After a successful vaccine roll out left many of Greece's 6,000 islands COVID free factors including the rise of the Delta variant have created a mixed picture for the summer tourist season.
The Greek governmentofficially opened to tourists in spring 2021 hoping to recoup some losses made due to travel restrictions during the pandemic. The Mediterranean paradise attracts flocks of holidaymakers every summer. More than 34 million people visited Greece in 2019 (more than three times the country’s population), but in 2020 this number dropped by 78 per cent.
At the end of 2020, the Greek government began an ambitious policy of vaccinating everyone on islands with less than 1,000 inhabitants. It is dubbed Eleftheria or ‘liberty’. While the success of this rollout was temporary in some cases, other islands remain COVID free and happy to welcome visitors.
The Greek government has created an interactive map where tourists and locals can keep track of COVID rates across the country. While hotspots like Rhodes and Mykonos are struggling with infections the lesser known islands may be your best bet for a relaxing get away.
We’ve compiled an updated list of six COVID-free hidden gems to add to your island hopping list in summer 2021.
6. Kastellorizo - The vaccine race champion
Kastellorizo, officially called Megisti, was the first island in Greece to be fully vaccinated. In fact, the entire population of this small island has been vaccinated since the end of January. With more than 90 per cent of locals employed through the tourist industry, this island is sure to be a hotspot for internationals needing an escape in 2021.
5. Karpathos - A taste of tradition
Sandwiched between tourism giants Crete and Rhodes this jewel of the Southern Aegean Sea if often overlooked, but anyone who does so is sorely missing out. Residents of Karpathos are committed to keeping the traditions of their ancestors alive and this can be seen in their local food, music and dancing. All this rich culture takes places against a backdrop of breathtaking landscapes as far as the eye can see.
A must visit are the ruins of the ancient acropolis in the capital city, Pigadia, named for the sea god Poseidon.
4. Thymena - The perfect day trip
Named after the thyme plants that blossom on its hills, Thymena is the second-largest island in the Fourni archipelago. Sparsely populated, it was one of the islands that benefitted from the government’s move to fully ‘liberate’ islands with less than 1,000 inhabitants from COVID-19..
Thymena isn’t as green as many of its counterparts but boasts a small, beautiful monastery atop one of its hills.
The island is easily accessible by ferry and most visitors prefer to visit for a few hours rather than spending the night.
3. Astypalaia - Where calm waters calm the soul
Known as the "Butterfly of the Aegean" Astypalaia is home to views, cuisine and a spiritual history.
The main town of Hora sits below the shadow of a 13th century castle atop a hill, and stretching across the rest of the island are fertile citrus groves and vineyards, helping to fuel the delicious local food. Beaches in Astypalaia are rustic but look out onto translucent azure waters, rock climbing is a popular pastime on the island and after a day in the sea or on the cliff face you can relax in one of Astypalaia's famous bathhouses.
2. Meganisi - A quiet escape
Meganisi is not as popular a tourist destination as other Greek islands. This makes it the perfect spot if you want to experience a Greek island without being overwhelmed by other travellers.
Perhaps the best way to experience Meganisi is via a day trip as it is just a 30-minute ferry from the more popular island of Nydri.
One thing that sets this island apart from the others is its rocky beaches. Meganisi’s stony shores make its waters almost perfectly transparent. With its entire population vaccinated, there is no reason to skip a visit.
1. Anafi - The most well hidden gem of them all
Off the beaten track (a long, long way off) is the little known island of Anafi. Anafi doesn't have a developed tourism sector and is definitely one for those seeking a rustic, authentic experience.
The only shops in Anafi are mini-markets in the town of Chora, and hiking is a popular activity for visitors who may find it a necessity as the island is short of vehicles.
One of Anafi's main attractions is free camping on its beautiful beaches, where the local government has constructed facilities for free campers along the shoreline.