Zakynthos, also known as Zante, is the third largest Greek island in the Ionian Sea. Beautiful sandy beaches, lush vineyards and wooded forests define the island, and the fertile soil surrounding it has largely dictated the culture here. Many of the farming traditions established throughout the island’s history are kept alive today.
Unspoiled beaches and warm seas attract more than just tourists – the island is also home to Carreta-Carreta, an endangered species of sea turtle. The turtles descend upon the beaches of Laguna and Geraka to lay their eggs during the nesting season in June and July, and their presence has caused many of the beaches on Zakynthos to be declared protected areas. Thus, the island’s natural beauty has been well preserved.
Zakynthos is one of the sunniest places in Greece and typically has a Mediterranean climate: warm and dry from about May through August, and mild and wet from December through February. The temperature hovers around 32 C (90 F) May through August and drops to about 15 C (59 F) from December through February. Cool breezes from the Ionian Sea help moderate the temperature and rainfall keeps Zakynthos lush and green from December through February.
When to fly to Zakynthos
The busy season in Zakynthos runs from May to October. Temperatures can be very high during this time, but the winds from the meltemi provide some cool relief. The winds, which blow from north to south, are particularly strong around August, and can make the sea a little rough to the north of the island.
October through March tends to be mild but wet. The departure of most of the tourists brings a relaxing vibe to the island. Although this is the best time of year to pick up a bargain, much of the tourist infrastructure shuts down in the off-season, particularly in smaller resorts and towns.
Getting around Zakynthos
There is a small airport on Zakynthos, which has daily flights to Athens. Many people also travel here from the Greek mainland by ferry, which departs from Killini in the Peloponnese, about a four-hour drive from Athens. It’s possible to use the ferries to island hop between the Ionian Islands, a simple and popular way to travel around and sample a taste of the varying cultures.
An easy and cheap way to get around Zakynthos is by bus. The network of roads on the island is good, so hiring a car is also an option. Rental companies can be found at the airport and at large resorts.
Some areas of the island, such as the famous Shipwreck Bay, are only accessible by sea and it is possible to catch taxi boats to these locations, or even to rent your own boat. The taxi boats depart daily from the capital of Zante Town and various other points around the island.
The main airport serving the island is Zakynthos Airport (ZTH) situated about 3 kilometres (2 miles) from the city centre.
Zakynthos insider information
- Tourists often know the island as Zante, but islanders refer to their home as Zakynthos, after the son of King Dardanus of Troy, who supposedly settled here around 1500 BC.
- Shipwreck Bay (also known as Navagio Beach) is the most famous beach in Zakynthos. Accessible only by boat, the bay owes its name to the shipwreck of a boat smuggling illegal cigarettes, which washed up onto its shores in 1983. The shipwreck lies in the middle of the beautiful sandy beach and is best viewed from a platform built above the cliffs that surround the bay.
- Zante Town, the capital city of the island, is brimming with diverse architecture and cultural sights. The various occupations of the island have left their mark and despite the severe earthquake of 1953, a few Venetian buildings still exist from the era when Zante was under Venetian rule. There are many beautiful churches and historical monuments including the Orthodox church of Agios Dionysios, the patron saint of the island, which is an impressive mix of the Byzantine and Occidental. There is also a good selection of museums, with the Museum of the National Resistance and the Museum of Dionysios Solomos being two of the most note-worthy. The latter is a museum dedicated to Solomos, poet and author of the National Anthem of Greece. For a stunning view over the city, a trip up to the Venetian castle ruins should not be missed.
- The beach of Gerakas is beautiful and largely untouched. Its location inside the National Marine Park of Zakinthos offers protection to local wildlife, particularly the endangered loggerhead sea turtle, which swims near the island.