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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Peru, Lake Titikaka

I do not like getting up early. I love sleeping in. I’m a night owl, stay up late, wake up later. My best work is usually done late in the evening. But even though I feel this way, I can not ignore how good it feels to get up early and to be the first to get to something special before anyone else.

Crowds are the least most exciting part of travelling. Waiting in lines to get on the plane, or to get on a ride at a theme park, it’s like that annoying nephew who picks up a box of lego, pores it all over the floor, and leaves it for you to have to pick it all up piece by piece.

I’ve mentioned this previously, I will be first to say I’m not a photographer in the truest sense of the word, but I love trying to chase the perfect shot. To create that lasting memory exactly the way it felt at the time and how my eyes percieved it to look.

Arriving late to a location, for me, has resulted in disapointment as crowds of people are marching all of the place. As such, it’s never going to be possible to get the shot I want. Instead, you’re stuck with pictures of people zooming around behind you trying to do the same thing as you.

 Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Was the first in line at opening time!

Morning also presents one of the best times of the day to take pictures. The sun isn’t too bright, and the nice shade creates images rich in colour. The same can be said for the evening sun, but again it presents the issue of crouds of people interrupting your shot.

So why do I enjoy getting up early when I’m travelling – becuase I can avoid lines and crowds, enjoy the activity with minimal to no people, and get that perfect shot I enjoy chasing.