Zakynthos

The Blue Caves

Zakynthos (Greek: Ζάκυνθος), also called Zante (its Italian name), is the third largest island in the Ionian Sea, off the west coast of Greece. The island is named after Zacynthos, son of legendary Arcadian chief Dardanos.

While Ios and Kos are associated with partying, and Rhodes and Crete with families, Zakynthos is something in between. The majority of all beaches, towns, etc., are along the south and east coasts, as the west and north coasts are extremely mountainous often with cliffs dropping many hundreds of feet straight into the sea.

Understand

Zakynthos, due to mild winter rainfall, is an extremely lush island. The Venetians, who conquered it, referred to it as Il fiore del Levante, the flower of the Levant. March-May is a particularly rewarding time to visit; the island has relatively few tourists, the Easter parade takes place, and the island blooms spectacularly with a myriad of colorful flowers and lush green hills.

Zakynthos, like its neighbour Kefalonia, was heavily affected by the massive earthquake of 1953 and subsequently a lot of its stunning Venetian architecture was sadly destroyed. Ruins still lay in some parts of the island due to this. The main town was completely rebuilt and still has an uncanny resemblance to Venice's San Marco Square. It is well worth taking a look at.

The beautiful white cliffs that plunge into azure seas towards Keri have to be seen to be believed; the water is wonderfully clear and it is worth hiring a boat to see such sights.

Understand

History

Archaeological excavations have proved that Zakynthos was inhabited from the Neolithic Age. The island is first mentioned by the Greek poet and writer Homer. In his masterpieces, the Iliad and the Odyssey, he stated that the first inhabitants of Zakynthos were the son of King Dardanos, Zakynthos (which the island has been named after), of Troy and his men who settled around 1500-1600 BCE.

Over the years the island was conquered by King Arkeisios of Kefalonia, and after him Ulysses from Ithaca. Later on Zakynthos became the first independent democracy in the Hellenic area, as a treaty was signed and it lasted over 650 years.

In the summer of 1953, Zakynthos was hit by two severe earthquakes, resulting in the total destruction of the islands infrastructure and most of its state archives. The most powerful of those quakes registered 7.3 on the Richter scale occurred on 12 August and was felt throughout almost the entire country. In Zakynthos Town only three buildings were left standing: the St. Dionysios Cathedral, the National Bank building, and the church of St. Nicholas "tou Molou". The rebuilding of the island was subject to a very rigid anti-seismic code, and has thus withstood several moderate and powerful earthquakes with a minimal amount of damage, one as recently as 2005.

Mining has been common on the island. Today, however, the only activity is two quarries on the mountain range in the western part of the island. A small mountain on Zakynthos west side was mined during the late 20th-century, though it is no longer in use. Today tourism is the most important source of income and Zakynthos is currently one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greece.

Towns and villages

Get in

By plane

Zakynthos is served by one airport (ZTH), towards the south end of the island near to the resort of Laganas and Kalamaki. It receives both international and domestic flights. Almost all international flights are chartered flights from other European cities during the holiday season (May-October). Domestic flights are available between Zakynthos airport and Athens, served by the national airline Olympic Airlines. There are usually two flights a day to Athens. The journey time to Athens is approximately 1 hour. As of January 2010, EasyJet started flying to Zante from nearly all UK airports and flights are usually Thursday to Sunday. There are also flights by WizzAir to Budapest every Tuesday.

The airport is closed during the night. Queues are very long, so arrive early. Free Wi-Fi. A lot of electric sockets. No public buses go to the airport from the city. Taxis can be ordered, which cost €10-15. The airport can be reached from the city centre by foot in approximately 1 1/2 hours. Quite easy to find the way, but beware of the dogs on the way (especially close to KTEL bus station).

By ship

Zakynthos has ferry links to Kyllini on the Greek mainland from Zakynthos Town. €8.20 per person and €38 per car. Ferries to Kefalonia can be boarded at Aghios Nikolas, on the northeast tip of the island.

Get around

By public transport

There are buses that go between the most crowded areas of the island. Ask around and there will be no pain in finding the bus stops. However, bus services on the island are rather infrequent and sometimes unreliable. Taxis, however, are not too expensive.

By car

The best way to get around is by rental car. There are literally dozens of rental agencies on the island besides the big ones. Preferably get a 4WD car, as some attractions are off the main roads. Beware of the condition of some of the roads. The smaller roads may well have pot holes and even the "better" roads are extremely slippery. Also beware of other drivers. If you assume everyone else on the road is out to get you and drive accordingly it's probably the best way of dealing with it. Due to the island being fairly small and only a few major towns it's quite hard to get lost as most roads either go eventually to Zakynthos town or to Volimes in the north and you can work it out from there. Road signs are sporadic and some are bi-lingual with English and Greek, some are Greek alone. Also watch out for scooters, especially in the main tourist areas.

By motorbike/scooters

Rental agencies abound. However, scooters may be somewhat painful to ride around the island, because it is very hilly, so get something with a little bit more power.

By bike

Cycling is a pleasant way of navigating the southern and central parts of the island, if somewhat impractical in the rougher, hillier terrain of the north. Bike hire is available in all but the smallest of resorts, costing around €4-8 per day, with discounts available for multi-day hire periods. A basket and a lock will usually be included but hire shops are very unlikely to rent helmets, so bring your own if required. A new business called Bike Ride Zakynthos has started up for the 2011 season, offering tours of the island if you didn't fancy doing it alone.

See

The blooming inland of Zakynthos, where tourists rarely go
There are actually Blue Caves at 3 locations around the island:
At Cape Skinari on the northern tip of the island. These are the most spectacular. There are several boats offering trips from Agios Nikolaos Port, also from Makris Gialos Alikes and Alykanas. You can hire a "self-drive" motorboat for the day from several operators in Alykanas to visit the blue caves and then spend a leisurely afternoon exploring the northeast coast on your way back. These caves are also on the itinerary of the large round-the-island cruise ships operating out of Zakynthos town.
Keri - also pretty good
Porto Vromi - Not as spectacular, you will visit these as part of the tours to the shipwreck.
The shipwreck
The windy waters west of the island, seen from Cape Skinari

Beaches

Do

Zakynthos is not so much an island for children. The water park here is small and rather hard to get to as compared to that in Corfu. Most resorts there are relatively low-key and tourist booths are more likely to offer excursions to neighboring islands or the Greek mainland rather than concentrating on Zakynthos' beauty. This is a shame, because it is still an island where mountainside villages and hidden coves await discovery by the discerning traveller. It is well worth hiring a car.

These shy, gentle creatures nest in the south of the island during the spring and summer months, but their numbers are threatened of late, and one of the biggest culprits is undoubtedly mass tourism. Eggs that have been laid on the beaches of Laganas and Kalamaki have in the past been smashed by deck chairs or dug up by children. Turtles have been killed on Zakynthos roads after having been disoriented by the bright neon lights of the bars they mistake for the moon by which they navigate their way to the sea. Thankfully, the Greek authorities are placing emphasis on protecting the turtles with signs and volunteers reminding tourists on the beaches of their duty to respect the turtles and stay away from them.
That said, several unscrupulous firms on the island run "turtle tours", whereupon a tourist can pay to take a boat ride to "spot" the turtles. This is not a good idea. The turtles are easily distressed by this intrusion, and this has a knock-on effect on their breeding and hence is contributing to the threat to their very survival.

Eat

Traditional agricultural products are olive oil, thyme honey, currants, and wine, which can be purchased at roadside stalls or in the villages.

Zakynthos is a growing tourist island, and hence along with traditional Greek fare, one will find Anglicized cuisine. In Laganas, travellers would be more hard-pressed to find baklava than an English-fry up, but there are some very good places to eat Greek cuisine, and at very reasonable prices.

Drink

Bars are found in abundance on Zakynthos, from the lazy beach bar to clubs to British-run establishments. The beers of choice are the Greek Mythos, Alfa and Fix, though Amstel comes a close second. Drinkers looking for a more sartorial experience are advised to check out bars in Zakynthos town. There are also the local village wines (beware: strong!), the Metaxa brandy along with the standard ouzo.

The bars of Laganas can serve pretty much anything else and caters to the young drunk tourist.

Sleep

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, January 15, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.