Budget-Travelers Will Love This Underrated Greek Island

A tiny pocket of sand, sun, and sea, Ikaria is the gateway to a region marked by its natives' flourishing lifestyles and exotic topography. Located in the North Aegean, the island is believed to be the birthplace of Dionysus, the god of wine, which isn't surprising given the vineyards that clothe Ikaria's sloping terrain.

Tucked between its thermal hot springs, rocky outcrops, and coastal coves, fishing villages dapple the landscape, giving rise to a community whose history is just as intriguing as the island itself. In contrast to neighboring hot spots such as Santorini and Mykonos, Ikaria has remained an idyllic Greek island untouched by tourists. Sheltering its unique, rich heritage has created a budget-friendly destination for those wishing to immerse themselves in the lifestyle and experience true Greek culture.

Perhaps the most fascinating asset on Ikaria's shores are the customs and practices contributing to its residents' thriving longevity. One in three Ikarians live to reach their 90s, with reports of heart disease and other chronic illnesses almost nonexistent. Between their nutrient-rich diet, natural essence of optimism, and purpose-driven lifestyles, Ikaria sets itself apart from its sister islands and is a worthwhile destination to mark off your bucket list.

Stay on budget with authentic cuisine and outdoor activities

Ikaria is one of the world's top underrated budget-friendly destinations. December through February promise the most reduced rates for airfare and lodging, but it's not just lower price tags that beckon budget travelers to its shores. Much of the locals' enjoyment comes not from the lavish indulgences that characterize many American cities. Instead, Ikarians receive their pleasure from the time spent in nature, given the land's flourishing topography and endless opportunities for exploring the wilderness. White sand beaches, groves of vineyards, and well-groomed hiking trails encircle the island, and these activities are usually free or very affordable.

Ikarians certainly know how to maximize their budgets to get the most out of high-quality, nourishing meals. Many natural and nutrient-rich foods are affordable on the island, including fresh seafood. By swapping copious amounts of red meat for a Mediterranean diet rich in plants and veggies, the result is food harvested in an organic, noninvasive manner with fewer production costs.

Eating for a longer life

Speaking of cuisine, Ikarian's Mediterranean diet is just one of the cornerstones of the island's status as one of the world's only "blue zones." The moniker was first coined by Dan Buettner, an author and New York Times best-selling author, who set out to identify specific regions whose inhabitants live to impressive ages. Unlike Americans' constant striving to uphold weight loss regimens and forceful attempts to make it to the gym, Ikarian's longevity is the byproduct of a naturally self-enhancing lifestyle that's inherited through generations.

The secret behind this tiny island's thriving population of centurions can be traced back to its long history steeped in a series of invasions from the surrounding Normans and Turks, leaving Ikaria isolated and unruffled by the outside world's evolving lifestyle customs. The people of Ikaria are tethered to each other just as much as they are to their beloved heritage and it's this foundation of social connections and family traditions that bind them to a lifestyle rooted in satisfaction and purpose. 

According to a study by Purdue University, Americans consume an average of three ounces of red meat a day, in contrast to those following a Mediterranean diet with three ounces of red meat twice per week. Ikarians build their nutrition intake on a firm foundation of nutrient-rich foods, marked by a rotating seasonal menu of veggies, greens, legumes, fruits, and fish. Goat milk is another common staple among locals, which is an excellent source of vitamin A, which supports good vision and a healthy immune system.

Cultural practices that feed a healthy lifestyle

Not only do Ikarians eat to fuel their bodies with the earth's natural bounties, but they're also experts at implementing natural antioxidants and superfoods into their diet. Supplementing their plant and seafood-rich diet with this warm, detoxifying beverage, "mountain tea" is a traditional staple made from steeped endemic herbs.

We're all familiar with that dreaded afternoon slump. Rather than running to the nearest Starbucks for a midday pick-me-up, it's a common occurrence for Ikarians to enjoy long afternoon naps to stay refreshed in their routine. This extra bout of rest is believed to be responsible for the reduced rate of heart disease among natives, lowering stress hormones and allowing the heart a chance to rest.

As much as Ikarians value rest, exercise is an integral part of their daily routine. It's not uncommon for locals to walk a few miles from their homes to local coffee shops over rocky highlands and mountainous terrain. Gardening and time spent in nature with friends are common activities that keep Ikarians healthy and active. In a world where relationships are slowly transitioning from in-person gatherings to Facetime calls, Ikarians prioritize the value of cultivating meaningful connections with family and friends through natural methods — an easily overlooked aspect of their positive mental state. A day spent harvesting crops and serving tables is often closed by enjoying a cup of mountain tea or a glass of wine on the back porch in the company of friends.