I chose not to ride a donkey in Santorini for three reasons. I had two before I arrived in Greece, but I found another heartbreaking reason when I was cruising between the islands.
1. Donkey rides in Santorini are tourist traps
I was already sceptical about the authenticity of a donkey ride in Santorini. I’d read online that locals view it as a bizarre activity that tourists flock to. No Greek citizen in their right mind would jump on a donkey to get down the rocky slopes of Santorini. Why would I want to participate in an arbitrary activity with no relevant significance to the culture of Santorini? Seems like a pointless exercise.
2. Donkey rides in Santorini are uncomfortable
All I’ve ever heard about the rides is that they are uncomfortable and at times, terrifying. Donkeys walking up against stone walls crushed the rider’s leg between the donkey and the wall. Donkeys that don’t want to walk down the track and get separated from the herd, slipping down loose rocks on the steep trail. No one who had done it sounded like they’d had a lot of fun.
3. Donkey rides in Santorini are cruel.
The big one. It could have been the most comfortable, luxurious, exciting ride of my life but it wouldn’t change the fact that I’d be supporting animal abuse.
On my cruise, my guide warned us against the experience. Animal welfare organisations have launched boycotts and “Save the Donkeys” campaigns. Watching donkey owners swearing and screaming at them and hitting them is all part of the package. My guide told us that many girls break down in tears because it is such a sad experience.
The owners force the donkeys to do constant trips up and down 680 stairs all day. The poor creatures are not given enough water, food or breaks in the shade. They carry tourists who are far too heavy for them.
Admittedly, I’m not a vegetarian and I’m hardly a posterchild for PETA. I still don’t see the value in supporting pointless animal abuse. This is a tourism activity that has no traditional roots in Santorini and is irrelevant to Greek people.
So this is why I passed up on the opportunity. I’m sure there are people who have been and enjoyed it but for me it didn’t feel right to take part.
Alternatives to riding a donkey in Santorini
The good news is that there is a three-minute cable car you can take instead, for the same price as a donkey ride.
You can read other opinions from travellers on this TripAdvisor Page.
Notes on travelling with your head & your heart
Animals are vulnerable when they work in tourism. It’s so important that travellers use their head and their heart when overseas. Whether you’re planning on riding a donkey in Santorini or playing with a tiger’s tail in Thailand, do your research.
I’d never ride an elephant after reading a report on the conditions of these animals kept in Thailand. How they are treated behind closed doors is different to the happy show tourists see.
These highly social creatures with tight family bonds are kept in isolation. Despite their size, it’s very painful for an elephant to have someone sitting on its head. Surprise, surprise.
I’d never cuddle and feed tigers. They’re drugged so they stay calm. The babies are often starved so that they leap into the arms of tourists bearing baby bottles.
In Australia, there are very active animal welfare organisations and the industry is well-regulated. It’s easy to forget that this isn’t always the case overseas.
Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
It makes sense not to sit on an animals head or watch a herd animal be kept in isolation. It should ring alarm bells that tourists can cuddle up to wild tigers without the presence of a trainer and safety guards.
This post was a little more serious today and I hope it didn’t come across as preachy because I’ve definitely made mistakes when I’ve travelled. It’s an issue that has been sitting with me for a while now and I’m interested in hearing your experience and opinions.
I’d love to hear your opinions and experiences relating to animal tourism. Where was a fabulous, fair experience? Where did you feel concerned?