Zakynthos (also known by its popular Italian name Zante) is an island situated in the Ionian Sea, in the far west of Greece, surrounded by turquoise waters and white-pebbled beaches.
This Greek isle has gained somewhat of a bad rap in recent years, known for its hectic party lifestyle and cheap package holidays.
The south of the island (mainly Laganas) has a reputation for thumping clubs and boozy Brits (remember the BBC show Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents? That was filmed in Laganas!).
However, once you venture out from the south, you’ll discover dramatic coastal landscapes, picturesque traditional villages and dreamy beaches that rival the best in the world.
Plummeting limestone cliffs skirt the island’s rugged edges, while unmarked dirt tracks lead to secret paradises and deserted beaches.
I visited Zakynthos in August-September 2019 for two weeks, here’s my full guide to this stunning Ionian island!
- 1 Where to Stay
- 2 Hotels
- 3 Budget: Zante Flower, Alikanas
- 4 Splurge: Ionian Hill Hotel, Argassi
- 5 Things To Do In Zakynthos
- 6 Shipwreck Beach Viewpoint
- 7 Explore the Island By Road – Rent A Quad
- 8 Explore the Island By Sea – Rent A Private Boat
- 9 Keri Cliffs
- 10 Sunset at Kampi
- 11 Turtles
- 12 Negatives of Zakynthos
Where to Stay
As you may have gathered, I’m not a party gal. Much preferring the solitude of an empty beach and a good book, I left Laganas to the revellers and opted for the much more quiet options of Alikanas and Argassi.
The first week of my trip was spent in the quaint little town of Alikanas, situated east of the island, just about the halfway mark from south to north. This town is small but has a beautiful turquoise beach and plenty of good restaurants. There are a few bars in the area but everything shuts up shop at 1am, insuring a bit of craic at night but still allowing for a decent night’s sleep!
Argassi can be found southeast of the island only about 15 minutes from Laganas. A much more lively town, Argassi is very family orientated with some great hotels and restaurants. Though it is a seaside town with stunning hilltop views, there is no sandy beach here (but some of the island’s most famous beaches are in driving distance from here).
Budget: Zante Flower, Alikanas
This great little boutique hotel is family-run and locally owned, with the option of beautiful bungalows with own private pools, superior rooms with a mini private pool or budget rooms complete with kitchenette and balcony.
This hotel was super fun with a Greek night every Sunday evening complete with performances and BBQ! It’s within walking distance to the beach and all restaurants and nightlife are around the corner.
Splurge: Ionian Hill Hotel, Argassi
This breathtaking hotel is a splurge for those looking for stunning views and great service. Located on the hilltops of Argassi, this hotel looks over the bay and gives picture-postcard moments at sunrise and sunset.
The restaurant is top-notch and the rooms are spacious with a balcony and great bathroom and shower facilities.
Things To Do In Zakynthos
Shipwreck Beach Viewpoint
I’ll admit, this is the picture that drew me to Zakynthos. The jaw-dropping limestone cliff scenery with a crashing cerulean sea below is a bucket list item for sure.
Located in the north-west of the island, this viewpoint is easy to get to, providing you hire your own transport. Just type your destination into Google Maps and away you go.
TIP: when you get to the viewpoint, there is a carpark at the top where most people leave their vehicles and make the half hour trek down to the cliffs in the blistering heat. We ignored the signs and continued to drive down. You can also park at the bottom of the road, no need for the long tortuous road!
Explore the Island By Road – Rent A Quad
By far the best way to explore the island is to rent your own transport! Cars, quads and scooters are all popular with tourists, but quads are by far the most fun! Quads are roughly €35 a day to hire, while we paid €15 a day for our scooter.
The quad costs about €10 to fuel up and will last the whole day. We explored the entire island by both quad and bike. Not once did we see any traffic police around, although the roads are safe enough with the average speed being about 40km/ph for most roads.
TIP: There is wiggle room with the price quoted for your quad/bike so make sure to haggle a little!
Explore the Island By Sea – Rent A Private Boat
Our best day by far was renting a private speedboat and sailing around the island, hugging the coast along the way. We discovered secret coves and little bays, stopping when we wanted to and swimming where we wanted.
Sailing is another way to experience Shipwreck Beach. We anchored the boat in the small bay here and spent the afternoon swimming in water so blue it rivals the Maldivian Islands!
For more information on renting a boat, read my blog post here.
Keri cliffs and lighthouse located in Keri Village in the south-west corner of Zakynthos Island are an absolute must-see on your trip here. The best view of the cliffs are from the famous Keri Lighthouse Restaurant. However these views come at a cost.
To view the scenery you must buy something in the restaurant, we sat back and enjoyed a chilled beer while admiring the midday sun-drenched cliffs.
The restaurant may have be the “official” viewpoint of the Keri cliffs, but there is one other vantage point that undoubtedly knocks the rest out of the park.
The Mizithra Rocks Viewpoint is not marked on Google Maps. Truthfully I’m astounded no one on the island has taken this opportunity to set up shop and make some serious cash here!
This viewpoint is up a tiny unmarked dirt track to the left before the Lighthouse Restaurant. On Google maps it is inconspicuously named “scenic viewpoint”. Most tourists drive right past it, bypassing it for the famous lighthouse. We drove our bike up here and were the only people here for a good hour.
There is no sign, or any indication of the viewpoint. It’s totally concealed, until you get off your bike and peak right over the cliffs. But BE CAREFUL!!! It is extremely high, there is no fencing, and footing isn’t secure.
Sunset at Kampi
Looking for the best sunset spot in Zakynthos? Then head to Kampi on the west coast! Any of the little taverns along the coast are perfect for a beautiful evening but we opted for Michali’s Tavern for unbeatable views, tasty souvlaki and romantic notions!
If you’re looking for the perfect place to propose, Michali’s is the place to be! I’d recommend booking a table close to the edge as these are the best seats for sunset views and they fill up quickly.
Zakynthos is also called turtle island for two reasons. First of all the island’s shape resembles a turtle. And secondly, Zakynthos is one of the most important nesting islands of turtles in Greece!
The mating season is from April to June and this is when you are most likely to see turtles. However we were there is September and spotted plenty while snorkelling.
While it was great to see the turtles, unfortunately it left me with a bit of a distaste in my mouth for Zante. It was plain to see,
Zante has a double-edged affair with its famous loggerhead turtles; cashing in on their native animals while doing little to protect them from ignorant tourists. While snorkelling, we witnessed severe overcrowding of boats, swimmers crowding lone turtles and even tourists swimming down to touch the poor turtles while they were feeding.
If you would still like to head out and view the turtles, please remember to be respectful of nature and admire from a distance. There are a number of ways to see the turtles.
Laganas Bay is the main area is spot the turtles. You can rent your own private boat like we did, join a snorkelling tour, or take glass-bottomed boat if you’d rather stay dry.
If you’re not into open waters and swimming you can still get the turtle experience on land. Many beaches on Zakynthos are home to nesting turtles, who come ashore to lay their eggs. During nesting season, whole chunks of beaches are sectioned off so no human will disturb the turtle eggs. Nests can be seen on beaches such as Zante Beach and Sekania beach.
Negatives of Zakynthos
As is the reality with any tourist destination, Zakynthos does come with a few negatives that need addressing. As well as the above mentioned turtle endangerment, there is a bit of a trashy element to Zakynthos in the form of Laganas town. There are strip joints on every corner and the beach is littered with cigarette butts and rubbish from the night before. Stay clear if you want a tranquil, relaxing European holiday!
There is also unfortunately a rubbish problem in Zakynthos, no doubt a result of poor Greek economy. Like many small islands there is a problem with getting trash off the island and disposing of it properly. Huge piles of garbage are dumped in the centre of the island away from tourists’ eyes. These huge mounds of waste attract rodents and wild cats, not to mention the god awful smell that accompanies them!
And there you have it! My entire guide to holidaying in Zakynthos. Would I recommend it? ABSOLUTELY! Greece has completelt blown my expectations out of the water and I already can’t wait to go back!