As your feet touch this westernmost heaven, the rhythm of Irakleia’s unhurried existence will swiftly enchant your senses.The coastline, etched with rugged magnificence and adorned with awe-inspiring rock formations, holds you in a mesmerizing embrace. Majestic cliffs, soaring to a height of 100 meters, cradle nesting wild pigeons and vultures, adding an air of ancient mystique to the landscape.
Your journey? Guided by tranquil trails that beckon you to unearth impressive caves and villages that appear untouched by time’s hand. And oh, the beaches! A hidden treasure trove accessible only by boat, where the sun-kissed sands and crystalline waters weave tales of paradise found.
Ready to heed the call of this enchanting island? Brace yourself for an Iraklia escapade like no other – your roadmap to sheer wonder and discovery begins here!
The Island of Polyphemus
In the ageless verses of Homer’s Odyssey, at the dawn of his epic voyage spanning a decade, the intrepid king of Ithaca and his comrades were washed ashore an island’s mysterious coast, seemingly inhabited solely by untamed sheep. But this idyllic facade concealed a perilous secret: the fearsome Cyclops Polyphemus lay in wait. He imprisoned the intruders within his cavernous lair, sealing their fate with a colossal stone barrier, and sating his hunger with a grim daily feast.
Yet, Odysseus was no ordinary man; resourcefulness coursed through his veins. In a daring gambit, he cunningly intoxicated the Cyclops and, while the giant slept, thrust a blazing stake into his eye, shattering his reign of terror. A daring escape ensued, where Odysseus and his remaining crew clung to the woolly underbellies of the island’s grazing sheep, clandestinely evading their captor’s gaze. Like shadows, they made their way to their vessel, unfurling sails to catch the winds of freedom.
Legends whisper that the island was none other than Iraklia, its very soil steeped in myth.
The cave where Polyphemus brooded stands in stark opposition to the cave of Agios Ioannis, a stark duality etched into the landscape. And across the waters, Avelonissia, twin islets, bear witness to a fateful toss – the vengeful hurling of rocks by the blinded Cyclops, an eternal testament to his thwarted fury.
Best Things to Do on Iraklia
1. Embark on Enchanting Hiking Trails
Encompassing a wide range of flora and fauna, from rare avian species to exceptional plant life, the entire island stands as an integral part of the esteemed Natura 2000 network, dedicated to safeguarding natural habitats. Renowned for its meticulously outlined hiking pathways, Iraklia offers a haven for hiking aficionados with its eight exceptional trails, considered among the finest within the Small Cyclades.
Venture along these well-trodden routes that intricately traverse the island’s landscape, and you’ll be guided to awe-inspiring panoramic viewpoints, evocative ancient ruins, and serene, tucked-away enclaves.
Trails from Panagia Village:
#1 – to Papas Peak (1.8km, 30–40min)
#2 – to Merichas Bay (1.5km, 30min)
#3 – to Agios Ioannis Cave (2.6km, 45min-1h)
Trails from Agios Athanasios Village:
#4 – to Selladi (1.1km, 45min)
#6 – to Averou (3.3km, 1h 20min)
#5 – Agios Ioannis Cave to Averou (1.4km, 30min) connects trails #3 and #6
Trails from Agios Georgios Village:
#7 – to Agios Athanasios (3km, 45min)
#8 – to Vorini Spilia (1.3km, 30min)
Find the trail map here!
Beaches Accessible by Following the Trails
Vourkaria Cove unveils a small pebble beach graced by crystalline emerald waters, though reaching it presents a challenge. It is accessible via trail #3, followed by sequential trails #5 and #6 leading to the beach and the charming Agios Athanasios village.
Named for its twin rocky caverns, Vorini Spilia (Northern Cave) boasts white sands and mesmerizing turquoise waters. To arrive here, follow the path of trail #8 from Agios Georgios, meandering through scenic olive groves and pastoral scenes of grazing goats and sheep. Note that due to northern winds, the beach occasionally accumulates debris along its enchanting shores.
2. Discover Merichas Bay’s Azure Allure
Tucked snugly between towering cliffs that reach a striking 100 meters high, Merichas Bay stands as a true marvel of nature’s craftsmanship. This untamed beauty is enhanced by the presence of predatory birds finding their nesting grounds among the rocky crevices. And within the bay, you’ll discover Ammoudi, an exquisite pebbly beach with crystalline waters that can only be accessed by sea.
How to Get to Merichas
Merichas Bay’s allure remains unyielding, whether beheld from the land or the sea. A relatively easy footpath, spanning approximately 1.5 kilometers, begins in the village of Panagia and leads to the bay (Trail #2). Along the way, keep watch for elusive predator birds that have claimed these rocky havens as their own.
Alternatively, a voyage by boat unveils a different facet of Merichas Bay’s splendor. Surveying the bay from the sea bestows a novel viewpoint of the majestic cliffs, unveiling in the process a duo of splendid beaches cradled below their embrace..
Secure your spot for an organized hike to Merichas Bay here.
3. Explore Agios Ioannis Caves’ Subterranean Marvels
The Cave of Agios Ioannis stands as one of the Cyclades’ most monumental geological wonders, its vastness stretching 120 meters in depth, yet believed to be only a fragment of a more extensive, yet-to-be-revealed cavern network. Deep within, a shrine resides, leading to a grand chamber adorned with stalactites, stalagmites, natural pillars, and the unique presence of moonmilk, a rare stalagmitic substance.
Local legend weaves a tale of a shepherd who, seeking refuge from the elements near the cave, found an unexpected image of Saint John the Baptist (Agios Ioannis) on his shirt’s back. Joined by villagers, they traced his steps, uncovering the cave’s inconspicuous entrance and within it, the saint’s icon. Every year on his feast day (28th August), a poignant evening service is conducted within the cavern, its expanse illuminated by the reverent glow of worshiper’s candles.
How to Get There
To reach the Cave, embark on trail #3, commencing just a few meters prior to the Church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary. It guides you along a signposted route that leads westward before skillfully zigzagging upwards to a saddle situated north of Selladi – the apex of your journey at 270 meters. From this vantage point, the path descends southward, skirting the mountain’s rear. Look out for a painted red arrow on the left, indicating the pathway to the cave. Its whitewashed entrance beckons just beneath a church bell suspended from a cypress tree.
Whether you opt for an independent trail exploration or partake in an organized hiking excursion, be prepared for a prostration and crawl upon entry. Remember to equip yourself with torches, as the cave's interior remains devoid of artificial illumination.
4. Sail to Secluded Beaches
If you’re to choose just one experience on Iraklia, let it be the voyage to the secluded shores of Karvounolakos and Alimia – the island’s two finest coastal gems, accessible solely by boat.
At Karvounolakos, you’ll be bewitched by its small pebble beach, adorned with boulders that make it stand as the island’s most mesmerizing beach. Your journey continues to Alimia Bay, where a picturesque blend of sand and gravel leads to waters of unmatched clarity. Here, you’ll also encounter the wreckage of a German WWII seaplane. A buoy signifies its location, and though the sunken aircraft is visible from the surface, intrepid souls might relish the opportunity to dive 9 meters to behold it up close.
Here’s a local tip: Starting from Alimia beach, navigate over rocks or take a swim westward toward the next cove, revealing a diminutive sandy haven known as Alimnitsa.
How to Get There
Short of captaining your own boat, your avenue to these beaches lies in boarding the “Anemos” tourist vessel, setting sail each day at 10:00 from Agios Georgios. This voyage carries you to the beaches of Karvounolakos and Alimia, while passing landmarks such as the Seal Cave (Fokospilia) and striking rock formations named Red Molos and Black Molos. The route also treats you to the grandeur of Merichas’ towering cliffs and usually offers a chance for a refreshing pause at the alluring Ammoudi beach.
Anticipate a return around 16:00, bearing in mind that schedules hinge on weather conditions. A minimum of six passengers is required for the boat to embark.
Tickets, priced at 15€, can be conveniently secured at Pergigiali Supermarket, ideally a day ahead of your excursion. To reserve your spot, contact: Tel: +30 22850 71145 or +2285074234.
5. Indulge in Tranquil Beach Bliss
If the call of adventure isn’t tugging at you to explore the northern beaches of Vourkaria and Vorini Spilia, or if embarking on a boat to discover the southwestern gems of Alimia, Karvounolakos, and Ammoudi isn’t your current fancy (although highly recommended), worry not. Iraklia has a trio of easily accessible beaches that provide the ultimate relaxation without the extra effort.
Nestled alongside the charming port of Iraklia, Agios Georgios beckons as the island’s most conveniently reached beach. With its ivory sands, crystalline waters, and towering tamarisk trees, it’s a haven for unwinding. Nearby taverns serve up a variety of delectable dishes within a cozy ambiance.
Embracing the title of the island’s largest beach, Livadi showcases turquoise waters, glistening golden sand, and natural shade provided by graceful tamarisk trees. Overlooking it all stands the majestic Fortress (Kastro), while just across, the petite islet of Venetiko adds to the panorama. A leisurely fifteen-minute stroll southeast from the port will lead you here.
Imagine the idyllic tableau of moored fishing boats, hillside-dwelling goats, and a bay that could rival fjords in beauty—welcome to Tourkopigado. This beach thrives when the northern winds blow, and for those seeking serenity, it’s an unspoiled haven. Arrive by bus or embark on a 2.5km hike from Panagia village for an off-the-beaten-path experience.
To witness a mesmerizing sunset, make your way to the serene rocky shores of Xilobatis and Trimpounas, nestled on the northwest edge of the island!
6. Unearth Ancient Rock Drawings
Nestled between the bustling port of Agios Athanasios and the abandoned village of the same name, a captivating secret from 3,000 B.C. unfolds. Here, an astonishing collection of around 25 spiral rock drawings, known as “mpousoules” (compasses), have been unearthed. Their purpose, a riddle spanning millennia, continues to intrigue.
Initially, their name suggests they might have been etched for orientation in an ancient world. Legend whispers that they marked the buried treasure stashes of pirates, while archaeological minds suggest they could be guides to settlements, burial grounds, or even sources of water. Other theories beckon, proposing they hold the key to Cycladic Civilization’s astronomical wisdom, or perhaps they symbolize serpents—a token of good fortune.
The truth remains elusive, but one certainty stands: these enigmatic petroglyphs have woven a tapestry of wonder, captivating both locals and scholars across time.
7. Visit Quaint Chapels
Despite its small size, Iraklia boasts an impressive count of nine churches, each adorned in luminous white, elegantly standing out against the cerulean expanse of the Aegean Sea. Remarkably, the island’s three settlements—Agios Georgios, Agios Athanasios, and Panagia—draw their very names from these holy sanctuaries, with “Agios” signifying “Saint” and “Panagia” translating to “Virgin Mary” in Greek.
Within Agios Georgios, the graceful Church of Saint George and the Taxiarch Church grace the landscape, while the Chapel of Agios Athanasios stands sentinel at the gateway of the identically named village.
The resplendent stone-constructed Church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary stands as the focal point in the village of Panagia, an impressive structure that holds the honor of being the largest and most imposing church on the island. From Panagia, a clearly marked 2-kilometer footpath ascends to the endearing Prophet Elias Chapel atop Mount Pappas, granting you access to panoramic vistas of the encircling islands.
8. Explore Fortress Ruins
Perched on the hillside overlooking the beach that shares its name, the Livadi Fortress has stood abandoned since 1940. Its houses now lay in ruins, engulfed by nature’s reclamation. Within these remnants, a temple venerating Zeus and a sanctuary devoted to the goddess Tyche (Fortune) await discovery.
Accessible via a brief footpath stemming from the island’s paved road, it’s a journey through time you won’t want to miss.
How to Get to Iraklia
Iraklia doesn’t house its own airport. Instead, the neighboring airports of Naxos and Paros serve as the gateways to this tranquil haven, catering exclusively to domestic flights from Athens. Of course, there’s also the international hub of Athens Airport, which is situated about 50 kilometers away from the main port of Piraeus.
Ferry connectivity forms the backbone of Iraklia’s transportation network, linking it to various key ports. Notable ferry routes include Piraeus, Paros, Naxos, the Lesser Cyclades (Schoinoussa, Koufonissi, and Donoussa), and Amorgos.
| From Athens: Commencing your voyage from Athens, the conventional fast ferry Blue Star will carry you to Iraklia. Blue Star Naxos, an integral part of the prestigious Blue Star Ferries fleet, orchestrates the maritime link between Piraeus and Amorgos, stopping at Paros, Naxos, Iraklia, Schoinoussa, Koufonissi, and Amorgos. During the summer season, this ferry navigates to Iraklia three times a week, with an approximate travel time of 6 hours and 30 minutes.
| From the Small Cyclades: For those already island-hopping among the Lesser Cyclades, the picturesque slow boat voyage aboard the iconic Skopelitis Express offers an enchanting alternative. Operating for over three decades, this legendary ferry links Amorgos – its home port – with Donoussa, Koufonissi, Schoinoussa, Iraklia, and Naxos. Skopelitis Express sails to Iraklia daily except for Sundays, ensuring year-round accessibility. Up-to-date timetables for this route are available here for your convenience.
Book your ferry tickets here !
— BY ORGANIZED TOUR —
Getting Around Iraklia
With its network of eight well-defined trails, the entire island becomes traversable by foot—a unique opportunity for exploration. Notably absent are taxis and gas stations, necessitating foresight if you choose to bring your own car or motorcycle; ensure they’re adequately fueled before embarking on your island journey.
By Local Bus
During the summer season, a mini-bus meanders along the island’s sole paved road. Commencing from the port and concluding at the village of Panagia, this road spans a distance of approximately 4.5 kilometers. En route, it makes stops at the enchanting village of Agios Georgios and the inviting shores of Livadi beach. Up-to-date bus schedules are readily available at the various bus stops.
Given the absence of cars for rent in Irakleia, opting for a scooter rental is an ideal way to traverse the island’s enchanting landscapes. Iraklia Scooter Roussos is the available service that offers scooters for exploring the island’s sights and sounds.
For those who favor guided experiences, Discover Iraklia Outdoor Activities presents an excellent choice. They curate group tours to notable destinations like Agios Ioannis Cave, Papas Mountaintop, and Merichas Bay, providing opportunities for easy participation. Alternatively, if you have a specific itinerary in mind, they are receptive to tailoring a personalized journey to your preferences.
Sailing around Iraklia
For those yearning to unearth the untouched shores of neighboring islets, local caiques can be chartered. These vessels offer passage to the petite islet of Venetiko, nestled just across from Livadi beach, as well as the two captivating Avelonisia islets in the southwestern expanse. Seek guidance at the port or liaise with your accommodation for seamless arrangements.
In season, the tourist boat Anemos offers daily passages to the nearby Schoinoussa island as well, departing at 09:25 and returning at 16:15 (15€). However, Schoinoussa’s allure merits independent exploration. If time allows, hop aboard the local ferry, Express Skopelitis (operating six times weekly, with a 20-minute voyage), and relish spending a couple of days on this equally captivating island.
What & Where to Eat in Iraklia
Iraklia’s cuisine embodies classic Cycladic flavors, highlighted by fresh seafood, delectable local meats like rice-stuffed goat baked or braised, and the quintessential local fava split-pea puree. Indulge in exquisite thyme honey and an array of cheeses, including mizithra, xynomyzithra, anthotyros, and hard cheese. And don’t miss out on savoring pitaridia, homemade noodles, and aranista, lentils harmoniously cooked with fermented wheat.
To appease your sweet tooth, relish meletinia, cinnamon-spiced sweet mizithra cheese pies, alongside xerotigana fried dumplings and the authentic local pasteli, a sesame bar.
— Where to Eat—
Where to Stay in Iraklia
Sparsely inhabited, Iraklia boasts only a pair of villages: Panagia (Chora), nestled in the island’s heart, and Agios Georgios. A meticulously paved 4.5km road links these settlements, while a rustic dirt byroad winds its way to the forgotten village of Agios Athanasios.
The latter remains but a deserted hamlet, and Panagia, though unspoiled, is a one-street village graced solely by a few quaint chapels, petite café-shops, and a charming tavern. Given these limitations, Agios Georgios emerges as the sole and optimal destination for your accommodation needs.
Home to a modest population of around 110 residents, this bustling village is nestled beside a picturesque beach framed by tamarisk tree. It serves as the arrival point for ferries and acts as the embarkation point for island exploration via excursion boats that halt at captivating beaches. The port area boasts convenient amenities, including an ATM, a well-stocked grocery store, and a mini-market. Accommodation options and inviting taverns are thoughtfully situated in proximity to the port or on the village’s periphery, extending towards the alluring Livadi Beach.
When to Visit Iraklia
Iraklia beckons during summer’s peak in July and August, promising impeccable weather and bustling ferries. However, scarce and costly accommodations prevail. Meanwhile, in late spring and early fall, the pleasant climate persists sans the tourist throngs.
However, if an authentic immersion into the local culture is what you are looking for, seize the island’s festivals, spanning music extravaganzas to reverent observances.
Prominent religious celebrations encompass Saint George’s Day on April 23 (except when near Easter), Assumption of Mary on August 15, St. Michael the Archangel on November 8, and St. Nektarios on November 9. After church service, relish homemade fare and wine at the churchyard. Festive melodies accompany further feasting at island taverns.
Pinnacle of the island’s calendar is August 28, eve of Saint John the Baptist’s commemoration. Candle-lit vespers grace the cave bearing his name. Worshippers illuminate the cavern with candles, accompanied by the saint’s icon brought from the church. Picnics beneath cave entrance trees accompany this sacred occasion, accentuated by Fanis Gavalas Festival (August 28-30), featuring concerts, feasting with island melodies, theater displays, and classic games.
How Many Days to Spend in Iraklia
Ideal for a comprehensive exploration, two nights in Iraklia suffice to uncover its charms, making it a splendid addition to your Small Cyclades island-hopping journey. Alternatively, if time is constrained, Iraklia can be seamlessly integrated as a rewarding day trip from neighboring islands like Naxos, Paros, or Koufonisia.
Whether you’ve explored its hidden beaches, ventured through its remarkable trails, or delved into the secrets of its caves, Iraklia leaves an indelible mark, inviting you to return and discover even more of its enchanting allure.
Its strategic location also makes it an ideal gateway for island hopping, especially given its close proximity to the other enchanting Small Cyclades islands. If the allure of exploring them all captivates you, be sure to explore the comprehensive guides on Schoinoussa, Koufonissia, and Donoussa!