The majority of people walk the caldera hike in Santorini from Fira to Oia. We decided to walk the route in reverse, from Oia to Fira. 

Caldera Hike Oia to Fira

The main reason for us deciding to do it in reverse, was so that we didn’t get caught out trying to find a taxi or bus service at the end on a Sunday afternoon. We’d researched that it can be difficult to find taxis and get on the busy buses from Oia during June to September. We didn’t want to risk missing the tender service back to our cruise ship! There were boats offering trips to Oia from the harbour at Fira, this could be alternative option instead of a taxi or bus, if the timings work out.

View from Oia across the caldera to our cruise ship in the distance

There was an other aspect to walking the Santorini caldera hike in this direction, that we hadn’t even considered. This was the camaraderie found from passing walkers. Most were just wanting to say hi in a multitude of languages. Whilst others stopped to give tips and get a time check as to how long it had taken to reach this point from their final destination.

If you are walking this route in the usual direction of Fira to Oia, our taxi driver dropped us off by the Hungry Donkey / Supermarket Asteras and told us this is where we could look for a taxi to return. The local buses depart for Fira at 20 minutes and 50 minutes past the hour.

It is worth noting that many of those walking had set out under equipped. More than a few were attempting this in flip flops – definitely not recommended! Most had no hats and were just carrying a small bottle of water. It was hot, sunny and windy, we wore factor 50 sunscreen but still managed to finish the day with rosy cheeks. The footpath terrain is all different textures underfoot including cobbles, lava rock, volcanic ash and dirt track. So you need good footwear, we suggest trainers or walking boots, rather than open sandals.

Caldera Hike

The distance for the caldera hike is given as 10.5 km. We started our GPS at the edge of Oia and stopped at the cable car station in Fira, which recorded 11.4 km. Although we did find one section of the footpath closed between Imerovigli and Fira so had to skirt around the houses to get back on track. The signposts are few and far between. When we found them, the route was marked in both directions. You need to allow a minimum of 5 hours round trip for this trek, the walk itself is a minimum of 2 hours at a fast pace, in the region of 3 – 4 hours at a comfortable pace. Allow time for stops to enjoy the stunning views, and to travel back to your start point.

Oia has an elevation of 130m above sea level, in this direction we had a long steady climb to reach the highest point at Imerovigli at 350m, then dropping down to Fira at 270m.

Caldera Hike Oia to Fira – Cruise Visitor Timings

To give you an idea of timing from a cruise visitor perspective, we left the ship at 10:00, walked straight on to the cable car (€6 per person for a 1 way ticket) and found a taxi at 10:40. We had to ask directions for the taxi rank as it wasn’t obvious, it’s set back behind the Hotel Santorini, adjacent to the bus station. It took 20 minutes by car to reach Oia, and the cost was €35. There is a bus service at €1.80pp if you have time and want to reduce the cost.

Cable cars up to Fira

We went to find the famous viewpoint with the two blue domed churches first. Oia was heaving with tourists along the narrow streets, so we didn’t explore further and started our walk around 11:30. We paused for photos on route but kept a steady pace, taking at least an hour out for lunch in a shaded sea view restaurant in Firostefani.

Oia in Santorini

We arrived back at the cable car station at 15:00, the queue was already around the corner and disappearing down the street. At a maximum of 36 passengers per cable car ride every 20 minutes, we would have been standing in full sun and waiting for a long time. We made the decision to walk the donkey steps. This footpath has 587 steps and zig zags down the cliff to the harbour below. You can’t imagine the stink!

View down the donkey steps to the Emerald Princess

There is plenty of evidence to support that fact that this footpath is regularly travelled by donkeys. We did witness men clearing up the deposits in places, however you have to be prepared for walking through sh*t and the strong smell of urine!! You can hear the donkeys coming as they wear bells, just stand to the side against the walls and they should go around you.

Donkeys waiting on the steps at Fira

We were back on ship by 16:15, our self guided excursion had taken just over 6 hours. At no point had we felt stressed or rushed, the Emerald Princess was scheduled to stop for 12 hours from 07:00-19:00, with the last tender service at 18:00. We’d managed to miss the morning rush to abandon ship, and comfortably made it back before sail away.

Caldera Hike Oia to Fira – Route

To find the start of the path in Oia, follow the main footpath along the top of the caldera until you reach the church. Walk for a short time on the road until you come to a large industrial style building in white with large blue doors, and a car park. The path starts at the far end of the parking lot.

Footpath leaving Oia

There’s a steady climb out of Oia, which must be lovely walking in the opposite direction with views to the town. For us each corner, brought the next rise into view.

The view from the top of the climb out of Oia

I think it was the third church we reached, when the path gave us a break with a downhill section. Although in the distance you could see the rise ahead to Imerovigli.

Loose section underfoot with drop on one side

After a small donkey station and kiosk selling cold drinks, we had a short section to walk on the road, before the footpath signposted us off again. The track in this section was loose stones underfoot and quite close to the edge, which may be tricky for anyone suffering with vertigo.

There was a beautifully kept blue domed church at the top, we were enticed over to an entrepreneur selling a variety of fresh fruit from the back of his car. Just around the corner, there was a traditional taverna open in this area, if you were looking for something more substantial to eat at this point. We enjoyed munching on our fresh cherries and grapes as we continued our path up to Imerovigli.

Caldera Hike Santorini

View back to Oia

The route wasn’t clearly marked once we reached Imerovigli. We used our instinct to keep moving in the right direction through the back streets, when you couldn’t get along the front. Then we spotted another sign, we were still on the right track.

From here on to Fira there’s plenty of places to get refreshments, depending on what you fancy and how much time you have. It was also reassuring to see our cruise ship waiting down below, as it had disappeared from sight for some time.

Vanilia Restaurant in Firostefani, Santorini

We chose restaurant Vanilla in Firostefani for our lunch, based on the fact it was cool and shady, had a vacant table with a sea view and local gastronomy. It was here, when we continued our walk from the restaurant, that we found a section of the path was closed.

We diverted to follow the main road around into Fira and directions up to the cable car.

We really enjoyed the caldera hike in Santorini. It was a change from just exploring the port town or heading out on an excursion bus. We’d witnessed incredible views, seen some amazing hotels / houses clinging to the cliff. This is how to discover the real Santorini, rather than just visiting the usual tourist haunts.

If you want to know more about our Mediterranean cruise experience, you can find more information here: Emerald Princess Cruise