Travel Guide - Zakynthos Islands | Traveler Maps
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Friday, January 18, 2013

Travel Guide - Zakynthos Islands

Zakynthos (Greek: ????????), also called Zante (its Italian name), is the third largest island in the Ionian Sea, located off the west coast of Greece. The island is named after Zacynthos, son of legendary Arcadian chief Dardanos.

Zakynthos, due to mild winter rainfall, is an extremely lush island; the Venetians (who conquered it) 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.

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.

Things to see:

Blue CavesEast 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.
  • Porto Vromi - Not as spectacular, you will visit these as part of the tours to the ship wreck.

Shipwreck (Navagio)

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.

Cape Skinari

The very northen edge of Zakynthos is labeled Cape Skinari. Here you can get a panorama view of the sea, having both the calm waters of the east and the windy of the west within view. At the location there are also some ruins from the great earthquake in 1953.


Agios Nikolaos beach - 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 British-run 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. The best sand is to be found at the eastern end, close to the little fishing port of Agios Kyriaki, where the Neraida Taverna offers friendly service and traditional, freshly-cooked local dishes, backed by live traditional music in the evening. There's also a "shipwreck", a sunken wooden sailing yacht sitting in quite shallow water which kids (and grown-up kids!) can wade out to and climb all over. 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. Xehoriati is served by 2 restaurants vying to have the most incongruous name. The apparently native-North-American-themed Redskins is actually run by a friendly young Italian couple serving up their native cuisine, while Shoestring (nothing to do with the '70s UK TV detective), up a flight of steps at the eastern end of the beach, offers typical tourist taverna fare at lunchtime and close to a "fine-dining" menu in the evenings (save room at any time of day for the excellent home-made desserts), all with stunning views. There's also a mini-market about 150m from the beach for snacks, chilled drinks etc.
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.
Tsilivi - the family resort of Tsilivi boats a wide and long sandy beach, watersports, sunbeds and ample car parking.


Zakynthos is not so much an island for children; the water park there is small and rather hard to get to as compared to that in Corfu. Most resorts there are relatively low-key and tourist booths are more likely to offer excursions to neighboring islands or the Greek mainland rather than concentrating on Zakynthos' beauty. This is a shame, because it is still an island where mountainside villages and hidden coves await discovery by the discerning traveller-- it is well worth hiring a car, though beware of the sometimes treacherous mountain roads.
Round the Island - due to the small size of the island, it is perfectly possible to drive a complete lap of the island, stopping at some interesting places on the way. For example, starting at Zakynthos town, drive north along the coast road and visit Tsilivi, continue past Alykes and Alykanes. On the 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 the best 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 pastime on Zakynthos!
Base Jumping - From 2011 the extreme sport base jump take's place in Zante island. Professionals base jumpers come to Navagio beach (also known Shipwreck) each year to jump with a parachutte from the 200meters rocks and clifs.

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.