Crete, Santorini, and Naxos look quite doable within the 12-day block, but Crete’s beaches are scattered throughout a very LARGE island, Santorini really only has Kamari and Perissá (and some southern coast bays) and Naxos does have nice places to swim. If you choose only to visit those three islands in your relatively short time, you will do well.
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The other groups are best tackled individually. For example, the Ionians have no ferry connections to the rest of the Greek islands; the same story with the Sporades and the Argo-Saronics. The NE Aegean islands do have a link to the Dodecanese and the Cyclades but are probably best left for another trip once you have got the feel of the rhythm of the Greek islands.
That all sounds good though I would recommend Naxos over Mykonos in March as there’s more to see and do there when not beach weather. And if you do decide to do Mykonos be sure there’s a ferry from Mykonos to Santorini for your dates. And same for Santorini to Crete. There should be ferry service but the route starts different times every year so you do want to be certain.
Nine weeks in Greece is a dream itinerary it certainly gives you lots of flexibility. As you seem to have Athens and the Peloponnese sorted, you just need to sort out your five weeks on the islands. What you need to realize, however, is that the islands are not all mutually interconnected, but rather they are ‘grouped’ – both administratively and from the point of view of transport routes. Here are the main groups.
Located in southern Thailand, this semi-off-the-map island is one of my favorites and the month I spent here remains one of my most fond memories. Here on Ko Lipe, the super-friendly locals bring in the daily catch for amazing seafood, as the island’s water is teeming with life. Accommodation is still basic, and most places turn off the electricity around midnight.
Another South Pacific island group (see a pattern here?), the Cook Islands are pretty far off the map. OK, not too far, but they are considerably less visited than some of their neighbors. These tiny islands are named after James Cook, the intrepid man who discovered them. With few amenities, this is the best place to find your inner castaway and escape modern life. The islands see similar weather to the rest of the area, with temperatures hot and humid all year round.
It’s rare to have a sizeable international airport just minutes from the main attractions of a place, but Las Vegas has always been a place to break the rules. Its airport handles flights from all over the world, and it’s just 2 miles from the Strip. Free shuttle services and an onslaught of taxis await to whisk you to your hotel. Minutes later, when you’re out exploring, there are numerous ways to get around. It can often be quicker to walk between casinos especially when the traffic’s gridlocked, but taxis and buses ply the Strip and surrounding areas too.
I would recommend Naxos over Mykonos and with 12 days you could easily add Paros too. With Santorini, Paros, and Naxos you’ll get a good mix of different delights and some ferry island hopping too which is fun in itself. 1.5 days in Athens is perfect for most – 1 day for the Plaka, Parthenon, Acropolis Museum area; and a half-day to visit the Archaeological Museum which is a short drive or walk from the Plaka but hard to fit in one day along with the other sights.
Naturally, there are some amazing coral reefs for snorkeling and diving and pristine beaches (my favorite is Whitehaven Beach). Upon arrival, you’ll instantly see why this is one of the best tropical islands in the world — and why over half a million people visit a year. One of the most popular way to see the islands is via a multi-day sailing tour (which is what I did when I visited). It was an amazing experience — especially diving! Prices start around 450 AUD for multi-day sailing tours.
Located just off the coast of Western Sahara in Africa, the Canary Islands are actually a Spanish archipelago and therefore owned by Spain. There are 7 main islands in the Canaries, with each offering something different for the intrepid traveler looking to kick back and enjoy island life. Tenerife is the largest of the islands and has a bit of everything, including one of the largest Carnival festivals in the world each February.
Flight Dallas - Las Vegas (DFW - LAS) $55+ Flight Los Angeles - Las Vegas (LAX - LAS) $55+ Flight Oakland - Las Vegas (OAK - LAS) $55+ Flight Seattle - Las Vegas (SEA - LAS) $55+ Flight Houston - Las Vegas (IAH - LAS) $72+ Flight Denver - Las Vegas (DEN - LAS) $77+ Flight San José - Las Vegas (SJC - LAS) $77+ Flight Houston - Las Vegas (HOU - LAS) $82+ Flight San Francisco - Las Vegas (SFO - LAS) $97+ Flight Chicago - Las Vegas (ORD - LAS) $125+ Flight Minneapolis - Las Vegas (MSP - LAS) $130+ Flight Orlando - Las Vegas (MCO - LAS) $131+ Flight Philadelphia - Las Vegas (PHL - LAS) $137+ Flight Washington - Las Vegas (BWI - LAS) $155+ Flight Atlanta - Las Vegas (ATL - LAS) $162+ Flight Newark - Las Vegas (EWR - LAS) $167+ Flight Fort Lauderdale - Las Vegas (FLL - LAS) $168+ Flight Boston - Las Vegas (BOS - LAS) $173+ Flight Washington - Las Vegas (DCA - LAS) $176+ Flight Detroit - Las Vegas (DTW - LAS) $177+ Flight New York - Las Vegas (LGA - LAS) $186+ Flight New York - Las Vegas (JFK - LAS) $219+ Flight Chicago - Las Vegas (MDW - LAS) $233+ Flight Honolulu - Las Vegas (HNL - LAS) $336+
Though this country has some 322 islands, less than a third are inhabited. Most of the action happens in the western islands, but no matter where you go, this is heaven. Any time the name Fiji is heard, visions of beaches and tropical ocean dance in people’s head. There’s a good reason for that – because this place is one of the best places to go in the world, and with so many islands, you’re bound to find one you like.
Zakynthos is an island of certain extremes: beauty and crass, mass tourism of the worst sort. The islands – like all the Ionian islands is lush and verdant and boasts the now famous ‘shipwreck beach’ (Navagio) that many seek to travel to and swim at. Yes, it’s worth it and numerous excursion boats make the run from ports on the west side of the island. Environmentalists and capitalists clash daggers at Laganas where the mass tourism trade is carried out to the detriment of the Caretta Caretta, or loggerhead turtle that loves the beach as much as British tourists on a binge. Read this page for the background. There is an alternative scene to Laganas at Vasilikos over to the east, but it is much more low-key and less busy.
They are packaged tourist places, though not quite in the extreme league of the north coast of Crete, but certainly they look to the ‘managed’ traveller more than the individual. September is a good time, though the start of September is still pretty close to high season and you will need to make bookings in advance. The waters of the Ionian are a bit chillier than the Aegean, but the islands sport some very spectacular beaches and seaside resorts. They are very popular with Italian travellers in their boats and motorhomes.
These groups are generally better connected among themselves than with other groups, so you are probably better advised to target them on this basis. As it’s your first time to Greece, you may want the full-on Greek island experience and you could easily fill your five weeks flitting from one island to the other in the Cyclades. You could start in Kea and work your way down to Milos via Kythnos, Serifos and Sifnos then segue to Paros and Naxos. Dip down to Santorini, up to Mykonos and back to Piraeus. The map will also show plenty of other Cyclades islands to pick and choose from such as Ios, Sikinos, Folegandros, Amorgos, Syros, Tinos and Andros – yes! too many choices, but you will find that sticking to one group it will be easier to get between them. Realistically for a period of five weeks you will not want to be doing more than 6-8 islands.