Santorini is a volcanic island known for it’s mind-blowing caldera views, dramatic cliffs, and cave houses. It’s also known as a luxurious honeymoon destination. We’ve been asked repeatedly, “How did you do Santorini on a budget?” Well, here’s your answer. Our guide will highlight when to go, where to stay, what to see, where to eat, and of course, add a few suggestions on where to splurge.
Given the geologic history of the region, Santorini’s landscape is unlike any other destination in the world. The white cave houses built on the remnants of extinct volcano make the island dreamy and picturesque. This makes Santorini a very popular wedding and honeymoon destination and a major cruise ship port.
Although we enjoyed our visit, certain areas felt crowded and overrun by tourists. We couldn’t possibly imagine visiting in July or August during the summer high season. I cannot stress it enough, try to visit in the shoulder season.
Sadly, mass tourism has taken its toll and has made some parts of Santorini feel like a soup sandwich. This is why we recommend visiting places like Pyrgos and Vothonas, where you can get away from the crowds and a get a sneak peak into traditional Santorian life.
When to Go
The best times to visit Santorini is between April and early June or early September to November. Not only will it be considerably cheaper during these months, but it will be a much more pleasant experience. The island will be less bombarded with tourists, traffic will be less congested, and locals may be in a better mood.
If we could recommend the ideal time to visit, we’d suggest early June and early September. During these months, the weather is still warm and most tourists are back to work or school. In addition, prices drop significantly during the shoulder season. The key to saving money on this island paradise is timing. The prices rise dramatically during July and August!
Many tourists opt to use the ferries as their main mode of transportation to explore the different islands. In addition, flying directly into Santorini can be expensive. You may save a lot of money by flying into Athens and then taking the ferry to Santorini. After our visit, we ferried from Santorini back to Athens on the Blue Star Ferry. The entire journey takes approximately eight hours and costs approximately $40 USD per person one way.
Perissa – 3 nights ➡️ Kamari – 4 nights ➡️ Firostefani – 2 nights
We stayed for three nights in Perissa. If we could have revised our original itinerary, we would have spent more time in Perissa and less time in Kamari. Perissa was the least crowded of the three areas where we stayed. We loved the long, thick stretch of the black sand beach. The seaside promenade felt quaint and romantic.
Ancient Thira, on Mesa Vouno Mountain, is the dramatic backdrop and provides serene views both day and night. One of our favorite experiences was hiking to the top of Mount Vouno. There is a clearly marked trail that easily guides you up to the top. Only people and donkeys are allowed on this trail! The climb up takes around 45 minutes to an hour depending on your pace.
💰 BS Travel Tip – If you hike to the top of the Mesa Vouno Mountain from the Kamari side, you’ll have to navigate around cars and ATVs because much of the trail is a paved road.
🍽 Budget Eats
💰 BS Travel Tip – The best deal can be found at Pepito’s. Customers are allowed to use the sun beds and umbrellas with any purchase. Their wifi also reaches the beach. Spend around 5€ for two gyros and get a sun bed, umbrella, beach access, and wifi!
Perissa had a sleepy, laid back beach vibe with a romantic promenade and roomy, black sand beach. Shopping for groceries can be much more difficult though as there seemed to be only a few small stores within walking distance.
Kamari is a small, seaside village on the southwest part of Santorini. Although Perissa and Kamari look very close together on a map, it’s approximately a 20 minute drive between the two villages. This is due to the fact that Mesa Vouno Mountain (the mountain with Ancient Thira at the top) stands between the two villages.
When researching the differences between Kamari and Perissa, we came to believe that Perissa was more for “backpackers” and Kamari was more for the “sophisticated.” After visiting both, we felt like it’s the exact opposite.
Although Perissa doesn’t enjoy nearly as many luxury hotels as Kamari, it generally felt more quiet, laid-back, and natural. Kamari seemed more congested, touristy, and expensive. However, if you’re looking for a bit more nightlife and action, Kamari will be more your scene.
We stayed in Zacharakis Studios for four nights at approximately 50€ a night. There were many highlights to staying here. We enjoyed having a great view, kitchenette, and an outdoor balcony overlooking the pool.
We didn’t necessarily think the room was cleaned very well though. Additionally, the owner of the hotel has numerous cats and dogs roaming the property, so there’s cat food and hair everywhere on the first floor. Luckily, we were located on the 2nd floor so it didn’t impact our stay, but it was enough of an issue that we’re bringing it up here. Also, we had a couple of nights when a trio of female backpackers came back late at night and began screaming in their room. Compared to our other budget accommodations, which were immaculately clean and quiet, this one felt a bit unkempt and uncomfortable.
🍽 Budget Eats
If you’re looking to balance a family vacation with a bit of nightlife, or just more of a livelier scene, than Kamari would be more for you.
Our last stop was in Firostefani. For our last two nights, we wanted to be closer to the caldera and the famous Santorini sunset viewpoint. Keep in mind, as you move closer to Oia, the prices will begin to rise. The main villages from the south moving north are: Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli, and Oia.
Firostefani is a 10 minute walk from Imerovigli, along the main caldera promenade. We chose Firostefani because Imerovigli is where prices begin to get much more expensive (as you move closer to Oia). Additionally, the other option is Fira, where cruise ships arrive. Although it will save you money staying in Fira, it most likely will not be worth the headache. This entire village is touristy, congested, and busy. (No, thanks!)
To avoid the crowds in Oia, we opted to watch the famous Santorini sunset on Skaros Rock. It’s about a 30 minute walk from Firostefani.
We stayed at Villa Fotini for 50€ a night and really recommend a stay here. It was basic, yet very clean, with a nice outdoor patio. Units in the second floor have a fabulous cave shower. Just note that this accommodation does not have a pool or a kitchenette. The manager (Maria) was a really great friendly person! As a bonus, the hotel offers free pickups from the airport. Side note, during low season, you probably could get a free ride (from Maria) from nearly anywhere on the island simply by inquiring with her.
🍽 Budget Eats
The caldera and cave house views are pretty spectacular! Staying in Firostefani, in order to get this experience on a budget, is even better!
Before departing for Santorini, we planned on simply using the network of local buses to get around the island. Fortunately, during our stay, we were able to work around using the bus system by planning our excursions around days that we were changing hotels/locations. We were picked up at one hotel and dropped off at the end of the day at another. The bus system is extremely affordable, and based on first-hand knowledge, extremely reliable and comfortable.
ATV Rental and Island Transportation
Another great option to get around the island is by renting an ATV. Riding around the island in an ATV is really one of the must-do activities. We were planning on renting a scooter, however the law in Greece requires drivers to have an international drivers license for any motorized bike.
We rented with Simos at Motor Inn Rentals in Kamari. It is the oldest, most established rental company on the island and very reputable. If you’re looking for a reputable ATV rental, this is a great option. We also appreciated that we could bring back the ATV after closing time. Check out our VLOG below showcasing a typical day out touring the island via ATV.
Looking to Splurge on an Amazing Experience?
We were able to connect with a few local companies during our visit. If you’re looking for some guided tours, consider contacting Santorini Unique Experience Tour or Sunset Oia Sailing.
On the Ground
We reached out to Santorini Unique Experiences Tour in order to receive a great overview of the entire island of Santorini by a local. It also included a stop at a local winery where we enjoyed a wine tasting. It was a great way to see the island in one organized, carefree day. We appreciated the luxury of being transported all over the island in a luxurious and comfortable van. While the driver worried about traffic and logistics, we sat back to a wonderfully narrated and picturesque tour of beautiful Santorini.
The highlight of our experience was meeting our guide, Kevin. He was a Chicago native now living in Santorini for nearly a decade. He knew of all the ideal locations to share of his island. We appreciated having someone take us to where the crowds weren’t! Overall, we highly recommend this tour to those who seek out a troublefree, all encompassing, insightful tour of beautiful Santorini. If you’re in Santorini for only a day or two, or visiting on a cruise ship, than this tour is an absolute must!
On the Sea
Sailing inside the caldera is a great way to get a unique perspective from sea level and to appreciate the unique geology of the volcano. We reached out to Sunset Oía Sailing Tours to get out us out on the water. If you’re considering a catamaran cruise, feel free to see what our experience was like while on their day sailing tour.
This guide shows that Santorini can be done on a budget. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us. We’ll be happy to help make your dream to visit this unique island paradise a reality!