As the plane neared Zakynthos the whole of the island was clearly visible from the air. We began the final approach from the south side giving us a clear view of the Laganas Kalamaki beach. The people lying or walking on the sands below were clearly visible as the plane skimmed low over the rooftops of the nearby hotels.
I had heard that the airport at Zakynthos was small but I had not expected the runway to be so very short. As soon as the tyres touched the ground the brakes were applied and the braking was so intense that you felt your face might press against the seat in front. Happily though, we were down and stopped before the fields beyond the runway.
Being only a small island the transfer times are short and we arrived at our hotel in only 15 minutes. Hotel Babis was to be our home for the next two weeks at the resort of Kalamaki. It is a small resort by the beach, about 7km south from Zakynthos Town and 4km from Laganas. I liked it immediately for its quite and peaceful setting. The resort has just two main roads and all the shops and restaurants are in a small area close to these roads.
Zakynthos has charmed its visitors since the early days. It was originally named Zante by the Venetians meaning flower of the east. The eastern side of the island is for the most part flat with sandy beaches while the western side is mountainous with rocky coasts descending steeply into the sea. The highest point on the island at 756mts is Mt.Vrachionas.
Walking around the resort was easy but due to the lack of sidewalks and street lighting, plus the carefree and reckless driving of some of the locals you could sometimes feel a little insecure. The resort has big hotels, most with their own pools and the pools were open and available to all. Most of the hotels offer entertainments for their guests including Greek dancing, karaoke, movie and quiz nights, and cabarets, something it seems almost every night. Zakynthos is a popular holiday island drawing visitors from all over the world.
The two resorts, Kalamaki and Laganas are close to each other and in a few years will probably join to be one big resort. There is a long beach at Kalamaki that stretches way past Laganas. Its approx. 9 km long and is said to be the longest beach on the island. This was easy to believe as we walked the waters edge to Laganas and back in the mornings, when it was nicely quiet and not too hot. The beaches of Zakynthos are very interesting and different; different that is because of the turtles. The Caretta-caretta i.e. loggerhead turtle is an endangered species that still nests on the beaches of Zakynthos.
Even though Zakynthos is getting more popular and more crowded all the time, its nice to know that the turtles still return to this island. There are however now too few of them and us tourists make it difficult for the turtles to bring up their offspring. Laganas beach is one of the turtle beaches and Gerakas is another. Sadly we didnt see any turtles during our stay, but we did see their nests and tracks on the beach. We saw people protecting the turtles by digging out the eggs and removing them to safer grounds. Fortunately the Greek Government gives the turtles protection and there are a lot of volunteers working to protect the turtles every year. If you wish to read more about the turtles and about the people protecting them check the links to the left of this page.
Zakynthos town is only a short distance from Kalamaki but the public transport is not so good. There are several busses during the day but the timetables are not very accurate. You need to prepare yourself for the possibility of the bus arriving from either direction. Its not certain that the bus goes via Kalamaki to Laganas, as it may well come via Laganas to Kalamaki, and then to Zakynthos town. Luckily the bus stops are on both sides of the street, you just have to cross the road to get onto the bus. Easy, but you have to be alert.
Zakynthos town however is not so easy to figure out, not by car that is. The roads are mostly one-way and sometimes a one-way street that you are driving is suddenly the wrong way. Cars are parked wherever there is space and not always very wisely. Walking is much easier and there is so much to see. Not just shops, which are many but also nice doorways and houses. If you like you can climb up the Bochali Hill for spectacular views over Zakynthos Town. On a clear day it is possible to see as far as the mainland, to Killini on the Peleponese. Zakynthos Town is a very lively place having many nice squares with open-air cafes or tavernas to take a seat on a hot day and watch the world go by. Personally I preferred the harbour and the Dionisos Solomou Square.
For those interested in Greek history there is much to see in the town centre, museums, mausoleums, statues etc. Zakynthos is well noted for its part in Greek history. A Zakynthian poet, Dionisos Solomou, wrote lyrics for the Greek National Anthem and he is highly regarded in Zakynthos town. The town looks old, so its hard to believe that most of it was destroyed by the earthquake and has been rebuilt since that time. Building work continues today and will probably continue for decades thanks to tourism.
We hired a car for three days and found the whole island to be well worth exploring. Car hire, I think, has to be the best way to see the island and there are many lovely villages all around the island for the visitor to explore. In Limni Keri you can spend a tranquil day relaxing and from Kambi and Keri you can enjoy the marvellous views. Anafonitria and Volimes are places to buy homemade wines, honey and handicrafts for souvenirs. Argassi, Porto Heli and Tsilivi are places for sunny days at the beach but while there are many great beaches on the island the best of these are away from the resorts. I found the best beach to be at Vromi bay with its crystal clear cool waters but access here is a little difficult. The road is good but very steep and difficult to ascend. Other good beaches are Xigia Bay, providing you dont mind the slight scent of sulphur, and also Gerakas.
Another good way to see the island is by boat and there are several travel agencies offering cruises around the island. The price is reasonable and you will spend a wonderful day at sea but dont forget to take the hat and sun lotion. From the boat you will see the famous Blue Caves, where the water is so very blue and clear that you can see the bottom several meters below. The cruise will take you also to the shipwreck on a deserted beach, a place accessible only by boat and if you are very lucky you will see the turtles swimming by.
There are several boats daily from Zakynthos both to mainland Killini and to the nearby island of Kefallonia. Take a day trip by boat to Killini on Peleponese and you may visit its beaches or go on to visit Patra the third largest town in Greece. A car is not necessary for this as bus services on the Peleponese are good. It is possible also to visit Athens from here but more than one day would be required for this. More details for Patra can be found on my Peleponnese page.
My two weeks on Zakynthos were enough both for time to relax and to fully explore the island. I can wholeheartedly recommend this island for many different kinds of holiday. It is good for relaxation, or for an active holiday, for cycling, hiking and for trekking, too.
My holiday in Zakynthos was over and I had spent two incredibly relaxing weeks there with my parents.
Now it was time for me to send my parents home and start the second part of my holiday by myself. I would be touring around Peloponnese for another two weeks.
To be more exact; I had chosen the districts of Achaia, Corinth and Argolida, plus two of the Argo-Saronic islands, Spetses and Poros to explore. This was what I had dreamt about for the past year.
I had been planning this trip for almost a year. I had looked for information on books, the Internet, brochures and guidebooks and I can say that I was feeling very well prepared. I hadnt booked any accommodations in advance; I was intending to find accommodation as I arrived to a new place. All I had ready was my plan, Lonely Planets Guidebook and a map. I didnt expect any trouble, I felt pretty confident with my plan and if I had got into trouble, I had some reliable friends in Patra, to help me out.
During those two weeks I had spent in Zakynthos, I had plenty of time to find out about the timetables for busses and ferries to the mainland. It was an early wake-up call for me as I had to be on a 7.31am bus to Patra. I woke up at 5am and I was ready with my back bag way before 7am. I was to take a taxi from Kalamaki to Zakynthos town and bus station. I thought I would flag one down, but I didnt find any taxis. The main road of Kalamaki was deserted. There were no taxis so I started walking to the taxi station, which was in the other end of town. There were no taxis there either but finally I got a taxi at 7.20am. I was so relieved that I was going to make it to the bus after all.
I bought my ticket to Patra, as they wouldnt sell it to me the day before, and got onto the bus. Typically Greek the bus didnt start until 7.45am. The ferry would leave at 8am. I had visited Patra once before on a day return but then everything went so well. Now I was worried whether my journey would start at all. At the harbour you have to get off the bus and the bus drives into the ferry.
I had to go buy another ticket for the ferry, so I queued to the ticket office with all the others. There was not much time but I guessed that the ferry would wait for everyone at the ticket office. In a way its funny, how they sell these tickets, separate and only on the day you are supposed to go and always at the last minute! Even though it may seem like chaos for a tourist like me, who is so used to things such as timetables a bit more accurate, the Greek system actually works. And well I might say that is as soon as you get used to it, of course.