Are you a secret pirate or a nature loving mermaid? On the Greek island of Zakynthos you’ll have the chance to play at being both, if you take one of the boat trips that are a favourite with visitors to the island. As my sister lives on Zante (as it’s more popularly known to the Brits) I’ve had the good fortune to take a holiday in Greece every year and we’ve done a few boat trips in our time. While there are some variations, you’ll typically find a couple of choices depending on whether you want to explore the rocky north or the golden beaches to the south of the island.
Visit the Blue caves and Shipwreck beach
If you’ve seen any photos of Zakynthos, chances you’ll have seen the one of Shipwreck cove or Navagio, taken from the cliffs above. This crescent of sand, with a half-buried, rusty wreck and high cliffs on either side, is one of the most photographed beaches in Greece.
To reach Navagio, which is on the north-west coast of the island, you’ll typically take one of the many trips from St Nicholas port or from Makris Gialos, a small beach that is just before St Nicholas port. We started our boat trip at Makris Gialos on a smallish boat which took up to 20 people, had a shaded awning and a powerful motor.
The boat made good headway on relatively calm waters at first and we passed the sea caves, known locally as the ‘Blue Caves’ that the sea has cut into the limestone cliffs. We didn’t stop but powered on around the northern tip of the island, at which point the sea started to become decidedly rough. Around 40 minutes after leaving the beach we were all feeling a bit seasick and were relieved when the Shipwreck beach came into sight.
The metal hull of the ship on the sand is supposed to be a cigarette smuggler’s boat that went aground in the 1980s, or perhaps that’s just a nice story to tell the tourists. In any case it adds some interest to a beautiful beach which is larger than it appears from above and can only be reached by sea, due to the sheer limestone cliffs.
On the day we visited the swell was high and although the captain skillfully moved the boat as close as he could, it wasn’t possible to get it right up on the beach. If we wanted to get ashore, we’d have to jump in and swim through the surf which is what we did, although I was knocked over by the force of the waves and ended up with sand in my bikini and water up my nose. We spent around 20 minutes on the beach and I took the opportunity to walk around the ship which was broken in half, making a shady area inside, with a hull that had rusted away into lacy holes.
We swam back to the boat and powered back the way we had come, with the captain showing no mercy to those of us feeling sick as he opened the throttle and the boat banged up and down on the waves. Things improved once we rounded the headland and entered sheltered waters again, returning to explore the sea caves. The captain nosed the boats into a few of the caves where the water below us was startlingly deep cobalt blue and turquoise. We anchored for a while and had a chance to swim and snorkel around the boat before returning to Makris Gialos.
This boat trip takes around 2-3 hours and you need to check whether the sea is rough or calm as this will affect your experience. Bear in mind that even if it is calm at your resort, it may still be windy with rough seas in the north of the island. Also consider the size of the boat, as a larger boat may be more stable but a smaller boat will be able to get you closer into the beach. For those that don’t want to brave the choppy seas to the shipwreck beach, you can still do a very pleasant boat trip in a glass bottom boat to the sea caves, with plenty of opportunities for swimming, which will also make a shorter trip. Our boat trip cost around €20 per person and you may be able to negotiate a discount for larger groups.
See the Turtles in Laganas bay and swim in the Keri caves
If you want a gentler boat trip for your holiday in Greece, I’d suggest that you head for the southern end of Zakynthos, for one of the boat trips that take you through Laganas Bay and around to the Keri caves. This end of the island is famed for the beautiful golden sandy beaches and the Loggerhead or Caretta Caretta turtles that nest on them. These boat trips are typically sold as an opportunity to see the turtles swimming in Laganas Bay, but you should be aware that their numbers are dwindling so you need to go with a reputable boat owner who will respect the laws of the National Marine Park and not harrass the turtles.
We’ve taken this trip twice on different styles of boats which gave a slightly different experience although we went to the same locations on both trips. The first occasion was a half-day trip on a catamaran which had a cabin and plenty of space on deck at the back and front of the boat to spread out. We left from the small beach at Porto Roma which meant that the first hour was spent travelling along the coast with views of the limestone cliffs, until we rounded the point and crossed Laganas Bay to swim in the Keri caves. On the second occasion we went on a much smaller, glass bottomed boat from Agios Sostis close to Laganas which meant that we had a shorter trip of around 2 hours, which was still plenty of time.
Either on the way out or the way back the boat is likely to take you into Laganas bay which is the main place you will see the turtles swimming in the water. Beware of any boat owners who guarantee you’ll see the turtles as this makes it more likely that the few that are around will be chased and tracked down just to give you your sighting. There are also strict rules about the contact with the turtles, for instance you’re not allowed to swim close to the turtles or to pull them out of the water and a limited number of boats are allowed near a turtle at any one time.
All this means that you’ll probably be able to see the turtles for around 10 minutes before the boat needs to move away. On our first boat trip, we went with local naturalist Yannis Vardakastanis, who runs the Earth Sea and Sky volunteer and information programme with a centre at Gerakas beach, one of the other turtle nesting sites, but on this occasion we didn’t actually see any turtles. On the second trip we did spot one and there were several boats close to it all homing in to take a look, so I felt a bit sorry for the turtle.
The second part of the boat trip takes you to the far side of Laganas bay and under the high limestone cliffs at Keri where there are some sea arches and caves, although not as deep as the Blue Caves on the north-east coast. When the boat anchors, this is a lovely place to jump off into the clear water and swim or snorkel. On the return trip, you are likely to stop at Marathonisi or Turtle island, a small island in the bay that makes the shape of a turtle and is also one of the nesting beaches for the turtles.
You are not allowed to land on the small sandy beach where the turtles nest, and even if you have your own boat you should not do so. On the opposite side of the island is another small beach and a sea cave where you are allowed to land and this is where you can relax for a while and have a swim. There’s even a boat that comes around selling ice creams and drinks, just like an ice cream van.
If you want to take the turtle spotting boat trip, there are many boats that offer it going either from Laganas resort, from the small marina at Agios Sostis or from the harbour at Keri, and if you’re in one of the holiday resorts you’ll also come across plenty of people selling you this as a day trip with transport to and from the resort. The shorter 2-3 hour trips typically cost €20-25 per person and you can also rent small boats for 6-8 people to take out yourself into the bay, which would be fun if there’s a large group of you and you feel confident handling the boat.
There are plenty more things to see and do on the Greek island of Zakynthos, but it’s well worth doing one of these boat trips while you’re there. It’s a lovely way to see the island and was certainly a highlight of our holiday.
More things to do on Zante
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