When I started planning my 40 days in Greece, I was overwhelmed with all the options, especially when it came to the islands. I was aware of Mykonos and Santorini as they are among the most famous islands, for good reason. They are beautifully picturesque, with white sand beaches and blue rooftops where you can take million dollar sunset photos.
However, due to their popularity, they are also very expensive to travel and visit. They didn’t fit my traveler’s budget. I also wanted to hit more off-the-beaten-path locations, like going 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 looking forward to spending my last week in Greece on the island of Kefalonia. Being the low season, I knew I wouldn’t have to deal with the swarm of tourists I would find in 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 the Port of Piraeus in Athens. Patras is an important port city in Peloponnese. From it, one can travel to various ports in Italy, as well as to 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 little harbor town with a pebbly beach, waterfront restaurants, and a laid-back, laid-back vibe. I managed to explore almost the entire island by bus or on foot from Sami in seven days.
In Kefalonia, you don’t need a reservation for dinner and you don’t spend an entire salary on a meal. There are many small shops and travel agencies to help you book your ferries or tours. Accommodations are super affordable. I actually even got a discount because I stayed so long. I don’t think I could say the same about Santorini or Mykonos.
Pro tip: To help stay within your budget when staying for longer periods, ask about discounts on your accommodations. Especially in the shoulder and low season, the owners want you to 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 Melissani lake and cave is located. It was an easy walk along the beach into town and a bit further to this famous attraction. The cave is a wonder, and although it’s a simple, short ride (less than 10 minutes) in a gondola-type boat with a charming gondolier (he likes tips), I’m glad I did.
More a cenote than a cave, the water has a striking color due to its depth of almost 30 meters. As a diver, it was hard to resist the urge to jump in and explore, but unfortunately, that’s not allowed. Some of the most memorable photos were taken on the return trip, when the sun was shining through the hole and shining on the lake.
However, the cave I found most impressive was the one I found on the walk back. Also in the town of Karavomylos, Zervati Cave was free, and its entrance was barely noticeable from the road. Once I found the sparse gate, I went down a narrow, slippery and rocky path to discover another blue lake beyond the blue one 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 a ticket for two caves, Melissani and Drogarati, which I didn’t go to, for a €10 discount at the ticket office.
Fiskardo is a small port town on the northern tip of Kefalonia. It remained miraculously intact after the 1953 Ionian earthquake. Much of the Venetian architecture still remains, allowing for picturesque walks throughout the village. It’s also a favorite vacation spot for a number of celebrities, so keep your eyes peeled while visiting.
The village is quite small and I feared I wouldn’t have enough to do. However, after a lovely lunch on the water overlooking a handful of visiting yachts (some of them perhaps owned by famous people), I started to wander.
I found a trail to two lighthouses. The most famous is a Venetian lighthouse that dates back to the 16th century. It’s located on top of a hill with a great view of the small town below. The trail is an easy hike along the rocky shoreline.
Returning to the city, I explored the shops, enjoyed the many cats, kept an eye on the famous people and relaxed on the small pebble beach. Soon it was time to head back to Sami to enjoy another seafood dinner.
Pro tip: From the city of Sami, there are buses that take you to different parts of the island. I made an itinerary around this bus schedule (another excellent reason to keep Sami as my base for the week – I don’t like to pack every day if I don’t have to). While in low season each bus had only one departure and one return to each different city, the length between them was always enough to explore the new city.
4. Argostoli and its endangered loggerhead turtles
Turtles! Need I say more? Yes I will. I took another bus the next day from Sami to Kefalonia’s capital Argostoli. The bus left at 8 am, took about 40 minutes to reach the city, and left for Sami at 1 pm, which gave me four hours to explore the city.
I started to wander along the harbor, hoping to spot some turtles but afraid I was too late. Ahead of me was a small crowd. I ran towards it and watched as a fisherman dumped the rest of his friend into the sea. Then I watched as a single Caretta caretta (bighead) turtle emerged from the water.
Dizzy with excitement and wonder, I started taking pictures (pun intended). While the rest of the crowd dispersed, I remained, walking along the harbor, eyes glued to the water to spy more turtles. If you would like to see turtles, make sure you arrive at Argostoli early in the morning and walk along the seafront.
The rest of the city was more of a typical capital city, with cruise ship arrivals flooding the scene on a regular basis. There were many tourist shops and tourist prices. Turtles were the highlight of Argostoli and I would wholeheartedly recommend this visit to admire these endangered sea creatures.
From Sami, Kefalonia, you can take a ferry to the island of Ithaca. You can also take a fun boat chartered by a pirate ship that stops at some of the island’s beaches and key points for a full-day excursion.
Be sure to pack your swimsuit, as time at sea is a big part of this trip. There are stops at the secluded Gidaki Beach, which can only be accessed by boat, and at Sarakiniko Beach, located about three kilometers from Vathi, the capital of Ithaca.
The boat also stops at Vathi, where there is time to shop, stroll around the picturesque 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 as picturesque, nor as famous as those islands everyone knows by name, Mykonos and Santorini, it was much more my style and budget. I liked the relaxed feel of this island and how easy it is to explore even without a car. So if you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-track 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 the Greek islands, check out these articles: