Sometimes, all it takes is seeing one picture of a place to make you desperately want to go there. This was the case for me and Zakynthos!
I first learned of Zakynthos Island (also known as Zante) when its legendary Shipwreck Beach showed up as my Windows login screen image. The unbelievable limestone cliffs and almost tropically light blue sea had me instantly mesmerised.
Long story short: I found myself docking at the Port of Zakynthos the following summer. And I can tell you one thing: the coves and beaches really are as beautiful as the photos suggest.
So, if you’re considering seeing them for yourself, go right ahead. Zakynthos is an island that truly needs no filters! Instead, here’s what you need to know before you visit.
Zakynthos is the 5th most-visited island in Greece and, like many Greek Islands, it has a bit of something for everyone. And, as you may expect, parts of the island are popular with many young British and Dutch visitors, especially around the party hotspot of Laganas.
There’s no doubt that Laganas is a trashy and over-the-top party holiday location during the summer peak months. It’s a brash beach town with a main strip lined with tourist shops, bars, burger joints, and lots of neon and LED signs, which reminded me of some similar places in Spain or Thailand.
But if it’s not your vibe, don’t worry, as you don’t have to spend any of your time here. Laganas is only a tiny part of the island. The rest of the island is quiet, and I saw mostly couples and families outside of the town. All along the north coast, you’ll find just small villages, quiet beaches, and plenty of pure tranquillity.
That said, Zakynthos has some fantastic beaches and sites, and everything is set up for it to be a fun holiday place. Not to mention, the island has sea turtles! But more on that later…
Many people come to Zakynthos because they saw Shipwreck Beach on Instagram or YouTube (or, in my case, as my computer login screen). It’s simply an iconic place, and I can tell you that the light blue waters really do look that way in real life.
Shipwreck Beach (Navagio Beach) is 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.
In some ways, Shipwreck Beach is best enjoyed from the clifftops than from the bottom. I should mention though that the viewing area is surprisingly small and only a few spots will give you just the right angle to see the postcard view.
Only a single small balcony is now open to the public, with access to the rest of the cliffs prohibited due to the risk of landslides. If you try to get closer to the edge, you may get harassed by security staff. Regardless, it’s an epic view!
You can see the beach at sea level, by taking a boat trip from Porto Vromi Maries or an organised tour. Plan to spend at least half a day visiting the beach. If you can, dedicate a full day to the excursion, and in high season, consider an early start to beat the crowds.
Remember to bring your snorkelling gear 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.
If you just want to spend a week at a beach and don’t plan to move around, then you probably don’t need a car. Instead, you can take organised tour to see the island and get dropped off back at your hotel.
However, if you want to explore a bit further, it’s a lot easier to get around if you have a car. 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.
You can also see the coast by taking a boat tour or renting a small private boat for the day, which you can do without needing a boating license.
Just don’t underestimate the time it takes to get around Zakynthos. It takes about an hour to drive from one side of Zakynthos to the other. If you go diagonally, it can take almost two hours.
The island essentially has a patchwork of narrow country roads with barely any bigger throughroads, so progress can be a little slow.
I mentioned that Zakynthos 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 traveller, then not everything on Zakynthos may be precisely to your taste. However, it’s a fun and easy place to be, if you’re okay with it being geared towards international tourism.
If you’re after a more sustainable experience (or don’t want to contribute to overtourism), try visiting during the shoulder season and avoiding the peak months of July and August. You can also concentrate on the outer parts of the island, which I personally found more charming than the cities.
The Western side of Zakynthos is relatively underdeveloped, apart from some old villages and the occasional monastery. Around the centre of the island, you’ll find plenty of olive tree-studded slopes, with narrow windy roads.
I particularly 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”.
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.
While you can take a sea turtle-watching tour on glass-bottom boats, but I didn’t really like them. Several of these boats will just crowd around a single turtle, no doubt giving them a fair bit of stress and exacerbating an already challenging breeding process.
Instead, if you're visiting between May and September you can volunteer with ARCHELON in the National Marine Park and assist the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece with the nesting turtles. Otherwise, try snorkelling near Laganas Beach, and you might well be lucky enough to see one.
You can also go to nearby Cameo Island, which can be reached by a wooden bridge (entry fee: €4) and 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 to keep your distance and don’t touch or bother the turtles!
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. The only advantage to staying in these towns is that you could make do without having your own transportation. However, the northern coast and southernmost tips of the island struck me as the most pleasant areas to stay.
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 well worth it. When you get there, you’ll find yourself staring at a long sandy bay with a view of limestone cliffs.
What’s great about Garakas Beach is that there is no development around it, so you can just enjoy the natural beach. Bring your snorkelling mask to check out some of the small rocky reefs along the sides!
Gerakas Beach is also another protected nesting area for sea turtles so keep that in mind when you visit. While you’re there, you can also stop by the nearby Zakynthos Sea Turtle Rescue Center to learn more about these majestic creatures.
Planning a trip to Zakynthos? Stay at the Sea View Hotel in Alykes for comfortable studios with stunning views.
Last Updated 18 November 2023