Greece Opinion Posts

Visiting Santorini, a Beautiful Mess

Santorini is one of Greece's most famous islands. A photographers paradise, one could say. But tourism is destroying what makes this place so magical.

Let’s face it, if you are into travel, following any blogs or social accounts, have planned or just love getting away, you have likely heard of Greece’s iconic island, Santorini. If you haven’t, then you would have at least seen this photo and said to your self, “ah, that shot again.”

Famous blue domes over Santorini’s, Oia

The famous blue domes of the church in the city of Oia (pronounced ee-ya). It’s an image that is all over Greece’s tourism marketing and on every traveller Instagram page, somewhere.

Following our visit to Athens (our story here), we arrived in Santorini just at the end of shoulder season, the start of peak season, which hits its climax in August. The weather was hot, but as an Aussie, bearable. Any warmer, which it apparently can get, and it may have been a little uncomfortable.

Social platforms have changed the way we travel, and places like the Greek islands have felt this impact.

Santorini is an incredibly beautiful place and in all honesty, for once, the photos you see live up to the visual expectation of the island. From the stunning and iconic blue and white buildings to the clear waters, the island is picturesque.

Santorini, seating over the roof tops

Taking a step back, though; beneath its white luxury is a growing mess.

Twenty years ago, Santorini was known by few people and even fewer as a travel destination. Then along came social platforms, like the modern Instagram, and within what felt like a minute, turned Santorini into one of Greece’s most prominent destinations.

Quickly tourists by the boatload poured in from ships and planes to see the white city, and overnight it went from a home to Greek locals, to a tourist haven. Only a couple of thousand locals live here, compared to the 10,000 – 15,000 that can rock up daily.

Up went luxury hotels, new roads, shops and restaurants by the dozen, and more and more tourists role in.

Walking the streets of Oia, you cannot move without bumping shoulders with a fellow tourist. Lines form around corners to get photos of iconic viewpoints, and to watch the sunset you need to arrive at locations an hour or more ahead just get a spot.

They have sadly become “Tourist pushers.”

This is where the problem lies. Tourism has taken over the island and it’s slowly becoming unsustainable. The ecosystem is deteriorating bit by bit. With so many people coming in; rubbish is piling up (although unseen), and the biowaste is wreaking havoc on the surrounding environment.

Hike through the dry cliffs around Santorini

Then you have what makes Santorini so unique, tarnished by overcrowding. With so many people, it becomes a battleground, rather than a place to get away and relax. Any form of process for transportation is non-existent, and what is available, can’t handle the volume of passengers.

Lastly, is the culture of the people who live there. They have sadly become “Tourist pushers.” (If you have visited places like Morocco, you’ll know what this means). Shop owners wanting every dollar they can get by charging high prices for things as simple as bread. This removes any genuine interaction you have with a local, as their honesty becomes a chase for extra cash out of your pocket.

So what can be done about it?

I get it, in fact, a lot of people I have met get it. It’s short term thinking for a country that is going through hard times. Pump in the tourists, and we get more. But what about the long term?

The real solution and long term benefit will come with the right policies and infrastructure in place to control volumes of tourists. Not only does this make the experience more pleasurable, but makes their tourism operations more sustainable; minimising the impact on the environment, their culture and holding onto to what makes Santorini so beautiful.

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8 comments

  1. Great perspectives, both highlighting the beauty and challenges. The selected pictures convey the location’s charms.

    The over-tourism challenges are faced by other locations. Having the right policies and adequate infrastructure for right sized tourist numbers is very important. But the chase for money by locals is what will destroy any location’s pull. I have experienced interacting with locals who over-price products, services and project they care only about the money they can extract. It was not an experience that I wish to repeat.

    Such attitudes out weighs natural beauty. These locations don’t make my list.

  2. It’s really sad to know how tourists are spoiling such beautiful tourist destinations. Loved your post as it highlights some major issues.

  3. SAntorini is definitely one of the most beautiful, picturesque place on earth. The white and blue are iconic and it somehow brightens your day just by looking at it.

  4. A really thoughtful post guys. Seems to be happening in quite a few places and as much as I’d love to experience the colours and heat of Santorini myself, sadly this puts me off. I was recently reading a website Sustainable Top 100 which is an organisation that shares best practice ideas for the sustainability of communities and tourism – a great resource for travellers as well as countries that are interested in supporting a new kind of tourism that’s growing (conscientious people like you guys). Hopefully Santorini will find a good balance for itself in the future.

  5. I loved reading your perspective. I agree wholeheartedly that over-tourism is a real thing and has changed certain destinations forever. I have read that cruise ships have contributed negatively to places like Santorini, and you have confirmed it.

    Having said that, I am torn. I want to visit all these beautiful places, yet I don’t want to negatively impact their way of living.

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