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Why island hopping in the small Cyclades should make your bucket list

The Aegean’s hush-hush treasure: the Small Cyclades

Golden stretches of sand, crystal clear waters, and charming taverns & bars are only a few reasons why island-hopping in the Small Cyclades should be up next in your vacation wish list.

Yes, we are sure that you’ve heard of the Cyclades – they have long been a favorite holiday destination for travelers around the world.

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But what if you have already witnessed the mythical Oia sunset in Santorini, enjoyed the world-famous party scene of Mykonos, and bar crawled around Ios? You may be wondering if there’s anything more tο the Cyclades. Before your wanderlust takes you to other unexplored territories, it’s time to let you in on the Aegean’s hush-hush treasure: the Small Cyclades.

Located between Naxos and Amorgos, this island complex consists of four inhabited islands: Donoussa, Iraklia, Schinoussa, and Koufonissi. The islands remained off-the-grid until a couple of decades ago (they got electricity in 1982). Yet, over the last decade, they have been gaining some serious tourist traction and buzz.

Offering much more than you could ever imagine, these microscopic stretches of land in the middle of the Southeast Aegean deserve to make it to your vacation bucket list and here is why.

Koufonissi

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The tiniest and most popular island of the bunch, Koufonissi has been steadily rising to tourist fame since 2000, enchanting visitors with its unique natural beauty. The island’s turquoise crystal-clear waters and golden sandy beaches come in direct contrast with the dramatic rocky landscape, creating the ultimate Cycladic landscape.

Koufonissi features one main village, which is usually packed during August, with little taverns and hip bars peppered all around it. The island is also a great choice for travelers who like to hop from beach to beach during the day as its five main beaches (Limani, Foinikas, Fanos, Italida, and Pori) are connected through seaside trails and are just a short walk away from each other.

What should be on your bucket list: Breaking dawn at Pori, the eastern part of the island, which offers a truly breathtaking sunrise. Pori is also home to Kalofeggo, one of the island’s finest bars and restaurants.

How to get there: There’s a ferry from Piraeus to Koufonissi every day, while legendary ferry boat Skopelitis connects Koufonissi with Naxos, Amorgos and the rest of the Small Cyclades from Monday to Saturday.

Iraklia

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The biggest island of the Small Cyclades is -ironically- the most quiet, secluded, and least commercialized of all. Iraklia offers a quiet haven to travelers who yearn for good food and long days at the beach. The island has two villages (Agios Georgios and Panagia) connect by road and by the island’s lovely and extensive trail network, perfect for adventurous hikers-at-heart.

Beach life may seem limited to the charming sandy beach of Livadi (which can be reached on foot by both villages). In August, though, the seasonal mini bus takes travelers all the way to Tourkopigado, a secluded pebbled beach featuring turquoise waters. Also, a caique service takes tourists on daily cruises to Iraklia’s secluded bays and beaches, including Alimniá, the island’s most famous bay, known for its transparent waters and impressive sea floor that hosts the remains of a crashed World War II plane.

What should be on your bucket list: Joining the feast of St. John the Baptist, taking place inside a cave. Every year, on August 28, flocks of people accompany the icon of the saint from Panagia to the Cyclops Cave (said to be the home of Homeric mythical hero Polifimos), where a vesperal liturgy takes place by candlelight. The same night, local musicians “take the stage” at Panagia for a night filled with traditional music, food, and (endless) dancing.

How to get there: There’s a ferry from Piraeus to Iraklia every two days. Skopelitis Express runs a ferry trip between the Small Cyclades, Naxos and Amorgos from Monday to Saturday.

Donoussa

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The lovechild of Iraklia and Koufonissi may be less cosmopolitan or wild at heart, yet it dances to the beat of its own drum. With exotic beaches, a dramatic scenery, and the quirkiest nightlife among the Small Cyclades, Donoussa has become the ultimate destination for hipsters and alternative travelers.

Despite being the second biggest island of the Small Cyclades complex, Donoussa’s most famous beaches (Kedros, Livadi, and Kalotaritissa) can be reached on foot, while in August there’s a caique and bus service to them from Stavros, the island’s only village).

As for the nightlife? Skantzoxiros at the port and the charming beach bar at Kedros serve up great cocktails, food, and live shows from sunrise till the break of dawn.

What should be on your bucket list: Diving off the cliff at Fokospilia. The little cave used to be a seal habitat and offers amazing deep blue waters and a stunning seabed.

How to get there: There’s a ferry from Piraeus to Donoussa every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, while Skopelitis Express docks at the island’s port every Monday to Saturday.

Schinoussa

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Voted as one of the six places one must visit in Greece by Forbes back in 2012, Schinoussa offers its visitors a majestic landscape along with the alluring and untouched crystal waters of the Small Cyclades.

The island is known for its unique natural beauty (featuring secluded beaches, amazing views into the great Aegean blue and long stretches filled with the evergreen mastic tree shrub), the picturesque narrow alleys of its villages (Chora, Mersini, and Messaria), and the kindness of its locals that makes visitors feel like they’re home.

The coastline of Schinoussa offers 18 beaches and many sheltered and private bays to take a swim in, while, at night, the little taverns around Chora light up and await to introduce visitors to the island’s lovely nightlife. During the summer, travelers will also find many yachts docked in Schnioussa’s main marina, usually belonging to the island’s shipping tycoons or world-famous celebrities, who came here seeking quiet refuge.

What should be on your bucket list: Showing up for the Donkey Race in August. Up until 1980, donkeys were the only mean of transportation around Schinoussa and so the locals celebrate their great contribution to the island’s daily life by holding this race. And if you’re not a big fan of fast and furious donkey, then putting your fork into a fava, the island’s awarded local specialty, should be at the top of your list.

How to get there: There’s a ferry from Piraeus to Schinoussa every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, while Skopelitis Express docks at the island’s port every Monday to Saturday.

Sources: visitgreece.gr, ferryhopper.com