overtourism is just about affecting most holiday hotspots now – with locals becoming increasingly fed up over the impact of visitors on their day-to-day lives.

In Spain, the issue is the rising cost of houses, and limited availability as cash-greedy landlords decide to rent their properties out to the masses of tourists in peak season.

And a similar issue is happening in Greece, just the locals aren’t making as much noise about it in recent months. Just over six years ago, I flew out to the beautifully serene Santorini for one of my best friend’s weddings.

I had been to other parts of Greece before and knew I was going to be greeted by friendly locals, fresh salads and blistering heat on my arrival. But I was not prepared to be completely awe-struck at the level of beauty this island beholds.

Having done little research before I arrived, I was initially curious at how quiet the island seemed as I got off the plane and hopped into a taxi to my apartment for the weekend. What a lovely little gem, I thought.

On arrival at this family-run apartment complex, I recieved the unrivalled hospitality I was expecting. Hosts who were happy to tailor the breakfast buffet to our needs, and run us into town if we needed it.

The first night arrived and being only a stone’s throw from Thira, we decided to get a shuttle bus up to the capital to get some dinner and explore. As we sat at a white-washed bar, overlooking the sea, the sunset blew us away.

From wherever you perched yourself in Thira, which is the highest point of the island, you could see for miles – and it was the most beautiful almost accidental sight I had ever clapped eyes on.

What’s more, the narrow, cobbled streets, were abuzz with locals and tourists – but there was ample room to move, and I didn’t feel for a second like I was pushing through crowds for the best spot.

Bars and restaurants were quietly busy, and the luxury in-built apartments were all their own level of quirky, with swimming pools jutting out of cliffs – making the most of those amazing sunrises and sunsets.

Wherever we walked, explored, or sat – the island was so picture perfect, relaxing and screaming exclusive luxury. I couldn’t wait to return again. But six years later I haven’t – and I’m not sure when I will.

The island’s popularity appears to have soared over the last few years with Instagram or TikTok influencers flocking to these stunning wonders of the world and uncovering them for likes and follows.

Now, the community has to cope with a whopping 10,000 tourists per day during its peak season which is enormous in comparison to the 15,000 who call the island home. As a result, resource on the island – including waste management and even energy usage skyrockets.

In 2022, Santorini and its neighbour Mykonos set the European record for overtourism, according to analysis from the German Federal Statistical Office.

In turn this also contributed 7.1% to the Greek economy that year – so there has to be a sensible balance in how such peak numbers are curbed. Cruise liners are also dropping off scores of tourists for day trips, contributing to the crowds.

A staggering 90 percent of Santorini’s economy comes from tourists alone. But Lonely Planet, a travel website, dubs the island as a “crowded party” and it’s not hard to see why.

The very spot in which I stood taking pictures of the sunset is now littered with a sea of people doing the same thing with smartphones. I was one of about three people back in 2018, but if I went in June, July or August – I’d be one of hundreds.

Will I never return? That’s unlikely. Along with many other holidaymakers wanting to avoid congested tourist traps at all costs, there has to be a way to enjoy this island. Going off-season could be one way.

But travel planning website Moon.com suggests backing away from Thira and Oia and exploring the other towns Santorini has to offer. “Emborio, Finikia, Colombo Beach, and Pyrgos all showcase the charm of Santorini without the packs of people,” it says.

Authorities are looking at ways to tackle the astronomical numbers without denting the boost it gives to the economy. According to Al Jazeera, local authorities are all trying to set up their own official tourist groups to identify what will help each island, and area.

Whether or not officials in Santorini will decide to slap a tourist tax on hotels, apartments and Airbnbs is unknown at the moment. But with Spanish islands and overcrowded European hotspots starting to levy day-trippers and overnight visitors, I don’t think it’ll be long.



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