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Aegean Islands has a good network of ferry routes radiating out from the system's hub at Athens. Over a quarter of Greeks live in the town, so the system is built to moving the locals to and from Athens...
Island hopping up and down in stops of the line is thus very easy: islands are usually only an hour apart, and there are daily boats in both directions. Moving between lines may be often more difficult, and you might have to wait a day or two for a connection.
You can charter a shared yacht in several companies: an example can be Sunsail (www.sunsail.com
). The small Northern Sporades islands of Skiathos and Skopelos are popular bases. If you have the appropriate Master's ticket, you can hire a yacht and do it yourself.
There are some ways to do your round trip: the cheapest way of getting around is to simply move to the next island up or down the chain before taking a longer hop back to your starting point and flight home. It does mean that you have to spend time finding accommodation on each island, to say nothing of moving your luggage. The most popular route is the centre of the Cyclades, visiting Paros, Naxos, Ios and Santorini.
Another option is to use one of the popular islands as a longer-stay base, and then make day-trips to neighbouring islands via ferries and excursion boats. You pay extra for return fares, but spend less time bed-hunting. This strategy works well on islands such as Paros in the Cyclades from where you can take day-trips to Antiparos, Naxos, Ios, Santorini, Delos and Mykonos; and Kos in the Dodecanese, with its excursions to Rhodes, Nissiros, Pserimos, Kalimnos and Patmos.
The best and most popular starting point is Athens: the frequency of connections enables those on two-week trips to visit the maximum number of islands; four or five hops are the average. Some islands - Rhodes, Kos, Crete, Santorini and Mykonos - also have direct international flights. The island connection will be better in 2004 summer with all the activity surrounding the Olympics, if you can find a bed.
Finding a bed is too easy across the Aegean. There are plenty of hotels and islanders offering good standard rooms. For those with low budgets, many islands also have campsites.
You can expect to pay 50 Euro for a double room in the summer. If you prefer to book in advance, it is always possible to do so by sticking to hotels and phoning ahead. A useful site with hotel listings is www.greekislands.com
All the islands share a common "Greekness", the variety and contrasts are often very surprising between neighbouring islands, and exploring these is one of the great attractions of island hopping.
Islands lying north of an east-west line drawn through Athens have far more green and tree cover than those to the south. If sandy beaches backed by pinewoods are near the top of your hit list, go to the north.
Islands fringing the coastlines of the Aegean (the Argo-Saronic south of Athens and the Dodecanese islands off the Turkish Coast) are hotter and more humid during the summer than the central Aegean.
Reliability and safety have improved considerably after Express Samina, an Aegean ferry, hit rocks off Paros and sank with the loss of 80 lives.
This accident improved safety standards and the arrival of a large number of new boats. Greece has enjoyed low levels of passenger fatalities in the last 25 years. Statistically, you are several times more likely to die in an earthquake than in a ferry incident. The most common problems are engine failures.
Greek government regulate the fares, and although rising, remain low compared with Western European levels. Prices are different depending ferries age: boats under 10 years old are able to charge higher prices, and tickets on the popular high-speed vessels cost up to double the regular "slow" ferry fare.
Using the cheapest tickets you can expect to pay around 25 Euro for the long hop from Athens or Crete to the islands, and thereafter 6 Euro for the short hops to the next island along the line.
Tickets are bought from quayside ticket agencies. You must book seats on the fast boats at least a day or two in advance, but it is possible to buy a ticket at the last moment for the slower boats.
For finding the timetables and prices outside Greece the best option are some websites. However they rarely contain last-minute updates. My recommended sites:
Greek Travel Pages (www.gtpnet.com
Hellas Flying Dolphins ferry company (www.dolphins.gr
), the largest Greek ferry company.
On the ground there is usually less information. There are no printed timetables as islanders are mainly interested only in the times of boats to and from Athens.
Some travellers prefer to use for island hop excursion vessels - frequently, boats or hydrofoils are used for day-trips aimed at package holidays. There are some excursion vessel between Greece's Aegean islands and mainland Turkey that can be very interesting.