Allegedly, Greece has some 1,425 islands, of which 166 are inhabited. For Island Hoppers there are just under 80 islands connected by regular ferry or hydrofoil. Another 40 + islands are visited by tour-beach boats. The remain inhabited islands being occupied by odd monks, goat herds and the occasional shipping billionaire.
Cyclades Islands are the most popular. The Dodecanese Islands running down the Turkish coast following close behind. The other island groups (smaller number of islands) have grown in popularity over the years. The Saronic Islands can all be done by day trippers from Athens. Eastern and Northern Aegean islands have much to offer if you have more than a fortnight at your disposal. The Ionian Islands, the only group of islands to lie outside the Aegean.
Hop the Greek Islands
7 – 8 days hopping. For smaller islands, a minimum of 3 days / 2 nights stay but it could be too rushed depending on ferry connections. For larger islands, I will recommend a minimum of 4 days / 3 nights stay again check ferry connections closely. That should leave you with sufficient time for your arrival and departure days. 10 – 12 days hopping add another Island. 14 – 15 days hopping add two more islands.
Ferries are usually quite reliable, but the service does depend on weather conditions. It is always a good idea to return to your flight destination at least a day or two before your flight home to allow sufficient time in case of bad weather or other delays.
Low Season from October to early June. Ferry activities are at a reduced level. Quite often that low season’s port schedules are not provided simply because in most instances travelling between the islands is merely a matter of catching the single boat every 24-48 hours. The Greek ferry system is not actually geared towards moving tourists between islands its preliminary exists to ferry local Greeks between the islands and Athens.
High season from (middle) June to (late) September. The summer tourist influx is substantial but the high season is, in fact only around 14 weeks. The tourist peak season running for 4-5 weeks, last week in July to early September.
Ferries reliability during the low season might decline, partly due to poorer sea conditions, (storms as late as the middle to the end of May that will leave ships port bound for 24 hours).
Rapid ferry turn-around
Your embarkation and disembarkation are normally (usually) via the stern car door. You are asked to embark down to the car deck before the ferry has docked, collecting your luggage, hold your kid’s hand and so on. Caught in a pushing crowd of people (locals, families, backpackers) and even cars this can become an uneasy moment – Keep calm.
Pack as a Pro
Pack as little as you can get away with. The big disadvantage of Island Hopping is that you have to carry all your luggage with you. A rucksack bag is a good idea.
Here are some additional packing tips:
- Book(s) to read,
- Deck of cards,
- Windproof clothing,
- Can opener, Bottle opener, Corkscrew
- Mosquito repellent (high DEET content), Suncreme
- Sink Plug, (yes, sink plug),
- Camera cards
- Mobile phone, charger
- Ipad (entertain children with videos or games)
Greek Ferries and Caiques
Most of the large Greek domestic (car) ferries operate out of Piraeus (Athens) mainly, providing daily island services. The ferry scene is dominated by a few companies, though this is not apparent thanks to a large number of company names and logos on boats. All ferries have their name in English on the bow and in Greek on the stern.
Class distinctions are somewhat arbitrary, with facilities classed as “deck” on the better ships classified as 2nd or “tourist” on the less good. Food and drink facilities vary from “tired” cafeterias to franchise operated sandwich and burger bars. These facilities have been upgraded and design improved the last number of years. Could be expensive.
Landing craft ferries. Used in sheltered waters where car ferries are needed for short-haul routes. Island example crossing from Pounta, Paros to Antiparos.
Catamarans. The last 15 years or so has seen a steady increase in these vessels arrive in the Aegean, several with car carrying facilities. Most are classed as “High Speed” vessels. Offering a fast air-conditioned crossing in flat seas. They remain summer boats, with few running during the low season “winter” months. Fares are normally close to double regular ferry prices. For high season its recommended to book ahead and in good time before your departure date.
Hydrofoils. Known throughout Greece as “Delphini” (i.e Dolphins). Travelling at twice the speed of the average ferry, and carry around 140 passengers. Rarely operating in the low season’s winter months. All fitted out with aircraft style seats divided between bow, central and rear cabins. Noisy buggers.
Passenger boats used as purely tourist excursion boats. They range from small-car-ferry sized vessels to converted fishing boats known as caiques