In 2009, I spent eight days on the Greek island of Zakynthos (also known as the island of Zante). Renting a car allowed me to see a lot of the island and to get some Zakynthos snorkeling action.
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Turtles and snorkeling in Zakynthos
Zakynthos is a large island found in the southern Ionian Sea, well known for its beautiful beaches and important nesting sites for the endangered Caretta caretta sea turtle.
Most of the isle is mountainous (a dramatic backdrop for photos!) with fertile plains used for olive and lemon groves and vineyards. However, it is ringed by an impressive coastline of rocky cliffs and sandy beaches. Marine caves and arches carved out over time are amazing places to explore. The water around Zakynthos in Greece is crystal clear, making it the perfect spot for snorkeling!
Fortunately, the island has been carefully managed to best preserve the habitat of its rare marine life. In 1999, the Mediterranean’s first national park for the protection of sea turtles was created – The National Marine Park of Zakynthos, part of Natura 2000.
The people of Zakynthos work hard to help these creatures and their fragile ecosystems. They only build modest developments in traditional colors rather than huge resort complexes. The nests of the turtles, made between April and June on the southern side of the island, are marked and protected by wooden frames, asking sunbathers to keep their distance.
Zakynthos island in Greece is definitely nice for a week in the sun, but I wouldn't go there in winter. The beaches where you can go snorkeling in Zakynthos as well were, at least to me, a big part of the attractiveness of this island.
Zakynthos snorkeling spots
Zakynthos is great for snorkeling. There are a lot of small Zakynthos beaches and caves where there is plenty of fish and the water is usually pretty clear as well. We did a one-day boat tour that took us to some caves you couldn't get to by foot and had a great time swimming between colorful fish and jellyfish.
Our hotel had its own small private beach so that we could even go snorkeling on days when we didn't have a car to get around the island. If you do have access to a car, you have much more freedom to try out some of the best snorkeling beaches in Zakynthos – here are a few of the most popular.
Laganas is a busy resort town on Zakynthos island, Greece. It’s found on the south coast of the island. It’s home to the popular Laganas Beach, which overlooks Laganas Bay, out of which the loggerhead turtles migrate in and out.
Laganas turtle beach, Zakynthos is a good spot for snorkeling as it has a sandy bottom so visibility is clear. The water’s always warm, and it remains quite shallow even far out from the shore. The beach itself does get quite crowded here but if you like a lively atmosphere with crystal blue waters and beautiful sand, it’s perfect.
The town comes alive in the evening with a buzzing nightlife scene. An abundance of fun bars and restaurants lure a younger clientele. If you’re up for a wild night out, head to Fishbowl Bar (drinks served in fishbowls!), Drunken Duncan’s Cocktail Factory, Glamour Bar or Cheeky Tikis.
If you walk a bit further east along the beach, you’ll come to Kalamaki beach – where the mountains descend down to the sea and there are clear-as-glass waters often much less touristy than Laganas. Somewhere in between Laganas and Kalamaki is the best spot if you want a bit of time away from the crowds.
Keri Caves are simply breathtaking and have to be at the top of your list of Zakynthos destinations. This little paradise is found just off Keri Cape – a collection of natural caves of different sizes that make an incredible photo op.
Only accessible by sea, you can get a boat tour from Keri or even hire your own boat if you’re feeling confident. Boat trips are either a full-day or half-day, and normally head out into Laganas Bay, and then along round the headland to Keri caves (sometimes continuing on to Marathonisi island too).
You’re sure to be taken under two remarkable natural arches of stone called the Kamares, where the water is incredible deep below and bats hang overhead! Keep your eye out for the endangered monk seal.
Between the Kamares you’ll see two famous cone-shaped rocks called the Myzithres after a local Greek cheese of a similar shape! Above sits the iconic Keri Lighthouse, where you can see the country’s largest Greek flag.
There’s little doubt that these small inlets and caves make for some of the best snorkeling in Zakynthos. There are several spots where you can jump in and cool off in the stunningly turquoize clear waters and see the limestone rock formations stretching right down to the seabed. The sun’s reflection creates weird and wonderful shapes and patterns on the sand and stone.
Many say that this is one of the best beaches in Zakynthos! Gerakas is the most southern beach on Zakynthos and one of the least developed. It’s a top nesting site for Caretta caretta turtles so if you get up early enough (but not in the night – it’s off-limits between sunset and sunrise) between May and October you may see the babies hatching and making their way to the sea.
Because of this, part of the beach is normally roped off to protect Zakynthos’ turtles that love to nest here annually. No building is permitted at the beach so it’s remained a pristine haven of peace. There are sunbeds and umbrellas to hire, but they’re positioned to avoid any turtle disturbance. An organization called Earth Sea and Sky has an information point on the turtles which is worth a visit.
This sunny strip of sand is truly picture-postcard worthy. Because of its high levels of protection (no boat or vessel is allowed here, only swimmers), it’s an amazing nursery for all marine life and ideal for snorkeling in Zakynthos, with the sea being calm and shallow.
Another beautiful sandy bay that’s well known for its yearly turtle visitations is Dafni beach. It apparently has the warmest sea of the island and this is just one of the reasons it’s often considered Zakynthos’s hidden gem!
Dafni beach is also one of the most important nesting grounds for the loggerhead turtle, and as such is maintained and observed by ecologists. The sun loungers are kept well away from the turtle nests.
Although well worth the effort, the dirt road down to the beach from the coastal road that connects Argasi to Vasilikos is a bit tricky. It’s full of bumps and steep bends – potentially a bit difficult with a scooter so most recommend hiring a car to get to this beach.
For keen snorkelers, there are plenty of rockpools and interesting underwater rock formations to explore.
Turtle Island/ Marathonisi
Marathonisi is an uninhabited islet just off the coast of Zakynthos. It’s a heavenly spot covered in trees, edged with enchanting caves and private coves. It has two main beaches, one pebbly and one with beautiful white sand.
It’s colloquially called Turtle Island – perhaps because of its unusual shape, said to resemble that of a turtle! Another reason is that it too is a protected nesting site for turtles. Visitors to the island sometimes have the chance to watch turtles being born right here on the beach.
The beach here is like paradise – private, serene and utterly beautiful. If you get a boat trip around this island, it’s a good idea to opt for a smaller set up rather than a big multi-group boat. This means you can get much closer to the rock formations, caves and coves. Normally, there are plenty of opportunities to jump in and have a relaxing swim!
If swimming with turtles in Zante is your ultimate dream, this might be the place! There are beaches where it’s prohibited to swim for the turtles’ welfare, but there are often turtles swimming off the coast of this island and plenty of spots for you to get in the water, including a beautiful sea cave.
Bear in mind that the island is without any shops so bring everything you need with you!
Sekania is the most important nest site for the turtles, with over 600 nests per year – crazy considering the beach is only 550 meters / 600 yards long! Over half of all the eggs laid on the island belong to this beach. The difference between this one and all the rest is that it is highly protected, and off-limits to tourists.
The land around Sekania was purchased by WWF Greece and has since been monitored and supervised heavily, year-round. People call in ‘Turtle Paradise’ because it doesn’t suffer the consequences of the high levels of tourism on the other beaches of Zakynthos.
Capo Marathia is another great snorkeling area, a promontory near Keri where you can find smaller, less popular beaches. The road down to the beaches is good for both cars and scooters and you can rent sun loungers and umbrellas. You can also get a boat out to Marathonisi Turtle Island from here.
About the Caretta caretta
So you’ve heard quite a lot about this loggerhead turtle so far haven’t you? How about I fill you in. The endangered Caretta caretta is a Mediterranean sea turtle with an amazing and unimaginable life cycle. Laid in small clutches of eggs on the beaches of Zakynthos and other shores throughout Turkey and Italy, the babies make an important and perilous dash for the ocean as soon as they’ve hatched.
The Caretta caretta is the largest hard-shelled turtle in the world, with an amazing lifespan of 47 – 67 years. On average, they weigh an enormous 135 kg / 298 pounds but despite this are surprisingly speedy, reaching up to 30 km / 19 miles per hour!
Miraculously, these turtles return to the exact same beach they were born on to nest and spawn – sometime between April and June. This is also the best time to see turtles in Zakynthos. The eggs hatch about 60 days later which is, unfortunately, peak tourist season so ecologists do everything possible to avoid disturbance. Only 60% of all broods (about 120 eggs in total) hatch and they take about 50 to 60 days to do so.
The baby turtles let the light from the moon guide their route to the sea. Because of this, the lights from buildings, restaurants, and towns can really disorientate them. The ocean itself is a huge obstacle to surmount and only one turtle in a thousand makes it to adulthood.
Rules for being around the turtles
Their main threat is the loss of nesting sites because of development and tourism, along with predation from other creatures. Even torchlights and lights from beach houses can be enough to set them off course, so it’s really important that visitors follow a set of guidelines so as to cause the least disturbance to these majestic creatures.
- Don’t leave litter on the beach
- Stay away from demarcated nest sites
- Don’t observe the nests at night
- Take care with sun umbrellas – do not shove them into the sand as there’s a possibility that there might be a clutch of eggs beneath
- If you see a turtle swimming or on the beach, stay at least 10 meters / 11 yards away at all times
- Do not touch them
- Don’t crowd near them, no more than two boats near a turtle in the water
- If you’re in a boat, travel at low speed only (no faster than two knots)
- Remain calm and talk in low, quiet voices
- Respect the requests of volunteers
- If you see a turtle that appears in need of help, inform a nearby volunteer rather than trying to help yourself
Popular snorkeling tours on Zakynthos
Where to stay in Zakynthos
Budget: Blue Lake
For very little money you’ll get a clean and comfortable room in a good location on the island – 5.3 km / 3.3 miles from Laganas Beach and just a short walk outside the charming little village of Keri with its beautiful arches, inlets, and caves. The rooms are also equipped with a small kitchenette for guests to use.
Dali Hotel is found in the center of Zakynthos town, with sea views across the beautiful harbor and just a short walk from the beach. Rooms have air conditioning, a fridge, and a kettle. There’s a restaurant just downstairs and the hotel itself organizes boat trips and tours which are highly recommended.
Luxury: Lesante Blu
For a more extravagant stay, this sea-view hotel ticks all the boxes. Situated on the northeast side of the island in the village of Tragaki – it’s a bit further away from Laganas Bay than other hotels (about 12 km / 7.4 miles). The highlight of Lesante Blu is its spectacular infinity pools and spa center. Gorgeous rooms, on-site restaurants, tennis court, bike hire and car hire available.
Apartment: Lucia Studios
A more southern option – this beautiful set of apartments is only a few hundred meters/ yards from Laganas beach itself. Everything is furnished to a high standard, rooms are large and bright with air conditioning and balcony terraces. Apartments have fully equipped kitchens, private bathrooms, and free private parking.
There are loads of beautiful and good value apartments on Zakynthos – for more options I recommend heading to Airbnb. Booking’s great for hotel options but I always use Airbnb for self-catering places.
If you haven’t used it before, I can give you a discount on your first booking if you book through my link. Don’t worry – this won’t cost you anything extra.
For those who already use Airbnb, I’d appreciate it if you’d consider booking your next Airbnb through my link. The small commission I'll earn from this supports my business and means I can continue to make new content. Again, this is at no extra cost to you.
Don't forget travel insurance
No matter how well you plan your holiday to Zakynthos, there's always something that can happen that's beyond your control. A reservation can get canceled, you can get sick or you can drop and break that new camera. In all of these cases, good travel insurance has you covered.
I've had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I'm covered for every trip I go on but if you travel just a few times a year, you can get insured for each trip separately too.
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