On our recent European vacation, we stopped in the Port of Katakalon (Olympia). We had a decent selection of Royal Caribbean Shore Excursions and it seemed like most excursions were geared toward the ancient city of Olympia (site of the world’s first Olympic Games) and the fabulous regional wineries.
However, before we embarked on our journey, we had decided, along with our travel companions, that we’d like to have at least one relaxing beach day on this vacation. Quite honestly, this was one of our only opportunities to do that in port without missing some other amazing tourist attraction. So we paid roughly $35 per person for a coach bus transfer to and from Kourouta Beach, which is supposedly the nicest beach in Katakalon on the Ionian Sea. In fact, it’s been called “the Mykonos of the Peloponnesse” by the locals.
The port area in Katakalon is gated and enclosed. Although there were constant shuttles running from the ship to the port gates, it was easily walkable. If you stop here, pay attention to the water near the ship – we spotted schools of fish, beautiful jellyfish and colonies of sea urchins everywhere!
Just outside the gates, there’s a nice little street with a bunch of shops, restaurants and a church (St. Nicholas). Some of the shops are your typical cruise line stores that you see in every port and, of course, you have your souvenir/tchotchke dealers aplenty (which isn’t to say they are a bad thing – we buy plenty from those places when we travel! They are perfect for purchasing gifts for kiddos and pet sitters!) There are some really great shops along this row with authentic Greek alcohol, candy, wine, olive oil, etc. It’s a fun stretch to browse and there are lots of free samples! But this area probably wouldn’t fill an entire day. I’d definitely recommend some sort of shore excursion in this port.
We were rather surprised to find that our tour bus transfer included a tour guide. This wasn’t mentioned in any of the descriptions, so it was an extra bit of fun for us. The ride to the beach took about 30 minutes, so we welcomed the stories and facts that our guide shared along the way. It was particularly interesting to see a “real life” Greek city, sort of behind the “tourist veil”. On the way to the beach, the guide apologized for the great piles of garbage lining the streets. Apparently, the financial crisis hit the country so hard, they haven’t had garbage pick-up service in months. When we visited, she said they were just beginning the effort to restore service and get everything picked up. It was sad and eye opening. The fact that they desperately need our tourist dollars was evident. But it wasn’t all stark economic realities – we also got to view the magnificent beauty of the Greek countryside, full to the brim with olive groves and farmhouses. Beautiful.
The small city just outside Kourouta Beach was pretty sparse – our tour guide said it was mostly abandoned. But, once we got closer to the beach (which was very small), the boardwalk area brought some life to the landscape.
Our transfer dropped us at a popular coffee shop and let us know that we were welcome to use any of the beach chairs/umbrellas on the beach in front of the coffee shop, as well as their wireless internet, as long as we made some sort of purchase. Another nice bonus!
The beach itself was small, decent and we had no complaints. I wouldn’t call it a white sand paradise, by any stretch of the imagination. But the water was nice and we found some beautiful rocks (when you get into the water, you tread on thousands of them for about 20 feet or so until you get into the deeper waters where the sand is finer and soft on your feet). Even further in, the water isn’t too deep. We spent quite a bit of time in the ocean and enjoyed it immensely.
All in all, it wasn’t really anything to write home about, but we found some good food along the boardwalk, had some great sunbathing time, and we were able to relax and cool down after almost a week of non-stop walking and baking in the Mediterranean sun. We truly enjoyed the down time.
You can read more reviews of Kourouta Beach from TripAdvisor here.