When you think about a vacation in Greece, chances are you will conjure images of visiting ancient sites, soaking up the sun on the beaches, and eating many amazing meals. While that’s certainly the case for most travelers, there are others who want to explore the wilder side of the country.From interesting hikes to snorkeling, stand up paddling, and windsurfing, Greece has a lot to offer to those searching for an active vacation. The country counts 6,000 islands, out of which only 227 are inhabited. With a total of 16,000 (9,940 miles) km of coastline, water sports enthusiasts will be thrilled to know that they have plenty of choices. But where to start?
In this article, I’m sharing an interesting 5-day itinerary on the Greek island of Ios, one of the Cyclades. Located half-way between Naxos and Santorini, Ios is a tiny island that offers a wide variety of watersports and a very friendly atmosphere.
Before you go
Overall, the best time to visit Greece is from April to early November. It’s worth mentioning that the high season – late June to early September – is when everyone wants to go and, as a result, everything is more expensive and crowded. If you want to enjoy a budget surf holiday in Greece, plan your trip for April, May, October, or November. The same recommendations apply to Ios.
Getting to Ios is not hard but unfortunately, you are stuck with one option only: the ferry. The island doesn’t have an airport, but it gets regular ferry traffic from the mainland and nearby islands. You can fly into Athens, Crete, Santorini, or Mykonos and then just hop on a ferry for the remainder of the trip.
Regarding accommodation, there are quite a lot of options even though the island is quite small. Guest houses dot the port area as well as Chora (the village). Those who prefer hotels are also in luck, and you can even camp without a tent on the remote beaches.
5 Days on the Island of Ios
Day 1 – establish your base
If you are like me, you probably don’t have an itinerary that’s packed to the minute. So, after you are back on solid ground, make your way to the accommodation and establish your base. Get a map and learn the area.
Since you’ll be famished, head to the port and choose among the many restaurants to have a meal. While some tavernas only open for dinner, there are quite a lot of cafes and ethnic food places that are open from morning until…well, the next morning.
As it happens in most countries, the Greek food is similar everywhere but bares the local touches. On Ios, you want to taste the local honey and cheeses. When you order a Horiatiki salata (Traditional Greek Salad), ask them to top it with local cheese or a mix of local cheese and feta.
Day 2 – tour the island
Whether you opt for a guided tour or rent a vehicle to explore on your own, tour the island during this day.
Make sure to visit Skarkos, the early Bronze settlement. You can easily get here either by walking or on a rented 4×4. The site is not big but it sits in direct sunlight, so wear sunscreen and bring a water bottle.
From here, make your way to Paliokastro, a ruined castle. You either need to take the public transportation or use a rented vehicle to get here. There is a paved road all the way to the ruins on top of the mountain. You don’t need to be very fit but be advised that it’s not recommended for those with fear of heights. And yeah, it’s also in direct sun.
The view as you climb up as well as from the ruins is amazing. You can easily spot Antiparos, Paros, Naxos, Amorgos, as well as several other smaller islands.
Hop back on your mode of transport of choice and travel to Psathi, a settlement that is famous for two things: an amazing beach and an equally awesome taverna (Alonistra). Reward yourself with a hearty lunch first. Should you visit by the end of May or early June, ask for the local specialty -horta (greens) – baby broccoli sautéed in olive oil and sprinkled with lemon juice.
Well fed, walk to the beach to relax. By end of May, you can even swim in the water and you’ll probably have the beach to yourself. Psathi is one of the beaches where you can windsurf but you can’t rent equipment from here, as there are no facilities at all.
Make your way back to the accommodation. For an evening walk, take the Donkey path that connects the port area to Chora. It’s quite taxing on your knees as it’s stairs only, but the views are rewarding. Plus, it’s a very easy way to “travel” between the two areas.
Choose one of the many taverns for dinner.
Day 3 – Chora and Mylopotas Beach + an amazing sunset
Chora is the main settlement on the island. It’s where you’ll recognize the archetypal Cycladic architecture featuring whitewashed houses and blue window shutters. If you are interested in history, there’s a small museum to check out too. I found it very interesting, as it has a lot of information on Skarkos (the settlement you visit on the 2nd day) and the relationship between Santorini and Ios.
Explore Chora at your own pace and allow yourself to get lost on the narrow streets. Try to make your way to the church with the palm tree for the amazing viewing platform. The views towards the port and Sikinos are amazing.
Then go to the bus stop and take the bus to Mylopotas Beach. Or walk the 5 km (3 miles) to there. Just make sure to wear sunscreen and bring a water bottle. The heat is quite taxing on the island.
Mylopotas Beach is the most visited and developed beach on the island. There are places to eat and drink, as well as water sports activities. Whether you fancy floating behind a high-speed boat, want to try stand up paddling, windsurfing or snorkeling, you are in luck as you can find everything here. Mylopotas and Gialos are the only two beaches where you can rent windsurfing gear from.
Head back to the accommodation to relax because you will go to a special place for the sunset.
Put on your walking shoes – I am serious – and make your way to Chora. Now look for the windmills and walk past them, all the way to the Gaitis Museum. It’s quite a walk uphill, but the views are amazing. Stay on the steps of the empty museum and enjoy nature’s show.
Day 4 – the beaches near the port + another sunset
It’s time to explore the three beaches close to the port: Gialos (Yialos), Tzamaria, and Koumpara.
The first one is right in the port and offers shallow water and fine sand. It’s great if you don’t feel like doing much but want to soak up the sun.
Tzamaria is about a kilometer walk from the port. It is in a protected bay, so you are spared from the winds. This makes it ideal for snorkeling, as well as swimming. It is a pebbled beach with small stretches of sand and no facilities except a taverna overlooking it.
Another kilometer down the road and you can find Koumpara. While it used to be a wild beach, nowadays there are quite a few facilities, including sunbeds and many restaurants.
End the day in the port watching the sunset from the Agia Sofia Church. It’s not very high up, but the view is still amazing. Then, you have quite a lot of options for dinner or a nightcap.
Day 5 – hiking on Ios
Start the day with an interesting hike from Mylopotas Beach to Klima Beach. Even if you do this by the end of May, the sun is already brutal, so wear sunscreen and bring water. And while the hike is medium difficulty at best, wear all-terrain shoes; you will be walking on the side of the mountain and you will tackle rocks.
You can do this hike with a guide or by yourself. The trail is sort of marked (each season they need to redo the markings on the rocks). The trail skirts the mountain and keeps the sea on your right for most of the time. It takes about an hour to an hour and a half to hike between the two beaches.
Make your way back on the same route. There’s an alternative route – a road for cars – but it takes a lot longer. From the end of Mylopotas Beach, take the bus back to your accommodation.
It’s time to end this trip with a lovely meal at the famous Lord Byron.