Zakynthos is one of the most famous islands in Greece, yet I must confess that for the longest time it was completely unknown to me!
I only became aware of Zakynthos (also known as Zante) when one day its legendary Shipwreck Beach showed up as my Windows desktop background image. The unbelievable limestone cliffs and almost tropically light blue sea had me instantly mesmerized.
“Surely, these blue waters have got to be photoshopped?!”, I thought. And yet, I immediately wanted to find out just where this place was.
Long story short: just a year later I found myself docking at the Port of Zakynthos, visiting the island as part of a road trip through Greece.
I can tell you one thing: the coves and beaches really are as beautiful as the photos suggest. Zakynthos is an island that needs no filters.
Going to Zakynthos? Then here are 7 most useful things to know:
1. Zakynthos is definitely a holiday island
Zakynthos (also known as Zante) is the 5th most-visited island in Greece. Located on the west coast of Greece along the Adriatic Sea, it has a bit of something for everyone.
Parts of the island are popular with many young Brits and Dutchies, especially around the party hotspot of Laganas. This is the sort of brash beach town that reminded me of similar places I’ve been to in Thailand, with a main strip lined with tourist shops, bars, burger joints, and lots of neon and LED signs. Luckily, you don’t have to spend any time here if it’s not your vibe.
If you’re not into very commercial places, know that Laganas is only a tiny part of the island. All along the north coast, you’ll find just small villages, quiet beaches, and plenty of pure tranquility. Laganas is definitely a bit of a party spot, but I saw mostly couples and families on the rest of the island. Try to visit outside of the August peak season if you’re not too keen on crowds, as this can make a huge difference.
Zakynthos has some fantastic beaches and sights and everything is just set up for it to be a fun holiday place. You can explore the island by scooter or ATV (quad bike), or poke all around the coast by boat tour or even by renting a small private boat for the day, which you can do without needing a boating license.
Not to mention, the island has sea turtles! (But more on that later.)
2. Yes, Shipwreck Beach is that beautiful
Clearly, lots of people come to Zante because they saw Shipwreck Beach on Instagram or YouTube (or, in my case, as my computer background).
It’s a cove on the island’s western coast, surrounded by super tall cliffs and reachable only by boat. The wreck of the MV Panagiotis, beached in 1980, helped launch this cove to fame.
I can tell you that the light blue waters really do look this way in real life. It’s an objectively stunning view.
Arguably, Shipwreck Beach is best enjoyed from the clifftops than from the bottom — and I should mention the viewing area is surprisingly small. Only a few spots will give you just the right angle to see it.
Probably because many influencers were taking daring shots on the cliff edges, it seems only a single balcony area is now open to the public. There was quite a queue when I visited, so I took a shot with my drone instead of waiting in line in the hot sun.
If you want to see the beach at sea-level, you have to take a boat trip from Porto Vromi Maries.
Count on needing at least half a day to drive to the port and back, to take the boat, visit the beach, and all the rest of it. I tried to see it quickly on my last day before my ferry departed and this was a little too tight. It’s better to just dedicate a full day to do it right. In high season, consider an early start to beat the crowds.
Shipwreck Beach is not the only amazing spot on Zakynthos, by the way. There are loads of epic cliffs, coves, and sea caves with glistening waters that are clear as crystal.
Pack a snorkeling mask so you can see all the impressive rock formations underwater, not to mention the sea turtles that are known to hang out in several spots.
3. Turtle Island isn’t where the turtles are
Zakynthos is a prime nesting area for Loggerhead sea turtles. Many of the beaches have protected areas where they can lay their eggs and hatch in peace.
There are sea turtle-watching tours on glass-bottom boats, but I didn’t really like them. A bunch of these boats will just crowd around a single turtle, no doubt giving them a fair bit of stress. I think it’s much better to try and spot them yourself while snorkeling. The ‘turtle tours’ are not really worth it. Ignore them!
A lot of places are known as ‘turtle beaches’, but they are nesting areas rather than places where you can spot adult turtles. This includes Turtle Island — it’s a nesting area and not really where the adult turtles hang out.
However, there are some specific places where you have a very good chance of spotting them — according to locals, especially from May till October. Be sure to bring a snorkeling mask or rent one on the beach.
Try snorkeling near Laganas beach and you might well be lucky to see one. You can also go to nearby Cameo Island, which can be reached by a wooden bridge (entry fee: €4). Swim around the rocky areas away from the little beach. I managed to find a sea turtle here within minutes — and yes, it’s a totally magical experience.
Of course, remember not to touch or bother them!
4. It’s great to stay in Tsilivi and Alykes
If you’re looking for a lovely B&B, holiday apartment, or small local hotel, I would recommend looking in the areas of Tsilivi or Alykes. These are on the northern coast of the island, which has plenty of uncrowded beaches and a calm atmosphere.
I’d advise against staying in Zakynthos Town or Laganas as these are too busy and developed. Maybe their only advantage is that you could more easily stay there without having any kind of transportation of your own, as they are big hubs and easily reached. However, the northern coast as well as the southernmost tips of the island struck me as the most pleasant areas to stay.
I personally loved the northern coast the most and would easily stay there again.
Where I stayed (recommended!)
We stayed in this wonderful apartment in the area of Psarou. We loved the balcony views as well as being just a 5-minute walk from a local beach (there were only ever a few other people there). There’s a wonderful traditional Greek restaurant nearby with cheap food and sea views. Not to mention, the owner was very welcoming and helpful – she works for a travel agent and could arrange tours at discounted prices.
5. It’s good to have a car
If you’re just wanting to stay near a beach for a week on your holiday, and don’t plan to move around, then you can certainly just stay in one spot. You can then take an organized tour to see the island and get dropped off back at your hotel.
However, it’s a lot easier to get around if you have a car. For the best deal on a rental car, it’s a good idea to book ahead. This is an island, so there is always a limited stock of rental cars available! You can compare prices from all rental companies on Zakynthos.
You can also get around Zakynthos by scooter (small motorbike) or ATV or quad bike. These are fun to ride and the quads can easily take two people at once.
Don’t underestimate the time it takes to get around Zakynthos though. It’s basically one huge patchwork of narrow country roads with barely any bigger through-roads, so progress can be a little slow. It’s about an hour’s drive from one side to the other. If you go diagonally, it can take almost 2 hours.
6. There’s a charm at the heart of Zakynthos
I mentioned that Zante is very much a holiday island. You can easily tell this by the great number of seaside hotels, quad bike rentals, and crowds during summer.
If you’re purely a cultural traveler, then not everything on Zakynthos may be perfectly to your taste. I’m admittedly a bit of a snooty traveler these days, getting all uppity about whether a place is ‘authentic’ enough or not. And yet… I enjoyed my time on Zakynthos a lot! It’s a fun and easy place to be.
What probably did make a difference was that I visited during a quieter time. I can imagine the island being quite hectic and overly touristy during the peak months of July and August. Consider going in the months before or after, if you can.
The outer parts of the island also have a lot more charm than the most central part. For example, the Western side is mostly very natural and not developed, with some old villages with the occasional small monastery. Around the center of the island, you’ll find plenty of olive tree-studded slopes, with narrow windy roads.
I enjoyed stopping at a little roadside tavern near the town of Gyri, which had a garden terrace with little wood-carved decorations, and a gnarly olive tree that was proudly presented as the “biggest olive tree in the village”.
If you poke around a bit, you can find plenty of cute typically Greek places, despite the somewhat commercial resort-island nature of the island.
7. Don’t miss Gerakas Beach
Finally, I have to mention Gerakas Beach. It takes a while to drive to as it’s on one of the island’s furthest tips, but it’s worth it. It has a long sandy bay with a view of limestone cliffs.
It’s a protected nesting area for the sea turtles — and you can visit the nearby Zakynthos Sea Turtle Rescue Center to learn more about these majestic creatures.
What’s great about Garakas Beach is that there is no development beside it, so it feels very much like a natural beach. Bring your snorkeling mask to check out some of the small rocky reefs along the sides!
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