In July I spent a blissful week on the Greek island of Zakynthos, soaking up the sun and seeking out the best spots for swimming and sunbathing. With my teenage daughter and several of her friends coming along, I had some willing companions to test out the sunloungers and find the best places to perfect your tan or cool off with a dip in the sea. Here are our favourite beaches and swimming places on Zante, both favourites from previous visits and new discoveries from this trip.
Zante town swimming
Most visitors to Zakynthos are based in one of the resorts around the island but if you happen to have a day in Zante town and want a quiet swimming place and lunch in a taverna, I found a charming little spot on the edge of town. From St Mark’s square and the long pier where all the yachts are moored, walk out of town along the seafront for 10 minutes, past the tennis courts and the children’s playground and you’ll find where the locals go for a swim. This miniature harbour is ideal for all ages and there is a grassy area and sunbeds adjoining the traditional taverna called Astepia where you can get drinks and meals.
Boat trip swimming
It’s popular to take a boat trip for either a full day day or a half day around the south coast of Zakynthos. Last year we did the long version on a full day turtle-spotting boat trip starting at Porto Roma which normally costs €40-50 per person, but this year we took a shorter 3 hour trip which cost around €25 per person, starting at the small harbour at Agios Sostis. The boat trips will typically take you into Laganas bay where you’ll hope to see a loggerhead turtle, although they are getting increasingly rare, and then you’ll skirt around headland past the limestone cliffs and sea caves near Keri. There are some sea arches and caves that the boats will take you through to admire the intensely turquoise water that looks like glass and then the boats normally drop anchor and let you swim for a while. This is the perfect place to jump in and cool off after feeling the salty spray on your skin and the wind in your hair.
Marathonisi or Turtle Island
On your boat trip out through Laganas bay, you’ll pass the turtle shaped island of Marathonisi and after swimming in the Keri caves you’ll probably stop here for a swim too. You shouldn’t swim on the wide sandy beach where the turtles nest as this area is protected, but on the other side there’s a sea cave and small strip of sand where the boats will drop you for a while. There’s even an ice cream boat that is moored up and will sell you cold drinks and you can swim through into the sea cave through a small opening by the beach. It’s a really pretty spot although somewhat crowded when a few boats are moored up all at once. When deciding on your boat trip make sure that you book a smaller boat with some shade or a catamaran, not one of the larger boats that are too big to get anywhere near the beach. You can also rent small boats that you can drive yoursef to explore the shore line from Agios Sostis, Keri or Laganas.
Navagio or Smuggler’s cove
Navagio or Smuggler’s Cove is the beach that makes it onto the cover of practically every book or postcard from Zante. The beach is only accessible by boat and is a stopping off point for every boat trip around the north of the island. I haven’t personally taken the trip that lands you on this beach but I have looked down on the beach from the viewing platform on the cliffs above where you can take the iconic postcard shot. The beach has a rusty old wreck half buried in the sand of a ship that went aground in the 1980s, while supposedly smuggling cigarettes. The presence of the wreck there seems to add to the photogenic appeal and make this one of the most photographed beaches in Greece.
Swimming from the rocks
The western side of Zakynthos is dry and rocky and you can drive your car through traditional mountain villages through scrub and low pine trees until you come down again the other side and spot the cliffs and sea before you. Porto Limnionas is not an obvious place to find and yet when you get there you’ll probably find the car park full with Greeks and Italians who love this kind of rocky sea swimming. There’s a narrow inlet of water with limestone cliffs, where the sea is intense turquoise, broken up by patches of darker blue, where seaweed clothes the bottom. Sunbeds are laid out on the terraces overlooking the inlet with shade provided by rush-covered sunshades and the odd pine bush bent down against the wind. Concrete paths and steps have been laid out to take you down to the sea and you can jump into the clear water, although it’s not quite as easy to hoist yourself out if there’s any swell. There’s a taverna where you can have a lovely lunch in the shade and they’ll bring you drinks down to your sunlounger. Porto Limnionas was my favourite swimming place from this year’s trip to Zante.
Turtle nesting beaches
Gerakas beach is located on the south-east corner of the island and is particularly attractive because of its annual visitors, the loggerhead or Caretta Caretta turtles that nest here. Because of the turtle nesting sites, the beach has been protected from development and no building is allowed above it which means that it has an undeveloped aspect compared to many of the other beaches on Zante. Sun loungers are kept close to the sea and well away from the turtle nests which are marked and sometimes roped off. There is a parking area at the top of the cliff path down to the beach and a couple of nice bars and tavernas nearby where we’ve had pleasant lunches in the shade. Be sure to visit the Turtle information centre at Gerakas, run by Earth Sea and Sky organisation, dedicated to preserving wildlife in the Ionian Islands, which was started by Yannis Vardakastanis who has won several conservation awards for his work to preserve the turtles that nest on this beach where he grew up.
We enjoyed an afternoon at Dafni beach on my most recent holiday to Zante and I’d say this one is a beautiful beach to spend some time on. You do need a hire car to get here and the steep and winding dirt road down to the beach can be daunting and personally I’d avoid riding a motorbike down there because of the gritty and potholed roads. Although the access is difficult, once you’re down you can park and settle into a sun lounger in front of one of the beach bars – some don’t charge for the sunbeds so long as you buy drinks and snacks at the bar. The beach is another turtle nesting site and the sun loungers are kept well back from the sea to protect the turtle nests, so there’s a long expanse of warm sand to enjoy. The water is shallow and great for swimming which makes this an ideal beach for children, providing you don’t mind the drive down.
Sand and more
This is a smaller beach with easy road access near Vassilikos and in past years we’ve been there we enjoyed the unspoilt aspect of the beach. However on the last visit we did find that the beach was so covered with sun lounger that you could barely walk by which I found rather annoying. There were two beach bars when I was there last, one a more traditional taverna, the other a rather trendy beach bar that seemed to have taken over the far end of the beach. The thing I particularly enjoy about Porto Zoro is the large rocks at one end that are great for swimming and snorkeling.
You can get on to Vassilikos beach from several different turn-offs from the main coast road, each with signs pointing you to different named beaches, such as Ionian beach or Banana beach where there are watersports. In fact it’s one long beach and you can park in one place then walk along to a different spot. We parked near the attractive stone built taverna and walked along to the rather trendy beach bar where we settled on sun loungers and bought some drinks. The sand is lovely here and the sea shallow although I don’t think this beach is as interesting as some of the others for swimming as the outlook is straight out to sea. If you want watersports head to the far end at Banana Beach where you can hire jetskis or do paragliding or be dragged through the water on an inflatable.
Agios Sostis Port
This is a pleasant family beach with shallow water, sunbeds and pedalos on one side of Laganas bay. It’s not to be confused with the excessive nightlife and busy strip around the bay at Laganas – Agios Sostis Port is a much more traditional place with family run apartments, beach bars and restaurants such as the Sabbia Beach bar and Harbour House restaurant right on the beach. There are two parts to Agios Sostis and we enjoyed stopping at the Agios Sostis Liminaki or port which has a small beach to one side and a marina on the other from where many of the boat trips go.
There are plenty more beautiful beaches on Zakynthos to the northern end of the island around Tsilivi and Alykes, but as I am normally visiting my sister in Argassi, I suppose we’ve tended to stick to the southern part of the island. However, don’t take my word for it and get in your car or catch the bus to explore a different beach or swimming place for every day of your holiday.
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More things to enjoy on Zakynthos
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