Exploring Santorini’s Caldera and Nea Kameni Volcano

The Cycladic island of Santorini effortlessly enchants with its phenomenal landscape that’s replete with sapphire blue water, snow-white architecture, and multicolored mille-feuille-like cliffs. What I found myself equally impressed with – perhaps even more dazzled by – was learning about the powerful geological events that shaped the island 3,600 years ago with the eruption of one of the most powerful volcanoes in recorded times.

With Santorini-as-lost-civilization-of-Atlantis myth theories swirling in our minds, exploring the caldera and the still-active volcanic island of Nea Kameni were at the top of our must-see list. To make our understanding of geological events more complete, we also wanted to see the remnants of the prosperous community at Akrotiri, which was decimated by the volcano. Archaeologists believe that Santorini was once inhabited by a group of people similar to those on nearby Minoan Crete. Some even believe that the nucleus of Atlantis might have been situated in what is now Santorini’s caldera.

Half-way through our stay on Santorini, we embarked on a full-day boat trip that would take us from the bustling port of Fira, to the volcanic island of Nea Kameni, followed by a refreshing swim near hot springs, and a stop on the quieter island of Therasia. We’d then return to Fira via Oia.

Santorini Volcano Tour Nea Kameni 5

Nea Kameni, Still an Active Volcanic Island

During the Bronze Age, geologists called the then-circular island of Santorini, Strongyli, which means ‘rounded.’ After the devastating eruption, however, Strongyli was decimated, creating Santorini’s now-signature crescent shape, as well as several surrounding islands.

Nea Kameni is the eastern Mediterannean’s youngest volcanic landform, and today it is a protected natural monument and national geological park. Nea Kameni has erupted approximately eight times in the past 1,900 years; it’s been dormant since 1950, causing little problems. (See this Institute for the Study and Monitoring of the Santorini Volcano link for interesting black & white images of past eruptions.) Unfortunately, it’s impossible to project when the next eruption might take place. On an optimistic note for those living on or wishing to travel to Santorini, scientists think they can forecast the volcano’s next eruptions at least a few months to a year in advance. They regularly monitor Nea Kameni’s activity, taking into account seismic, geophysical and geochemical data.

Today, magma exists at depths of a few kilometers; it’s visible through hot springs and hot gases, giving Nea Kameni its trademark sulfuric aroma.

Santorini Boat and Volcano Tours Nea Kameni 5
To get to Fira’s port to catch our boat for the excursion, we walked down 575+ stairs, meeting Santorini’s fleet of donkeys along the way. Some visitors ride them to avoid the steep hike up or down. We opted to walk down, then take the cable car back up.
Santorini Boat and Volcano Tours Nea Kameni 2
New life emerges among the barren, volcanic landscape.
Santorini Boat and Volcano Tours Nea Kameni
The village of Fira off in the distance, with a boat similar to ours in the foreground. Nea Kameni is a national geological park so visitors are reminded to not take any volcanic ‘souvenirs’ away with them.
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The ascent to the rim of Nea Kameni requires walking up some unstable terrain, under Santorini’s trademark blazing sun. We were glad we wore comfortable sandals and protective gear to shield us from the hot rays. The sweeping views from the top were well-worth the climb!
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Santorini Volcano Tour Nea Kameni 2
The village of Oia off in the distance.
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Just one of many cairns (man-made stacks of stones) on Nea Kameni.
Santorini Volcano Tour and Caldera Fira 5

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Jet-black lava rock contrasts with Santorini’s sapphire-blue sky as an airplane flies overhead. On the right is an example of seismological monitoring equipment on Nea Kameni.
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Yellow sulphur deposits emerging from an opening (fumarole) on Nea Kameni.
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We were happy to have a bit of time to escape the crowds in order to explore Nea Kameni independently. The views from the volcanic island onto Santorini were stunning. Here you can see the villages of Imerovigli and Firostefani.
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Santorini Volcano Tour Nea Kameni

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The Greek flag flits in the breeze.
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Visitors to Nea Kameni are dwarfed by the vast landscape.
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A small Greek Orthodox chapel near the volcanic island of Palea Kameni. Our boat stopped in this spot so that passengers could take a quick dip in the sulphuric, warm water. Although it wasn’t hot enough to be dubbed a ‘hot spring’ we found the water temperature to be refreshing after our sizzling stroll on nearby Nea Kameni.
Santorini Volcano Tour

Santorini Volcano Tour and Caldera Oia 8

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Restaurants line the water’s edge on the island of Therasia. We enjoyed a brief lunch stop here.
Santorini Volcano Tour Therasia Chairs
An establishment awaits Santorini’s busy tourist season.
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Visitors and locals mingle on the island of Therasia.
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Lava rock forms a sidewalk mosaic.
Santorini Volcano Tour Therasia

Santorini Volcano Tour Oia
The picturesque village of Oia.
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Oia, one of the most popular places in which to take in Santorini’s sunsets.
Santorini Volcano Tour Fira
The village of Fira sits perched high above the caldera.
Santorini Volcano Tour and Caldera Fira
Santorini Volcano Tour and Caldera Fira 2
Returning back to Fira. Sleepy following the day’s events, we decided that the cable car would be our preferred mode of transport back to Fira.

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • Boat tours around Santorini are popular, and quite easy to book via travel agencies and hotels. We don’t often go on organized, group tours, but found this one to be convenient, and pleasant in that we could escape our large group to have some exploration time to ourselves. Our excursion took us to the Nea Kameni Volcano, in the vicinity of the hot springs (where swimming was optional), and to the nearby island of Therasia. We opted to do a full-day tour, but there were also some excursions that were shorter.
  • Pack accordingly for the trip: sunhat, sunglasses, sunblock, an ample supply of water and snacks, and swimming gear if you plan to take a dip. (Note that the springs aren’t really hot, but we did find the brief swim refreshing, albeit a bit like swimming in red chalky, water, given the high sulfur content.) On the island of Therasia (stop #3), small restaurants dotted the waterside; we stopped there for a light lunch and coffee break before returning to Fira via Oia.
  • There is a 2 Euro fee to enter the National Geological Park of Nea Kameni. While exploring, stay on marked paths to avoid loose lava rock.
  • If you’re looking for a cozy studio apartment in which to stay, consider the Rhapsody Apartments (affiliate link) in Imerovigli. The owner, George, was helpful and friendly, even going so far as to share delicious Santorini zucchini from his own garden with us. We  loved the apartment’s quiet location, yet walkable distance to Fira, the island’s public transportation hub.
  • Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Greece.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

42 thoughts on “Exploring Santorini’s Caldera and Nea Kameni Volcano

    1. My pleasure, David. Santorini is often described as being overly touristic which I agree that it is, but I do think it’s one of those places that’s a delight to see, at least once. The scenery is just fantastic. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday evening!

  1. Fabulous, Tricia! I feel as if I’m back there. More importantly still, I can feel the warmth :)
    Love the tiny wee church on that heap of rock, and that stack of chairs is SO Greek!

    1. I think the memories of those searing rays is just what I needed to get through a bone-chilling Bavarian day, hence the post, Jo. :) I can’t wait to see your reports from the Algarve – starting in January, right?

  2. Beautiful blue skies. Sparkling white cubes of hillside homes. The water, oh the wonderful water. On this gray day a delight to join you on this wonderful holiday. Virginia

    1. Virginia, sounds like we both had the same weather the day I composed this post, for it offered a tremendous getaway and chance to access some wonderful memories. Blue and white is one of my favorite color combinations, so it’s no wonder I love Santorini’s brilliant palette of colors :)

    1. Anyes, we were out on the volcanic island when the sun was beating down midday, making me wonder how even more magical the light would be at sunrise/sunset. I’d never toured a volcanic area before, so I found the landscape, coupled with the history of the area, fascinating.

      Wish you a happy weekend ahead!

    1. It was a perfect day, Jenna, though we did experience some dramatically high winds during our time on Santorini. Given your appreciation of art and architecture, I think you’d especially enjoy the Meteora Monasteries, which are located on mainland Greece. The natural beauty there is also incredible, and the ‘hanging’ monasteries perched atop the peculiar rock formations are equally impressive.

  3. Tricia, you both have ridiculous smiles on your faces. :) And that’s easily understood given how ridiculously beautiful all this is: those blues, those whites, all that sun! I haven’t been to Greece; so your post and photographs are providing additional grist to the mill. :)

    1. “Ridiculous smiles” – probably so true! :)

      We only hit the tip of the iceberg in Greece, but Meteora, Athens and Santorini were tremendous ‘hors d’oeuvres,’ Henry. Are you based in Canada now? My husband’s originally from Toronto, and we did a small Canadian road-trip last year. I’d love to see more spots there!

      1. Hi, Tricia. I think a lot of travel are in fact “appetizers”, as you’ve rightly said; it’s how I feel about Vietnam (via Saigon), and Malaysia/Indonesia (via Singapore). I’m in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada for a little while. I spent 7 years in Toronto between 1994-2001, and I returned to Toronto for the first time for a short visit on my 2012 RTW. Here’s to more “ridiculous smiles”!

      2. Unfortunately we didn’t make it up to Vancouver during our cross country trip last summer. Toronto’s eclecticism has certainly made me want to explore more of Canada though.

        “More ridiculous smiles” – sounds like a new year’s resolution in the making. Enjoy the last days of 2013, Henry, and until next time. :)

    1. It seems it’s a popular trip indeed, Cris! Knowing Santorini’s fantastic geological history, the opportunity to explore the volcanic island across the caldera seemed hard to pass up. What time of year were you in Santorini?

      1. Hello, Tricia, yes, if you visit Santorini is a good opportunity to do an excursion to Nea Kameni. I was there in summer, in August, but we’re really lucky and have few people around us, also on the beaches. (quite deserts). so beautiful holidays. Cris

  4. Who did you use to book this trip? We are going to Santorini this summer, & would like to book a trip like this. Thank you! :)

    1. Hi Kara, you must be excited to be Santorini-bound! I unfortunately don’t remember the name of the tour organizer. These excursions were pretty popular on the island (as evidenced by the great number of passengers), and you can stop into most any office once you get there, and they’ll be able to arrange it for you. During our May visit, I recall signing up one day or so in advance. Enjoy!

  5. This was very informative and the pictures quite lovely! We are headed there in a month’s time and can’t wait! Was the fishermen’s church on Nea Kameni?

    1. Hi Liz, I can imagine how excited you must be; I felt the same when I knew we were finally headed out to the Greek Islands.

      Since we weren’t navigating the boat, it’s tricky to say exactly where the church was. :) I think it was near the volcanic island of Palea Kameni, where we went swimming after walking on Nea Kameni. Palea Kameni is just to the west of Nea Kameni. After the walk and swim, we hopped back on the boat and headed to the island of Therasia, where we enjoyed lunch. Therasia is to the northwest of Palea Kameni and Nea Kameni.

      Hope this helps, and wish you wonderful adventures in Santorini! If you like wine, be sure to enjoy some of the island’s unique varieties while you’re there. They grow the grapes in a distinctive wreath-like shape to help them weather the harsh environment: https://triciaannemitchell.com/2013/07/13/santorini-wine-tasting-greek-wine/

      1. Thank you for that added info, Tricia. I don’t think we’ll have time to do a wine tour (I still haven’t even done one in our Niagara region of Ontario), but I’ve made note of some of the wines you’ve listed on your wine tasting blog to check out while we are there. Do you have any recommendations for restaurants in Oia? On another note, your website is so informative with relaxed, pleasurable reads and beautiful photographs! I’ve recommended it to some of my travel obsessed friends. Now on to your info about Meteora….😊


      2. Hi once again, Liz! I apologize for my slow reply, as we’ve been on the road ourselves (in Northern Italy). Even if you don’t get to do a wine tour, perhaps you’ll get to enjoy some vino while you’re there. We really liked the white wine varieties that we tried, in particular. As for restaurants in Oia, I’m unable to eat gluten, and am ‘selectarian’ meat-wise (only poultry and seafood). Because of those factors and since we had a charming apartment, we did most of the cooking ourselves, using lots of local products (Greek salads, mini zucchini given to us by our apartment host, etc.). We also did a cooking class and dined at Selene restaurant. A disclaimer: they sponsored our cooking class experience, but the setting was relaxed and elegant, with fantastic food and attention to detail. https://triciaannemitchell.com/2013/06/27/santorini-restaurant-wine-food-selene-cooking-class-greece/ We still talk about the bottle of 2012 Sigalas Assyrtiko wine we enjoyed with our meal. (Assyrtiko is a white grape native to Santorini.) Finally, thank you so much for your kind words about my blog, and for sharing it with others who have wanderlust. The blog is a ‘labor of love’ and I’m happy to point others in the direction of experiences we enjoyed. Wish you safe & fun travels to Santorini – and perhaps Meteora as well? :)

    1. Hi Destinee, I don’t recall the name of the specific office, however, I do remember many companies in Fira offering excursions like this one. We stopped into a few offices to compare their day trips on offer. I think there might only be a few boat operators and that the numerous tourist offices funnel customers to the same excursions. Enjoy your time in Santorini – it’s a special place!

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