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


 Fira view of caldera

A view from Fira toward Skala, the old Santorini port where cruise passengers disembark from tender boats, 220 meters below the town. The ferry port at Athinios,  7 kilometers to the south of Fira, isn’t able to accommodate cruise ships.


Fira Santorini

Another view of the dock area from a terrace in Fira. There’s no room for cruise ships to dock at the small port below Fira, so thousands of passengers must be tendered ashore.


Santorini cable car

The cable car website says the lift can move 1,200 people per hour between the port and Fira — which often isn’t adequate capacity for the demand, considering that just one cruise ship, like the Celebrity Equinox, can carry more than 2,800 passengers.


Santorini cable car

On some days half a dozen or more cruise ships may anchor below Fira. It can take as long as 2 or more hours for passengers to travel from their ship to the cable car station in Fira. Some passengers will trek up and down the cliff on foot, but each day during peak travel season hundreds more will hire a donkey to carry them instead.


Santorini donkeys

Donkeys (center left) stand in the afternoon sun on the stepped path below Fira, waiting to be pressed into service carrying cruise ship passengers down the cliff to the tender boat dock


Santorini donkeys

More “taxi” donkeys stand waiting for fares on the path just below Fira


Daily Express donkey article

Screenshot of an article published October 30 2007 by The Daily Express




Newspaper launches “Save The Donkeys crusade”

For the past six years, travellers have been posting “don’t ride the donkey” messages on the Santorini forum board on, often referring to a “Let’s Save The Donkeys crusade” launched in 2007 by the U.K. publication The Daily Express. The newspaper spearheaded the protest project in a bid to help end the cruelty that many of the island’s donkeys and mules endure by carrying tourists — many of whom are obese, and weigh just as much as the animals themselves — up and down the steep cliff path multiple times per day in blazing sunshine and extreme summer heat.

In an October 30 2007 report on its donkey ride boycott campaign, The Daily Express said it had been “inundated with hundreds of messages of support from readers determined to end the archaic and cruel practice.”  And in a promising development, at least two major cruise operators said they had begun advising passengers to take the Santorini cable car instead of riding donkeys, the paper reported.

But efforts to assist the animals actually started in 2006 under the guidance of the late Dr Elisabeth Svendsen, founder of The Donkey Sanctuary, a U.K.-based organization that is the largest donkey and mule charity in the world. According to a May 19 2008 post on the group’s website, the sanctuary had been providing free veterinary care to the Santorini donkeys for several years, while Dr Svendsen had played an instrumental role in the establishment of the cable car system that transports the vast majority of cruise ship visitors to and from Fira. Moreover, the Sanctuary was “working with the local authorities to implement a code of practice, which should help improve the working condition of these animals,” the group’s web post said.

Nevertheless, hundreds of cruisers and other tourists continued to ride the donkeys daily, and mules were still suffering two years after The Daily Express launched its campaign. “We witnessed donkeys with weeping sores forced to heave giggling tourists up the steep and tortuous path when we returned to the Greek island yesterday. The donkeys now face yet another gruelling summer ferrying overweight holidaymakers from cruise ships up 680 steps to the island’s capital,” the newspaper reported in a May 23 2009 follow-up article.


Daily Express donkey article

 Screenshot of the follow-up article published May 23 2009 by The Daily Express



Code of conduct created in 2009

But that very same month, The Donkey Sanctuary achieved a significant breakthrough when its team of veterinarians, dentists, farriers and welfare officers performed, for the first time ever, health checks on 120 mules and donkeys — an endeavour undertaken in co-operation with the Municipality of Fira. The team also checked to ensure that the animals were being treated properly, as well as to give guidance to the animals’ owners about the new code of conduct — put in place just in time for the 2009 summer tourist season — that would govern how the animals were used.

“Initially, the donkey owners were reluctant to bring their donkeys to our team or take off their donkeys packs, but they soon realised that we were there to help.” the Sanctuary noted in a May 29 2009 entry on its website. “We issued new harnessing to make life more comfortable for the donkeys and those who didn’t pass the health check won’t be allowed to work under the new scheme until the owners can prove their animal is fit to work once again.” In addition, the president of the local donkey owners’ association “has agreed to ensure the donkeys receive water and shelter when they are not working and improve the system of loading/unloading passengers.” For its part, the Sanctuary agreed to carry out further animal health checks twice annually.

The Daily Express reported on the donkeys’ new harnesses. “Some of the animals have already been kitted out in new equipment, including padded, breathable blankets and stainless-steel stirrups. Fitting out the donkeys will cost almost £12,000. Fortunately, Greek easyJet billionaire Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou joined our crusade and pledged £24,000 a year to help the animals.”


Donkey Sanctuary

 Screenshot of a May 29 2009 post on The Donkey Sanctuary website


Santorini donkeys

Donkeys stand on the steps below Fira near the end of a long working day


Santorini donkeys

A donkey owner mounts one of his animals …


Santorini donkeys

… then leads three more donkeys up the stairs into Fira at the end of their shift


Santorini donkeys

A pack of mules passes the cable car station in Fira at the end of their work day




Program support withdrawn

Unfortunately, the health care and code of conduct program suffered a setback in its first year. In a June 8 2010 post on its website, the Sanctuary reported that complaints from tourists, together with its own spot checks, had “revealed that standards slip whenever the charity is not present on the island.”

“It seems that when our back is turned, the abuse begins all over again. Donkey masters beat the animals, we even witnessed one of them holding on to the tail of a mule to pull him up the hill. It’s just not acceptable and, as a charity dedicated to the protection of donkeys and mules, we are not about to sit back and let this continue,” said the Sanctuary’s director of European operations, Paul Svendsen.

In a subsequent website posting, the Sanctuary said it was “sad to announce that because of their continued lack of effort to improve working conditions for the donkey taxis, we can no longer support them.  Having helped the Municipality to set up a code of practice which governed the use of the donkeys on Santorini and providing the owners with free veterinary care and advice for their animals, we recently discovered that the whole operation was a sham and that the procedures were only being adhered to when we were visiting the island! This tied in with reports from tourists who gave a completely different account to the situation we were being shown during our visits,” the Sanctuary reported on its website. “Unless the Municipality and the donkey owners make major improvements to the working conditions for the donkey taxis and their terrible refuge, we plan to escalate this major campaign further.”

As an alternative course of action, the Sanctuary undertook a petition and email campaign to bring the issue to public attention in a bid to pressure Santorini municipal officials into taking appropriate corrective action. The campaign also aimed to alert cruise ship lines about the problem, and to encourage them to advise passengers not to ride the donkeys during their port calls at the island.


Donkey Sanctuary

 Webpage screenshot of The Donkey Sanctuary’s petition campaign


Donkey owners fined for breaching rules

The international petition proved effective. In an October 13 2011 post, the Sanctuary’s website reported on renewed hope for improvement in the donkeys’ welfare — municipal authorities in Fira had begun enforcing, with fines, the code of conduct governing donkey taxi operations. One of the regulations being enforced was a strict limit on the number of donkeys or mules that an operator could use to taxi tourists on any given day.

According to the website report, Christina Kaloudi of the Santorini Animal Welfare Association (SAWA) stated that: “For the first time ever, €200 fines were issued in September 2011 to ten donkey taxi owners who breached the law by bringing more than seven animals to work. The Vice Mayor of Santorini announced at a recent meeting with the taxi owners that things are not going to be the same anymore and that the fines will not be cancelled. If the owners do not pay the fines they will receive the fines through the tax office.”

For its part, the Sanctuary urged tourists to “keep a close eye on the condition of donkeys and mules,” and ride a donkey taxi only after they had checked to see if it appeared obvious that the animal had food, water and rest, and that its harness equipment was in good condition. The Sanctuary also suggested weight guidelines: tourists weighing more than 50 kilos shouldn’t ride donkeys, while people 80 kilos or heavier shouldn’t ride mules. The Sanctuary also encouraged visitors to send it any information — including photos or videos — if they had any concerns about the welfare of donkeys and mules on Santorini.




Regular island visitors raise awareness on travel forum

Meanwhile, on TripAdvisor’s Santorini forum, regular island visitors have continued to warn other travellers to stay off the donkeys’ backs.

“PLEASE DON’T RIDE THESE POOR ABUSED ANIMALS!” urged brotherleelove, the popular TripAdvisor Destination Expert for Santorini, in his June 29 2012 reply to a question posted on the forum. It’s an exhortation he makes numerous times each year while answering thousands of questions about the island, which he has been visiting for decades and knows practically inside-out.

“I have personally witnessed the donkey men’s dirty little secret. What most riders don’t see because they’re facing forward (and the donkey men are behind their animals) is that the sticks they use to prod the animals have a removable metal tip, like the end of a nail, that these men can put into the end of their stick to jab the animal to keep it moving, and then put it back in their pocket to keep it out of sight when they don’t need it,” brotherleelove explained in his post.


brotherleelove post

TripAdvisor Santorini Destination Expert brotherleelove regularly advises travellers against riding the donkeys when they visit the island


Bigsnitch, Destination Expert for Santorini’s Perissa resort area, also repeats the “don’t ride the donkeys” refrain regularly. “Imagine trudging up and down a near vertical cliff face all day, every day, with a sweaty tourist on you back, with minimal shelter, water and food and being beaten by your sadistic owner. Donkeys have been used for centuries as beasts of burden and as such are generally well cared for (yes, there are exceptions), as they’re seen as an important part of a farming community, but these poor animals are simply being exploited for the “pleasure” and “fun” of pampered foreigners, and the sooner this practice is stamped out, the better,” he wrote in an April 22 2012 post on the Santorini forum.

The most recent exhortation not to ride the mules came from Kennydon, a Destination Expert for nearby Thirassia island, who pleaded “Please don’t ride the poor abused donkeys!” in a March 21 2013 reply to a question about the Santorini cable car.

Agreeing with bigsnitch’s comments a year ago was Kalamata region resident Yiassas, a Destination Expert for the Peloponnese, Stoupa, Finikounda, Petalidi and Athens, who also appealed to TripAdvisor readers with “a plea not to (ab)use the donkeys.

“I’m in a rural area & still occasionally see donkeys working as they are meant to be, take owner to fields in the morning, rest under the shade of a tree, with food & water, while their owner works the land, then the donkey carries any produce home later. That’s more like it, not continuous up & down a very steep & bendy cliff all day in full sun, often carrying weights far in excess of what is comfortable for them. Anyone who still uses one after being informed is as guilty of abuse as the owners are,” Yiassas said.

On other islands, including Amorgos, Astipalea, Folegandros, Naxos, Patmos and Sifnos, I’ve seen donkeys being used in the traditional manner Yiassas described, rather than as taxis to ferry tourists up steep footpaths. However, on one of our Santorini trips we did see mules carrying bags of concrete mix and other construction supplies (see below) for a man who was building an addition to a house between the villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli.  During a visit to Patmos, we saw mules carrying big bales of hay at a farm near Stavros beach. And on Amorgos, locals told us that donkeys and mules must be used to haul building materials and household supplies to residences in mountain villages that are not accessible by motor vehicle.


Santorini cable car

The pathway and cable car line between the port and Fira can be seen cutting diagonally across the photo in this view from high above. 


Santorini caldera

Donkeys are forced to make continuous trips up and down the long path, most of which is fully exposed to the brutal heat of blazing summer sunshine.


Santorini donkeys

Although more than 300 mules and donkeys work as tourist “taxis,” there are hundreds more of the animals on Santorini, some of which are employed in other capacities


Santorini donkeys

We photographed these three mules as they climbed a hillside path between the clifftop villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli


 Santorini donkeys

They, and two more mules following behind, were carrying construction materials for a tradesman who was building an addition to a house several hundred meters away


Santorini donkeys

A local man leads a pack of donkeys down a path in Firostefani, en route to Fira


Santorini donkeys

We passed these donkeys while walking from Fira to Firostefani one morning


Santorini donkeys

The animals were being led to the cliff path below Fira to transport cruise ship passengers who would be arriving at the island that afternoon.




Sanctuary sees gradual progress from its efforts

Since many of the “don’t ride the donkey” posts on keep providing links to the 5-year-old articles from The Daily Express, I contacted The Donkey Sanctuary to ask if there has been any recent news to report. They generously provided me with updated information … and it’s positive news.

A Sanctuary statement says the organization is “gradually making progress” for the estimated 360 donkeys who work as tourist taxis on Santorini (out of the more than 2,000 donkeys and mules that live on the island).

“Through the Town Council of Santorini, The Donkey Sanctuary is hopeful that a new system of fines and a proposed training program will lessen the mistreatment of overworking donkeys and mules.  The council’s new Mayor has shown a definite interest in making improvements for the donkeys and enforcing rules. He agreed last year that the council and Donkey Sanctuary will review the Codes of Practice that will help to implement and organise training courses for the vets, police and donkey owners in donkey care,” a Sanctuary press statement says.

Also in 2012, the Sanctuary met with Santorini’s Vice Mayor and the Santorini Animal Welfare Association, and several significant changes followed. 

“Six new sun shades have been erected at the top of the steps to keep the donkeys out of the sun while they are resting; Smaller donkeys have now been replaced with much larger mules who are better suited to the work, and The Donkey Sanctuary has agreed to supply water troughs for the taxi donkeys and new tack to owners who follow the systems and procedures,” the media release notes.  More improvements are anticipated in the course of the  next year, including set-up of a new mounting area; improvements to the shelter at the bottom of the steps; creation of a barrier at the bottom of the steps to force all owners to lead their donkeys through the bottom shelter area; and ensuring that every working donkey is covered by insurance for public liability.

“The authorities will continue to fine any owner who does not comply with the codes of practice which the Sanctuary will monitor to ensure this is being done, ensuring a safer system of work for each working donkey. The Mayor has also stated that he wants to improve the areas for the donkeys when they are not working, allowing the donkeys and mules to have a longer rest.”


Santorini donkeys

Tourists ride donkeys down the cliff path to the small port below Fira


Santorini cable car

The two sets of cable cars pass midway up the cliff. Though there can be lengthy line-ups and long waits to board the lift, some cruise lines now urge their passengers to ride the cable cars instead of the donkeys.


Santorini donkey path

A bottleneck of tourists on donkeys — and some on foot — clogs one of the hairpin turns on the cliffside path. If you visit Santorini and decide to walk up or down the trail, tread carefully — the steps often can be slick with donkey poo and pee.


Group aims for public awareness of donkey’s plight

The Donkey Sanctuary’s Head of European Operations, Andrew Judge, says the new system of fines “represents a real breakthrough in the recognition of animal welfare on the island. After years of campaigning, and working closely with SAWA and the local authorities, we have established a code of practice in the Town Council of Fira, setting out acceptable standards of animal welfare and ensuring that only animals fit enough to work are allowed to do so. We aim to raise awareness for people to think about the donkeys and mules and the weight that is being placed on them. The Donkey Sanctuary is there to work with the locals and town council, in order to help improve conditions for the donkeys and the public. We do have partners who monitor the situation for us on the island and we will continue to monitor and assess the situation in the future.”

More good news: when the Sanctuary conducted an inspection last October, it found that “most of the cruise ships are now warning the visitors not to ride the donkeys and mules as it is not safe, and due to insurance.” And only a small percentage of the passengers who arrived in port on four cruise ships made their way up to Fira on donkeys.

For tourists who feel compelled to ride a donkey, the Sanctuary recommends they take a close look at the animal  first to see if it looks well rested, fed and watered, and to check that its harness equipment is in good shape. They should take a close look at themselves, too, and consider if they’re too heavy for the animal to carry (maximum weight of 50 kilos for a donkey, and 80 for a mule).

I urge visitors to do the right thing and take the cable car instead.

Of course, you can always hoof it yourself and climb the 590 steps between the port and Fira (then walk them once more on the way back down). It’s great exercise, and will help work off all the calories accumulated from the cruise ship buffets.

But I’ll never forget the story that a friend told me about someone they know who decided to walk down the path because he didn’t have patience to queue in the long line outside the cable car station in Fira. It was an extremely hot day last August and this fellow was smartly dressed in a natty white linen shirt and trousers, and expensive new Italian loafers. Partway down the path, he slipped on a step that was slick with donkey poo and urine, landing flat on his ass on the ground. Covered in smelly excrement, he had to endure a humiliating ride back to the ship on a tender boat full of passengers who held their noses while snickering at his poo- and pee-stained designer duds.

The €4 cable car ride sounds much more sensible now, doesn’t it?


[Editor’s update: Click here to read my June 14 2014 update to this article.]


Above is a link to my Donkeys and cable cars on Santorini Flickr album containing larger versions of the photos that appear in this post. Click twice on the image to access the album.



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  1. Holidays to Santorini

    April 21, 2013 at 5:05 am

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

    • Please start a new campaign..I would gladly support. Just visited the Island and was horrified.

      • There are quite a few campaigns to try and stop this horribly cruel practice. Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth doing one.

        • admin

          June 21, 2014 at 3:10 pm

          That’s the organization behind the initiatives described in both of my blog posts about the Santorini donkeys.

      • Please sign this petition to help the only animal shelter in Santorini: URGENT

      • I don’t give a damn if my email addressed is published or not. The inhumane treatment of donkeys is deplorable and they are being mistreated. First off, I’ve seen photos of donkeys carrying very heavy individuals and they are going without water and coverage from the sun. I have asked for their contact information so that I can call them and curse them out PERSONALLY!

    • I recently visited Santorini, and while I didn’t ride the donkeys (hiked myself up and down on my own two feet), I did get a chance to inspect them at the top and bottom of the stairs. Fortunately, at least when I was there, the donkeys appeared to be in good shape. Specifics:
      – No bits to be yanked by uninformed riders
      – No sticks, pointed or otherwise, in use to prod the animals; they all seemed willing to go with just a tug of the lead rope
      – Hooves in good shape, no major cracks or splaying
      – No dehydration (pinch-tested about half a dozen donkeys)
      – No overly skinny animals
      – Bright coats, very few animals had broken a heavy sweat since they were last brushed
      – Shade available for the donkeys to stand in
      – Mix of animal sizes (there were some thick-set 15+ hh animals) that the handlers seemed to try to match to rider size

      Thank you for helping to bring attention to this issue – it seems to have worked!

  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!

    • Jacqueline Smith

      June 9, 2018 at 3:37 am

      I have just returned from my holiday in greece and I can not get what i saw out of my head it spoilt my holiday all i could think of everyday was those poor animals having to go up and down that mountain. We saw them being whipped with a stick, there was no water and food around they were kept in the hot sun some had rusty chains against their faces and cages around their mouths i suppose thats in case they get angry but who could blame them. When will this barbaric way end for these lovely animals. Like some one else said if they had a nice field with straw to lay at the end of the day it would make life a little bearable but there whole life is spent in terrible conditions. What can we do to stop this where do we go to complain and get something done about it it must be stopped.

  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…

    • I know its a long time ago, but did you happen to get any photos?

    • These donkey owners do not need to use the donkeys to make a living as they get a portion of the proceeds from the cable ride up instead of using the donkeys to go up. However, the donkey ride is more expensive so they definitely make more if tourists choose the donkey ride over cable ride. There is a 100kg max weight law but seems owners are ignoring the law. I want to go visit the donkeys to bring them carrot and water…give them a little something. I hear if they are injured or too old. They just shove then over the cliff into the water. This world is filled with inhumane people.

  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!


    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:

  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.

      • Well said!

      • You know what’s ignorant? Condemning an entire country of 350 million people to a generalization like “ignorant.” If you belive all Americans are as such, you’re obviously living in a small, sad bubble. There are millions of people from the US who, like me, abhor the maltreatment of animals. Are there assholes from the states? Absolutely. But there are dumb, ignorant twats from every country. And your sweeping opinion of an entire country is downright sad.

    • 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?

    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

  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!

  36. I have just arrived with my son in Santorini and we hired a car to drive to Oia, where we are staying. I’m glad to say that I saw no donkeys at the port at all – are they still being used (and abused) there? When we arrived in Oia, we had to park the car and our ‘host’ came to meet us, with his donkey, to help take our luggage up the steep sloping paths to our apartment. I’m pleased to say that this man never hit or cursed his donkey once, he even held the luggage carrier to keep it steady and helped hi donkey on its trek. He didn’t even chastise it when it stopped and had a munch of some wayside grass and flowers; he merely chuckled and gently pushed the donkey onwards. When we reached the apartment the donkey rested, munched some more weeds and was then taken back down – to its field, I preseume, as there were more guests arriving. From all the other posts I realise this is most definitely NOT the norm. I do hope though, the this man’s care for his donkey continues and maybe even rubs off on fellow donkey owners.

  37. I was just about to plan a donkey ride with my family since we are now in Greece but after reading this, I think it’s better not to ride the poor donkeys

  38. I love donkeys

  39. I am just back from a cruise that had a stopover in Santorini and I was appalled to see the Donkeys in the searing heat carrying tourists up to Fira. It was the most distressing thing I have ever seen. Please please please I beg you do not take the Donkey taxi, the cable car is excellent and only takes 3 to 5 minutes. Santorini is a beautiful Island marred by this awful situation.

  40. My husband and I went to Oia last August we tried donkey ride but it was scary it’s not advisable to ride with the donkey by the cliffs, one behind us fell down by donkey ride and she hurt her knee and wounded.. it’s not safe at all I wouldn’t recommend to anyone to ride on a donkey never again..

  41. Julie billingham

    October 19, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Why o why this still happening,I was there and saw the cruel way these poor donkeys and ponys were treated ,the cruise ship did advice to go on cable car but still these assailed went on the donkeys ,there in appalling conditions being hit with sticks , buckling under the weight of these ignorant twats who think it’s ok to stick there fat body’s on these poor animals ,one women said about the water for these donkeys and no food ,the old man just said u have to buy it omg how I never thumped him i don’t know , it needs stopping there cable cars for these idiots to go on but no they still had to do it , why are they allowing this to happen ,it’s a rich island , the animals really look in a bad way , people witnessed them hitting with sticks shame on u Santorini and all the time we were there i didn’t see one cat or dog ,very odd ,I’m getting on to the donkeys foundation’s to c what can b done so mad

  42. I took the donkey ride back in 2000 on Santorni. Being a former horse owner, someone should stipulate that only experienced riders should be allowed to ride (and within proper weight specifications ) for the animal’s sake. I am for all the animal welfare rules and fines. And I applaud the cable cars which I also rode. I don’t know if it can hold more cars or not. But another thought occurred to me,
    since I also used to own and ride ATV’s. Would it not be possible to retire the donkeys and use automatic 4-wheel drive ATV’s to ascend the trail?! The steps could be modified by smoothing them out for a gentle drive up the cliffs. I have ridden ATV’s on steep terrain and this seems like it would be a workable solution for those who don’t want to wait for the cable cars and don’t care to abuse any more animals. Of course, this would cause the Old World ambiance to vanish, but it is just a thought……

  43. Please help by posting and bombarding Greek gov about these animals and those on other islands Hydra etc, money talks if we use our monetary power with trsvel companies too, we can change things
    I’d love to begin campaign anyone like to help me?

    • Maria Catania

      July 3, 2018 at 10:17 am

      Tourists should boycot donkey rides, as otherwise they will be accepting harming these poor animals

  44. Maria Catania

    July 3, 2018 at 10:14 am

    I think the Santorini authorities should not permit donkey rides in order to avoid further cruelty to these animals. Furthermore tourists SHOULD boycott such rides

  45. We visited Santorini on 10 June 2018 on a blazing hot day. We were so distressed to see how the donkeys and mules are treated. My very fit daughter and her husband ran down the 550 plus steps by the side of the animals and said it was terrible. Sheer drops onto the rocks below and many animals going in all directions on the treacherous path. Most of the passengers were obese and way too heavy for the poor animals. The Donkey Sanctuary on Santorini and in the UK do what they can to help, but it is up to the cruise ships and tourists to boycott these cruel rides. Santorini is considered one of the most beautiful islands in the world and most visited. This animal abuse MUST stop!!

  46. I am just wondering how you can tell when a donkey is sad?

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