The best beaches on Crete

Except from the traditional "raki" and "ntakos", Crete is also famous for its marveillous beaches. Let's meet some of them!

Elafonisi

This beach is one of the most emblematic of the island, and is featured on countless postcards. It is to be found just 80 km from the Chania and 43 km from Kastelli, next to the Chrysoskalitissa monastery (of the Golden-Steps). Elafonisi is basically a small island, connected to the Cretan mainland by a shallow crossing of several hundred meters, which can be made on foot. The whole area, which is part of the EC programme NATURA 2000, is characterized by its pale sands, its shallow and crystal-clear waters, turquoise in colour, and the small pink patches made up from crushed sea-shells. The setting falls a little short of outstanding, marred only by the sun-loungers and canteen-bars set up on the beach-sands themselves.

Kedrodasos

outh of Elafonisi is another area of wild and remarkable beauty – Kedrodasos or the Forest of Cedars. Access can be made by car (up to a certain point) by a dirt-road through the plastic green-houses, or on foot following the E4 walking-route from the beach of Elafonisi itself. Dunes of white sand and the ancient cedars cover the whole vicinity. The main beach is sandy and boasts crystal-clear turquoise waters; along the coastal path from Elafonisi to Kedrodasos are small deserted coves.  Unlike Elafonisi, Kedrodasos is absolutely untouched: no food or water is to be had there, so make sure you take what you need with you on a visit! Kedrodasos too is part of the NATURA 2000 programme: the age-old cedars are protected by a special environmental plan as their growth-rate is extremely laborious and slow (about one centimeter per year).

Balos

On the northwest coast of Cape Gramvousa, in a bay formed between the lesser capes of Tigani (the Frying pan) and Vouxa (Trypti), lies the sea-lagoon of Balos. A quiet beach, opposite the two Gramvousa islands (Wild and Tame), it enjoys warm, turquoise waters and white sands. The last are actually partly composed of minutely crushed sea-shells, which impart a pinkish hue to the very white sand. The water immediately off shore is shallow, but deepens elsewhere. During July and August, Balos receives a daily influx of crowds of tourists. For that reason, as well as stagnant reaches of water, parts can get somewhat smelly. In the summer season, sea trips are made daily from Kasteli Kisamou to Balos (with the 2-hour stop-off on ‘Tame’ Gramvousa): the last stage from the island to Balos takes 15 minutes. Once there, the passengers disembark for a 3-hour stay, allowing them to enjoy some relaxing moments in its clear waters. The beach is a protected area – part of the EC ecological programme Natura 2000. As a result you will not find any amenities beyond a small café for food and drink. Shade, however, can be got on the south side of the beach.

Falasarna

The beach here is exceptionally beautiful. In effect it is a number of large sandy stretches that together run on for 3 km. The main beach of Pacheia Ammos (Deep Sands) is some kilometer in length and made up of white sand and turquoise waters: it is one of the most popular in Crete. It is developed, with sun-beds and umbrellas, facilities for water-sports and courts for beach-volleyball. Because of the strong winds that blow hereabouts, Falasarna is an ideal destination for wind surfing-afficianados. Close by are rooms for rent, tavernas and cafés to make your stay the more comfortable. If you wish to avoid the crowds at Pacheia Ammos, you can seek out one of the other strands which are to be found nearby, both to the north and south. They are smaller, rather isolated and without facilities; some have pebbles, others sand: but all are ideal for ‘chilling out’.

Vai

Each year it attracts a huge number of visitors – it is one of the most popular destinations in all Crete. he long beach has blue-green water, fine sand and pebbles. Combined with the palm trees, the effect is that of some more exotic location.  Because of the palms, the area is protected. As a result, both construction and unsupervised camping are prohibited. Therefore you will find no hotels at Vai, nor rent-rooms: accommodation must be sought elsewhere nearby. Despite this, the beach is organized: umbrellas, sunbeds, canteens and refreshments; also opportunities for water-sports. A little to the north of Vai, on Cape Sidero, in and around Itanos (or Erimoupoli) are some very pretty beaches.

Preveli

Preveli with its riverside palm-groves (burnt in the summer 2010, but regenerated at the moment) is one of the most famous and beloved beaches in Crete. Its name – and that of the broader region – is taken from the historical monastery nearby, dedicated to St. John the Theologian. A walk on the bank or a pedalo up the river itself through the palms and oleanders and into the gorge is a quite unforgettable experience. At the mouth of the gorge, where the river Kourtaliotis ends in a delta, is the exquisite beach of Preveli. It has pale sands and a stony bottom to the crystalline water.

Aghios Pavlos

These are set on the frontage, at the exit of a road to Sachtouria village. The successive sandy beaches present gigantic sand-dunes, sea-worn caves and blue waters. Beginning from the western beaches, the first we come to is that of Stomio. The beach complex, collectively called Gialia, runs east of Small Triopetra, taking in Diplonopetra and Ammolofoi. Access is by a dirt-road, which only 4-wheel drives can manage, that connects Triopetra and the settlement of Aghios Pavlos. Those with normal cars must leave them at the main roadside and continue on foot for some 10 minutes. Once there, you may choose to amble along the sandy beach to reach Diplonopetra and Ammolofoi. This is basically a continuation of Stomio itself – a most lovely place, enclosed by rocks and by the many dunes all along the front. A few umbrellas and sunbeds are to be found; nudists frequent it too. To get there by car, leave from Cape Melissa (Bee). The sand dunes of the charming Ammolofoi of Aghios Pavlos stand next to the Melissa cape, behind a sheltered harbour. The vast dunes that enclose the beach are the chief attraction: they can attain 30 feet in height! The beach itself is, naturally, sandy, with very clear water and a wonderful sea-bed, begging to be explored. At the middle of the beach you will find the interesting sea-worn caves.

Aghiofarago

This is a small gorge that runs about a kilometer south of Martsalo: it takes its name from the 300 hermits reported to have practiced here. The gorge leads to a beach surrounded by imposingly high cliffs: of an unusual loveliness, the isolated strand has small pebbles and deep, crystal-clear water. Getting there by foot is only possible through the gorge (an easy trek of less than an hour), though a caique from Kaloi Limenes. Matala or Aghia Galini can drop you directly there. The beach is much favoured by campers, but especially those with a boat, as otherwise the gear has to be carried there through the gorge.

Kolokitha

On the Spinalonga peninsula, and in a sense opposite to Elounda and at a distance of 12 km from Aghios Nickolaos, is the beautiful beach (the Pumpkin): small with white sand and blue-green water, and a few tamarisks for shade. During the summer, the boats that ply to and fro from Spinalonga make a stop here to let people off for a while: the beach accordingly becomes jam-packed at those times.. For that reason, if you have a car, it is sensible to time your visit to either early in the morning or the late afternoon, thereby avoiding the hours when the boats call in (say 11am-5pm). That way you can appreciate the beauty of the place without fear of disturbance. There is no infrastructure – but Elounda is close by for all your needs. But do not carry too much: the car will not get you all the way there, and you face a 200 m walk at the end!

Chysi (Gaidouronisi)

This (Golden or the Isle of Donkeys) is some 5 km long by 1 wide: its highest point (Kefala) is but 31 m above sea-level.  The beaches have white and golden sands, coloured pink from crushed seashells that are strewn far and wide. The waters are crystalline and translucent with a turquoise colouring. On Chrysi there survives a large cedar forest, of some 85 acres extent, with large and impressive specimens. All the island is part of the European Community’s network of protected landscapes of natural beauty – NATURA 2000, and also guarded by Greek legislation. 49 species of fossil have been identified in the volcanic rocks that make up a part of the island.  Camping is forbidden on Chrysi, as is entering the cedar wood which is fenced off in places. Collecting sand and shells is likewise not allowed. To get to the island, ferries run daily from Ierapetra – from mid-May to late October. The journey takes a little over an hour, and the boat will put in to a small harbour on the south beach, at Vougiou Mati, There is a taverna there. Alongside this landing spot is the South Beach, which has golden sand and shallow clear water: in addition to the umbrellas, you will find several cedars in whose shade to relax. From the South beach a path winds its way through the sand-dunes and crosses the island, leading to the beaches of Belegrina, Hatzivolakas and Kataprosopo. 5 minutes walk away from the South beach and the harbour is Belegrina (or Chrysi Ammos .. Golden Sands) on the north side: it is the most popular on Chrysi.  A most attractive place, with its white sand, the broken remains of the shells in it and shallow blue-green and crystal-clear waters. It really does feel like some exotic location! Here are some umbrellas and a canteen. East of Belegrina is Kataprosopo. Its name (Face to face) comes from its location as it lies directly opposite an even smaller islet (Micronisi, some35 acres in size) that is a mere 700 m offshore. As a beach, with small pebbles and blue crystalline waters, it is less impressive that the others on the north coast, which are prettier and more crowded. West of Belegrina is a calmer beach – Hatzivolakas: quite a rocky place, it has some white sands and shallow turquoise and clear waters; on every side the towering cedars stretch out their shadows for the visitor.

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