Five things you need to know about Zakynthos, Greece:
Zakynthos is the third largest island in the Ionian Islands, located off the west coast of Greece.
We stayed at Alykes, a quieter section of the island, known for watersports and family resorts.
Most famous for– Navagio Beach (also known as “The Shipwreck Beach”) and the Blue Caves.
Looking for a party? – Laganas is famous for its wild parties.
Budget– $150 a day (including accommodation. Zakynthos is fairly inexpensive and most of the shops sell affordable memorabilia.
Score– 9 out of 10, but mostly because of the breathtaking views and the 80s cocktails.
Blue Caves, Zakynthos, Greece
Last summer my friend and I called for an emergency meeting- something needed to change. I was unemployed and single, she was overworked and tired, so we decided we needed a vacation. The parameters for this said girls trip were quite simple- it needed to have a beach, cocktails, good food, cute boys (for me) and some peace and quiet (for her). Oh, and the most important part? It needed to be cheap. Impossible, right?
Well, I did a random “best beaches in the world” kind of Google search, closed my eyes, and pointed at one of the destinations. I landed on Zakynthos, Greece. Whenever you search Zakynthos anywhere, the one image that pops up is of a glorious white beach and crystal blue water. Greece is one of my favorite places in the world, and I could instantly picture myself sitting on that beach, where a flock of Grecian gods will feed me olives and grapes. Done. That was good enough for me. “Pack your bags, let’s go!” I yelled at Avia, my friend, leaving her in the dust as I ran to the airport.
Well, like the cool, hip travelers we are, we were looking forward to our two-hour flight. I wanted to read, she wanted to play Candy Crush, we were all set to go – that is, until the plane was filled with hundreds of teenagers, all flying to Zakynthos with us, ready to party. It turns out there’s a part of Zakynthos that is commonly known as “Party Central.” “Ok, everything is fine.” We smiled nervously as they popped out speakers and selfie sticks. “We are also young and it’s just a two-hour flight after all.”
Twenty minutes later (of me trying to act as though I was loving the Justin Bieber tune that was playing loudly), I called the flight attendant. “We are not cool, we are 34, and we need some quiet time now,” I begged, knowing I had lost all street cred. We landed safely in the tiny Zakynthos airport, and to our relief were taken by our taxi driver to the opposite side of the island, leaving our new young friends behind.
Peace, at last.
We arrived at our hotel and were greeted by Katrina, the hotel owner, and shortly after, by a huge pink cocktail and a lovely sunset. The hotel wasn’t fancy by any means, but it was located on a private beach and was close to everything we needed. We ate tzatziki, a delicious yogurt dip mixed with garlic and cucumbers, we drank ouzo, we marveled at the peaceful sound of the ocean, and then we went to sleep. Not too bad for our first day in Zakynthos.
But, the best was yet to come. The next morning, we decided it was time to explore the island. Our initial plan was to rent an ATV and drive around, a plan that was quickly abandoned because of the horrified look on the owner’s face after we took him on a test ride. Fine, we thought, we will rent a manual car and we’ll easily cruise around the island. Two minutes after we started driving we encountered a steep hill, and the car stopped. And then started to roll backward. FAST.
I jumped out of the car and yelled at the cars behind us to get out of the way, when all of a sudden Avia managed to start the car again and then off she went, zooming up the hill, leaving me behind. “Is your friend coming back?” asked the polite English gentleman whose car I had just stopped. “No sir!” I yelled, “She is never coming back! She can’t stop!”
After he dropped me off at her car, we realized this vehicle was not made for hills and mountains, which Zakynthos has loads of, and we were not stopping, for anything, ever.
We zoomed by stop signs, other cars, and screaming people, knowing that if we slowed down, the car would stop again. We frantically drove through glorious views, yet only stopped when we reached our destination. Finally, hearts pounding and sweat dripping, we reached the small boat that was to take us to Shipwreck Beach, the same beach that popped up in every photo we saw.
Let me tell you, it was worth it.
The boat ride to the beach passed some truly spectacular rural nature, but as we get closer and closer to Shipwreck Beach, the water got clearer and brighter, and the mountains got whiter and steeper. The boat finally stopped a few meters from the beach, and we jumped in the water and swam to shore, amazed and almost overwhelmed by the surreal florescent blue water, a color that I hadn’t seen anywhere before. It was truly a magical moment.
After we came back from the hour-long stop at Shipwreck, we rented a boat that had a slide attached to it, grabbed a few beers and spent a few hours sliding up and down our private little boat, drinking and staring at the amazing view.
The rest of our weekend went by with some more cocktails and some more of Zakynthos breathtaking views. The island’s party scene was a few miles away in a town called Laganas, so we enjoyed a fairly quiet and peaceful time. By the end of the trip, we declared ourselves victors’ of the car drive from hell (which we fondly dubbed “El Diablo”) and survivors of the flight back that made it very clear that the vacation was over (hello, Justin Bieber fans, we meet again).
Navagio Beach, Zakynthos, Greece