Santorini: The reality behind being a European bucket-list destination

A relentless heat bared down on this volcanic rock in the Aegean. "Alright?" I yell back to my travel buddy.

"Stay focused, hold on to my hand and we can get through this in one piece."

We were so close, but one wrong move could spell disaster??? or at least getting trodden on by a gaggle of cruise tourists.

Yes, this was no dangerous mountain descent, it was merely surviving the whitewashed streets of Santorini. I know, tough break.

The famous Cyclades island, home to the blue-domed white buildings that adorn every Greek yoghurt container worldwide, has had enough of being popular. But if you're thinking I should quit grizzling and go home, you're not alone - because plenty of locals on Santorini have exactly the same attitude towards travellers like me.

This summer season was the first with a daily cap on cruise tourists - fast becoming a dirty sub-group in some travel circles - after locals pushed the mayor to deal with the island's buckling infrastructure.

That's easy enough to understand: any island will have challenges with things like water, sanitation and transport even before you add a Greek debt crisis and a peak season average of 18,000 daily cruise ship visitors in to the mix.

The mayor capped it at 8000 last year and this summer has seen it come into full effect, but if you had asked any of the townsfolk, trampled tourists or even the transport donkeys, it still seemed as crazy as ever (and this, in September, is after the peak).

I counted five floating hotels anchored off the famous island one day just last week. Two million will still visit this Aegean beauty this year, and you would think that would be celebrated by a country staring into a prolonged debt crisis. But it's a bittersweet success.

So Santorini (like Venice, Barcelona, Machu Piccu and Cinque Terre before it) has seen the downsides of being too pretty.

Of course, it's never those working in the industry who would be outwardly anti-tourism - why would they be when they directly benefit from the goose's golden egg - but a day-tripper getting snap-happy hardly has the time or inclination to see and learn about the negative impacts our presence has.

We all raved about Airbnb being a win-win for travellers and homeowners when it came on the scene, but never thought about the renters that it has inadvertently displaced.

I can't say a destination's water, waste and sanitation budget is on my mind when I'm in search of some weekend sun. But it should be - and not just when it's us facing the traffic jam or rubbish pile up.

So will this latest wave of city authority regulation mean you'll be barred from some of your European bucket-list destinations?

Unlikely, but it again reflects back on us the silly notion of "ticking off the best-ofs and bucket lists" in the first place.

Hopefully, it will encourage exploration in to often ignored areas (maybe try another of Greece's 6000-odd islands) instead of collecting identikit photos in clogged alleyways and stoking anti-tourist sentiment.

Stuff.co.nz

See also: Overcrowded tourist cities: 'Don't send any more tourists to Dubrovnik'

See also: The alternative destinations to Europe's most crowded tourist cities

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