When I started planning my 40 days in Greece, I was overwhelmed with all of the options, especially when it came to the islands. I was uber aware of Mykonos and Santorini as they are among the most famous islands, with good reason. They are beautifully picturesque with white sand beaches and blue rooftops where you can take million-dollar sunset pictures.
However, because of their popularity, they are also quite expensive to travel to and visit. They didn’t fit into my traveler’s budget. I also wanted to hit more of the off-the-beaten-path locations such as heading south to The Peloponnese and even further south to The Mani. Instead of the popular tourist islands, I chose to visit the lesser-known island of Kefalonia.
I was eager to spend my last week in Greece on the island of Kefalonia. Being shoulder season, I knew I wouldn’t have to contend with the swarm of tourists I’d encounter on Mykonos or Santorini. I also knew it would be much more affordable on my traveler’s budget. I wasn’t disappointed.
Because of my location south of Athens, it made much more sense to take a ferry from The New Port of Patras rather than Piraeus Port in Athens. Patras is a key port city in The Peloponnese. From it, one can travel to several ports in Italy, as well as the Greek islands of Ithaca and Kefalonia in the Ionian Sea. These ferries are generally seasonal, running from June to October.
As my home base, Sami was a lovely, small port town with a pebbly beach, restaurants lining the sea, and a laid-back, easy vibe. I was able to explore nearly the entire island by bus or foot from Sami in seven days.
On Kefalonia, you don’t need a reservation for dinner, and you won’t spend an entire paycheck on a meal. There are plenty of small shops and travel agencies to help you book your ferries or tours. Accommodations are super affordable. In fact, I was even given a discount because I was staying for so long. I don’t think I could say the same about Santorini or Mykonos.
Pro Tip: To help stick within your budget, when staying for longer periods, be sure to ask about discounts on your accommodations. Especially in the shoulder and low season, owners will be keen to have you stay longer.
2. Melissani Cave And Zervati Cave
My first full day in Sami was spent exploring the nearby town of Karavomylos where the famous lake and cave of Melissani is located. It was an easy walk along the beach to the town and just a little farther to this famous attraction. The cave is a wonder, and while it is a simple and short (under 10 minutes) ride in a gondola-type boat with a charming gondolier (he likes tips), I’m glad I did it.
More of a cenote than a cave, the water is a striking color due to its depth of nearly 100 feet. As a scuba diver, it was hard to resist the urge to jump in and explore, but unfortunately, this is not allowed. Some of the most outstanding photos were on the return trip when the sun was shining through the hole and shimmering onto the lake.
However, the cave I found most impressive was the one I stumbled upon on my walk back. Also in the town of Karavomylos, Zervati Cave was free and its entrance was nearly unnoticeable from the road. Once I found the meager gate, I walked down a narrow, slippery, and rocky path to discover another blue-beyond-blue lake surrounded by a cave. I was completely alone and completely in awe. You could swim in this water, and I did.
Pro Tip: You can buy one ticket for two caves, Melissani and Drogarati, which I did not make it to, for a discounted rate of €10 at the ticket counter.
Fiskardo is a small harbor town in the northern tip of Kefalonia. It miraculously remained intact after the Ionian earthquake of 1953. Much of the Venetian architecture still remains allowing for picturesque strolls throughout the village. It is also a favorite vacation spot for several celebrities, so keep your eyes peeled while visiting.
The village is quite small and I feared I might not have enough to do. However, after a lovely lunch on the water overlooking a handful of visiting yachts (some of them perhaps belonging to famous people), I began wandering.
I came upon a trail to two lighthouses. The most famous is a Venetian lighthouse dating back to the 16th century. It is located on the top of a hill with an excellent view of the small town below. The trail is an easy walk along the rocky coast.
Returning to town, I explored the shops, enjoyed the many cats, kept an eye out for famous folk, and relaxed on the small pebbly beach. Soon enough it was time to head back to Sami to enjoy another seafood dinner.
Pro Tip: From the town of Sami there are buses that will take you to different parts of the island. I made an itinerary around this bus schedule (another excellent reason to keep Sami as my home base for the week — I don’t like packing up every day if I don’t have to). While in shoulder season each bus only had one departure and one return for each different town, the length between these was always sufficient enough to explore the new town.
4. Argostoli And Its Endangered Loggerhead Turtles
Turtles! Need I say more? Ok, I will. I took another bus the next day from Sami to the capital of Kefalonia, Argostoli. The bus left at 8 a.m., took about 40 minutes to arrive in town, and would depart for Sami at 1 p.m., giving me four hours to explore the town.
I began wandering along the harbor, hopeful of spotting some turtles, but fearful I was too late. Up ahead of me was a small crowd. I rushed toward it and watched a fisherman dump the last of his chum into the sea. Then I watched a single Caretta caretta (loggerhead) turtle emerge from the water.
Giddy with excitement and awe, I began snapping (pun intended) pictures. As the rest of the crowd dispersed, I remained, walking along the harbor, eyes glued to the water to spy more turtles. If you’d like to see the turtles, be sure to get to Argostoli early in the morning and walk along the waterfront.
The rest of the town was more of your typical capital city, complete with cruise ship arrivals flooding the scene on the regular. There were lots of tourist shops and tourist prices. The turtles were the highlight of Argostoli and I would recommend this visit wholeheartedly to admire these endangered creatures of the sea.
From Sami, Kefalonia, you can take a ferry over to the island of Ithaca. You could also take a fun pirate ship chartered boat that stops at a couple of beaches and key points on the island for a full-day excursion.
Be sure you have your swimsuit as sea time is a big part of this trip. There are stops at the secluded Gidaki Beach that can only be accessed by boat, and Sarakiniko Beach which is located about three kilometers from Vathi, the capital of Ithaca.
The boat also stops in Vathi where there is time to shop, wander around the quaint village, have a freddo, and generally enjoy stepping back in time. The boat returns to Sami with plenty of time for another delicious Greek dinner and wine.
Pro Tip: You can also take a ferry from Patras to Ithaca, then go the other way to Sami.
While Kefalonia may not be quite as picturesque, nor as famous as those islands everyone knows by name, Mykonos and Santorini, it was much more my style and budget. I enjoyed the laid-back feel of this island and how easy it was to explore, even without a car. So, if you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-path island where you don’t have to worry about crowds or exorbitant prices, Kefalonia is the way to go.
For more information on traveling to Greek islands, check out these articles: