Once there was a ship called “MV Panagiotis” and the later part of its life it served as a smuggler vessel. On one fateful day in 1980, it was making its way from Turkey to Italy with a freight of contraband cigarettes for the Italian Mafia. The ship was not in good condition as its best years had passed. Rough waves provoked by angered weather were hitting the ship with massive slaps as Poseidon was obviously having a bad day. If that wasn’t enough, the Greek Navy had suspicions and took up pursuit. During the chase the ship caught on fire and the crew abandoned ship to escape from the Greek Navy. The MV Panagiotis was left to itself, with a fire consuming it from inside. All the conditions for a shipwreck were in place and the ship ran aground in a shallow cove of Zakynthos. To this day, it is still there, giving the beach a named “Navagio” for the Greek “shipwreck”.
Well, that’s a story Greece wants us to believe. Another story says the ship was placed on the beach by the Greek Ministry of Tourism in order to attract people to Greece. Although being beautiful, Zakynthos doesn’t have many landmarks to offer. Personally, I believe the second story. The ship seems too well placed in the very middle of the beach, and too far from the shoreline. If the ship had indeed drifted into the cove, it would probably lie either slightly to the left or right or crashed on to the rocks. The ship has also a picture perfect size, and fits the beach as if it was designed for it. The story of the ”smuggler ship” however makes the wreck sound much more interesting; it gives Zakynthos a landmark it desired and attracts tourists. Greece got what it wanted. Navagio Beach became probably one of the most spectacular beaches in the world. Its fame goes beyond Greece borders, even beyond Europe borders. After a Korean drama “Descendants of the Sun”, where Nagavio Beach plays a role, was shown in TV this year, half of Asia dreams about visiting this dream beach.
Before going to Zakynthos I wondered what people saw in Navagio Beach. It is small, the sand isn’t powder-like, you can get there only by boat and the boat tours are pricy. And, there is a rusty ship in the middle. But now, after visiting I must say that there is something magical about this beach.
As I had only four days in Zakynthos I wanted to make sure I would see the ship. There are plenty of tours offered on the internet and while checking them I felt like a kid in a toy store. I had no idea what to choose. It was an avalanche of offers. It might seem that all the tours should be the same, they are all boat tours and deliver people to the same beach, but then not really. After reading few of offers I started to have a picture of how the trips looked like. Most of the tours to Navagio Beach are made by big cruise ships. What is important to note is that, these big ships can’t reach the beach when it is windy and the sea is too rough. So people only get a view of the beach from a distance. There are also small boats tours, they cost more but at least you will get to the beach, no matter what.
There are tours around noon, morning or late afternoon . The sun reaches the beach around noon and reveals the beauty of this place in full glamour. The sea has amazingly turquoise and crystalline waters and the sand is as white as snow. The noon hours are the most popular and most of ships anchor off the beach at this time of a day thus the beach is heavily crowded. It’s not unusual to have twenty or more boats tied together, one by one and a few hundred people ashore at the same time. The beach is very small, but accommodates them humbly.
Visiting at off-peak times ensures you will have the beach pretty much to your own enjoyment and you won’t have to share this rather cozy cove with hundreds of other. But of course there is something for something. The price to pay for the pleasure of more solitude isn’t the smallest, and I don’t mean price. In the morning and late afternoon the beach is lacking in sunrays. The sand don’t look as white and water isn’t insanely blue. The choice wasn’t easy, however I don’t like people spoiling my photos and I opted for the morning tour by a small boat.
We embarked at 8:30am from a small port of Tsilivi. The journey to Navagio Beach passed very fast as the captain was making jokes and entertained us non stop. Also our boat was a speed boat and happily jumped on the waves.
When we arrived at the cove, the sun was not there but at least beach was almost empty. There were just few people enjoying the shore. We jumped from our boat to enjoy the beach and the first experience was pain. The sand in Navagio isn’t sand, but small limestone pebbles. Few steps and feet got a bit of sandy relief.
Navagio is an impressive beach with white gravel sand, surrounded by limestone cliffs and clear blue waters. The colour of the water was incredible despite the lack of the sun. I’m sure that it must look heavenly when the sun lights it up. The captain told us the story of the smuggler ship, the Greek version of course. Then he advised us to not climb on the ship as the wreck is very sharp and one is likely to injure oneself. Since it is one, big, piece of rust, a wound made by it, could have terrible consequences. Of course, not everyone bothered to listen and climbed.
I walked around the ship, marveled the sky high, cliff’s walls, let the sea spoils my feet and sat to admire the views. The beach is so small that everything took five minutes. More and more ships started to come but the sun didn’t. I chose the morning hours and I felt a bit unsatisfied. But then I stopped. I saw all these huge ships heading towards the beach when we departed. There were hundreds of people on them all. They were all coming to Navagio, from all the corners of Zakynthos, and also from the neighboring island of Kefalonia.
The view of Navagio in full glamour (sunny and blue) would not leave my head, so I found other way to make my dream come true. To get a spectacular view of Navagio Beach from above, you can drive on top of the cliff where a viewing platform offers amazing panorama and photo opportunities. The viewing platform wasn’t enough for me and I had to trek a cliff . I’m not sure if it was a responsible idea, as the cliff was made from a limestone after all, limestone isn’t too stable material being crumbly. I was careful and the fact I’m writing this, means I survived without landing in the water. The cliff edge is a place where most of the picture postcard shots are taken. It was actually better to see Navagio Beach from this perspective than up close and personal on the beach itself.
After seeing the beach from air, from water and from the beach itself I must say that Navagio, with the story behind it or without it, is really beautiful. It is one of these places that look better in reality than on enchanted postcards. So … would you like to be shipwrecked for a while?