If you're anything like me, chances are the Greek Islands lie somewhere on your travel bucket list. After all, those postcard-perfect pictures that crop up all over the Internet start to have a subconscious effect on you if you look at them often enough.
For me, the Greek Islands have always been a dream destination. Even after I failed to connect with cities on the Greek mainland last year, I still found myself dreaming of the islands frequently. But I was unsure about actually going. Those islands… those touristy, expensive, party-happy islands… were they really a destination for someone like me?
Well, as it turns out, yes. Yes they are.
I decided to visit the Greek Islands with a tour company, Intrepid Travel, in hopes of experiencing a little more of the culture and a little less of the backpacker scene on the islands. I also decided to go in early September, when the temperatures were still high, but the crowds were beginning to thin out. This ended up being an ideal combination.
If you, too, are interested in a trip similar to this, check out my video of the Greek Islands tour offered by Intrepid Travel, followed by a review.
Where will you go?
The 15-day tour I took is actually 2 separate tours linked together. The first tour is from Athens to Santorini (with stops on Syros and Mykonos), while the second tour is from Santorini back to Athens (with stops on Ios and Naxos). I chose to book the full 15-day tour in order to visit all 5 islands, but a few people in my group were only doing one half.
The islands visited on the full 15-day tour are:
This is a great mix of popular, touristy islands (like Mykonos and Santorini) and quieter, less-touristy islands (like Syros and Naxos).
Who will you travel with?
The travelers in my group hailed from the U.S., Canada, and Australia, with ages ranging from 25 to 60+. Some were experienced travelers, while others had only left home a couple of times. This is a pretty typical mix for Intrepid groups, though, from my experience. And, as always when traveling with Intrepid, there were only 12 people in our group.
Who is the guide?
Actually, Intrepid employs tour leaders, not guides — trip facilitators, not baby-sitters. Your leader won't necessarily give you a history lesson at each stop or coordinate social events; rather, he/she is mostly just in charge of logistics, making sure everyone gets from Point A to Point B with as little stress as possible. Our tour leader was a young, bubbly Austrian woman named Sonja, who did a great job of making sure all the details were taken care of each day. She also always had good restaurant suggestions, and helped organize some extra activities that our group wanted to do.
How will you travel?
On this particular trip, travel is mostly done via ferry. Various ferry services operate throughout the Greek Islands — some are large and slow, while others are small and speedy. We took a variety of ferries on this tour. On the larger, slower boats we did not have reserved seats and so often wound up sitting out on deck to soak up the sun. On the smaller, high-speed ferries (where deck seating isn't always available), we had reserved airplane-style seats to call our own.
The longest ferry ride we took was from Santorini to Athens — it lasted nearly 6 hours. All the others were quite a bit shorter and altogether quite enjoyable! Yes, the boats were often late arriving to pick us up from port, but once on board things ran smoothly.
Where will you stay?
This trip is an Intrepid Original style of trip, which means 2/3-star tourist class accommodation — no camping in the bush, but also nothing super fancy. If you are traveling solo, you’ll be sharing a room with at least one other person unless you pay the single supplement fee. I have never had an issue with this — and also had no issues with the accommodations used on this tour. Intrepid has a pledge towards responsible tourism, which usually means using locally-owned services whenever possible. We therefore stayed at small, family-run hotels in Greece.
Some were fancier with free breakfasts and swimming pools, while others were much more basic. All were clean and centrally-located, though, so I can't complain at all!
What will you eat?
Greece is known for its food — and this is definitely true on the islands, as well. On this 15-day tour, most breakfasts were included, as were 2 group dinners. We were free to do whatever we wanted for the other meals, though on most nights the whole group ended up going out to dinner together anyway. We usually deferred to our tour leader's suggestions, opting for traditional Greek tavernas as often as possible. Along with Greek salads and saganaki (fried cheese), we also ate TONS of fresh seafood.
What will you do?
Since Intrepid’s target market is the adventurous, somewhat independent traveler, their tours are usually a nice mix of pre-planned activities and flexible free time — and it was no different on this trip. The included activities were usually things like orientation walks on each island with Sonja, as well as some optional hikes. A visit to the historical island of Delos was included during our time on Mykonos, and our group also opted to charter a boat for an afternoon outing on Santorini. Other than that, though, our time was mostly our own. Most of us spent afternoons at the beach, or exploring island villages.
Moreso than any other Intrepid trip I've been on, this Greek Islands tour is all about relaxing. Relaxing, and soaking up the “slow-slow” Greek way of life.
As with any organized tour, you end up giving up some of your independence and sacrifice flexibility when traveling like this. If you're traveling solo, you'll also need to be prepared to share your space with someone else, unless you want to pay extra to have a room to yourself. On this trip in particular, it was also a little strange to have it be 2 separate tours. I felt a bit bad for the people who joined the tour during the second week, since they were coming in to a group that had already spent a week bonding and getting to know one another.
That being said, however, it was a great tour. Relaxing and yet interesting at the same time.
Would I recommend it?
YES! If you've always wanted to see the Greek Islands but don't necessarily want to do it on your own, backpacker-style, then this is the tour for you. It was the perfect mix of iconic, touristy islands and quieter, less-crowded ones. There was also a nice mix of included things to do a free time to while away at the beach.
I took this tour after traveling around Europe like a maniac for a month, and it was JUST what I needed. Laid-back, sunny, and really fun.
If you want to read more about this tour, check out these posts:
- My Big Fat Greek Islands Photo Essay
- The Greek Islands: Syros
- The Greek Islands: Mykonos
- Delos: A Birthplace of Gods
- The Greek Islands: Santorini
- Santorini Sunset Smackdown: Oia vs. Fira
- The Greek Islands: Ios
- The Greek Islands: Naxos
Is this a tour YOU might want to take someday?
*Note: I received a complimentary Greek Islands tour from Intrepid Travel through my partnership with them. As always, though, opinions are entirely my own.