Zakynthos, also known as Zante Island by locals, is an island in the Ionian sea known for its mesmerizing landscapes and stunning beaches. Couple that with fantastic accommodation options and soul warming Greek food everywhere, you have all you need for an amazing Greek getaway.
I spent four nights in Zakynthos as part of a greater Greece trip. There are direct flights from my home in Frankfurt which makes it very easy to visit. Previous to visiting the island, I only really knew it because of the Shipwreck Beach (more on that soon) which is probably the same for every other newcomer. I was also told my friends that Zakynthos is the big British party island. I know how these turn out and wasn’t super excited because I was expecting the drunken swarms and I’m officially too old for that I’ve decided.
However, visiting during the times of Coronavirus proved anything but. Of course this is a one of situation during a worldwide pandemic, but visiting in mid July of 2020 meant it was pretty much dead. It was of course extremely disheartening to see the livelihoods of the locals who depend on tourism severely strained, but it was quite amazing to see the island without the huge crowds that would typically accompany Greek islands in the summer.
In addition, make sure to read my Ionian islands travel itinerary if you want to see how I structured my trip to see these beautiful islands.
Where is Zakynthos?
Zakynthos is the most southern island in the Ionian sea. It’s located on the north western corner of Greece with the main islands being Corfu, Lefkada, Kefalonia, and Zakynthos. Corfu actually is right on the Greece-Albania border whereas Zakynthos is quite far south.
It’s easy to do a trip to all the islands mentioned by ferry which offer regular connections between the islands. I took the ferry from Zakynthos to Kefalonia to continue my Ionian adventure.
The island at roughly 40km long and 20km wide is one of the larger islands in Greece. While of course nowhere near as big as Crete, it is much bigger than the islands in the Cyclades.
Getting around Zakynthos
Zakynthos, like most Greek islands is a pretty sparsely populated island. With only 40,000 full time citizens, there’s not much of a public transportation system to speak of. In fact, I don’t remember seeing any buses driving between towns.
If you are planning to stay in a resort with the all inclusive style options, then you won’t need much more than a taxi from the airport. You can book day trips and tours to visit the famous sights and you’ll be sorted.
However, if you want to explore more of the island at your own pace, renting a car, scooter, or quadbike is a must. I rented a car for almost 2 weeks that I took to explore Zakynthos and Kefalonia. This is an absolute must in these islands if you want to do anything. From our airbnb on the beach (which was amazing), we had to drive at last 5 minutes to the town.
Driving on Zakynthos was largely fine. There’s not much traffic to speak of except in the main town. The roads are not in the best shape but it’s not a dire situation. However, be careful which roads you choose because Google Maps often told me to go down roads which ended up being nothing but dirt roads! There are a lot of these so be very mindful which paths you choose!
If you don’t know anything about Zakynthos, you probably have still heard of the Shipwreck Beach. If you’ve never heard of Shipwreck Beach, it’s likely you’ve seen the pictures in your Insta feeds, blogs, magazines, postcards, or literally anywhere else.
Outside of the Acropolis in Athens, the blue domes of Santorini, the Shipwreck beach may just be the most iconic photo of Greece. Yes, it’s located on Zakynthos and no trip to this island is complete without visiting this absolutely beautiful place.
It’s one of the magical and impossibly beautiful places that look even more amazing in person if that’s even possible. The pictures already induce the most amount of wanderlust possible, but yes it gets even better!
History of Shipwreck Beach
Reading about the history of the beach is absolutely fascinating. The beach itself is of course spectacular in beauty but the huge rusting boat in the middle of the beach adds that dramatic factor that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s perhaps the most famous shipwreck in the world.
How this ship got there is quite the story. In 1980, the Merchant ship named “Panagiotis” was smuggling cigarettes from Albania to Italy. They were caught by Greek Authorities and chased down to this beach in Zakynthos before crashing and forming the beach we all know and love today. I wonder what prompted the authorities to leave the ship on the beach. Perhaps it was just too much of a mess to move or did someone have the foresight to realize what a beautiful site it would form in the future?
Regardless, a few illicit cigarettes has led to one of Greece’s most lucrative tourist attractions so it worked out in the end.
Viewpoint of Shipwreck Beach
The viewpoint of Shipwreck beach where all the iconic photos are taken is easily reached by car. It’s in the northwest of the island and is roughly 45 minutes driving from Zante Town.
It’s an absolute must like I’ve already said. From the parking lot, just follow the trail to the cliff edge where you will be afforded the most beautiful views of the beach! During normal times, this place is very packed but not the case when I visited!
About 10 minutes from the parking lot, you will see a Greek Flag which is a great area to take photos. If you walk past the Greek flag, there will be less people and a great place to get photos without the crowds.
It’s a VERY steep drop here and there have been plenty of people that have died chasing that elusive Instagram photo. The rocks here regularly break off so don’t mess around. I tried getting one of those legs hanging off the cliff type of photos which more than ramped up my adrenaline!
The best time to come here is in the late morning and early afternoon. This is because in the early morning, the sun hasn’t fully risen over the beach yet and you won’t get the same stunning water color until it is fully covered by the sun. However, there really is no bad time to visit; it is stunning at all times.
To visit the Shipwreck beach, you will need to go by boat. There is no way of getting there by land. I heard some people actually tried climbing down from the viewpoint at the very top which after being there in person, is a big WTF? They of course died.
There’s zero way of walking down to this beach because it’s literally a vertical sheer drop. So you heard it here first, don’t try this!
To visit the island you have to go by boat. You can either:
- Join a group tour that visits the beach and blue caves
- Rent a private boat and go there by yourself.
The first option is roughly €30-€35 per person. During normal times, they crammed 100 people into these boats and now about half capacity during Coronavirus times. I saw one of these boats leaving the beach as I was arriving to the beach. I can safely say that I am very happy I did not book one of these.
I rented a boat for the day with a captain and we went to this beach as well as a bunch of other equally beautiful and deserted beaches. I’d highly recommend getting your own boat. It’s so much more relaxing. I paid roughly €50 per hour which included the captain and guide. If all you care about is just going to the Navaggio Beach, then simply rent a boat from the Porto Vromi beach which is 15-20 minutes from the shipwreck. If you’re more than 2 people, it’s a no brainer to do this because it will be cheaper and an infinitely better experience!
What to do in Zakynthos?
Zakynthos is so much more than just the Shipwreck beach. Although that is for sure a must do activity, you will not be bored afterwards that is for sure!
After the Shipwreck beach, the Blue caves are probably the next most popular activity. Located in the very northern tip of the island, these caves are some of the more impressive sea caves I’ve seen. The iconic shot here is the double arch which is so picturesque.
As with the shipwreck beach, you can only really visit these caves if you’re on a boat. Whether that’s part of a tour or your own boat, you can’t access it by land. Most tours will combine the shipwreck beach and blue caves.
St. Nicolas Church
There are several Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) churches on Zakynthos, this one is found on the south east corner of the island just next to St. Nicholas Beach.
It’s a delightful little whitewashed building with red doors and gates. Unfortunately you can’t get in to the church itself but it’s still a nice place to visit as the area offers spectacular views of the Ionian sea and the beach below.
There’s not a great deal to see or do at the church itself but there is a pleasant beach next to it if you fancy a dip in the ocean or a drink. Otherwise, take some nice photos here which are definitely Instagram worthy.
Xigia Sulfur Beach
Zakynthos has no shortage of beaches for you to enjoy. One of the most unique beaches in the Xigia Sulfur Beach. It’s located in the northeast of the island and is actually home to a large sulfur deposit in the water.
It’s very noticeable with the slightly milky turquoise water that still looks stunning from afar. It’s like a very mini Mediterranean of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. You can smell the sulfur from afar as well.
However, it gets very packed during the day so I’d recommend visiting this in the morning hours to avoid the crowds. However, it’s most beautiful and dramatic in color from the afternoon hours.
Another must visit sight in Zakynthos is definitely Plakaki Rocks. It’s another magnificent viewpoint coupled with white rocks that lead into beautiful emerald colored waters.
Upon arriving, you can either venture right or left from the parking lot. The right will be a short walk to a breath-taking viewpoint over the cliffs and crags. I flew my drone here which allowed for some beautiful shots.
On the left side, will be a hike down towards the rocks and beach. The hike down is quite a journey. You will really have to be careful as you literally have to climb down the rocks. There are ropes, stairs, and things to grab on to that kind of reminded me of my hike in Lion’s Head, Cape Town. However, it is extremely steep so be very careful how you position yourself. I did the hike in flip flops but would not recommend.
Once you get down, you will be greeted with blindingly white rocks that lends itself to a stunning cove. Here you can snorkel, sunbathe, and just soak in the beautiful natural landscapes!
Rent a boat for the day – Highly Recommended
Without a doubt, one of the highlights of this trip was to rent our own boat. Yes, you can actually rent your own boat without a boating license in Zakynthos and Kefalonia.
You can take the boat and explore the island and its hard to access beaches on your own. Pack some beers and wine in the cooler they provide and you have a good day ahead.
There are many companies that will rent a boat to you all over the island. It just depends on where you want to leave from.
You can choose to rent a boat and drive it yourself. This will usually entail someone teaching you how to operate the boats before sending you out on your own. Otherwise, if you’re not comfortable with this, you can rent a boat and have a skipper next to you to help you out.
If you want to visit the Shipwreck beach, some companies will require that you take a skipper because the water conditions on the west coast of the island are much rougher than on the east coast. It just depends on the company. As we wanted to take a boat to Shipwreck beach, we didn’t want to deal with the crazy waves so we hired a skipper. He was great and took us to some very deserted beaches that were just stunning.
The prices are variable depending on where you go. I paid about €210 for 4 hours with a skipper and this price includes gas. If you are more than 2 people, this is a no brainer. If we didn’t take the skipper, it would have been roughly €160-180 but we are glad we got the guy in the end because he did most of the hard work.
When we were not on the west coast of the island, we drove the boat ourselves which was a first for me!
Scuba diving in Zante
As an avid scuba diver, I had to get my fix in especially since it had been so many months since my last dive in Bonaire in the Caribbean.
While I’ve dived in Crete as part of my diving experience, I wanted to get the comparison with other parts of the country.
I dove with Zante Diving School located in the Bay which was a fantastic experience. They are an absolute top notch shop with great customer service. They only take out a maximum of 6 divers which is the right way to do it in my opinion. As a divemaster myself, it’s unacceptable to see DMs, especially relatively new ones, responsible for taking huge groups of divers. They had 2 people for a group of 6 which is fantastic.
We did two dives which was €110 and included all the equipment. The diving itself, for someone that normally dives in SE Asia and the Caribbean is not the most impressive. You’ll see small schools of fish but largely it’s just rocky and devoid of much life. The water is also much colder here (around 22-24 degrees in mid July).
However, if you need a diving fix, I would highly recommend going with these guys!
Where to eat in Zakynthos
Having only visited Crete before Zakynthos which had some of the best food of my life, I was unsure how a smaller island like Zakynthos would stack up as it’s known for being such a party island.
After the first meal, I was quickly reassured. Greece is known for its amazing food and Zakynthos is no outlier. It’s absolutely delicious and you will enjoy some of the freshest and most tasty food on Zante.
Located high up in the mountains next to the Agios Nicholas Church, this is one of my favorite meals in Zakynthos. They have unobstructed views of the entire island as well as the church in the distance.
The food here is also very tasty as I had some of the best lamb chops of my life here.
This was probably our favorite meal on the island. It’s a taverna run by a local family located up in the hills. The food here was just delicious. They were roasting a whole pig this evening and shaved the meat straight from the animal. The ambiance is also very inviting/a bit romantic. Highly recommended.
Taverna by the sea
If you want beautiful seaviews, this is the place for you. It’s located right on the beach with stunning views of the sunset. The food is absolutely on point and I had some of the best octopus in Greece here.
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