This is the beach that features on practically every postcard of Zante. You’ve probably seen it in glossy coffee table books featuring beautiful shots of Greece. It regularly gets a mention on those lists of “best beaches in the world“. This is the beach that’s known on the Greek island of Zakynthos as Navagio, but to tourists as Shipwreck beach or Smuggler’s cove.
Navagio is certainly one of the most photogenic beaches in Greece. That rusty old wreck, stranded on the crescent of pale sand, framed by the steep limestone cliffs and the turquoise sea, make a winning photographic combination. You can get that postcard shot yourself, from a metal platform that juts out from the cliff above the beach, where you’ll also find a taverna, ice cream van and stalls selling local honey and souvenirs. A couple of years ago I stood on the metal platform and took the postcard shot you see above, but on this summer’s visit to Zante I thought it was about time that I paid the Shipwreck beach a personal visit.
The only way that you can set foot on Shipwreck beach is by boat and most of the boat trips around the north end of Zakynthos will take you there. We didn’t fancy one of the full day “round the island” trips that go from Zante town, as these tend to be larger boats and a whole day in the sun and on the waves could be too much of a good thing. We decided instead to drive further north to where the smaller boats go on frequent trips from either St Nicholas port or Makris Gialos, a small beach that is just before the St Nicholas port on the north-east tip of Zakynthos.
There’s a little kiosk beside the road at Makris Gialos and from there we booked for a 2-3 hour trip on a speedboat that would take around 20 people. The lady at the kiosk warned us that the sea around the Shipwreck beach was quite rough today, so the boat might not be able to take us right up to the beach. “You don’t get sea-sick?” she asked and we all shook our heads, looking out at the gently lapping waves on the beach and wondering how there could possibly be a problem.
The boat powered away from the jetty and as soon as we were clear of land the captain, a wiry Greek with an all over tan and a cigarette glued in his hand, opened the throttle and the nose of the speedboat rose into the air. At first the speed and spray felt thrilling and the girls clambered onto the front of the boat to sun themselves in their bikinis. However as the boat rounded the northernmost point of the island and entered unprotected waters, the sea became more choppy and the speedboat was banging up and down onto the waves.
The girls scrambled for the safety of their seats behind the captain and we all clung on, wishing that he would slow down a little. By the time Shipwreck bay came into sight around 40 minutes from leaving the beach, we were all feeling distinctly queasy and wished that we could get off the boat. Now we were close to the Shipwreck beach and the captain skillfully manouvred the speedboat as close to shore as he could, so that we could make the short swim to shore for a closer look.
Despite the swell, we all managed to swim ashore, although a large wave knocked me off my feet and tumbled me round like a washing machine, sending seawater up my nose and dropping me spluttering into the shallows with a bikini full of gravel. Because we couldn’t bring our towels or picnic from the boat, we just walked around to look at the rusty hull of the ship and the girls lay at the water’s edge being washed by the surf. The boat was supposedly smuggling cigarettes when it went aground in the 1980s although that could just be a story the Greeks tell to give it a dramatic twist for the tourists.
The hull was broken open with a shady place to sit in the sand beneath and had corroded away to make a lacework of holes in the side through which I could look back to our group on the sand. I didn’t dare attempt to bring my I-Phone through the surf to take any photos, but my niece Sophia gave hers to the captain who put it in a plastic bag and swam one-armed with it above his head until he judged the swell just right and scrambled ashore. I borrowed Sophia’s phone to take these pictures of the shipwreck from the beach, and then after around 30 minutes we all swam back to the boat which was pitching back and forth in the swell.
It was a bit grim speeding back around the northern point of the island, as we all felt sea-sick and the captain showed no mercy with the speed of the boat. He seemed intent on getting back as quickly as possible, as the seas tend to get rougher as the day goes on. Once we were around the point the sea calmed and the captain slowed down as we neared the second part of our boat trip, a visit to the sea caves known as the Blue Caves. We had swum in similar sea caves on last year’s boat trip from Agios Sostis around Laganas bay where we had spotted some loggerhead or Caretta Caretta turtles that nest on the southern beaches of Zante. The captain nosed the boat into a couple of the sea caves to show us the intense sparkling blue colour of the water in the caves that gives them their name, then we anchored for a while to give everyone a chance to swim and snorkel.
After around 30 minutes at the caves, we started back to the beach and this time the ride was much more leisurely and pleasant, so that by the time we docked we had all but forgotten the sea-sickness we felt before. I highly recommend a boat trip to Shipwreck Beach if you want to see a unique side of Zante but I’d also recommend that you heed the warnings of the locals if they tell you that the sea is too rough, as it may be deceptively calm on one side of the island but much rougher on the other side if the wind is high.
Tips if you’d like to take this boat trip
- We took the boat trip from Makris Gialos, where there is a kiosk by the road above the beach and a small shop and taverna.
- Other options are to take a similar boat trip from St Nicholas Port, on the north-east coast of Zakynthos where a number of different boats do the same 2-3 hour trip, or to book a full day ‘Round the Island’ trip from Zante town or from other resorts on the island. Some boat trips will also take you just to the Blue Caves which is a shorter 1.5 hour trip and may be better if you don’t like rough seas.
- Our 2.5-3 hour boat trip cost €20 per person although you may be able to negotiate a discount if you have a group of 6 or more.
- You should take a look at the boat to ensure that it has full shade and consider the size of the boat. For this trip a boat that takes 15-20 people is best as it will be small enough to get into the Blue Caves and to get close to Shipwreck Beach. A larger boat may be more stable but you may not be able to get close to the beach.
- The Blue Caves are on the north-east side of the island where the sea is much calmer, while Shipwreck beach is on the north-west side where the sea is rough. Take local advice on the best day to go when the sea is not too rough and if you are prone to sea-sickness, you may want to consider medication or not go to the Shipwreck Beach but just do the trip to the Blue Caves.
- If you are based at the southern end of Zakynthos as we were at Argassi, you may want to try a turtle spotting boat trip instead that will take you thorough Laganas Bay to spot for turtles, followed by swimming around the sea caves at Keri.
More tales from Zante
Thanks to Jet2.com for providing flights for Heather’s trip to Zakynthos, Greece. Jet2.com runs weekly flights to Zante from Manchester and Leeds Bradford and flights from many other local UK airports to your favourite holiday destinations. You can follow Jet2.com updates on their Facebook page
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