Don’t ride the donkeys! Why tourists should avoid taking the mule ‘taxis’ on Santorini

 Fira on Santorini

Cruise ships that visit Santorini drop anchor in the sea below the capital town of Fira and tender passengers to shore. From there, visitors reach Fira either by walking approximately 600 steps up the path (left) that zig-zags up the face of the 800-foot cliff  …

 

Santorini cable car

… by paying several Euros for the 3-minute ride up the cable car lift

 

donkey in Santorini

… or by riding a donkey like this one, which we encountered in Firostefani village during one of our three visits to Santorini. The donkey rides, which cost around €5, are a transport option that local mule owners provided for years before the cable car was installed. But animal welfare groups and even some cruise lines strongly urge travellers not to take the donkey “taxis” because the animals toil in poor working conditions and have been subjected to abuse and mistreatment by their handlers.

 

Ass transit:   Now that it’s spring, tens of thousands of people around the world are finalizing their plans for holidays in Greece this summer. Many will be travelling on cruise ships that will visit several Greek Islands, including what is probably the most popular port stop of all — Santorini.  Hundreds of those people may be hoping to make their arrival at Santorini even more memorable and “romantic” by taking what they believe will be a “traditional” donkey ride up the long path that links the cruise ship dock with the town of Fira, the island’s capital, which is perched atop the caldera cliffs hundreds of feet above the sea. Here’s a simple word of advice if you’re thinking about doing the same thing: don’t.

Though the donkeys might look “cute,” and the rides might appear to be a harmless and fun tourist attraction, travellers who use the mules as transportation actually contribute to animal abuse, according to animal welfare organizations and frequent visitors to the island who have personally witnessed handlers mistreating their donkeys.

 

The abuse takes several forms. The roughly 360 donkeys and mules that work as tourist “taxis” on the island are forced to climb up and back down a pathway with around 600 steep steps, making as many as seven trips a day between 9 o’clock in the morning and sunset. Often, the animals are required to carry tourists who, putting it bluntly, are obese and may weigh considerably more than the donkeys themselves.  And the mules must do this exhausting, gruelling work in blazing sunshine and searing summer heat, often with unsatisfactory food, water and rest periods, plus few if any breaks in the shade. To add insult to injury, they may be wearing ill-fitting harnesses that inflict cuts and sores on their bodies, while their owners or handlers may frequently strike them with sticks to make them move or hurry up. In short, they toil under cruel and deplorable working conditions.

CONTINUED ON PAGE 2

Pages: 1 2

51 Comments

  1. Great post! Hopefully it will attract people to save donkeys in Santorini. Regards!

  2. summer mitchell

    June 20, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    hmm very interesting saw some videos on this on youtube couldnt help but think that that was animal cruelty

  3. Whilst on morning walk to Fira, I witnessed the donkeys and mules being whipped on their morning descent to commence their day’s work in the blistering summer heat. The steps were very steep and slippery and the animals tried to negotiate their way down accordingly, only to be whipped from behind and causing minor chaos running into their fellow animals in front. It hurt me so badly I had to turn my head away.

    • Alan & Susan Thomas

      August 6, 2013 at 11:31 am

      We must have been on the island at the same time as you. We are appalled by such cruelty & the lack of compassion from those tourists who thought it was great fun to ride up and down on donkeys being whipped by their bullying handlers.

    • why did you turn away ? Why didn’t you say something and let them know that you didn’t like seeing that and are going to post how they treat them?

  4. Alan & Susan Thomas

    August 6, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Have recently returned from a ‘Princess’ cruise of the Greek Islands & are very, very disturbed to relate that on the day our ship anchored off the coast of Santorini we witnessed hundreds, possibly thousands of tourists from three ships using the donkey taxis in temperatures in excess of 34 degrees C. Many mules/ donkeys were made to carry two adults. Others carried overweight persons. We also witnessed the donkeys being shouted at and actually whipped by their handlers with long thin whips or sticks. Whilst there was some shelter for these poor animals at the top of the steep hill (with 13 or 14 hairpin bends) we did not see any water for them. We also noticed about halfway up the hill a penned area covered in dirty straw. This is obviously where they huddle together during the night- not for them a romp in a large field. It was upsetting for us and for any young children who witnessed the abuse these lovely animals suffered. The whole set up in this day and age is a disgrace to the people of the island & the cruise companies who condone such behaviour by actually visiting the island. Those who actually rode on them should be ashamed of themselves. Please help stop this cruelty.

    • I was there last Aug on a Celebrity cruise and was very upset seeing the donkeys in the heat with no shade or water. I asked when they would get water and the man said “tomorrow” I said “have you had any water today?” He smiled and pulled a water bottle out of his pocket. I forget what I said back to him cause I was on the verge of bursting into tears. I walked further down the stairs and saw another man and asked him “why don’t the donkeys have any water?” He said “they get water at the top” I said “bullshit, as I just came from up top and there is no damn water there!” Again I said something else but can’t remember as I was so upset. I never thought of writing the cruise line but as a part time travel agent that is exactly what I’m going to do. All the cruise lines that visit Santorini will be hearing from me. Maybe if they all contacted the mayor or who ever is in charge there and said they will no longer stop in Santorini until the donkeys are no longer used for carry tourists up that steep him that would make them think. Without all those cruise ships visiting their island they would suffer severely!

  5. I just left a lengthy summation about riding mule to Santorini.I was told
    my address was,in error. Now It has vanished. Please say how one can
    Help in ending this brutality.

  6. Santorini is a dangerous destination that should have a serious health and safety warning attached. Anyone planning visiting the island especially Fira from the cruise ship port should be aware of the dangers of taking one of the unregulated donkey/mule rides up and/or down the hill. The path to the port is very dangerous to walk or even take a donkey ride, is frequently covered in copious deposits of donkey excrement and urine which make the paths and steps so slippery that even the donkeys slip as they run up and down the hill. The unregulated donkey trips up the stepped path caused many and varied bodily injuries to visitors from the cruise ship that I was on. I myself sustained a serious fracture to my ankle when I slipped on a cobble half way down the path despite wearing sensible walking shoes. Even after my accident had been reported and because I could not stand up and walk, I had to wait for around 20 minutes in the heat of midday sun only to be eventually taken down the hill on a donkey whilst perilously gripping the handle assisted by one of the men running the donkey rides. This was a terrifying experience and one I never wish to repeat. The entire episode ruined my expensive cruise holiday.
    The authorities involved on both the cruise ships and the governing body of Santorini should pay more attention to the safety of their passengers and visitors for whom they have a duty of care. The donkey rides are not safe and the path they tread is a SERIOUS HEALTH AND SAFETY HAZARD for all who use it. DOES IT NEED A VERY SERIOUS ACCIDENT TO HAPPEN FOR THE AUTHORITIES TO WAKE UP AND DEAL WITH THIS ISSUE?

  7. Do not ride the donkeys please. I love Greece but do not understand why they can not make a law to stop this abuse.

  8. I’m going to Santorini in April 2014 and I mentioned it to someone and he told me about these donkeys that go up and down a mountain… Now I have read this I’ll take some pics if i see any abuse, will probably walk it or cable car it if I want to go down to the sea and will write somethign up about it on my travel blog… All for business people being able to make a living etc, but abusing animals is where i draw the line…

  9. Susanne Elmquist

    July 28, 2014 at 8:10 am

    I’m writing this from my holiday in Oia, Santorini. Due to the incredible cruelty I have witnessed last three days, I booked a new flight ticket back home to Sweden, 4 days earlier than planned. 20-30 times each day I see how bad the greedy owners treat the donkeys. Hurting them, kicking their legs, and directly after that forcing them to carry tourists, several hundreds of stairs from Ammoudie Bay to Oia. In extreme heat, no water, no shade, hurt. This is what I see from my terrace.
    After talking to the locals I now know that many of them agree and the stories I have heard are heartbreaking and very hard to take in. The poor animals are also chained at night. The locals say they can’t do anything as long as tourists use this cruel way of transportation. I can’t stop crying.

  10. janet glarlant

    July 28, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    I was planning on visiting this island next summer. After reading about the abuse of the animals I will not be going. I’ll take my tourist dollars elsewhere.

  11. I have just returned from a Thomson cruise holiday that stopped off at Santorini. I, like the others above, witnessed donkeys struggling up the extremely steep incline, with little shade and no water. They all looked so sad, so subdued, tired and worn out. I overheard one of the owners shouting at them to move faster, he then proceeded to whip one of the donkeys across the face and body (I don’t think he knew I was watching). I screamed at him to leave the donkey alone, to which he mumbled something back to me in Greek which I did not understand. The whole incident has absolutely ruined my holiday and has deeply, deeply upset me. If this is the way they treat these poor unfortunate animals at the height of the season, in front of hundreds of tourists, then god only knows how they are treated behind our backs. This HAS to be stopped. Please – surely there must be someone out there who has the power or know-how of what can be done to stop this suffering.

  12. They whip and march these innocent mules up and down the steepest track you have ever seen with fat tourists and others paying for the ride. The heat is unbearable. The animals are close to death and visibly distraught. Hundreds of them. It is horrible beyond any words I can use to describe. Thank you Celebrity Cruises for taking my money and bringing me to see this savagery.
    My wife and I were sickened at what we saw and will now campaign against you and all the other cruse ships that support this brutal behaviour by turning a blind eye to it. Shame on you. You should be boycotted. When your customers stop paying you, then and only then will this stop. You are to blame despite your saying in your leaflet that you don’t recommend donkey rides. Not bloody good enough !

  13. André & Camilla

    August 9, 2014 at 6:11 am

    Hej! vi tycker exakt likadant! vi var på Santorini precis, och tänkte på hur åsnorna lider! Det måste stoppas!! Vad kan man göra??

    André & Camilla

    Translation by Google Translate: “Hello! We think exactly alike! we were just on Santorini, and thought about how donkeys are suffering! It must be stopped !! What can you do ??”

  14. Pete Taylor and Jane Taylor

    August 11, 2014 at 11:45 am

    This is awful and must be stopped

    Myself and my wife have stopped two tourists today that
    Wanted to ride them by explaining that in 36 degree heat
    It just isn’t fair! I only wish I was the mayor of santorini and
    Had the power to stop this at once esp fat out of shape tourists
    Who this it’s “a blast” get a life and show compassion

  15. Spending the last stop of our Greek adventure in Santorini it really has left a bad taste for me being in Santorini.
    These poor animals forced to carry lazy tourists up steep unsafe and slippy polished stone steps is just cruel !
    I am shocked by the amount of tourists that use them- I had words with some tourists and advised them not to which I am pleased to say did work (much to the dislike of the owners).
    There needs to be more of a presence on the island for the support of these animals and more words spread about this .
    The amount of times I heard tourists say ” awww look donkeys cute ” to which I would interrupt and educate them.

    Please do more to support these animals – it’s disgusting!

  16. CAROL AND PETER CLIFFORD

    August 19, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Have just been to Santorini off a Cunard ship and was absolutely horrified at the way the donkeys and mules are treated. We got the cable car up and decided to walk back down. How we wished we hadn’t. It was dangerous my husband fell. The poor donkeys are treated disgracefully. They were worn out and had no water whatsoever. How can anyone treat a creature that way. The Mayor and Council of Santorini are a disgrace to allow it to continue.We felt so sorry for the poor animals and a man taking photos on the bend gave each donkey a kick on the corner to get them moving – a disgrace would he have liked that to happen to him ?

  17. Hello All
    I am a cruise director on one of the Cruise Ships and Both myself and the Port Lecturer advise all of our passengers NOT to take the donkeys to the top. We can only advise and still there are ignorant passengers who insist on riding them. We will keep persuading people NOT to ride them.

    • Well done Sir!
      Your continued support in stopping this abject cruelty is appreciated by all decent humans who see this practice as nothing short of evil.

  18. I too witnessed this disgusting practice of animal cruelty. The sight of ignorant tourist laughing at these poor creatures sickened me to the core. One donkey I saw was pitifully trying to eat a single piece of straw from the path. The temperature was around 40c and it was the saddest looking creature I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ll never forget seeing the way these animals are so casually mistreated and how few people seemed to notice or care. Shame on you Greece.

  19. My husband and I visited Santorini on a cruise in October 2014. We took the cable car up and intended to take it down but there was a huge queue. We decided to walk down (we did not want to use the Donkey’s as I had read about the cruelty). You had to push your way through the handlers who aggressively tout for business and passed the donkey’s who all look very unhappy. It was extremely dangerous walking down as the Donkeys travel up and down at speed because they are whipped by their handlers. The stairs are cobbled and would be dangerous even without the donkeys and excrement. Oia is beautiful but spoiled by the journey from port to Fira. Stop this cruelty to these poor animals.

  20. Thank you for your very in-depth coverage of this important animal rights issue. I have also just written on my own blog about the plight of donkeys in Greece. Perhaps you’d like to read about my visit to a donkey sanctuary on the island of Crete: http://www.thenomadicvegan.com/the-dapper-donkeys-of-crete/

  21. Leah Fitzgibbon

    January 31, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    PUHLEESE people !! I just love Ignorant Americans who love to pompously impose their puritanical beliefs on other cultures. This authentic Greek cultural experience has been a tradition in my family for years. I did it as a kid, and have enjoyed watching my kids experience the same thing I did. yes there is poop, yes it’s hot, yes the grades are way too steep so you have to actually watch out for yourself (Americans prefer to dictate grades and every detail then clutter it up with signage so they can blame others for their stupid distracted behaviors.) WHEN IN ROME … people.. live a little !! Relax, have some fun. EXPERIENCE something NEW !!! That’s why people travel !!! otherwise stay home and watch it on TV.

    • Did you just contribute to an animal abuse story and say RELAX and LIVE A LITTLE? If I have taken your words out of context and you did not actually read what the post was about, I apologise. If you just supported animal abuse well…

      OH I LOVE TO TRAVEL and experience new things, but I will NOT CONTRIBUTE to abuse because some person thinks its OK as long as its tradition, then proceeding to climb aboard their soap box and call people against the poor treatment of animals ignorant Americans. Who allowed you into this world? ugh!

      The issue is ANIMAL ABUSE, and while donkeys may be the traditional way of getting around on the island, it is not the traditional way to ferry tourists back and fourth ignoring BASIC animal rights. YOU and now YOUR children, are among those contributing to this.

      You are selfish. It has long been tradition in some countries to abuse women and children. Soo, by your standards, when in these countries I should ‘Do as the Romans do’, and abuse me some women!?! I guess I will go back to being a stupid, ignorant AUSTRALIAN. And if standing up for animal rights makes me an ignorant American, I will take that as a compliment, better than whatever you are.

    • Haha, well said, I’m guessing you are not American.

    • What an absolute fuckwit! You cruel bastard.

      From an Aussie!

  22. I am totally agree with Aubrey donkeys all over Greece, and specially in Santorini on the step, slippery steps should be taking care of in a respectfull way without any abuse what so ever. The Mayer should put heavy penalty’s on every donkeys owner if abuse is taking place! There should be much more check that all goes well! If it hurts their pockets, than Greeks understand, not before! I have been on the Island many years and things are getting worse, also with the poor donkeys. Also other animals like cats & dogs on the Island are greated badly. Some islænders prefere to poisening them or shoot them to get rid of the stray animals. I noticed the lack of respect some islænders had for their animals………a shame!

  23. We wont be doing that!

  24. I was in Fira in June 2015, some 30 years after my initial visit, which will never be forgotten. 30 years ago I walked down the steps to the port in Fira, and then walked back up. I didn’t agree with the way the donkeys were made to work in such heat but did not want to apply my British values to a country that was the birthplace of western civilisation. I have always been a photojournalist by profession and on the way back to the top I saw one of the handlers whipping a donkey, with a suitably large American lady on its back, I took a pic of this and the handler took offence and turned on me (mistake on his part as at that point I had practiced karate for over 12 years), anyway I walked on (he didn’t) and went on to enjoy the rest of my visit.
    This year my 14 yr old daughter and I took the cable car down to the port (again laden with camera gear) and we both decided to walk back to the top using the steps, on the hottest day of the year so far. The donkeys were still there and I was surprised to see that they were all in very good condition, despite their hard life. Out of curiosity my daughter and I decided to ask walkers (going up the steps) and donkey passengers (also going up the steps) their nationalities.
    Here are our results: Donkey passengers – American & Canadian. Walkers – British, Australian, German, Swedish, Finnish and ONE American.
    Point taken yet?
    It’s like the drug industry, if there is no demand, the supply will cease. Simple case of exploitation which I am sure most North Americans will understand. What is not acceptable is the torrent of uninformed comments by holier than thou people who attack a culture that has existed for thousands of years. Typical American mentality – visit Greece but condemn the parts that are ‘un-American’. It’s not the Santorini donkey handlers who need educating.

  25. Aaqgree. As i walked down the steps to the port and back up again. I felt sorry for each and every donkey. They all looled tired amd hot. I couldnt help think about their poor legs. Locked up day in and day out all for a filthy penny to be made. I surprised it is still legal in this day and age! Sign me up to get rid of them.

  26. admin

    July 26, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Reader Anita Rodgers submitted the following comment on July 26 2015: “I was absolutely appalled at the mistreatment of the donkeys in Santorini, Greece. Something should be done about this. My partner & I walked down these steps; they are dangerously slippy, shame on the Donkey owners & anyone who uses them as taxis. Can’t believe this kind of cruelty exists in this day & age!!!!”

  27. Donkeys are treated like shit. I can walk. This f…donkey tour is the only shame of Santorini.

  28. I was on a cruise that stopped in santorini in June this year and when we got onto the island I was shocked at the ques for both the cable car and the mules. I am an animal lover and could never get on a mule no matter how much persuading the owners were doing. The heat was unbearable, there was no shade and no water for them either. I am a fit and healthy 21 year old who runs marathons and I struggled walking up the same path the mules do day in and day out with people on their backs. How they survive this ordeal I do not know. The owners charge them up the hill and straight back down to collect as many cruise passengers as possible. It was absolutely barbaric to witness. I saw many of the owners hit them with sticks and each time I shouted and told them to stop and they laughed and would hit the animals again. This behaviour is disgusting and unnecessary towards an animal that makes your income for you. I spoke to a local who owned a bar right at the top of the hill as I was nearly collapsing for a drink. This local man said how cruel they were to the mules and that there is not even water for them at the bottom or top of the hill which there clearly was no drinking water that I could see either. He also said that in the winter the owners then make the mules work on building sites to carry cement and other heavy items around the sites for them and he says they have no life to enjoy. Something has to be done to help these poor animals that are mistreated and abused everyday. There needs to be a more efficient was of getting to the top of that hill than just one cable car or mule.

  29. Hello
    I’m from Florence Italy and was in Santorini some days ago with my wife.
    Terrible situation in Fire stepway is the same.
    Many of the donkeys was agonized under the sun without water/food and waiting in close corridors …is not normal in a civilized country something like this,also if the not civilized people are the tourist that ride on this animals.
    We must push and try to send this info to magazin and TV to try to stop this stupid and ignorant attraction !

  30. A great post about an important issue – thanks for the taking the time to share this and raise awareness. If you are interested, we felt the same way after coming home from Santorini and set up a petition to try and stop the cruelty towards donkeys in Santorini. Perhaps this is something you could sign and share?

    https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Stop_the_animal_cruelty_to_Santorini_Donkeys/?pv=2

    Best wishes,

    James and Iben

  31. Rob & Sue Moss - Australia

    October 11, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    Sept 20th Sept
    The Donkey trail is also dangerous to walk on.
    Unfortunately my wife slipped & broke her arm in 4 places which ended our cruise & holiday.
    We were unable to get on the cable car to re join our cruise as there were 5 ships in port & the number of people waiting would have caused us to miss our ship.
    Also I feel very sorry for the poor donkeys. The rides should be stopped.

  32. Urgent need for signatures and support for the dogs and donkeys in Santorini! The Mayor of Santorini wants to close the only animal shelter and let the animals free to the streets where they will suffer slowly or be poisoned or shot. Please sign and tweet and share! URGENT https://goo.gl/MKblPN

  33. Birgit Insinger

    October 26, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Thank you for this great post!
    The rides must be stopped as soon as possible!
    I was there a few days ago. The poor donkeys are suffering! I felt so sorry about them!

  34. I was so ignorant as a tourist to think it was ok to take this ride. My mule struggled and collapsed several times as the workers hit my mule with long sticks each time he fell. I begged them to stop, I wanted to walk, me and the girls around me were all crying, and the workers laughed at us and told us it was no big deal. My mule finally collapsed and simply couldn’t get back up. I’d killed him. I KILLED HIM. They brought another mule up the stairs to take his place. We had to leave the mule behind, as we were backing up the ‘traffic’ of tourists waiting to get up the cliff. It was horrific. It’s been ten years since this happened, and I still think about that poor mule and how atrocious their lives are, and that I contributed to it. I even have a picture of me standing next to him at the bottom of the cliff, I’m smiling in stupidity, unaware of what is about to happen.

  35. Am in Fira now and am just so upset of this situation.. It just spoiled my holiday as I face this cruelty every day as our Vila is in the pathway to old port.. These people are unbelievable!! What animal care organizations doing about this? The cable car is just there and doesn’t harm anybody! The animals look so miserable and desperate !! Plus they hit them all the time, in the heat and no watter buckets along the steps! Am just so angry with the municipality of this place as they don’t put a stop to it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*