Every heartbeat on the cobblestone walkway comes to a halt as the sun balances precariously on the threadlike horizon, spilling its brilliant rays into the Aegean Sea. Cameras click simultaneously as the sky transforms from pale blue to flaming crimsons and golds. Far below, a lonely cruise ship hums quietly into harbor, leaving a bright silvery trail that breaks the stillness of the water. Soon, the sun drops its glare, trickles down like a pricked egg yolk and disappears completely into the sea, eliciting applause from the mesmerized crowd.

One by one, lights from cliffside villages begin to appear like fireflies. Whitewashed houses and blue-domed chapels now glow with pastel hues in the reflection of the ever-changing sky. A lighthouse blinks its giant eye across the islands of the caldera, which form a scraggly crescent around the bay. Santorini is by far more beautiful than any photograph can attempt to capture.

The island has often been associated with Atlantis, a mythical “lost” continent that the great philosopher Plato vividly described in his books. According to him, the god of the sea, Poseidon, created Atlantis as a dwelling place for himself, his mortal wife Cleito and their ten sons, who each ruled a part of the continent. The Atlantians lived in peace and opulence for generations. They built grand palaces, temples, docks, intricate water systems and other structures that were far ahead of their time. Eventually, greed and immorality crept in, prompting Zeus, the ruler of the Olympian gods, to send violent earthquakes and floods that vanished the land to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Similarly, the highly influential Minoan Civilization flourished in Santorini and its nearby islands from approximately 3600 to 1400 BC. Like the legendary Atlantians, the Minoans were excellent engineers, artists, traders and sailors. They were also the first to create and use a writing system in Europe. At its height, however, the Minoan Civilization disappeared entirely following a massive explosion of the Santorini volcano in 1500 BC, leaving only traces of their existence in one of their settlements, Akrotiri, where well-preserved artifacts such as fine frescoes, three storey-buildings, pottery, furniture and an advanced drainage system have been found beneath volcanic ashes. The striking similarities between the two islands have led many to believe that Santorini is what was left of Atlantis. Myth or not, one thing is certain: Santorini looks every bit like a playground of the gods, attracting millions of visitors every year.

While it is true that Santorini vacations often carry a hefty price tag, here are nice things to enjoy that don’t require your entire life savings:

1.) Laze the day away in a Jacuzzi/pool with a panoramic ocean view

There’s nothing lovelier than gazing into the horizon while lounging in a Jacuzzi on a terrace perched precariously atop a craggy volcanic cliff. Right before my eyes is the rich deep blue sea, which rocks the sparkles of reflected light cast by the fervid noon sun. To my right, a crisp white village clings to the edge of the caldera as quaint hotels race down to the ebony coast below.

Santorini is synonymous with dramatic views and luxury. While the Greek island is postcard-worthy in every angle, it is where you stay that will define your experience. Here, days are best spent in an outdoor tub or a spacious sun deck while sipping a Vinsanto or simply gawking out at the incredible view, so do not scrimp on accommodation and settle on budget travel experiences. I tell you, it is every bit worth the cost. Surprisingly, many booking websites like Agoda and Expedia offer affordable deals for posh hotels especially if you book far in advance. It also helps if you travel with a friend to share the expenses with.

There are three gorgeous villages in Santorini that face the iconic sunset and the Aegean Sea: Fira (the capital), Imerovigli (the highest point) and Oia (the best sunset view). Wherever you choose to stay, make sure to find a villa that captures the essence of this breathtaking island.

Where To Stay:

Kamares Apartments

Fira Santorini, Fira 847 00

Greece

www.kamares-apartments.gr

Expenses:

Php 17,000 per night (with breakfast, villa originally priced at Php 20,000) /2 persons= Php8,500 per pax or 158 Euros

 

2.) Catch the sunset in Oia Village

A gorgeous bride in a sweeping white dress kisses her groom as they stand atop a volcanic cliff overlooking the sea. It is half an hour before sunset, and I scramble to find a vacant perch near the ruins of the Byzantine Castle. The steep cobbled pathways and balconies are thick with affectionate couples and tourists who assemble not to witness the ceremony below but to see its heart-stopping backdrop. It is no secret that Oia Village, a cluster of whitewashed houses that sits on the northwest edge of the caldera, has the island’s best view of the sunset.

The busiest and the most photographed village in the island, Oia is a maze of narrow alleyways, small squares and age-old cave houses, which now hosts thousands of tourists who want to experience the island’s iconic views. Long before the tourist invasion, Oia was a seamen’s town that flourished economically as a result of maritime trade throughout the Mediterranean, particularly as part of the trade route between Russia and Alexandria. Be warned: Oia gets crowded hours before the golden hour as throngs of sunset-obsessed romantics and photography enthusiasts pour into the labyrinthine streets to secure a perfect vantage point. Fortunately, any spot in the village offers a good view of the spectacle, whether it’s by a hotel’s infinity pool or atop some random wall. Truth is, sunsets are pretty much similar and straightforward everywhere, but being perched on a thousand-foot volcanic cliff while gazing into the mirror-calm sea, the caldera and the kaleidoscopic skies adds much drama to the experience.

Expenses:

Bus fare (Fira-Oia RT)– Php 171.20 or 3.20 Euros

 

 3.)Taste some wine at SantoWines Winery

Sitting on a cliffside terrace looking out dreamily at the gentle waves lapping against the soaring red caldera, I safely assume that Santorini is known solely for its gorgeous panoramas. However, much to my surprise, the island has a 5,000-year history in winemaking. When the Greek’s worship of Dionysus, the god of wine, spread throughout the ancient world, Greek wines became popular and were traded throughout the Mediterranean. Thanks to the strong gusts of sea air and the volcanic activities centuries ago, which has made the island’s soil porous enough to retain moisture even during the hottest summer months, some forty grape varieties thrive abundantly and acquire a refreshing acidity that the wines here are known for.

Wine and cheese with a scenic view? Oh please, anytime! Among the 10 wineries in the island, which offer wine tasting and tours of their facilities, the SantoWines Winery looks is an obvious choice among tourists. Located on the outskirts of Pyrgos Village, SantoWine’s restaurant and tasting room sits on top of a hill facing the Aegean Sea and the caldera. The place gets easily crowded especially at sunset, so it would be a smart idea to reserve your seats online prior to the visit.

Where To Go:

SantoWines

Pyrgos, Thira 847 00, Greece

https://www.santowines.gr

Expenses:

Bus Fare (Fira-Pyrgos RT)– Php 171.20 or 3.20 Euros

12-glass wine tasting set-Php 909.50 or 17 Euros

TOTAL= Php1,080.70 or 20.20 Euros

 

 4.) Indulge in authentic Greek cuisine

Santorini is a feast for both the eyes and the taste buds. The volcanic catastrophes not only defined the island’s geography but also its local cuisine, which is mainly based on the agricultural products that grow abundantly on its lava-infused soil. Since vine-grown vegetables thrive well on the island, it is only natural that they are used as key ingredients of perhaps the most iconic among the Greek dishes, the Greek Salad. The dish is a healthy and flavorful mélange of juicy tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, red onions, green peppers, feta cheese, olives, capers, oregano and olive oil. Quite surprisingly, an authentic Greek salad doesn’t have lettuce or any other leafy greens in it.

Meat lovers can also have their fix with lesser guilt, as the Greeks love their pork, lamb and chicken lightly seasoned and cooked to perfection on a rotisserie or over coal-fired grill. The grilled meat, called gyros if cooked on a rotisserie and souvlaki if skewered, is usually served with lightly toasted pita bread, tomatoes, lettuce, a dusting of parika and tsatziki (yogurt, garlic and cucumber dip), becoming a complete and heavy meal. Easily available in many corner food stalls, souvlaki has become the most popular, convenient and cost-effective food option among budget travellers. One hearty serving should only set you back around 4 Euros.

If your palate is yearning for something rich and savory, try the moussaka, a traditional Greek dish that is made by layering sliced eggplants with lamb meat sauce and creamy béchamel sauce before baking it to golden perfection.

Expenses:

Inexpensive restaurants will cost around 10 Euros per meal while the nicer ones around 18 Euros, with a drink.

 

5.) Go on a scenic hike from Fira to Oia

 

There’s no better way to discover the Greek Island’s most stunning views than to hike the 10-kilometer trail from Fira to Oia, so I put my sneakers on and head out to the nearby road. I start from the center of Fira, the island’s capital, where I pass by several crisp white churches and souvenir stalls before heading north. Walking along the well-paved path along the caldera and passing through several quaint villages, I pause every so often to catch my breath, take photographs and soak up the stunning views of the volcano and the Aegean Sea. Never mind the blazing sun overhead, the scenery becomes even more beautiful as I move from one vantage point to another. Following the cobblestone street upward, I reach the village of Imerovigli, which sits at the highest and most central part of the caldera. Here, I find an abandoned 13th century castle on top of an enormous rock. To the left, whitewashed luxury hotels sit seductively on top of the highest cliffs, their infinity pools sparkling in the sun. I can only imagine how fabulous it is to stay in one of those. Dear God, please make me rich! Sweat is pouring from my head down to my eyes as I continue to the north, passing by the Church of Agios Antonios and the Church of Prophet Elias, both offering a gorgeous view of the nearby islands. The trail ends in Oia, the village that usually appears in postcards and photographs because of its whitewashed houses, blue-domed chapels and traditional windmills.

The hike may take up to 5 hours if you allow yourself plenty of stopovers to take photographs. Also, it is best to start early in the afternoon to arrive in Oia just in time for the world-famous sunset.

Expenses:

Bus Fare (Oia-Fira)- Php 85.50 or 1.60 Euros