5 days in a Greek paradise – Zakynthos (Zante)
When most people think of the Greek Islands, the ones that come to mind are Santorini or maybe Mykonos. There are so many more islands in Greece that are worth exploring and given we had already seen the more popular islands, we thought we’d give Zakynthos a try, especially since we found out ‘that’ photo from TripAdvisor’s home page is taken on this very island!!!
Getting to the island
We were lucky enough to pick up some pretty cheap flights, our flight to Athens was with Avios points and then we picked up a cheap domestic flight from Athens to Zakynthos with Olympic airlines. You can also get a direct flight from Zakynthos to London Luton with Monarch Airlines. We quickly booked them before they got booked up or the prices sky rocketed!!
Getting around the island
The best way to get around this fairly small island is by rental car. We booked our car through rentalcars.com and had no problems whatsoever. I’d highly recommend reading our blog on hiring a car in Europe for some tips and tricks when choosing this option!
Everything on the island is no further than 1.5 hours away. So, if you plan it properly you can see a couple of key sights in one day! The roads are good, and the drivers somewhat friendly! You’ll find when you drive around the island, there are plenty of windy roads in and out of mountain ranges… I found it quite fun to drive through, Jenna however, found it a little scary with the roads being so windy and fairly high up.
It is helpful to have a GPS, so either rent one from the car company, or use your mobile phone for Google Maps. Just make sure you read our tips on using your mobile phone abroad!!
Unfortunately for us, the start of our holiday served us with very average weather.. it was warm, but very overcast and threatening rain clouds. It was our first day, and we were eager to get out and see the sights! We jumped in to our hire car, and off we went en route to Porto Limionas. With the help of our GPS, we started driving through some incredibly windy roads, in between mountains and all of a sudden, the clouds turned into storm clouds, the rain was so heavy… then followed the thunder and lightning! Driving through the little villages was pretty cool – we were pretty much the only people around, it seemed deserted! Jenna was pretty excited as it was the first real storm we had witnessed since living in London!
Take a look at our quick GoPro video of our drive to Porto Limionas.
We started to think to ourselves that this was going to be a bit of a nightmare, exploring beaches in the rain – who does that?
Well, after about 50 minutes of driving, the rain started to die down and we arrived at our first point of call, Porto Limionas. Even with the weather, the place was incredible, the water was rough and choppy, the clouds dark and stormy but you could still see how amazingly beautiful this place is.
5 Days in a nutshell
Day 1: Porto Limionas and Navagio Beach from the top
Day 2: Porto St Nicholas, Navagio Beach (by boat), Mikro Nissi and Xigia Beach
Day 3: Keri Beach, Kalamaki Beach and Laganas Beach
Day 4: Turtle Spotting – half day tour and Zakynthos town
Day 5: Spend one day relaxing at the hotel pool before flying back to reality
What to see
Navagio Beach (Shipwreck Beach), aka the Trip Advisor Photo!!
A trip to Zakynthos is not complete without two separate trips to Navagio Beach.
The below is an overview of our time at Navagio Beach. For more detailed information, please click here for our blog post specifically on Navagio!
You’re probably wandering why you need two separate trips? Well, you MUST see the view from the top looking down, it is simply not to be missed. The moment you look over the edge and see the colour of the water, your immediate reaction is ‘WOW’, how can that be real?
We went on an overcast and drizzly day and the water colour was still perfect, it seemed unreal and if we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes, we wouldn’t have believed anyone who tried to tell us!
To get to this spot, it is quite easy, all you need to do is punch in Navagio Beach in to your GPS and it will take you to the parking spot and the walk down to the viewing spot is only a minute away.
We happened to wander through some bushland to a different vantage point and saw some guys setting up for their jumps the following day! They kindly took our GoPro and took some incredible photos for us – I don’t know about you, but this 200m drop is enough to make Jenna’s stomach feel funny, which means I’m constantly in trouble when I go near the edge!
The second trip will be via boat so you can swim at the beach and explore the shipwreck.
We pre booked our spot on a tour with Theodosius Cruises and the boat departed at 10.30am from St. Nicholas in Volimes. This spot is located near the top right of the island and took us around an hour to get there from our hotel.
The tour cost us €15 per person and lasted a couple of hours. It was a 20 minute speed boat right to get to Navagio Beach and we spent an hour on the beach exploring the shipwreck and having a swim in the bluest of blue water.
We then went to the gorgeous blue caves and were lucky enough to go in to one for a closer look! And from here, we stopped at another cave for a swimming stop and we were able to swim right in to one of the caves and swim in the perfectly clear water.
This was our first stop on our first full day in Zakynthos. The drive was around an hour, and we drove through the mountains, there was thunder, lightening and rain (at only 9.30am!!) but when we got there, we were nearly the only people there (obviously due to the weather) but that didn’t stop us enjoying what was a beautiful stop!
Although it wasn’t calm, the water was a gorgeous colour and you could only imagine what it would look like if the weather wasn’t so stormy! There is a diving board there you can jump off in to the water and you can even swim over to the cave to see what it was like inside.
There is a little beach tucked away around the corner. To get there, you have to climb over a few rocks but it is a fairly secluded beach and quite nice if you want to take a dip without jumping into the deep water!
There is this lovely restaurant there where you can order some food and drinks at a very good price!! From memory, the cocktails were only €5 and the beer €2. You can hire sun lounges and umbrella’s there which looked perfect and if you get there early enough, you can get your chairs in the front so you have uninterrupted views of the water! You can easily spend the entire day here!! Again, it is such an easy place to find, you just type in Limnionas Port in to your GPS and away you go!
Hint: You can see both Navagio Beach from the viewing platform as well as Porto Limnionas in one day if you have a car as they are both on the west cost of the island. The drive is around 1 hour between the two destinations.
Porto St Nicholas
We stopped at this port as our day trip to Navagio Beach left from here. I would necessarily recommend coming here to spend time here as a tourist without doing a boat trip. However, it is nice watching the boats come and go from the port and the water is still very clear and I’m sure would be nice for a swim!
We actually found this little beach as a result of looking at recommended restaurants on trip adviser and this beach is attached to a restaurant!
It was such a beautiful spot to spend a couple of hours swimming. From El Sueno, you walk down a lovely stairway to get to the rocky beach where you can either jump off the rocks in to the water, or you can go in via a small ladder to the right.
The water is crystal clear and there are so many little fish swimming around! Make sure you take your snorkel so you can enjoy what this area has to offer!
After we stopped at Mikro Nissi, we started our journey back to Zakynthos, with a stop along the way to Xigia Beach.
This beach is something different to all other beaches on the island. This beach has an underwater sulphur source so there is a strong smell a this beach. It is believed that the water is good for your skin so many people decide to spend some time in the water!
Hint: You can visit Porto St Nicholas, Navagio Beach (by boat), Mikro Nissi and Xigia Beach in one day as these are all located on the east cost of the island.
After reading about Laganas Beach (aka Turtle Beach) I had to make sure I went there for the chance to swim with turtles!
Having done some research, I quickly realised that this wouldn’t be possible, but we went for a drive to the beach anyway. We parked the car, walked down to the beach and very quickly realised that there was going to be zero chance of seeing any turtles. The beach was filled with tourists on sun beds, water sports and many boats… We spoke with one of the locals who said that Kalamaki Beach in the Nature Reserve is the best spot, but usually only before 7am or after around 7pm as this is when the turtles nest. We quickly hopped in to the car and drove around 10 minutes to get to Kalamaki Beach.
At Kalamaki Beach, you can see many timber huts that have been built to protect the turtle nests.
We were hoping for some to hatch while we were there, but no such luck unfortunately. We spent some time on the beach sunbaking and making the most of the incredibly clear water!
There are national park staff walking up and down the beach to ensure people aren’t sitting too close to the nests and the greek government have banned flights between these times to protect and promote the nesting of the turtles.
We were looking to go and see the lighthouse at Keri, however we stumbled across the beach instead! The beach was absolutely gorgeous with views to Marathonisi Island (Turtle Island).
It is given this name because it actually is in the shape of a turtle! There are plenty of trees around to give you shade from the piping hot sun and the water temperature is lovely! There is a little kiosk there so you can buy snacks, drinks and ice cream as well.
Hint: You can visit Keri Beach, Kalamaki Beach and Laganas Beach in one day – they are all at the south of the island.
Zakynthos Town: We stopped by Zakynthos town one afternoon just to take a look.
To be honest, it wasn’t really worth seeing. There are a few restaurants and shops there, but there is so much more to the island than this, so unless you have a heap of spare time I wouldn’t worry about stopping in.
Turtle Spotting (loggerhead sea turtle, or Caretta Caretta in Greek)
Zakynthos is famous for its turtles! If you go in the right season and at the right time, you might be lucky enough to see some turtles hatch and make a run for it to the ocean! Given how busy the beaches are and how unlikely it is to see this for ourselves, we decided to take a half day trip out and go turtle spotting! We pre-booked our tickets at a local tourist centre in Argassi, however the boat was completely fully booked up for the next 4 days… The staff person kindly rang and spoke with the company who advised that they had just put a last minute extra boat on for the Saturday afternoon and had two seats spare! Phew! The company we booked with was CruiseMar. It was by far the BEST option if you’re looking to get out on the water.
The boat was incredible and the staff super friendly and funny. There is a glass bottom section of the boat, but I think the best spot is up next to the skipper!
Because we seemed to have the best boat on the water, we seemed to get prime spot for the turtle spotting. Within 5 minutes out on the water, we were lucky enough to see a turtle! It was pretty amazing… they are such beautiful creatures.. and surprisingly big. The loggerhead sea turtles (caretta caretta) have a lifespan of up to 67 years, on average measure 90cm long and weigh around 135 kg when fully grown!
After turtle watching, you stop by some caves and then lastly stop Marathonisi Island, also known as Turtle Island for a swim stop. On the island, there is a guy selling ice cream, beer and chips etc so if you feel like a snack, you will find what you need.
Where to stay
There are so many locations on the island you can stay at so picking a place can be tricky!! We decided to stay at Argassi which is located on the south east of the island, just 20 minutes away from the airport. The hotel we picked was the 4* Ionian Hill Hotel as it was a pretty good price for a 5 night stay.
The pool area overlooks the Ionian Sea which is perfect, and next to the pool is the restaurant and bar. They serve breakfast from 8am until around 10.30am and then have snacks available to buy from around midday until 6pm and then a dinner menu from 6pm – 11pm. The rooms are fairly basic, they provide you with towels and sheets, although the flat sheet is only folded so you need to make that part of the bed for yourself. Upon request, the hotel can provide guests with a pool towel, although we didn’t know this at the time of our stay.
Where to eat
We had been told how cheap Greece is for food and drinks, but we never expected it to be as cheap as it was. In any given restaurant along the main street, if you paid more than €10 for a main meal, that meal would be considered expensive! Of course there are ‘fancy’ restaurants around which are more expensive, but on the whole you can get incredibly cheap food and drinks.
Anadalis: We wanted to book one really nice dinner during our stay in Zakynthos to celebrate the end of our 2 years living in London. There are a lot of restaurants in the area, but not a lot of them are actually on the beach. We came across Anadalis restaurant.
It is part of the Windmill Bay Aparthotel and is situated right on the beach front. We pre-booked a table for the Saturday evening, and asked to be seated along the water as it was a lovely atmosphere. If you arrive just before sunset, you can enjoy eating your meal or sipping a cockail while watching the sunset.
For starters, I tried stuffed eggplant, it doesn’t look great, but it was delicious!
We both ordered the steak (you have no idea how much we were craving one by this stage of our travels) and Jenna enjoyed some delicious passionfruit cocktails. The restaurant also has live music in the evenings, it is really a perfect setting!!
El Sueno: We came across this restaurant after looking on Trip Advisor for nice places to eat. When we realised it was close to one of our stops, we knew we had to try it out! The restaurant is fairly popular and it was pretty busy when we were there, and it was just outside of their peak season too.. They do take reservations so it might be a good idea if you know you want to go there. However, the food comes out quickly so you probably wouldn’t wait too long for a table. The bonus with this place is the view! You’re looking right out at the ocean with picture perfect water, ideal for snorkelling (so make sure you take your stuff!). There are even some sun beds available for guests to use after their meal! Now, on to the food. It was lunch so we ordered something casual – a burger! We got between us a beef and a chicken burger. The service was fantastic and the food equally as great. Definitely recommend stopping in if you’re on this side of the island!!
Al Nur Restaurant We ate a couple of meals at the Al Nur Restaurant, which is part of the Ionian Hill Hotel, which is where stayed. The service was good, you could eat your meal by the pool, in the restaurant area (both overlook the ocean) or you could take it to your room if you wanted to. Between us, we ordered the greek salad and spaghetti pomodoro.
Papillion Restaurant: We ate at this restaurant which is linked to the Papillion hotel, also in Argassi. They had a dinner special which was super cheap, around 10 EUR for a starter and a main plus a beer or wine. We chose a garlic bread and a grilled cheese plate for starters…
Jenna then ordered Spaghetti Bolognese and I had Beef Yiouvetsi. The service was quite quick and the food was delicious, especially for what we paid!!!
Piccadilly restaurant: We stumbled across this restaurant when walking down the main street in Argassi. It looked welcoming with tables and chairs on the grass surrounding the large fountain. We looked at the menu and quickly decided on the roast lamb (for Jenna) and I had the Beef Yiouvetsi. The restaurant was busy, so the service was a bit slow from time to time. In terms of drinks, they didn’t top them up, but this seemed to be the case in most restaurants in the area! Despite the slowish service, the food was delicious and the portions were big. Would recommend visiting if you’re in the area and have a spare night free!
“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher