Picturesque islands, mouth-watering food, gorgeous beaches that make you feel as though you’re living in a real-life postcard…there are plenty of reasons to add Greece to your travel bucket list. But with the country’s economic situation up in the air and reports of protests taking place in Athens, even we had some concerns about whether now’s the time to head to the birthplace of all things wonderful.
Turns out, now is as fine a time as any to fulfill all our Grecian dreams. There’s just some important information to know before booking your trip.
What’s going on with the ATMs?
Greece is teetering on the edge of a financial collapse due to a weak economy and loads of debt. With policymakers and debt-collectors looking to fix the problem, the European Central Bank has refused anymore credit to the country. As a result, the government is looking to protect its liquidity and the banks have been shut down from June 29 to July 7. Locals are only allowed to take out up to €60 per day this week, leading to long lines at the machines and some (understandable) unrest. Meanwhile, a referendum on a new government deficit reducing measures takes place July 5.
The good news is that those with foreign bank cards do not have a limit on cash withdrawals, but because of the long lines and a potential shortage of hard currency, the government of Canada recommends having enough Euros on hand (in small notes) to get you through your trip and any emergencies just in case, and to not rely solely on cards.
Are Euros still being accepted?
Yes. If the country votes no to the referendum, there is a possibility that it will ditch the Euro and go back to the drachma. If that happens, it is unlikely hotels and major tourist areas would stop accepting the Euro immediately. Elsewhere, expect a gradual phase-out, like the penny here in Canada.
So where do you get Euros? Your bank should be able to hook you up. One Euro is the equivalent of roughly 1.38 Canadian dollars (at the time of this writing). Be sure to call your branch ahead of time to make sure they have enough Euros on-hand to exchange. Sometimes they need to order more.
What about the petrol situation?
Here’s where it gets a little sketchy. With residents fearful of another price increase, they’ve been stockpiling fuel and food. As a result, many of the gas stations have been bled dry and the shelves of grocery stores are bare. The situation on the islands is supposedly slightly better, but according to The Minister for Tourism, Elena Kountoura, there will be enough petrol and fuel to go around for tourists:
“It should be noted that there is ample availability of both fuel and all products and services that ensure a smooth and fun stay for the visitors in every city, region and the islands,” her office said in a statement. Meanwhile, Hellenic Petroleum, the country’s top supplier, has said there are enough reserves to last for months.
If you do travel to Greece and haven’t pre-paid with a company, be sure to bring some extra cash to account for the high fuel and food costs.
As for airline fuel? Airlines are assuring the public that aviation fuel shortages are unlikely, but if they do occur airlines will have enough reserves to get in and out of the country.
Should I book an all-inclusive?
It really depends on your travel style. The Greek government has gone on the record as saying it doesn’t condone the all-inclusive model because it takes business away from local properties. With one out of every five residents working in the tourism industry, those are much needed jobs to sustain. Still, all-inclusive hotels and resorts are far from being banned, and can be a good way to catch a deal and ensure you’re taken care of throughout your stay. It also eliminates the need to bring lots of extra cash, as most things will be paid for up front.
It’s also important to note that by taking this option, you may be limited to day trips and the occasional off-site exploration, but you won’t necessarily be getting that authentic Greek culture you may have set out to obtain in the first place.
Is it cheaper to go now or later?
Getting there right now (until September) might save you a few bucks since everything is so volatile (places might cut prices to entice travellers), while others wait and see how the situation plays out. Hotels still want the business in order to sustain themselves, and some have reportedly been willing to slash rates by up to 50 per cent. Keep in mind, though, that once you’re there some things (like the aforementioned food and fuel) may be more expensive to obtain.
Several travel outlets have slashed prices (some as high as 70 per cent of the original cost of a trip to Greece) in an attempt to entice visitors to the cash-strapped nation. Experts warned travellers to Greece to take plenty of cash in euros and check small print on insurance documents. As pressure on authorities mounts to submit to tough austerity measures, holidaymakers risk cash, food and medical shortages.
But is it safe?
While there have been some protests in Athens, overall the safety levels haven’t changed and the government of Canada has not issued any advisories indicating otherwise. Instead, it recommends staying away from organized protests and keeping tuned into the local news wherever possible. It also recommends against walking in the Athens districts of Monastiraki and Omonio, or around railway stations in Larissa and Peloponissos after dark. Other than that, common sense and vigilance should be good tools in having a safe and fun trip.