Off the western coast of Greece is a stunning island named Zakynthos. The third largest island in the Ionian Sea, Zakynthos was once nicknamed “the flower of the Levant” by the Venetians who ruled the island from 1484 to 1797. And it’s easy to see why — the island is incredibly lush and fertile, and it is home to over 7,000 species of flowers.
Zakynthos boasts an incredibly diverse landscape, from fertile valleys to sandy beaches to rugged cliffs. Its most famous natural feature is Navagio or Shipwreck Beach, which many consider the most iconic beach in Greece. Some travel guides even say that Shipwreck Beach is the most photographed destination in Greece, ahead of the Acropolis and the Parthenon.
Shipwreck Beach, also known as Smuggler’s Cove, features vivid turquoise water surrounded by towering white cliffs, giving the beach a secluded and isolated feel. Nestled deep within the exposed cove are the remnants of an abandoned boat rusting on the soft white sand.
The story behind the famous shipwreck is that the boat, the MV Panayiotis, was a smuggler ship in the 1980s that was carrying illegal contraband — cigarettes, alcohol, and even humans. Rumor has it that the ship was cornered into the cove when it was pursued by the Greek Navy.
The real story, however, might be less thrilling. According to the captain of the ship, Captain Charalambos Kompothekras-Kotsoros, his ship was not carrying any illegal goods. The ship washed ashore in on October 2, 1980 due to poor weather conditions and mechanical failures. Once the ship landed on the beach, thieves stole from his shipment.
After prosecuting the people responsible for stealing his possessions, the captain finally returned to the beach to remove his vessel. However, he was so astounded by the majestic sight of his rusting ship against the dramatic cliffs and bright blue waters that he decided to simply leave it there.
Nowadays, Shipwreck Beach is an immensely popular tourist attraction who flock to the beach by boat to take photos of the decaying shipwreck, splash around in the unreal aquamarine water, and sunbathe on the pristine white sand.
While Shipwreck Cove is the most famous beach on the island, and arguably in all of Greece, Zakynthos contains dozens of other beautiful beaches all along its coast, including Gerakas, Kalamaki, and Laganas. Zakynthos is also home to a marine park where sea turtles lay their eggs in the sand, as well as a number of museums, castles, and historic churches.