Despite a ban, the lingering financial crisis appears to have increased the popularity of camping in the wild this summer as an alternative to hotels and organized camping facilities.
“There was definitely an increase in wild camping this year,” Victor Migionis, an economics graduate and passionate camper, told Kathimerini English Edition.
“Many people told me that that this year was their first time camping in the wild. Moreover, a good amount of the campers I saw this summer were over the age of 30, which suggests that the economic crisis might have played a part in their decision,” said Migionis, who spent almost a month camping on the Aegean islands of Anafi and Naxos this summer.
Karolos Chapple, a devoted camper with over 10 years of camping experience on Skyros, admits that a lot of his friends who used to stay at hotels when on holiday are now joining him in his outdoor adventures.
“The economic crisis has certainly played its part in the wild camping boom this summer. I know a lot of people that never used to camp, but are doing it now because they can't afford anything better,” said Chapple.
Rival camp suffers
In the meantime, organized campsites have suffered a huge decline in demand. The president of the Panhellenic Camping Association, Kostas Papadopoulos, estimates that the number of free campers equaled that of people camping in legal camping facilities this summer. Speaking to Kathimerini English Edition, Papadopoulos criticized this summer's wild camping boom, saying that not only does it pose a huge threat to the environment but it also takes away a significant portion of tax income from organized camping facilities.
Interestingly, Papadopoulos does not see a correlation between the economic crisis and the wild camping boom. “The cost of camping in a designated area is very cheap,” he argued. Typical costs for organized campsites do not exceed 15 euros for two people and a tent, although there are pricier alternatives as well. Hence, “there is no reason why people should be ruining the environment,” he concluded.
Wild camping was prohibited in Greece by law in 1976. In 2012, the law was modified so as to decriminalize the offense. Offenders initially receive a 300-euro fine per tent or motor vehicle. Their case is then passed on to the courts, where they can receive up to six months in prison or pay a fine of up to 3,000 euros instead.
The ban is a source of controversy. The Greek Communist Party (KKE) challenged the law in Parliament, asking for its abolition and for the nullification of all charges and fines issued to campers to date on the grounds that most Greeks cannot afford to stay at hotels or privately owned campsites.
“Wild camping is a good source of income for many local communities that host campers. Considering the economic situation in Greece at the moment, and assuming that campers show respect toward the environment and local residents, free camping should be encouraged if anything,” said Rafail Kokkinos, an experienced camper who also spent time camping on Anafi this summer.
Despite repeated pledges to crack down on wild camping, most campers interviewed for the purposes of this article could not recall a time where they were bothered by local authorities, suggesting that enforcing the ban is not a priority for the latter.
However, one camper who preferred to remain anonymous said that although she hadn't seen any crackdown on wild campers during her many years of camping on Evia, Greece's second-largest island, she did remember a time when local authorities intervened, following a littering complaint from local residents. As she recalled it, the police displayed an impressive degree of tolerance toward the campers. One officer, she says, told the campers they could take down their tents temporarily so as to give locals the impression that they'd left, and put them back up during the night.
In any case, many campers seem willing to ignore the ban as camping in the wild for them is a priceless experience.
“As far as I'm concerned wild camping is the only real form of camping. I once camped at an organized camping facility, and it was just awful. It was very noisy as there were people everywhere," Chapple said.
"What I enjoy is being out on a beach by myself, an experience which I simply can't get at an organized campsite,” he said.