Ithaca - The Hidden Gem of the Ionian Sea
Before my first trip to Greece, I had never heard of Ithaca. To be honest, not many people have. But one look at the terrain map and I was sold - a secluded island in the Ionian Sea with dynamic hilly and coastal landscapes. No doubt hidden beaches, secret sea caves, cozy villages and very few tourists too… my favourite kind of destination! Although I couldn’t find a whole lot of information about this island, it didn’t bother me at all. I knew that the surprise would be very much worth the wait and anticipation - and I was not wrong. Fast forward THREE trips to Ithaca in 2018 (March, July, October) - I think my infatuation with this Greek Island goes without saying. But there is just something magical about this island - is it the energy? The landscapes? The people?
This place to me, feels a like an island home away from home. It’s paradise and today I wanted to share a few of my favourite places and tips for Ithaca - collated with the most wonderful locals and guides (and of course my awesome travel buddy and brother who was keen to jump on board some crazy ideas!).
BEST TIME TO VISIT:
Anytime from April (when season starts) to around October (season end). This is when the weather is best.
March and October: very very few tourists, some places will be closed and the vibe might be a little less full, but I consider this a great time to come for some peace and quiet getaway.
July: Super buzzy and full of life! Really vibrant and upbeat atmosphere. Would recommend June/July/August if you really want to experience what Ithaca has to offer in Summer.
WHO IS IT SUITABLE FOR?
EVERYONE! This place has it all, in my opinion. It’s for Nature lovers, Ocean lovers, Beach bums, Families, Solo Travellers, Couples, Backpackers or Luxury seekers, those who prefer peace and quiet, as well as those who love a good party on the beach or late night drinks at the bars. As long as you bring positive energy, you will get back tenfold.
TRANSPORT ON THE ISLAND:
Car - would not recommend as this island is home to extremely narrow, bumpy, curvy roads with surprise corners!
Scooter - hands down, no better way to explore the island than on scooter! The warm wind rushing past you and that feeling of exhilaration. Much cheaper than cars, much handier and a more practical way to get around the island.
Rent a boat - Go discover some hidden beaches and caves! This island is full of secret gems! You can get a good idea of the type of boats and prices on offer here: Rent a Boat Ithaca
TOP BEACHES ON ITHACA
Most of the beaches on Ithaca are not sandy but rocky/smooth stone beaches - which is one of the reasons why the water is so clear. The beaches are usually very calm and I would highly recommend you pick up a pair of snorkel + fins, and just explore the amazing underwater world and the numerous little fishes hidden amongst the sea grass and rock structures.
You can only reach this beach via the water (boat and kayak) or via a little hike trail. There is no car access, but that’s what makes this place so great. I came here both times with a kayak from Odyssey Outdoor Activities. In the peak summer months, there is a cool beach bar open and I hear they also host some good summer night parties down there!
One of those dreamy beaches where no matter the season, you’ll find very few people. There are some olive groves on the far end of the beach where you can set up a tent or hammock and just chill. The water is crystal clear and perfect for some swimming or snorkelling. About 10-15mins (depending on mode of transport) from Vathy.
Just a couple of minutes from Sarakiniko, located on the far side. Also very clear to swim in and has a cool watch tower.
Aspros Gialos Beach
Probably my personal favourite because of the memories attached to this place. Very few people here, even in July. But they offer sun beds and umbrellas for hire in the main season. This beach is great for swimming and it’s very photogenic too - you can see Kefalonia on the other side.
Beautiful stretch of coastline, which makes you really appreciate just how diverse this landscape is! There are some old windmills here in the area - very cool to check out as well!
BEST VIEW POINTS ON ITHACA
To get to these view points, which are often very hilly - you should have a good mode of transport and make sure you have enough petrol in the scooter tanks so they don’t give you a minor heart attack half way up the mountain!
No words that can adequately do this place justice. You absolutely have to see this place at sunset for yourselves. Just pure magic.
Another great sunset spot is from Pernarakia Peak - although on Google maps you’ll find it under Monastery Panagia Eleousa - but it’s the same place. You can park by the signal towers and have an amazing view over to the island of Kefalonia as well.
View of Vathy
Pull into the petrol station on the hill as you leave Vathy and just take a few moments to appreciate this very cool view. An island in the middle with a lush hilly backdrop and sun coated roofs of the houses in Vathy.
King Odyssey’s Palace
If you’re into history and old Greek mythology, you will love this place. The age of these ruins and the detailed structures are incredibly impressive! If you want a guided tour with more historical background, I’d point you to Odyssey Outdoor Adventures - I came here as a part of an Island Safari tour and learnt so much about Greek History.
The stretch of road along Anogi is so beautiful, every corner was a photo opportunity!!
BEST ACTIVITIES ON ITHACA
If you feel like an adventure or want to see the island from a local’s perspective, then go check out: Odyssey Outdoor Activities. George Lilas is the founder and grew up here on the island of Ithaca, so you can trust him to show you the best hidden spots. Here are some of the activities I can recommend:
Most of the places I mention here were thanks to the very insightful Island Safari I did with George. Not only does he bring you to some amazing ‘off the beaten track’ locations, but also provides some great background information and history about each of these places. This is a great way to make the most of your time on the island and gain a deeper appreciation for the rich history of this island. You can find out more info here: Island Safari
You have the option of doing a guided tour or renting a kayak and exploring some cool places on your own. I actually discovered Gidaki beach on a half day tour with George. When I came back a second time, my brother and I rented kayaks to explore on our own. Below are some photos en route to Gidaki Beach. The prices are very affordable and for first timers on the island, I would highly recommend a guided tour. You can find out more info here: Sea Kayak Ithaca
You will most likely have the pleasure of diving with the very experienced and charismatic Australian/Greek Dive Master: Nick Flynn. He does most of the scuba diving excursions and has a knack for making you feel super calm and in control, despite the weird sensation of breathing underwater for the first time! It was here, that my brother and I had our first ever diving experience and we couldn’t have asked for a better first time! From the preparation and safety briefing to the underwater drills with all your diving apparatus - you can trust me when I say, you are in very good hands here. No matter your level, they cater from beginners to advanced deep diving and night diving too. They are also PADI certified, so you can do your Scuba Diving qualifications here. More info available here: Ithaca Diving
BEST PLACES FOR FOOD:
Vathy: is the main village and central hub of the island, it’s where the majority of the residents live and where the majority of the tourists stay. Therefore, it has a great range of cafes and restaurants - and the BEST Souvlaki for only 2.50 Euros from the shop at the left corner of the harbour, just after the square. Porto is another excellent local restaurant - when in Greece, you have to try Saganaki - just promise me! Roses is a great bar to chill in the evenings, sometimes they even have live music. Very chill, happy vibes :)
Kioni - I came here with my brother for lunch and just the journey itself - riding along the stunning hills and scenic coastal road - was worth it. Once you get here, it’s a beautiful harbour with quite a few cafes and restaurants to choose from.
Frikes - ok, I’m punching myself for not taking photos of the amazing waffle and ice cream sundae I had here, but you just gotta trust me. It’s amazing and the view is just mwah! Here’s a view from the cafe: Dodoni Divine Ice Cream.
Dona Lefki - located in the little village of Lefki, this is the most PERFECT spot for sunset and dinner. Not the mention the food here is very high quality (with that also comes a little more $$). This is a place I can’t wait to come back to for another sunset meal! Highly highly recommended!
I have stayed in the Hotel Mentor twice (March and July) - and can highly recommend this place! Very clean, modern and cool in summer. I had a balcony both times with a lovely view overlooking the Vathy Harbour and Church. They also offer buffet breakfast, to which you can enjoy with a harbour view. It cost around 60 Euros (in July) for two people including breakfast. However, prices are subject to change according to season. You can check prices and book online here: Hotel Mentor
HOW TO GET TO ITHACA:
Ithaca has no airport - but its neighbouring island Kefalonia does. You can check out my article about Kefalonia and how to get there: Kefalonia - a Travel Guide
From Kefalonia, you can get to Ithaca via Ferry.
Depart: Sami Port (Kefalonia) —> Arrive: Pisaetos Port (Ithaca)
Cost: 4 Euros per person (+ 4 Euros per scooter if you’re bringing one)
Ionion Pelagos Ferry: Time Schedule and Ferry Prices
The locals here are super friendly and the island is just full of happy, chill vibes. Hopefully, I’ve intrigued you enough to visit Ithaca on your next trip to Greece! It’s one of my favourite places in the world and the fact that I keep feeling the draw to come back here, certainly says something :) Special thanks again to George Lilas and Nick Flynn from Odyssey Outdoors. I would never have found the majority of these stunning locations if it weren’t for these guys and their good company. If you want to make the most of your trip to Ithaca, I couldn’t recommend them highly enough! Definitely looking forward to coming back again this year and discovering some more hidden gems.
Have you been to Ithaca before? What were your favourite places? Or are you planning a trip to Greece and have been considering the Ionian Islands? If you have any questions, pop them down below! I look forward to reading and responding to your comments!