My Advice for Cyclades Island Hopping
I’ve just returned from a 10 days of Greek island hopping in The Cyclades and it’s a part of the world I’d love to spend more time in. One, I’m a sucker for boats. Two, I love a good swim. Three, I’m a huge fan of the Mediterranean diet and want to eat all the seafood and Greek yogurt and Greek cheese. Honestly, I really didn’t want to ever leave Greece and I’m already plotting my return. You won’t want to leave either. Here are my tips and advice for island hopping in the Cyclades…
My Original 10 Night Cyclades Island Hopping Itinerary
I flew into and out of Mykonos which is well-serviced by ferries. Now that I know more about the ferries, you could probably also fly into and out of Athens but I’ve already been to Athens twice so I skipped that. Mykonos airport is super small and easy to get in and out of. You’ll be in central Mykonos is about 10 minutes! I spent a night in Mykonos on both ends because I had read horror stories: I didn’t want to book a ferry out of Mykonos on my arrival day, just to find that my flight was delayed, and I definitely didn’t want to miss my flight home either! Here’s my Greek Island Hopping Itinerary:
- 1 night Mykonos
- 3 nights in Paros (Naousa) with a day tip to Antiparos, a small island with a compact old town that I loved.
- 2 nights in Koufonisia
- 3 nights in Naxos Old Town
- 1 night in Mykonos
In hindsight, for my Cyclades island hopping, I would have shifted one of my Naxos nights to Antiparos. Naxos is a pretty big island — bigger than Mykonos — and really requires a car or motorbike unless you want to stay close to town or take a lot of buses or taxis. Also, I would have done a day trip to Kato Koufonisia from Koufonisia which is supposed to be quite chill.
My Revised 10 Night Greek Island Hopping Itinerary
So knowing what I know now, if I were to do it all over again, here’s my suggested Greek island hopping itinerary with a lot more hopping! This is a great itinerary for someone who wants to see a lot of the Cyclades. However, this itinerary assumes that you are just traveling with a carry on bag as I think if I had a huge suitcase with me while island hopping in the Cyclades, I would not want to move around as much.
- 1 night Mykonos
- 2 nights in Paros (Naousa)
- 2 nights in Antiparos
- 2 nights in Koufnisia
- 2 nights in Naxos Old Town
- 1 night in Mykonos (Time your ferry to give you either a long last day in Naxos — late ferry — or a long last day in Mykonos — an early ferry.
Tips for Cyclades Island Hopping: Ferries
1. Use a travel agent to book all your Greek island hopping ferry tickets and transfers in advance. In my case, I booked everything through Greeka and my airport transfer guy brought my ferry tickets to the airport. I never had to worry about buying ferry tickets or arranging a transfer *while* I was traveling, which let me really enjoy my holiday. All I had to do was wait in my hotel reception area at the pre-arranged time for my ferry transfers. I had a very positive experience with Greeka and would recommend them if are arranging a Cyclades island hopping holiday and you need help with ferry tickets, transfers, and hotels.
2. If you want to book your own Greek island hopping ferry tickets, I recommend FerriesinGreece.com. They are very well respected and are affiliated with Greeka.
3. Note that there are high speed ferries and regular ferries. I preferred the high speed ferries for, well, speed. But the slower ferries have more outdoor space and really let you enjoy the ride. All of my ferry rides while island hopping in the Cyclades were of manageable length…about an hour or so. (Sometimes I felt like I spent more time waiting for the ferry than actually on it. One thing I’ve since learned is that you don’t need to arrive too early for your ferry.) Bathrooms on ferries were clean and snacks were available too! Sometimes even wifi!
4. Use marinetraffic.com to track your ferries and see if they are on-time. There is no CityMapper Greece for ferries, unfortunately. Marinetraffic.com is the closest you are going to get. Know your ferry names so you can easily look them up. (However, read point #5.)
5. Ferry communication is not the greatest. Chances are your ferry will be late and you’ll think you’re waiting for Champion Jet 1 but instead you’re on Champion Jet 2. (This apparently is very common.) Always check your ferry before you leave your hotel. For my Mykonos to Paros ferry, it turned out it was running an hour late. There was no reason to get to the port that early, so my transfer came later. (There is not enough shady seating at Mykonos Port so this was a blessing.) At the port, you’ll have to rely on the kindness of other travelers as the port employees really only communicate when it’s time to board the ferry. Signage, in my opinion, is terrible.
6. When you get on most ferries, you are asked to leave your luggage on a rack. Some ferries have racks by destination. Others are more of a free for all. Don’t be too eager to be the first person to get on your ferry…being the first person on might mean you’re the last person to get your luggage because it’s behind or under everything else. I learned to hang back a bit when I boarded my ferries. Definitely bring luggage locks for your bags!
7. If you have a carry on suitcase, you can bring it upstairs on the ferry with you. I did this on my first ferry but then noticed that they block access to the luggage areas during the ferry ride, so I didn’t mind leaving it in the luggage area. Plus, I had nothing of real value to steal. (Of course, per above, use luggage locks and make sure your bags are very clearly labeled and/or use a distinctive luggage tag to set your bag apart. There are a lot of black carry on bags!!)
8. Do not delay in getting on your ferry!!! They turn these boats around quickly. Once they are almost ready to board the ferry, they will start herding you together and then they’ll start yelling, “Hurry, hurry!”
9. Do you need a Greek island hopping ferry pass for island hopping in the Cyclades? No. Each island is serviced by different ferry companies. Also, in peak months in July and August, you really need to pre-book your ferries. You can’t just show up and expect to board. Contact Greeka about your itinerary and see what they suggest or just use FerriesinGreece.com directly. For example, Greeka immediately told me how I’d have to go to Paros first and then Koufnisia because the ferry schedule worked best that way. From what I’ve seen, the “Greek Island hopping ferry passes” sold online are just packaged holidays in the Cyclades so you might as well tell a travel agent what you want and have them just design the itinerary for you.
Tips for Cyclades Island Hopping: What to Bring
10. Bring your own beach towel BUT perhaps wait til you get to Greece to buy one because I don’t think you need something huge and heavy. I recommend purchasing Turkish towels because they are light, they dry easily, and they are easy to roll and pack. You will find them sold everywhere, of varying quality. I got a really nice one handmade in Greece for 25 euros.
11. Bring a lightweight backpack for the beach. In Koufonisia, I had to traverse sand dunes to get to different beaches. In hindsight, I would have preferred to schlep everything on my back instead of a tote bag. In Paros and Naxos, I took the bus to a few beaches and again would have preferred a backpack.
12. Bring a hat. These are very commonly sold on the islands but it’s good to bring your own. Of course a good hat is great for the beach, but it will also come in handy when you are waiting for the ferry.
13. Consider buying a compact beach umbrella for unserviced beaches if you’re island hopping in the Cyclades in places like Paros and Koufnisia. (In Naxos, the beaches I visited were serviced and you could rent chairs and umbrellas for 6 to 8 euros.) In Koufonisia, I saw a lot of people walking around with backpacks and beach umbrellas and I was jealous.
14. Buy a waterproof case for your mobile phone in case you don’t want to leave it on the beach while you are swimming. On the serviced beaches, you’ll find that there are people selling stuff on the beach so there’s more people walking past your stuff. This made me a little nervous, leaving my belongings unattended.
15. Bring some sort of beach cover up. The Cyclades are windy so you may find yourself bracing against a cool wind some days. Also, if you are relying on the bus, you will have to walk to and from bus stops.
16. Keep a travel journal! Keep all your ferry tickets and other bits and bobs that you collect and tuck them into a travel journal along with notes from your trip. This is especially helpful if you plan on returning next year to do some more Greek island hopping like I plan to do! Good to have the memories fresh and know what you did last time. Here are my favorite travel journals.
Tips for Cyclades Island Hopping: Buses and Taxis
17. If you are taking the bus while you are island hopping in the Cyclades, go to the beaches early and leave early. (Or go late and leave late.) The afternoon buses going back into town get pretty packed and the last thing you want when you’re hot and tired is to watch multiple full buses go past you. This happened to me a few times and it was pretty annoying.
18. On that note, in Paros and Naxos, take the bus! It’s fun to see different parts of the islands and check out different beaches. I liked the look of Aliki on Paros and am already plotting my return.
19. I found bus station staff to be supremely unhelpful for anything except buying tickets in Naxos. They really did not want to tell me anything else. Rely on your fellow passengers for help. I wouldn’t have even known what bus to get on in Naxos had it not been for an older German couple who had been visiting the island for 40 years. (Paros buses were easier because it’s a smaller island more reliant on tourism)
20. Don’t rely on taxis. Apparently, there are only 33 taxis on Mykonos and 27 on Paros. There is ONE taxi on Koufonisia. I also found that I got charged one rate while locals were charged another so be prepared for that. Also, because there are so few taxis in the Cyclades, don’t be surprised if you are asked to share a taxi at times. This happened to me when I got off the Antiparos ferry in Paros and took a taxi back to my hotel.
21. If you are planning on taking day trips, arrange all your transport in advance. For example, if you go to Antiparos for the day during your Cyclades island hopping, ask your restaurant to call you a taxi to meet you on the Paros side when you take the ferry back over to Paros. (Do this well in advance.) Alternatively, you may find yourself waiting for the bus for 30 minutes in the dark by yourself. It was great to get off the (very short) Antiparos ferry and have a taxi there waiting for me.
Tips for Island Hopping in the Cyclades: Money
22. Tipping is uncommon in restaurants but it is common to round up a bill to a convenient round number. So 18.50 euros to 20, for example.
23. Bring small bills. I had trouble on Paros and in Koufnisia with my 50 euro notes. Not even my hotels could make change sometimes! Unless you are going out for gourmet dinners every night in Mykonos, most meals will cost you about 10 euros.
Tips for Cyclades Island Hopping: WATER
24. Don’t drink the tap water. Bottled water is pretty cheap and you’ll find it everywhere. This seems to be a particular concern on Mykonos for some reason. All my drivers and hotel staff constantly reminded me to buy bottled water.
25. Conserve water. There is a water shortage in the Cyclades so take military showers and reuse your towels.
26. Throw your toilet paper in the rubbish bin. Greek pipes are old school narrow pipes. Use the bin!! Everywhere! On land or at sea!
Tips for Cyclades Island Hopping: Random Stuff
27. Getting a SIM card takes a while. They don’t have the infrastructure in place for tourist SIM cards. You have to go to a real mobile phone store (I used Vodafone) and bring your passport and register for a SIM card. My process took about 25 minutes and I was the only person in the shop. (Note I tried Cosmote first which is supposed to have better coverage in the Cyclades but there were like 10 people in front of me so I skipped that.) Your home data package might cover Greece already at a day rate or within your European minutes, but I always need a back up plan for work which is why I made sure I got a local number. Also, the local SIM got me 4G whereas my UK O2 SIM only gave me 3G. In general, if you just need the internet to check email and social media, I don’t think you need a SIM card when island hopping in the Cyclades. BUT if you, like me, need to work from the road and do regular Skype calls, a local SIM is a good idea.
28. Be ready for the naturalists. One afternoon, while hiking over some sand dunes on Koufnisia, I encountered a naked man in hiking boots.
29. Lastly and most importantly, when Cyclades island hopping, visit the smaller islands in Greece! Most people don’t get away from Santorini or Mykonos but Paros, Naxos, and Koufonisia are super easy to get to and unique and interesting in their own rights. (And cheaper.) I was glad I made it to Antiparos as a day trip, but I’m also sad I missed Kato Koufonisia as a day trip. That I suppose is the good news…there are still so many islands left to explore! I can’t wait to do some more Cyclades island hopping! Who is with me???
When to Go Cyclades Island Hopping
I traveled for 10 days in early June. Mykonos felt really crowded to me then, so I worry about what July and August are like! I had Paros and Koufnisia mostly to myself — apparently their seasons start the first weekend in June. Naxos was pretty busy in town, but the beaches were fairly quiet. In short, I thought early June was a great time to be in the Cyclades, but if you like more of a scene, July and August is where it’s at.
What are Your Tips for Island Hopping in the Cyclades?
If you have any advice based on your own experience, please let me know. I’m considering a return to the islands next summer!
You Might Enjoy My Other Posts about Greece and Island Hopping in the Cyclades
- How to Spend a Weekend in Athens
- What to do in Paros
- Why You Should Not Go to Koufonisia 😉
- What to do in Naxos