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Windswept Mykonos is just over 40 square miles of dry, rugged terrain dotted with chalky green bushes, granite stone, windmills and blinding white-washed buildings -- all bordered by beach and backlit by an unflinchingly blue sky. It's also one of the most trafficked of the Greek islands and one of the world's most densely visited tourist spots, period.
Only about 10,000 inhabitants call Mykonos, one of roughly 220 islands in the South Aegean's Cyclades group, home. But scores, looking to experience the internationally renowned gold-tinged beaches and sweaty, pulsating nightlife, descend upon the tiny island during the packed high season, which lasts from the Greek Orthodox Easter celebration (usually in April or early May) through September. Mykonos is also a very gay- and lesbian-friendly island.
The tourist infestation is no surprise. Visitors will find their choice of tavernas for al fresco dining, ouzo drinking and people watching, and sandy beaches and scenic views are everywhere -- landmark windmills (focus of so many a postcard), unique "cube" architecture, nearby islands (especially Delos, an archeological marvel accessible by 20-minute boat ride), and luxury yachts bobbing on the light blue Aegean Sea.
Mykonos Town (or Hora), with its byzantine cobblestone alleys winding through cube-shaped restaurants, residences and boutiques, is easy (and enjoyable) to navigate by foot. As well, finding your way further afield -- to beaches, quaint villages, red-domed churches -- is painlessly achieved via taxi or the efficient and reasonably priced bus system. Renting a car is also an option, but driving on your own can be a bit more of an adventure and is not recommended for the easily ruffled.
Mykonos boasts some 20-odd spots for sunbathing and swimming, several with a clothing optional emphasis in line with the island's reputation for open, cosmopolitan atmosphere. Many of the most popular and well-maintained are located on the southern coast, an area partially protected from the heavy winds that inform the island's rocky, shrubby demeanor.
Already a popular port for summer sailings to the Eastern Mediterranean, Mykonos is being included in an increasing number of itineraries -- Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and NCL send some of their biggest ships here -- adding more day-time tourists into the mix of an already massively popular nighttime appeal.
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Other Eastern Mediterranean Cruise Ports:
Athens • Bari • Bodrum • Corfu • Crete • Dubrovnik • Gythion • Haifa • Istanbul • Izmir • Jerusalem (Ashdod) • Katakolon • Kotor • Kusadasi • Limassol • Mykonos • Rhodes • Santorini • Split • Varna • Venice • Volos • Zadar
In Mykonos Town (Hora), best buys are on jewelry and local art; shops are clustered around the waterfront.
Greek, but Mykonos' status as a tourist mecca means English is spoken everywhere (as well as many other European languages).
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Euro. ATM's are available throughout Mykonos Town (Hora), and more sporadically in villages like Ornos.
Where You're Docked
If docking at Tourlos, just outside of Hora, shuttles will be waiting to take you to the edge of town (a 3-minute ride). If you'd like to walk, it takes about 30 minutes from ship to town.
For ships that anchor, tenders will take passengers right into town.
Hora is a breeze to wander through (and get "lost" in) on foot. For exploring outside the town, you can take a taxi, hop on the bus (there are two stations in town servicing many destinations; one by the archaeological museum, one by Olympic Airways office), or rent a scooter, ATV or car. Note: If you're visiting during the hottest months -- June and July -- make sure your rental car has air conditioning.
For a more local mode of transport, caiques, a type of fishing boat, serve as water taxis, bringing passengers to the island's beaches.
Watch Out For
If renting a car or scooter, take caution when navigating the often perilously windy roads. The number of automobile accidents rises dramatically in the crowded summer months.
Explore Hora, the utterly accessible capital of Mykonos, by foot. Stop in at one of many tavernas for some coffee or ouzo, shop at a boutique jewelry store, and stop in at one of the chic art galleries. Or forego any of those and simply wander through the maze of narrow streets and alleys -- said to have been built with the idea of confusing pirates -- pondering how the structures were rendered so very white, the splashes of blue from doors, balconies and hanging flowers contrasting sharply with the walls.
Beach bums will not want to miss the chance to lay out at one of the island's famous sunspots, be it the Bacchanalian and often nude Paradise or Super Paradise beaches, with their booming music and constant party vibe or the more low-key Ornos, better for the family unit. Remote Lia Beach is reached only by private car or taxi.
Visitors interested in Greek history, mythology and archeology should head to nearby Delos, the spiritual and geographic center of the Cyclades island chain. Considered a holy place for thousands of years, Greek mythology holds that the island is the birthplace of Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, offspring of Zeus. The 1.5-square-mile island contains countless ruins and an impressive archeological museum. Remember to bring your water -- the dry, rocky island can become brutally hot in the summer.
Been There, Done That
If you've been to the island once or twice, and are feeling considerably daring, rent an ATV or scooter and set out to explore. The limited size of the island makes it (almost) impossible to lose your bearings. If you're feeling lost, simply look for the coast and head there.
Try windsurfing. Head to the decidedly more breezy Kalafatis beach, where you can rent the proper equipment by the hour and figure it out on your own, or more realistically, get a lesson in the art. The grub in the area is good too, with many of the tasteful little eateries specializing in local seafood plates. There's regular bus service to Kalafatis several times per day.
One of the trendiest beach restaurants on the island is Nammos, at Psarou Beach, known for its celebrity spottings and yacht-filled bay. Have your lunch served on the beach, or dine inside under the thatched roof at one of the restaurant's white-washed tables. Jetsetters (and you too) can dine on fruit platters, sushi, calamari, seafood salads and other grilled specialties. Of course, you'll pay for the experience -- chic Nammos is one of the island's pricier establishments.
Nikos Taverno is one of the most popular al fresco spots in Hora. Located behind Town Hall, this eatery boasts standard Greek dishes (kebobs, hummus, mousakka) and tasty seafood specials (fresh lobster, calamari, etc.). Servers are quick to help, but never pushy if your desire is to enjoy some leisurely dining. If your ship is in town late, an evening meal might also afford you the chance to see one of the huge friendly pelicans that serve as unofficial mascots for the island.
For a quick bite, it's hard to beat one (or a few) of Alexis' cheap souflakis. The two "snack bars," one located next to Taxi Square, the other near Hora's south bus stations, offer fresh-made pita sandwiches -- lamb, chicken, vegetable -- with the customary tsatsiki (Greek yogurt with cucumber and spices), tomato and onion. Gyros, chicken wings, burgers and dogs are also on the menu.
Staying in Touch
There are several Internet cafes in Hora. If you're heading to the beach, the Fast Internet Mykonos is located at Fabrika Square, the bus station that services the main beach routes.
For the first-timer, get the lay of the land with an island bus tour. The standard tour will take you to Panagia Tourliani Monastery, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, through a "traditional" Mykonian village, past several of the island's beaches, and culminate with a lunch featuring live music and dancing.
For something a little more rugged, try a 4x4 Excursion. If you can handle a stick shift, you'll have the chance to explore some of the more hidden corners of Mykonos that the bus tour misses, including Fragma and Agios Ioannis, for some great views of nearby Delos.
As already noted, a trip to nearby Delos is a must for the historically inclined. Book either through the cruise line, or head into Mykonos Town where any number of similar tours, via chartered boat, can be taken. Ferries also run to the archeological site, so you can explore on your own if you'd like.
For More Information
On the Web: www.greektourism.com
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--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor