Welcome to Zakynthos - Greece

Zakynthos, also Zante, the other form often used in English and in Italian (Greek: Ζάκυνθος; Venetian: Zacinto), is the third largest of the Ionian Islands. It covers an area of 410 km2 (158 sq mi) and its coastline is roughly 123 km (76 mi) in length. The island is named after Zakynthos, the son of a legendary Arcadian chief Dardanus. The name, like all similar names ending in -nthos, is pre-Mycenaean or Pelasgian in origin. Zakynthos has a thriving tourism industry.

Zakynthos Town – capital, on the east coast. This has the main shops, piazza and harbour from which the frequent ferries to the mainland port of Kyllini depart and arrive.

Things to do in Zante:

Zakynthos, due to mild winter rainfall, is an extremely lush island; the Venetians referred to it as Il fiore del Levante– the Flower of the Levant. March-May is a particularly rewarding time to visit; the island is relatively low on 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.

Blue Caves

East of Cape Skinari, on the northern part of the island, are the Blue Caves. A series of geological formations have created the seascape. Natural arches have been carved out by erosion, but these caves are most famous for the color of the water in it’s deepest hollows, a deep azure color which is most striking in the morning when the light is at it’s brightest, hence the name Blue Caves. Kianoun cave is the biggest of the caves. In order to reach there you can hire a boat or go on a tour.

You can’t miss ads by the tour operators. There are actually Blue Caves at 3 locatins 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 from several operators in Alykanas to visit the blue caves and then spend a leisurely afternoon exploring the north-east 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 ship wreck. Shipwreck (Navagio)

The shipwreck

Originally a smuggler ship, which lost engine power in 1981 and was washed ashore in a magnificent small bay. Featured in Greek tourist ads, it is on the west coast and best visited by going there from Porto Vromi. Go there either early in the morning or in the afternoon (>15:00), as in the time between the big around-the-island cruise ships anchor there and the beach is heavily crowded – its not rare to have 20 boats all moored each putting a few hundred people ashore at once. Going there in off-peak times ensures you will have the beach pretty much to your own.

Be aware the wreck is very sharp and its very possible to injure yourself if not careful For the ultimate picture, follow the signs to the Agios Gergio Kremnao monastery – when you arrive there, use the road to your right to get to a small viewing platform some 600ft above the wreck and is where most of the picture postcard shots are taken from. It can actually be nicer to see it from this perspective than up close and personal on the beach itself.

Agios Nikolaos beach in Vassilikos

Termed the best beach on the island, on the south eastern peninsula near Vassilikos. You can get there also by free shuttle services from Laganas, Kalamaki, and Argasi – although it should be noted that in order to get a ticket to get the shuttle back again you have to pay to use a sun lounger (currently €4). Water sports (diving, jet skis, etc.) are offered, as well as a big beach bar. This is not to be confused by the Agios Nikolaos village in the north of the island which shares little in common with this one!

Alikes/Alykanas

A long stretch of beach in front of the 2 resorts with plenty of facilities, sunbeds, watersports. To the west of the Skourtis river mouth is Alikes, to the east is Alykanas. The Alikes section is quite narrow and also quite stony in places, backed by numerous bars and restaurants, mostly competing to be the least Greek.

A walk of around 1km from Alykanas resort centre, through “Old” Alykanas village, brings you to the peaceful Xehoriati Beach. This narrow stretch of fine sand has beautiful views across to Kefalonia and the Peloponnese, and shelves out very slowly offering safe swimming with a number of rocky reefs for interesting snorkelling.

Dafni

Access to this is via a steep hilly road in between Argassi and Vassilikos. This is a lovely sandy beach located again in the marine reserve with a complete ban on traffic. It’s a quiet beach that has only a few local on the beach tavernas for food and drink along with sunbeds.

Gerakas

the main loggerhead turtle nesting beach located at the far south of the vassilikos penninsula inside the total marine excusion zone. This is a large long and wide sandy beach and gently shelving shore with sun beds and umbrellas provided. Some areas of the beach are off limits due to turtles nesting and the beach is closed at dusk for the same reason. There is a steep hill or steps leading from the cliff top to get down to the beach. A car park is provided but in busy periods this can fill up. Also near here are several tavernas for food and toilets.

Kalamaki to Laganas

the resort of Kalamaki shares a long uninterrupted sandy beach that runs from here to Laganas a few miles away. In some places it can be crowded but the further towards the middle you get the fewer people you find and given its size its possible to find somewhere quiet.

Do

Round the Island – due to the small size of the island with a rental car its perfectly possible to drive a complete lap of the island stopping at some interesting places on the way. For example, starting at Zakynthos town, dive north along the coast road and visit Tsilivi, continue past Alykes and Alykanes. The on that east coast road the scenery gets more impressive as you climb towards the mountains. This road then drops into the picturesque resort of Agios Nikolaos. From there you traverse the north coast passing Navagio (aka shipwreck) and the viewing platform and Volimes in the mountains where local arts and crafts can be bought. Then to the west coast travelling south the bay of Limnionas is extremely pretty, quiet with just a taverna that serves excellent food. Further south from there you have Kampi with stunning clifftop views and eventually Keri lighthouse with more stunning views, especially at sunset.

Scuba Diving – although like the rest of Greece the area is devoid of much fish life due to massive overfishing the south of the island has a few decent sites such as “The Arch” and Keri Caves. Numerous dive operators run out of Laganas, Keri and elsewhere.

Turtle spotting – The endangered loggerhead turtle uses the beaches for its nesting and a marine reserve has been established in the south around the Laganas bay area to protect these (although it appears to be completely ignored outside tourist season!) Many outfits in Laganas, Kalamaki and even Vassilikos offer short or full day trips including swim stops to look for these turtles. You stand most chance of seeing them between May and early July with the numbers decreasing after this.

In case you are interested in Greek modern history, visit the Dionysios Solomos museum in Zaknthos Town, dedicated to the national poet of the Greeks, who wrote the nation’s national anthem.

Relax on a beach – probably the most popular thing to do in Zakynthos!

Tourist Don’t:

Zakynthos is home to the endangered loggerhead turtle. 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.

What to Eat:

Traditional agricultural products are olive oil, (thyme) honey, currants, and wine, which can be purchased at road-side stalls or in the villages.

Fresh fish, Kokinisto meat, kokoras krasatos, avga saltsa, kouneli kokinisto, spetzofai - please write this down or memorize them ;)

Getting around and to/ from Zante:

By plane

Zakynthos is served by one airport (airport code ZTH), located towards the south end of the island near to the resort of Laganas and Kalamaki, it caters for 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. The journey time to Athens is approximately 1 hour.

By ship

Zakynthos has ferry links to Kyllini on the Greek mainland from Zakynthos Town 8.2€ per person and 38€ per car. Ferries to Kefalonia can be joined at Aghios Nikolas, on the North-East 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 located 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 its 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 most 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, more hilly 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 hire helmets, so bring your own if required.

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