There is a group of little islands that wrap around the south-east coast of Naxos called the ‘Small Cyclades’ or sometimes the ‘lesser Cyclades’. They are some of the most beautiful and peaceful islands in Greece and a true Greece travel secret. One of these is Ano Koufonisi and this article covers everything there is to know about visiting it, including how to get there, when to go and the best things to do in Koufonisia.
Where is Koufonisia
Koufonisia is actually the collective word for three islands – Ano Koufonisi, Kato Koufonisi, and Keros.
They are located in the middle of the Small Cyclades, a group of islands that wrap around the south and east of Naxos starting with Iraklia and ending with Donousa.
Ano Koufonisi is the most popular and is home to pristine, clear beaches, a charming small town, and several lovely small hotels and tavernas.
There are some private homes on Kato Koufonisi but mostly it is used by day trippers visiting the beaches.
Keros is uninhabited except for herds of goats, whose meat and milk are used in many of the local dishes.
Schinousa is another island in the group. It is also small and quiet and a lovely spot for a very quiet and low-key escape.
How to get to Ano Koufonia
The only way to get to the Small Cyclades islands is by sea. There are regular ferries during summer including the old Express Skopolitis.
This ferry has a bit of a cult following as it runs year round and keeps the locals connected with the rest of the world. It is cheap but slow and not particularly comfortable however, especially in rough seas. We caught it but if there is another ferry available I would recommend that. In fact we caught the Express Skopolitis from Naxos to Ano Koufonisi but the Blue Star back out to Paros.
How to get around Koufonisi
There are no car hire agencies on any of the islands in the Small Cyclades. As these are very seasonal islands I image it is simply not financially viable.
Your hotel or host can organise for a car to be bought over from Naxos or Amorgos which is what we did as our villa was quite isolated. If you stay in town though you really dont need a car as there are e-bikes for rent and the great little Sea Taxis.
There is one taxi on the island, operated by one very hard working lady. If she is free you can usually find her next to the bus sign at Ammos Beach or call 6987 337290.
You can also hire bicycles from a place down on Ammos Beach. These are handy to have if you are staying a little out of town but don’t plan on going too far in summer as it is hot, dusty and there is no shade.
Express Skopolitis Ferry
Ano Koufonisi Beaches
There are ten main beaches on the island, and many coves and caves too. Most of the beaches are small and unorganized but there are a few that have tavernas and even sunbeds at times.
If you have a car you can drive yourself to most beaches where there is plenty of parking but most people visit either on day trips from Naxos, Paros or Amorgos or by using the Sea Taxis that go around to the beaches between May and October.
Ammos is the main beach in the town. It is wide and shallow, with clear turquoise water, and is very popular with families due to its calm, shallow water.
It is also only a 5-minute walk from the ferry port and/or into the Chora where there are quite a few shops and tavernas.
It also now has a Seatrac, so that people with disabilities can also enjoy it.
In summer you can use the sunbeds at Lefteris Seaside Hotel and bar for free if you order from their menu.
Paralia Pori is at the top of the island and circles a large protected bay, popular with yachts. It’s the largest beach on the island and even in the middle of summer never feels busy.
The sand is fine and white, the water is clear and shallow. There is a bay at the back of the beach which is also nice, although more for cliff jumping and photography.
There is a taverna called Wana that gets mixed reviews but we had a sensational lunch there – pork in mustard sauce and their house salad which included nectarines and cheese. Its a great spot for a cold beer gazing over the sparkling bay and it also has toilets and good wifi.
There is also another taverna called Kalofego, but this was closed in September 2023 when we vsitied.
Hikers also enjoy the peninsula to the north of the beach where they can also access another beach called Glal and Ksylompatis Caves.
Paralia Finika is a small beach on the south-east side of the island about 5 minutes by car from the port. There are several hotels and apartments to rent in this bay and a very good taverna, Finikas Bar & Restaurant, right on the beach.
Again, the water is azure and crystal clear but the beach is quite narrow so if it is summer the shade is often taken so un umbrella is a good idea.
Right past Finika is Fanos, which is similar but very secluded and quite. There are no tavernas or facilities off-season but a beach bar does open in summer. Very good for snorkeling.
After Fanos you will find Italida and then Alejandra Beaches. Both are small, beautiful and quite secluded with no houses or facilities.
Many people believe these are some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. They can be popular with naturists off-season so be aware.
The road around this part of the island is unsealed but is good for hiking. You can go right along the east coast to Pori Beach passing natural rock pools, caves and stunning beach coves.
This beach is also right near the ferry port but to the left. It is small and unorganised, with pebbles rather than sand but that means the water clarity for snorkeling is very good. The sunsets are amazing too.
Seatrac at Ammos Beach
Pori Cliff Jumping
Other things to do on Ano Koufonisi
If you are someone who likes to have lots of activities and attractions to see the whole time this may not be the island for you.
The Small Cyclades are very laid back and very beach-focused. Think swimming, dining, sleeping, repeat.
We spent 5 nights in Ano Koufonisi in September and it was wonderful but that was probably enough for us. Some people spend weeks there however and we met many couples that return every year for several weeks, and even months.
We spent 3 of our 5 days exploring the island and the beaches, one day lying around our Villa and another day doing a day trip.
There aren’t a lot of shops on Koufonisi but the few that are there are quite good. In fact, my two favorite purchases from our 5 weeks in September are both from there.
Apart from a couple of good boutiques including Thoosa, Kares, and To Perasma there are also some small galleries, souvenir stores, two supermarkets, a pharmacy, a bookshop, two bakeries, and a jeweler. There’s even a nail bar and massage therapist.
You can walk around the entire island in about 3 hours so it’s a good place for moderate hikers without being too arduous.
The most popular route is the coastal track from the Chora to Pori Beach, which takes about an hour with no stops. There are plenty of places to stop and swim though!
The longest route is also to Pori Beach and beyond it to Gala Beach but going from Chora to Loutro, then Parianos, Xylopatis, and then Pori, so a lot of it is interior. This takes about 90 minutes.
St. George Festival
St George is the patron saint and protector of the island and there is a celebration every year on 23 April to honour him. If this date occurs during Lent the festival will occur on Easter Monday.
The festival starts with the Holy Mass, and then there is a procession of an icon of the Saint around the village. The roads that it passes through are carpeted with rose petals and many boats follow the procession where possible. The procession ends in the village where everyone takes part in a fabulous feast.
The Fisherman’s Festival takes place every year on the Saturday before the celebration of the Holy Spirit. The local fisherman and their families organize a big seafood feast and there is lots of music, dancing, and celebration with thanks to Poseidon for providing and keeping the fishermen safe.
Also called the Dormition of the Virgin Mary this is one of the biggest religious festivals celebrated in across Greece. every year on August 15th.
In Koufonisia the main church service occurs on Kato Koufonissi and the ferry Express Skopolitis leaves its regular schedule to ferry everyone there free of charge.
The Church Service is held there and then there is a boat race by the local Kaiki ( fishing boats) back to Ano Koufonisi, and a big feast with an abundance of food, music, and dancing.
Day Trips from Koufonisi
Despite Koufonisia being a very popular day trip from the bigger, more popular islands, you can also do day trips from there as well.
There is a local operator on the island, Mavros G Boat Tours, who offer private tours for groups of 10 people or more. These day tours go around the three islands, with numerous stops for swimming and lunch included.
You can also catch the ferry to some of the other Small Cyclades Islands, like Schinoussa and Iraklia, or even over to Amorgos. Unfortunately, when we arrived in late September, the off-season timetable had kicked in so a day trip to Amorgos was not possible. We were able to organise a private rib through Mavros, however, which was expensive but a wonderful day exploring Amorgos and various swim stops too.
Tip: If you are visiting Amorgos to see the incredible monastery, be sure to check its opening times!
Where to stay in Ano Koufonisi
Staying in or near the main town is best so you can easily walk to everything.
There are a number of lovely boutique hotels such as Utopia and Myrto Hotel, both right near the beach and meters from great tavernas.
Budget travellers are well looked after at To Petrino Rooms and Glaros Hotel, both right next to Ammos Beach.
We were a group of 4 including two singles so we rented a gorgeous new villa out at Pori Beach with 3 bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was a beautiful space and very tranquil and private, and came with a couple of very well behaved local cats that we became quite fond of. The sunsets and sunrises were amazing too, which we enjoyed many times from our huge terrace and also the roof.
To Petrino Rooms
Where to eat on Ano Koufonisia
Like every island in Greece there is no shortage of great food on Koufonisi. There are not a lot of tavernas, less than twenty, but the standard is high. We did find them a little more expensive than the more popular islands like Naxos, which is due to the fact that pretty much everything is shipped in and very little is made or grown on the island, other than seafood, some vegetables and fruits and goat from Keros.
Despite visiting at the end of the season when everyone is very weary we found the service to be good everywhere and only had to wait for a table at Navagios.
We had great lunches at Finakas Taverna at Finikas Beach and Wana at Pori Beach, despite the poor Google reviews for the later ( I think some people expect an awful lot from a little taverna in the middle of nowhere, on an island in the middle of nowhere).
We were lucky to be in town when famous Cretan musician Antonis Martsakis and his band were playing at Neo Remezzo which was a great night out.
We had amazing sea bass at Aneplora, a spacious but charming seaside taverna at the little fishing harbour outside town, and cheap and cheerful local favourites at Fos Fanari in town, one of few places that is open year round.
Mykres Cyclades do exceptionally good ‘modern’ Greek food, while Souvlaki Me Pitta is the place to get great Gyros, literally from a hole in the wall.
Souvlaki Me Pitta
Fos Fanari Taverna