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White beaches, sea turtles and a party atmosphere make Zakynthos – or Zante – a favourite holiday destination.
The Venetians called this southernmost Ionian island Fiore di Levante, the Flower of the East. Its nobility and fertility made it the jewel of their empire. Today’s visitors would agree, though they come for its iconic beaches – Lagana, Tsilivi, Argassi, Kalamaki, Alykes – where British, French and Italians know how to have a good time.
Looking for lifelong memories? You’ll find them when you swim at the famous Shipwreck Beach, watch the sunset from the cliffs of Keri and Kryoneri, listen to the islanders sing their cantatas and see the endangered caretta caretta sea turtles lay their eggs in the island’s white sands. Welcome to Zante – or Zakynthos, as it’s known in Greece, the island that has it all.
Set sail for fabulous beaches
From your seat on the caique that does the circuit of Zakynthos, you’ll see a procession of beaches and coves, each seemingly more magical than the last. Laganas, Gerakas, Vasilikos, Marathonisi, the Blue Caves … all rank among the most splendid in Greece. Not forgetting, of course, Shipwreck Beach, with its famous beached vessel that adds drama to the sandy setting, white cliffs and turquoise water. Come early in the morning, or drop anchor the previous evening, so you can enjoy your first dive before the rest of the world arrives.
The Marine Park
The sea and coast around Zakynthos were picked for Greece’s first marine park. This is where the rare caretta caretta sea turtles lay their eggs. In spring, these endangered creatures set off for Zante from the Libyan Sea and the southern Adriatic, not because they like the swim but because nature tells them to lay their eggs in the sands of Gerakas, Dafni, Kalamaki, Marathonisi and, especially, Sakania, east of Laganas, as they always have. If you’re lucky enough to witness this spectacle, please don’t disturb these beautiful creatures or their eggs.
Bokhali, the prettiest part of town
Zante is not only beaches. Take a stroll through lovely Bokhali, 2km from the centre of town, and you’ll find yourself stopping every few minutes to admire the panoramic view of the harbour, Argassi and the Bay of Laganas. Or to photograph the alleys lined with old houses and traditional cafes. Walk a bit higher and you’ll come to the castle, camouflaged by all manner of plant and shrub, where the Venetians had their island capital.
The church of St Dionysios draws Orthodox Christian visitors throughout the year as it houses the relics of the saint of the same name (also the island’s patron saint). The impressive church was built in 1926, with a three-aisled basilica and inner arch. The catastrophic earthquake of 1953 left it virtually undamaged. Miracle or just solid foundations?
Hidden gems of Zakynthos
The Strofades, more islands to explore
Only 37 nautical miles from Zante, these two islets are unknown to most tourists, Greek or foreign. A mystery surrounds the 15th-century fortified monastery here. It houses an icon of the Virgin that washed up here undamaged after being thrown into the sea by 13th-century Orthodox Christians in Constantinople to save it from the iconoclasts who were destroying all paintings with human figures.
The rolling… stone?
Locals claim that Mick Jagger hails from the village of Kiliomeno (which translates as rolling) and that’s why he named his band The Rolling Stones. This is a big local tease but nobody’s kidding when it comes to extolling the virtues of this delightful settlement. Take your time to admire its traditional architectural style and old homes which resemble fortresses.
Zante by the glass
Set aside some time for a visit to an island winery, some of which go back centuries. Hundreds of hectares are devoted to vineyards and there are more than 60 different grape varietals.
Kayaking to the magical Blue
Caves of Zakynthos
A wonderful alternative to a boat trip, sea kayaking offers a unique water-level appreciation of Zakynthos’ extraordinary Blue Caves.
It’s one thing witnessing the impressive colours of Zakynthos’ Blue Caves, and quite another doing so when you feel like you’re literally part of them. That’s the effect of visiting them by sea kayak or canoe.
The experience is challenging enough to give you a sense of holiday adventure, but more than doable as a family or group of friends. And it makes a wonderful alternative to visiting by boat.
There are nooks all the way along the wild and rocky northeastern coastline that no boat could get into. And once at the caves, you’ll have a unique water-level appreciation of the iridescent blue colours created by the play of sunlight on the cliff-face and the sea, together with the occasional orange-purple hit of coral in the rocks. Every one of the caves seems to put on a different light show just for you. Just make sure you stop for a snorkel whilst you’re there.
Most trips start from Agios Nikolaos and follow the coastline north, where the Blue Caves are located. And along the way, there’s a view of your island-neighbour Kefalonia that adds to an adventure that feels so much more intimate than it would on a boat.
To the port of Agios Nikolaos
From the main port of Zakynthos
By car or taxi: 30km (55mins)
By bus (KTEL)
From Zakynthos airport
By car or taxi: 38km (55mins)
By bus (KTEL)
Organised kayak trips to the Blue Caves operate from May to October.
You can visit the Blue Caves as a group on your own, but you’ll need equipment and knowhow.
The experience is dependent on weather conditions.
May-June and September-October are the best and quietest months to visit Zakynthos.
The full experience, with time to snorkel at the caves, takes around 3hr30min.
Distance covered: 7.4km (4 nautical miles)
Kayaking level: Easy
All your equipment will be supplied by the tour organisers: (kayak, paddle, lifejacket, snorkelling equipment)
Make sure you have:
The charm of canoeing to the Blue Caves is that it is a completely unspoilt environment, so please help keep it that way.
Follow the safety instructions of your guide, including food and alcohol consumption before your experience.
Don’t forget to keep any rubbish with you until you find a bin.
Use a refillable water bottle to try to minimise your use of plastic.
Respect the local environment by not disrupting the flora and fauna or removing rocks and other natural materials.
Always check the weather and don’t attempt anything that is beyond your abilities or physical condition.
Electric-blue water and an iconic shipwreck are the stars of this show, but prepare to be wowed by the support cast too
When the MV Panagiotis ran aground on a sandy cove in northwest Zakynthos in 1980, no one could have predicted that one of Europe’s most iconic beaches would be born. It’s not just the much-photographed shipwreck at its centre, but the imposing cliffs rising far above and the electric-blue waters surrounding it. And to cap the sense of mystery, it’s a beach accessible only by sea.
A boat trip to the Navagio (as it’s known in Greek) is a rite of passage when visiting Zakynthos. You’ll have seen it on Instagram and on the front cover of magazines, but the real spectacle comes when you round the bay and catch a first glimpse of this magical cove.
The water here often radiates impossible shades of blue, from the mineral deposits in the caves around the beach. You’ll have the chance to stay on the beach and swim. But the real swimming treat comes from the stops made by the boat on the way there or back. Just don’t forget your camera.
Although undoubtedly the star of the show, the shipwreck is just one of a cast of protagonists.
A spectacle even before you arrive
Be sure to wear your swimwear and pack a towel and a pair of goggles for those beautiful little coves you stop at along the way. Some boats even have a glass bottom, so you can fully appreciate the clarity of the water and sea life.
Boats leave from:
Porto Vromi (west)
By car or taxi: 36km (55mins) from Zakynthos town
By car or taxi: 36km (1hr) from Zakynthos town
Agios Nikolaos (northeast)
By car or taxi: 32km (50mins) from Zakynthos town
There are other departure points around the island, including half-day and full-day options from the Gulf of Lagana, Alikes and the port of Zakynthos.
Boat trips from the proposed departure points take 20-45 mins to reach Shipwreck beach, depending on the stops along the way.
You will be left on the beach for 30-45 mins.
Most excursions are for 1.5-3 hours but round-the-island trips can take the whole day.
If you want to stay longer, ask the captain if it’s possible to be picked up when the boat returns with another group.
Good to know
Shipwreck Beach has only natural shade and no amenities selling food and drinks, so plan well and don’t forget:
Beaches are delicate ecosystems so please help keep them in the best possible condition and leave only your footprints.
Be aware that the shipwreck is rusty so be careful, especially with kids.
Even though others have been tempted to in the past, please don’t write anything on the ship.
Make sure you follow any instructions about where you can sit on the beach, as there have been some landslides in the past.
Use the bins provided or, if need be, take your rubbish with you.
Don’t remove any shells, rocks, fossils or sand from the beach.
Respect the marine life and the plants and animals on shore.
Use a refillable water bottle to try to minimise your use of plastic.
Making fires on beaches is strictly forbidden.
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