If you’re looking for the best snorkeling Santorini has to offer then you’ve come to the right place. This guide will scour the whole island in the heart of the Aegean Sea for the crème-de-la-crème of locations to dive in with the goggles and the breathing pipe.
The thing is, Santorini isn’t that well known for its beaches or its snorkeling. This island is famed for offering jaw-dropping panoramas of soaring cliffs topped by wispy white villages. However, the rocky geology does help keep the visibility in the water pretty good, and the orientation of the island helps to protect lots of spots from the dominant N-NW swells in the Aegean Sea.
Here, we’ll take a look at a number of the best snorkeling Santorini has up its sleeve, hopping from the dramatic black sands of Red Beach in the south to the pretty inlets around from Ammoudi in the north. Let’s get swimming, folks…
Red Beach – probably the best snorkeling Santorini has overall!
For us, there’s simply no question that Red Beach is the top spot for snorkeling in Santorini. Aside from being arguably the most popular beach on the island as a whole, this one comes hemmed in by huge volcanic cliffs and studded with boulders of frozen lava. The name is courtesy of the red dashes that shimmer a sort of coffee-tinged vermillion on the rocks overhead – a strange geological phenomenon that gives the stone its distinct reddish hue.
Down below the cliffs, Red Beach opens to the Aegean Sea in a slight south-westerly orientation. That helps to cut out the strong northerly winds that can gust down from the mainland in the summer months and protects the water from any strong swells. All that’s top news for would-be snorkelers.
In the water it’s very clear and there are loads of little nooks and crannies for swimmers with the snorkel on to drift into and out of. We’d say the best side of the beach for seeing fish is to the east, where a dramatic volcanic rock fall has splashed into the Aegean. Swim to the west and you’ll it a shallow bed of pebbles that sometimes host sardine schools. And it’s not just snorkeling here, there’s also a SUP station and kayak rentals.
White Beach does exactly what its name implies. Come here and you’ll be greeted with soaring walls of cotton-white stone that lurch dramatically from the Aegean. The sand isn’t really sand at all, but a collection of light pumice rock left over from the ancient Minoan eruption. There are huge buttresses of glowing white stone flanking the beach on either side too, offering wonderful potential for snorkelers who make it in.
We say make it in because half of the challenge of White Beach is arriving there in the first place. 8.6 miles away from the capital of the island on the far south coast of Santorini, it’s tucked into its own cove and is really only reachable by taxi boat from Red Beach (see above). (There is also a path from the neighboring Kambia Beach but it’s not for vertigo sufferers!).
A long run of cliffs stretches out westward from white beach under growing mountains that tumble down into the water. They are punctuated by a few huge coast caves that you can swim right into. It’s dark inside so don’t expect to see much marine life, but it’s certainly a unique experience that takes you up close to the wild Santorini geology.
Black Beach is the third in a run of rocky coves on the south side of Santorini. It’s probably the least popular of the lot (Red Beach is the star, closely followed by White Beach), which is a little strange since it sits at the end of an accessible roadway underneath the blue-domed Archangel Michael Holy Orthodox Chapel. There’s even on-site parking and a dedicated taverna here!
Still, the lack of crowds is good news for the snorkelers. Come and don the bubble pipe and dive in. The water might not be quite as clear as it is a few steps around the coast to the east because the shoreline is a touch sandier, which adds murkiness to the H2O. However, Black Beach is easier to get in and paddle around and is very well protected from those northerly Aegean winds.
Our favorite spot to snorkel on Black Beach is at the easternmost end of the strand. There, a large wedge of white stone juts out of the water. It’s surrounded by a few small caves and grottoes that are packed with urchins and colorful fish. There’s also a nice grill there on the cliffs for that post-snorkel Mythos beer and souvlaki to the sunset!
Small and relatively unknown, Kambia boasts nonetheless some of the best snorkeling Santorini can offer. It’s a pint-sized cove on the south coast, wedged between the high coast hills among the much-more-famous spots of Red Beach and White Beach. In fact, you can even see the scarlet-tinged rocks of Red Beach glowing in the distance, only you get just a fraction of the crowds that head there.
For snorkelers, Kambia has a few things going for it. First off, it’s a shallow shelf here, meaning the clusters of rocks carry on for a long time before the Aegean gets too deep and too dark to see anything. On top of that, the whole place is pebble and stone. That’s not so great for the soles of your feet (we totally recommend reef shoes here) but fantastic for upping the underwater visibility.
Getting to Kambia Beach isn’t too hard. There’s a dusty track all the way there. It’s best done with an ATV but rental cars should also be able to make it. Along the way, be sure to stop off at the Magmaintrusion of Akrotiri, a series of incredible lava hills that formed during the ancient eruptions on the island.
For dramatic views of Santorini unfolding north as you step into crystal-clear Aegean waters, there’s hardly anywhere better than Caldera Beach. It sits at the base of the cliffs on the north side of Akrotiri, a relatively quiet town that has some fantastic vistas of the whole caldera from its perch on the south side of the island.
A single hairpin bend will take you there. Park up between the clusters of olive trees (a rare occurrence on this barren volcanic isle) and then pull on the reef shoes (this is a pebbly beach, so they’re recommended).
There’s good snorkeling right out in front of the beach. You only need to paddle about 50 meters or so to find a steep drop off in depth, which is an area that attracts larger schools of fish and even the occasional sea turtle. For smaller animals and spotting prettier fish, check out the rocks to the east. They have plenty of cracks and dents where you never know what you’re going to find.
Ammoudi Beach is hardly a beach at all. It’s more of a cove studded with platforms where you can slip off straight into the Aegean Sea. It sits just around the bend from the small fishing port of Ammoudi itself, at the end of a zigzagging road that comes down from the chic town of Oia on the northern flank of Santorini.
What’s great is that the water here is almost always a resplendent shade of pure blue that you can see right through. It’s overshadowed by 300-foot cliffs that come straight up from the seabed, offering groups of boulders and small pockets of seagrass-clad rocks under the surface. On top of that, the locals say there’s a volcanic spring somewhere beneath the sea at Ammoudi Beach, because the H2O seems to be just a few degrees higher than elsewhere and even has a slight sulfuric scent to it.
Ammoudi is easy to get to for anyone staying in Oia. Just follow the steps down from the western side of the town and then join the narrow but well-maintained coastal path that skirts the headland around to the swimming spot. It’s rarely empty but probably won’t be as busy as Red Beach
Nea Kameni is the island smack dab in the middle of the Santorini caldera. It’s best known for The Wreck, a 1981 sunken ship that’s now a major scuba diving hotspot. Well…that, and the natural hot springs that filter into the sea off the western side of the island. We’d say everyone should take some time to visit this speck on the map, though, if only to see the rugged black rocks and crumpled craters at its center.
Around the coast, Nea Kameni is pure stone and water. There’s hardly anything to interrupt the visibility because there’s not a single sand beach on the island and the whole place is encircled by Santorini itself, which blocks those northerly winds and northerly wind swells in the summer, keeping things still, calm, and clear.
The only real problem is that you will need to organize a boat tour to get over to Nea Kameni. It’s not connected to Santorini proper, but tours do leave daily through the high-season months between June and August. Some tours are even specifically designed to maximize the swimming opportunities, so be sure to book one of those if you’re after the best snorkeling Santorini can offer.
The best snorkeling Santorini can offer – the verdict
The best snorkeling Santorini can offer is mainly on the south coast of the island. There, a trio of famous beaches – Red Beach, White Beach, Black Beach – are all well-protected from the oncoming north winds and swells, which can get pretty strong during the midsummer. They’re also all rocky beaches, which helps to up the visibility. You can also find some great snorkeling spots on the cliffs below Oia and Akrotiri, not to mention out on Nea Kameni, the volcanic island that resides in the middle of the caldera.