Zakynthos Travel Guide
The Island of Zakynthos
Zakynthos (sometimes called Zante in English; in Italian Zacinto or Zante), the third largest of the Ionian Islands, covers an area of 410 square kilometers and its coastline is roughly 123 kilometers in length. The island is named after Zacynthus, son of a legendary Arcadian chief Dardanus. The name, like all similar names ending in -nthos, is pre-Mycenaean or Pelasgian in origin. Zakynthos has a thriving tourism industry and is one of the top tourist destinations in Greece.
How to get there
The National Road 35 links Zante and Porto Roma and another major National Road links Zante with Volimes.
The island is served by Zakynthos International Airport. Olympic Airways flies 2-3 times daily to Zakynthos from Athens even in the winter. The flight time is about 60 minutes. There are also flights from Kefalonia on Monday and Wednesday. Approximate airport transfer times to the major resorts are: Alikes Seventy five minutes, Argassi Thirty minutes, Kalamaki Fifteen minutes, Laganas Twenty five minutes, Tsilivi Forty five minutes, Vassilikos Ninety minutes.
Hellenic Ferries run regular services from Brindisi, Italy, while Superfast Ferries sail from Ancona, Brindisi and Venice to Patras, Igoumenitsa and Corfu where travellers can catch connecting ferries to Zakynthos. Blue Star Ferries also operate similar routes. Regular daily ferry services run from Kilini (Kyllini) on the Greek mainland to Zakynthos with around seven ferries Monday to Saturday and three services on Sunday. The crossing takes around 90mins. Buses go from Athens to Kyllini and the journey takes around four hours. A daily car ferry goes from Agios Nikolaos to Pessada on Kefalonia in the summer season.
Roads on Zakynthos are generally good where they serve the main resorts. Off the main roads they can quickly deteriorate into rough tracks. Buses are cheap and efficient with regular daily services from Zante Town to all the main resorts. Detailed timetables are posted in the bus station in Zante Town and passengers pay the driver. The number of daily services to the major resorts are detailed here but are approximate and subject to change: Alikes - 4, Argassi - 9, Kalamaki - 7, Laganas - 13, Vasilikos - 3, Volimes - 2. There are also many All-terrain vehicles (quad bikes) and mopeds on the roads of Zakynthos especially in the main resorts, the majority of these are rented from the numerous hire agencies on the island.
Zakynthos has a varied terrain, with fertile plains in the southeastern part and mountainous terrain with steep cliffs along the coasts on the west. Zakynthos town coordinates are: Latitude 37.79139/37°47'29 N, Longitude: 20.89528/20'53'43 E.
The mild, Mediterranean climate and the plentiful winter rainfall endow the island with dense vegetation. The principal products are olive oil, currants, grapes and citrus fruit.
The capital, which has the same name as the prefecture, is the town of Zakynthos; apart from the official name, it is also called Chora (i.e. the Town, a common denomination in Greece when the name of the island itself is the same as the name of the principal town). According to the 2001 census, the island has a population of 38,957.
Among the most famous Zakynthians is the 19th century poet Dionysios Solomos, the principal modern Greek poet and author of the national anthem of Greece. His statue adorns the main town square. Also the explorer Juan de Fuca (Ioannis Focas) and the Italian poet Ugo Foscolo were born here.
The island has one airport, the Dionysos Solomos Airport (on former GR-35) in its southwest which connects flights with other Greek airports. Further southwest is the National Marine Park of Zakynthos where loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) are found in the bay of Kalamaki. Caretta caretta is an endangered species - especially by the deck chairs laid out on their breeding grounds and the inevitable pollution. Every year at the beginning of June, the female turtles come to the southern beaches in order to bury their eggs in the sand. The incubation period for the nest is approximately fifty five days, after which time hatchlings emerge from the nest and make their way to the sea. The survival rate for hatchlings is very small, and it is estimated that only one in one thousand hatchlings that enter the sea live to adulthood. Each nest contains around one hundred to one hundred and twenty eggs, each of which are around the size and shape of a ping-pong ball. Female turtles begin to lay nests at around twenty to thirty years of age.
The port of Zakynthos has a ferry connecting to the port of Kyllini on the mainland. Another ferry connects the village of Skinari to Argostoli on the island of Kefalonia.
The Zante currant, a small sweet seedless grape is native to the island.
Island length: 40 km
Island width: 20 km
Highest point: Vrachionas, 758 m
Sites of interest include Shipwreck Bay, Cape Skinari and the Blue Caves. The western part of the island is accessible and has a panoramic view of the sea. The ridge area from Anafontria has an observation deck which overlooks the shipwreck and there is a monastery nearby.
Keri is located in the far south of the island. It is a mountain village and has a lighthouse in the south. It includes a panorama of the southern part of the Ionian Sea.
For tourism, Zante has campsites and beaches including a beautiful one near Keri around 100 m in length which is surrounded by cliffs. The island also offers a numerous amount of arches and cliffs which are famous. One of the arches is underground. Several documentaries were filmed around that part of Zakynthos/Zante. Beaches are in Porto Limnionas, Porto Vromi and Porto Zoro.
The island offers some amazing diving. Many of the dive sites are cave dives around the island. A wide range of marine life can be found. Most marinelife are moray eels, monk seals, octopus, and loggerhead turtules (caretta caretta).
A useful guide for Diving in Greece can be found on www.diving-greece.net
Touring around Zakynthos
Under the recent administrative reform, Zakynthos comprises six demes or districts, among which are the town of Zakynthos and some 50 villages and settlements in the region.
The morphology of the terrain and the activities of the inhabitants have created conditions that foster developmental diversity from one region to another.
On the coasts, tourist resorts have sprung up with a wide variety of accommodations for tourists. These resorts include Laganas, Argasi, Yerakas, Porto Zoro, Vassilikos, Tsilivi, Alykes, Alikanas, and Lake Keri.
Specifically, Laganas, which is in the southeastern part of the island, is the busiest beach on Zakynthos, and one of the most beautiful bays on the island. The beach, 9 km long, is regarded as one of the longest in Greece and is suitable for most sea sports.
Still in the southeastern part of Zakynthos, Argasi is a lush green valley that opens out onto the sea, onto another lovely beach, while Vassilikos, with houses scattered over a large area, nestling among greenery and with abundant water, farmlands and orchards, as well as pretty beaches, constitutes yet another of the island's attractions.
From Argasi, going north and parallel to the sea is the road to Porto Zoro, a lovely little beach; beyond it is the beach of Yerakas, at the southeasternmost point on the island. It is at Yerakas that the Caretta caretta sea turtles build their nests and lay their eggs, a fact which haw made it necessary to impose strict regulations for tourist activities.
At the southernmost point on the island, Lake Keri is an inlet on which one can find picturesque little tavernas; caiques are available to transport romantic souls in less than an hour and a half to the caves, rocks and bays around Cape Marathia.
In the northern part of the island are Tsilivi, Alykes and Alykanas. The Tsilivi beach is long and safe for small children, with golden sand and crystal, shallow water. Alykes is one of the most highly frequented resort centres providing a variety of water sports. The name was derived from the saltworks (alykes) behind the beach. Near Alykes is Alikanas, where Mycenean vessels have been found, and which many believe is one of the most likely sites for the ancient town of Arcadia.
On the northern part of the island is Cape Schinari, and to the east of the cape are the Blue Caves, a series of geological formations that have created a unique seascape. Apart from the natural arches that have been carved out by erosion, these caves are famous for the colour of the water in its deepest hollows, a deep azure colour which is most striking in the morning when the light is at its brightest. Another worthwhile sight on Zakynthos, which has made the rounds of the island through postcards that represent it on every occasion, is the Navayio (Shipwreck) on its west side. Vertical rocks towering over a rusty shipwreck abandoned in the middle of the beach with the blue Ionian sea in the background stimulate the imagination and create images from times long past.
But one does not visit Zakynthos only for its beautiful beaches and crystal blue waters, a great source of enjoyment especially during the summer. The island also offers a variety of landscapes including mountains. In the interior of the island, there are many traditional settlements and towns, whose inhabitants are engaged in cultivating traditional crops (olives, vines and vegetables). To the north is Katastari, capital of the Deme (municipality or district) of Alykes and the villages of Riza. Katastari is the largest village on the island, known for its hospitality. When you cross it, you will see that one part is followed by a section of deserted road and suddenly the rest appears before you, unfolding amphitheatrically along the road. To the left of the village rises the mountain and to the right is the lovely Alykes Bay.
At the centre of the island is Vanato, capital of the Deme of Arcadia, Kalipado with graphic little tavernas, Pigadakia with its large church of Agia Varvara, Skoulikado which has a tradition in popular theatre and public speaking. Maherado is the second largest village on Zakynthos after Katastari. Its main attraction is the church of Agia Maura whose melodic bells are said to be audible all over the island.
The mountainous zone covers 40% of the surface of the island and consists of villages and settlements of a different character. To the north are the towns of Volimes, the capital of the Deme of Elation. To the west are Agios Leon and Kiliomeno and to the south Keri - all villages with many elements of traditional architecture which retain the customs and traditions of the island and are visited by people who wish to experience the authentic Zakynthian tradition for themselves. In the mountain zone are also villages such as Anafonitria, Maries, Kambi, Louha, Agalas, lushly green spots most of which have access to the magical western shores. On Zakynthos, there are many beautiful sights that unfold like your most pleasant dreams for a carefree vacation. And when the sun ceases to glint off the Ionian waters, Zakynthos haw new delights in store for us. As the daylight fades, the island reveals picturesque little ravernas, quite apots to enjoy an intimate drink, or for anyone desiring a more intense form of entertainment, the most frenetic rhythms at other points on the island.
The Town of Zakynthos
Zakynthos is the capital and port of the island, located at the foot of Bochali hill. It is a modern city, built after the old one was destroyed in the earthquake of 1953, a town that is constantly expanding toward the interior of the island owing to the great number of activities that have sprung up in recent years. Some of the sites worth visiting are: the monastery of Agios Dionysios where the holy remains of the saint are preserved; its interesting museums; the squares of Agios Markos and Dionysios Solomos; the shopping centre on Alex. Roma street and the coast road; Kon. Lombardou street or Strata Marina (as the local people call it), as well as a number of old churches that were either preserved or restored after the earthquake in 1953. Bochali, the district around the Castro, charms us with its quiet lanes and old houses, its flower-bedecked countryards and elegant tavernas in which old zakynthian music is played.
Also of interest are the two hills: Strani, where Dionysios Solomos was inspired to write the "Ode to Liberty" which after being set to music, became the Greek national anthem; and Bochali, as mentioned earlier; on top of which is the Venetian Castro, with its superb panoramic view of the modern town of Zakynthos and the Ionian sea. The briefest stroll along the streets of the town is enough to convince the visitor that the efforts to preserve the pre-seismic Zakynthian atmosphere are not directed to the buildings alone but to its entire urban fabric. In Zakynthos everything is steeped in nostalgia, with a note of romanticism. The island's picturesque squares, Dionysios Solomos Square and Agios Markos Square, the long coast road, the Strata Marina, old Rougas Square and the modern Alexandrou Roma street, are all reminiscent of times past.