Shipwreck Cove Island - Zakynthos, Greece
People know this island as the Shipwreck Cove more so than the actual island itself. If you’ve wondered where that popular instagram photo is from … this is it! But to get the actual photo spot itself, involves a little hike to the edge of a cliff… more on that later! The island is often associated with two names: Zakynthos (as more commonly known by tourists) and Zante (more commonly used by the locals and the Italians) - both are used very interchangeably.
I discovered this island on my third trip to Kefalonia (in October 2018) and spontaneously decided to hop on a ferry and see this island for myself. Not going to lie, I was definitely drawn by the Shipwreck Beach and had heard many mixed reviews about this touristic party island, so I indulged my curiosity. In this article, I’ll share with you some useful tips and places to see, including some lesser known locations. Hopefully also provide some additional insight by sharing my own experience.
Best time to visit Zante/Zakynthos?
Peak Season: If you like the hustle and bustle that comes with crowds of tourists, and you don’t mind spending a little (ahem… a lot) of extra cash due to peak season, then June/July/August is the main period to visit. This is when you’ll probably see a ring of little sail boats and super yachts scattered around the island and tiny little humans everywhere! If you’re into partying, the nightlife during these peak months is probably also at its best. However, accommodation gets crazy expensive as people double/triple their prices simply because there is such high demand! Would not recommend this period for backpackers on a budget.
Off Season: I went during the very end of the season (typical me) but I’m glad I did, because even in October - there was still a surprising amount of tourists on the island! The downside is: many shops, services, accommodation, cafes/restaurants are closed once tourism starts to die down in late September. But many places are still open and nature is never closed! The weather was great when I went in October, perfect temperature (not too hot and not too cold), perfect for swimming too. I’d suggest April/May/September as the best months to come if you want to avoid tourists but still have the summer feel.
How long should you spend there?
The island itself is rather small and very quickly explored. Two full days is enough to explore most of the island, but I’d suggest 4 days if you want to see all of the main sights on the island without too much time constraint. However, the majority of the rugged coast can only be explored by boat - there are numerous secret bays, coves, sea caves and private sandy beaches which aren’t accessible by land - hence why sail boats and yachts are so popular here.
Who is it suitable for?
In my opinion, it’s perfect for young people who love their parties and booze. However, I saw a surprising amount of families there too and they have built mini theme parks for children - if you know where to go, I suppose it could be considered family friendly too.
Lots of cheeky Greek cats! One of these critters took a good chunk of my pasta and ran off dropping spaghetti everywhere!
Photo Location - the beautiful Cafe Nintri
Top Sights and Attractions on Zakynthos/Zante:
1. Agios Nikolaos Port
This is where the ferry from Kefalonia arrives and departs. It’s a very photogenic little port, studded with an island and lined with a few restaurants and cafes. They also have a few boat trips starting from here.
2. Nord Cap + Skinari Lighthouse
You can see the lighthouse from the ferry as you pass by, but you can also drive/ride there to the end near the Nord Cap, where you can overlook the island of Kefalonia in the distance. There are some old ruins here and also the boat charter to the Blue Cave starts from here - would highly recommend. Sadly, I ran out of time to experience this.
3. Gerakas Beach
This famous Turtle Beach is actually a nesting ground for the Caretta Caretta turtles and protected by the National Marine Park of Zakynthos - but for some reason they decided to exploit this sanctuary as a tourist destination and humans line the ENTIRE beach, basically preventing turtles from coming back to their nests unless they want to attract and alert hoards of homo sapiens who want to touch them. I was expecting a completely natural untouched beach where humans simply come to observe and just reserve a small corner. But to monetise this place to the extent they do is horrifying. You will see ads all around the island to ‘swim with turtles’ and I can’t even imagine the hell these marine animals have to endure in peak summer. The breeding program can’t be going so well. Please don’t buy into the ‘turtle tourism’ bollocks, these tourist traps do the turtles more harm than good and the money doesn’t go towards the turtles either.
4. Plakaki Beach - Flat Rocks
My secret location!! Ok, not exactly a secret, but I never expected to have such a beautiful piece of paradise all to myself. There was literally NO ONE else here but me! Tip: come at sunset or early sunrise. The hike down is rather sketchy and that’s probably why many people don’t bother. Lots of steep stairs and uneven terrain. Learn from my mistake and don’t wear jandals… bad idea! Because I was lugging around my backpack, camera gear, tent, sleeping bag and other camping equipment… it took me a good 20mins to get down there (including photo breaks).
This coast line looks a little like the Apostles in Australia!
I never intended on camping here (because the rocky surface looked like a terrible night of insomnia) but I was so content being the only one here, dancing around in sunset flares and the music of ocean waves… I decided to pitch up my tent. Verdict? I have to say the uncomfortable night was definitely worth the magic of peeping out in the middle of the night to see a sky full of star trails and waking up to witness a spectacular sunrise. This was my favourite place on the whole island and I will let the photos speak for themselves.
5. Porto Limnionas
I can imagine this place to be very full during the summer months as it was still considerably crowded during the time of my visit (Oct 2018). There are some awesome sea caves to check out and the water is just such a beautiful shade of blue. The palm trees have numbers on them to mark the spot so people can keep track of their reserved spaces. This will make sense if you come during summer. There’s a nice cafe here too with adequate parking.
6. Shipwreck Beach or Navagio Beach
This is the place you’ve been waiting to read about! They have dedicated two car parks for this tourist magnet and many charters offer boat rides to see the Shipwreck Cove from the water itself. People do walk on the beach down there, but the most impressive view is definitely from above. Don’t just settle for the first view point you see, follow the cliff like track on the right and join the bunch of crazy people there! Luckily it was just me and a few other people out on the cliff - many didn’t seem to know about this view point or were too scared by the steep drop - so it was very pleasant and not too crowded. Mind you, I don’t imagine this to be the case in peak season. The view is simply magnificent and yes, this place does live up to it’s hype - it was very very impressive and especially stunning at sunset.
The 2nd biggest town on the island after Zakynthos was like a ghost town in the off season. I presume this is the party central as everywhere I looked, there were (empty) bars and many sketchy looking booths. I didn’t like the vibe of this place at all and think I would like it even less in peak season with all the parties, blasting music and intoxicated humans. However, the location itself is actually very beautiful. There is an island you can walk out to called Cameo Island, via a bridge. Another popular and beautiful island is the Marathonisi which there are several charters taking you out there to explore the beach and caves.
I stayed one night here at the Villa Spiros, which is a Family Owned Apartment in Laganas, quietly tucked away on a side street. The beautiful design is to be commended: I loved the balcony, the rooms were very spacious (I had two floors to myself with 3 beds for just 30 Euros a night + 7 Euros for a cooked breakfast!) The owner was super lovely and very accommodating. Overall, would recommend if you’re staying in Laganas.
You can find the link to it here: Villa Spiros
There were a few more places I would have loved to visit such as: Blue Caves; Sentinis Bay; Korakonissi; Marathonisi Island (beach and cave) - but unfortunately I ran out of time. However, you’ll find all these places and the ones mentioned above, pinned on a map at the bottom of the article :)
HOW TO GET TO ZAKYNTHOS?
The island has an International Airport near the capital and most people I talked to seem to fly in to the island. It takes about 15mins by car from the airport to the town of Zakynthos. The cheaper way might be to go via ferry either from Mainland Greece (Killini) or from Kefalonia. You can either reserve your tickets online or I would suggest buying them at the booth 15mins before departure - Greek Style.
Kefalonia (Pesada Port) to Zakynthos (Agios Nikolaos Port) :
Duration: 1 hour 45 mins
Tickets: Pay shortly before boarding (cash). Scooters and cars allowed, costs a little extra.
Prices and Schedule: Visit their website here —> Ionian Pelagos Ferry Charter
TRANSPORT ON THE ISLAND
Quad Bikes: The most common mode of transport on the island. Apart from the fact you look and feel super cool, you can also comfortably ride two people, pack a decent amount of gear into the trunk and it withstands some pretty rough pitted streets (which you get a lot of here).
Scooters: the disadvantage is definitely the struggle and stress of getting down those rough pitted streets at a 10% slant. Not to mention the FOMO of knowing that the best sights are the ones down those sketchy looking roads! Another thing I should mention, are the very windy roads. Great to cruise around during the day, but a little unsettling at night.
Cars: as they derive so much money from tourism, they have obviously invested this back into improving their road structures. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. You will come across very narrow streets but in general, it’s pretty easy and handy having a car around the island.
MY HONEST IMPRESSION:
Overall, I have to say that I noticed a significant difference in the way I was treated in comparison to that on other Ionian Islands. Because they get so much tourism here, I felt extremely targeted as a tourist. Perhaps they’re just not used to considerate tourists as the majority are just here to party, so I feel that mass tourism has changed the mentality of the locals. Of course, I’m seen as a tourist anywhere but rarely do I feel like people can’t be bothered to have a little heart to heart conversation about Greek Culture or life on the island. The tourists themselves were also pretty cold, I’d smile and wave from my scooter and usually got scrunched up faces in reply or simply ignored. The vibes from the party town of Laganas sent chills up my spine and just the overall atmosphere didn’t feel as laid back, happy and chilled as that on Kefalonia or Ithaca. I suppose people are just here to tick off yet another location on their bucket list?
What are your thoughts about travelling just to capture that photo or to simply tick things off the list? I don’t think it’s all bad, but I think people shouldn’t forget that connection plays a huge part in travelling. I find so much joy in connecting with people and having meaningful conversations, whether it be locals or travellers - the photo is simply snap shot in time to trigger those memories and if the only thing you did was go from A to B to C … how much meaning then, does the photo hold for you? The more I travel mindfully, the more my photos mean to me.
Have you been to Zakynthos yourself? What did you think of it and would you go back again? Or if you’re planning a trip there and have some questions or comments, pop them down below - I look forward to reading and responding! <3