Here it is, the star of Santorini, the element that makes this island unique and fascinating: the caldera, a depression created over 10,000 years ago as a result of the collapse of the vault of the magma chamber of a volcano, in turn caused by one of the most violent eruptions in the history of volcanology.
Originating from a natural catastrophe, the caldera of Santorini is today a wonder to behold, a breathtaking landscape of a beauty difficult to find elsewhere.
No wonder that one of the most popular tours in Santorini are the boat cruises to the islets of the caldera, which always include a stop at the ancient crater and are certainly a fascinating way to admire this natural spectacle.
Equally or perhaps even more impressive is to admire it from above in all its magnificence with a walk along the ridge: the full path goes from Fira to Oia, is not particularly challenging but is certainly more tiring than a walk in the city.
Don’t worry if you don’t feel like walking all the way to Oia: just an easy walk around Fira will allow you to enjoy extraordinary panoramic views. And if you want an even lazier and more glamorous version, you can admire the caldera from an infinity pool with a sea view.
Besides Santorini, the other islands of the Caldera are Thirasia, Nea Kameni, Palia Kameni and Aspronisi.
The best way to visit the Caldera of Santorini and see the islands is with a boat tour. During the summer period we recommend to book in advance to avoid not finding a place and losing time.
Thirasia is the only inhabited island besides Santorini and is located inside the caldera not far from the village of Oia.
Separated from its bigger sister following a powerful eruption and a strong earthquake recorded in 1650 BC, this small island is almost totally unknown to tourism: Thirasia is undeveloped, very quiet and ideal for those who are looking for a relaxing and authentic vacation.
Only 9 square kilometers in size, the small island of Thirasia has two small harbors, a handful of picturesque villages and no less than 21 churches!
The main village of Thirasia is Manolas, a village of narrow streets, small colorful houses typical of Cycladic architecture, windmills, charming stores and a beautiful view of Santorini and the other small islands of the caldera.
The village of Potamos consists largely of cave houses, houses carved into the rock typical of Santorini, built on the ridge of a ravine. Agrilia is the oldest and largest village and consists of houses built in the volcanic rock.
If you love hiking and trekking follow the path that leads from Manolas to the monastery of Koimiseos – along the way you will meet the abandoned village of Kera from where you can see the whole island – or one of the many rural paths of Thirasia.
The island of Thirasia is included in many boat tours departing from Santorini. You arrive at the port of Riva from the port of Athinios or Ammoudi.
If you are looking for beautiful coasts know that the only place to swim is the beach of Thirasia, in the port of Riva, since the coasts of the island are very steep. If you have a boat at your disposal your choices will be greater since the island is however scattered with tiny bays accessible only by sea.
The beach, very quiet and immersed in a dreamy landscape, is composed of an infinity of stones: small pebbles, round pebbles, protruding rocks, large boulders that make bathing a real joy since the waters are very clear.
This is also theonly port of the islet so you will happen to swim among small fishing boats, lots of fish and some octopus.
From the pier of Fira, reachable by cable car, you can venture out to discover the islets of the caldera known as Kameni.
Many agencies on the island that organize tours with durations ranging from 3 hours to a day, but make sure that the visit is guided: it is a very challenging trip and you must have good shoes, water, sunscreen and hat.
The large island of Nea Kameni is truly spectacular: emerged from the water in 1573 is characterized by a desolate landscape, ancient black lava flows, fumaroles and crystals very fragile surface. The emotion is strong and you should never leave the paths. To access this islet you pay 2 euros in addition to the tour ticket.
The islet of Palia Kameni , that is “burned in ancient times”, rose from the sea in 196 BC. Thanks to the sulphurous waters, you can take a calcareous bath in a small bay, reachable by swimming! In fact, the ship does not pull over and you have to dive from the bridge and swim for about fifty meters!
Some excursions also reach the islet of Thirassia. The feat of climbing to the highest point will be rewarded by the spectacular panorama and the specialties of some restaurants.
Nea Kameni reaches 127 meters above sea level at its highest point and is practically devoid of life except for a few succulent plants and small lizards that manage to survive in such a hostile environment and a fig tree that stands on the oldest peak of the island.
Nea Kameni is surrounded by dark, warm waters, rich in iron and manganese known for their therapeutic benefits especially for the elderly.
You can reach the islet with traditional caiques from the old port of Fira, walk through a lunar landscape until you reach the shores of the crater of the still active volcano and bathe in the waters of the healing hot springs of Agios Nikolaos.
Palia Kameni is the smaller of the two islands in the center of the caldera of Santorini which, along with its older sister Nea Kameni, is also called “the volcano”.
Emerged from the waters of the Aegean Sea about 2 thousand years ago, this “burnt island”, to use the name given to it by the Greeks, reaches in some places the 99 meters of height above sea level.
Towards the end of 46 A.D. the volcano awoke and huge amounts of molten rock sprouted out of the sea creating the islet of Palia Kameni: at the time the island had a larger circumference but gradually, through the fragmentation and collapse of large spurs, has acquired its present form.
Exciting also the view from Palia Kameni that overlooks the island of Santorini and gives you a wonderful scenery of Fira and its white buildings perched on the mighty cliffs.
On the small island of Palia Kameni, one of the two that make up the volcano of the caldera of Santorini, are the Hot Springs, waters with therapeutic benefits that flow in the inlets of the slopes.
These bathing spots have water about 5 degrees warmer than normal and are actually not springs but underwater fumaroles.
The waters of the Palia Kameni Hot Springs are especially good for rheumatic pain and skin. The rocks around these inlets have a particular orange color due to the sulfur that is brought to the surface by the activity of the volcano.
Keep in mind that the many tours that reach the Hot Springs of Palia Kameni are organized with boats that cannot dock directly on the island because the seabed is too shallow and therefore you will have to dive into the deep, cold waters until you reach the hot springs.
Called the white island by the Greeks, Aspronisi is part of the archipelago of Santorini and is located west of the southern tip of the island of Thira and south of the lower end of Thirassia.
Aspronisi emerged as a result of volcanic eruption in 1650 BC and is now a private island. Rocky and barren, this small island is 650 meters long and 200 meters wide and stands 70 meters above the Aegean Sea.
Aspronisi is uninhabited but has a small harbor where you can dock and two small beaches of coarse sand. If you are lucky enough to visit this small island, don’t miss its magnificent sunsets and diving.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article