The E-Ride to Fira on the Romantic Greek Island of Santorini

Ah, beautiful Santorini! What hasn’t already been written about this romantic paradise of white washed houses and blue domed buildings perched high above the Aegean?

We walked around the island of Thira, took dozens of pictures of famous sites, and wondered what we could offer our readers that they haven’t already seen and read about Santorini. We found our answer while chatting with one of the town’s many colorful donkey drivers.

Background

When a cruise ship approaches the sun-baked islands of Santorini in the Aegean Sea, the first thing the passengers notice is the daunting 800 foot rock wall of Thira that stretches from the sea to the mountain top where the principal town of Fira is located.

There are three ways to get from the water’s edge to the town above. In 1715, the island inhabitants built a rough path into the side of the sheer mountain so they could hike to the summit. Before long, donkeys were enlisted to help carry cargo and passengers to and from the ships and town.

In 1930, the walkway was improved and more donkeys were added to aid in the assent and decent. Finally, in 1979, a cable car was installed to automate the process – but the most fun ride is still by donkey.

If this were Disneyland, the donkeys would be the E-Ride

The Santorini donkey drivers refer to their cutesome beasts interchangeably as donkeys and mules. A fellow tourist and practicing Arkansas farmer enlightened us, “Donkeys are purebred, and mules are hybrid, – these are donkeys”. We have no reason to doubt his word.

On any given day, and depending on the number of cruise ships moored in the harbor, there are between 50 and 100 donkeys at work. A one way ride – up or down – cost five Euros.

Walk up if you can

The zigzag walkway from sea to city is paved in stone, and because of the many switchbacks, the distance from one end to the other is 1300 meters or 4,265 feet. There are 657 four- inch tall steps on the walkway, and this natural stair-master provides a very good workout on a sunny day.

Donkey vs. cable car

The cable car ride lasts approximately 3 minutes (the wait can be fifteen minutes), and the much more exhilarating donkey ride takes almost one-half hour to go up, and just 15 minutes to come down. The down journey is faster and more thrilling for two reasons. First, descending is inherently easier, and second the donkey food is at the bottom of the walkway.

A small word of caution

The downhill donkey ride is not without its peril. Banging legs against a fellow rider on a tight curve – while going full donkey tilt – can be painful. In addition, on any given day, there will be one or two cranky donkeys that are out of sorts for one reason or another – and they bite. This aside, the rewards far outweigh the risk.

The next time you find yourself on a cruise ship in the picturesque old port of Skala, Santorini, start your visit with a smile – ride a donkey up to all those unforgettable views and remarkable restaurants.

Happy travels!

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

© Travels with Wayne and Judy

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