Crete expert, Duncan McGregor, introduces Crete's most rated beaches.
Many people visiting the island of Crete stick to the same resort and rarely leave the comfort of their hotel, but this Mediterranean gem has an amazing array of sights and places to visit. The choice of beaches in Crete is unmatched by any Greek island, with everything from beautiful pink sand beaches to the tropical surroundings of Vai beach.
The best way to visit some of the more remote but visually stunning beaches is by hiring a car and grabbing a road map; this way you can travel at your own pace and not be constrained by local bus services or the whim of tour guides.
So what are the must see beaches of Crete? Here is a brief rundown of the beaches well worth visiting on your Crete holiday.
Situated on the Gramavoussa peninsula on the far west of Crete and only reachable by car or via boat, the beach is covered with fine white sands and crystal clear blue waters. With a stunning backdrop of rocky outcrops and the fortress island of Gramavoussa, this is the most picturesque and photographed beach on the whole island.
There is a large lagoon which incorporates most of the beach and is shallow enough to let children play safely while you relax and sunbathe. The outside of the lagoon is perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving and seeing Crete’s rich underwater life.
The beach of Elafonisi sits on the south east side of Crete and is well known for its pure white sands. In certain light, you can see the pink sand of Elafonisi, said to be caused by the coral that over time has been broken down by Mother Nature. The beach is mainly sandy with small rocky outcrops and its perfect for a relaxing family day.
The beach of Elafonisi is also perfect for birdwatchers; birds migrating to Africa use this part of Crete as a pit stop for a rest and a drink. It’s easy to get to; there are day trips to leaving from Chania and Kastelli-Kissamos on a daily basis.
Vai beach is the only natural palm tree forested beach of Crete, and one of the largest in the whole of Europe and it’s famous for being featured in the Bounty chocolate commercials of the late 1980s. Its clean sandy beaches are a Mecca for tourists from all over Europe. There is plenty to see and do with water sports and pedaloes to keep the children entertained.
Matala was a well known haunt of the hippy movement in the 1970s due it its complex of caves which overlook the beach. The beach itself is situated in Matala, located on the south east side of Crete just two hours drive from Heraklion. With tavernas on the beachfront cooking up amazing recipes using freshly caught fish, this beach has everything needed for a relaxing beach break, including fine sand which gently shelves into the clear blue waters of the Libyan Sea.
Venturing into the Sfakia region on the south west side of Crete you will happen upon the beach of Sweetwater, just a few minutes’ walk from the seaside village of Loutro, which is a haven for those wanting to get away from the crowds on the north side of Crete. The beach is well served with a little water cafe, which is only reachable by a small bridge. The sands here are an unusual reddish colour and the beach is shingle in areas but the sea is as warm and inviting as ever, with the area being a favourite with snorkelers. Part of the beach is popular with naturists from all over the world, mainly for the privacy the beach offers.
Chrissi Island beach
The beach is only reachable by ferry or boat trip from the seaside town of Ierapetra on the south east side of Crete. It’s a naturally formed island in the Libyan sea and the temperatures here are a few degrees hotter than mainland Crete. The island is now a nature reserve, but day trips to its warm sandy beaches are allowed. The scenery here is one of rugged beauty with small trees clinging to life in the sand dunes, and rocky outcrops perfect for fishing and snorkelling.
The island is served by a small cafe which opens from 9am until 6pm to providing visitors with refreshing drinks and a select choice in snacks.
If you see only two or three of these wonderful beaches it will really enrich your experience of Crete. The island is just begging to be explored and by visiting these beaches you will happen across small Cretan villages filled with charm, tradition and locals with an exceeding hospitality.
Duncan McGregor is a Greece specialist and travel writer for Holidays2Crete and Holidays2Zante. He lives in Shropshire and regularly travels to Crete and Zante for inspiration and photographs of these wonderful islands.