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At this point – 13 years into semi-permanent travel to every continent and, well, a lot of countries – it is safe to say we’ve seen a few beaches. More than a few, really. So keep that in mind when I tell you that Balos Beach, Crete, is one of the most spectacular we’ve ever seen. That’s right, I said “ever”.
Even though I know we usually like to wait a few months to really let a place soak into our long-term memory and see what sticks before making any broad proclamations. Like the time I rashly declared the rusty, lurching electric bull of La Peñita to be the best electric bull I’d ever ridden. So young. So naïve.
So time will tell. Either way, though, I’m not saying Balos Beach is the best, or biggest, or has the best swimming, or the warmest water, has the whitest sand (it’s okay to like white sand better than black sand, right?) or even has the best holes (that is definitely Rincon de Guayabitos at Easter).
But for purely beautiful photos and stunning viewpoints, well, Balos Crete is definitely in the conversation. It is the most photographed beach in all of Crete (with superb Elafonisi Beach quite likely coming second). Its really the shades of blue that we loved. The light turquoise water in the lagoon slowly changing to dark blue really is stunning.
Check out our complete list of The Best Beaches on Crete
Besides the aesthetics, the entire region is also a protected Natura 2000 area. There are hundreds of fascinating plants and flowers, many of which are endemic to the area, and plenty of intriguing birds to watch for, from Eleonora falcons and bearded vultures to a wide variety of marine birds.
Balos Beach, Greece
Famous for its beautiful turquoise water (even among the many, many beautiful turquoise bays in Greece), what sets Balos Beach apart is the narrow sandy isthmus connecting mainland Crete to tiny Cape Tigani. This isthmus (say that three times quickly, then try to work in something about Christmas, too) divides the area into a warm, shallow lagoon on one side (south) and a relatively sheltered bay on the other (north).
Balos Beach and lagoon are also protected on the far side (farther south) by a rocky reef which means it is essentially always calm and perfect for families (or adults who don’t so much swim as flail, as though they are desperately trying to fend off an aggressive wasp). Many families stop at the Balos lagoon beach at the end of the trail rather than continuing on.
While the isthmus is usually split by a small stream running into the ocean you can easily wade across to explore the rocky area leading up to the steep hill of Tigani. The water is crystal clear and occasionally interspersed with patches of Neptune grass.
Despite the surrounding sand, the bottom is actually quite muddy which can sometimes give off an unpleasant smell at low tide. The sand is mostly soft and occasionally pink, a phenomenon resulting from millions (billions?) of tiny, crushed shells (and sometimes not crushed, a surprising discovery when Laynni looked close enough).
The beach sits at the very bottom of the steep slopes of the Platiskinos Mountains, with Tigani displayed prominently in foreground and the distinctive shape of Gramvousa Island in the distance.
Access to Balos beach and lagoon is only by boat or on foot via a steep, rocky and scenic descent.
Not to mention, the road just to reach the trail down to the beach is rather infamously rough and frightening, a narrow dirt road running along the cliffs most of the way from Kaliviani (details to come in the How to Get to Balos Beach section).
Although it really looks like an island connected only at low tide, or a peninsula only separated at high tide, it is technically referred to as Cape Tigani. Why, I’m not sure, since I don’t understand exactly what a “cape” is (other than the absolute coolest item of clothing to wear when contesting a speeding ticket in court).
Regardless of the naming specifics, any visit to Balos Beach should include a stroll over to Tigani (which means “frying pan” in Greek). You will almost certainly have to wade across to the other side unless the tide is very low or you happen to be an Olympic-calibre long jumper. I can tell you from experience that finishing 3rd in a regional Grade 8 track meet isn’t good enough.
Of course, if you arrive by boat you will actually be let off at the Tigani dock (although you still face the same dilemma to get across to the beach). However you end up there, though, you’ll want to have decent walking shoes and hopefully enough energy to do some hiking.
Tigani is rocky and interesting all along the coast but it is well worth climbing to the top for fantastic panoramic views. The first sight is the little Chapel of All Saints, a Greek Orthodox church. It is just a short 5-minute jaunt up the hill.
From there we continued up and went all the way to the north end to get a closer look at the Gramvousa Islands (which worked fine) but it actually look much better from the higher southern cliffs because you are sort of looking down on them. From top you can see it all – the bay, the beach, the lagoon, Cape Gramvousa, Imeri Gramvousa and Agria Gramvousa. And don’t forget to look down once in a while to see the wild onions which are common all over these parts.
There is also a small cave (easily visible from everywhere around Balos lagoon) which can be reached by a short climb from the beach. This cave apparently holds historic significance as a place where women and children hid during the Turkish invasion.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good enough hiding spot as they were found and massacred, one of the most famous of the many atrocities committed during those wars.
Today, there is a fairly cool photo of Balos Beach to be had from inside the cave but to actually get inside you’ll need to do a bit of climbing at the end, which Laynni wisely opted out of. As it turns out, you will also have to contend with the most goat shit I’ve ever seen in one place.
Now, while I understand that this minor inconvenience doesn’t exactly compare to horrible war crimes, I will say that a fair bit of said goat shit actually made it onto my hands as I clambered up (it was even in every little hand-hold), hands which I somehow then forgot to wash before eating my packed lunch sandwich.
And in this day and age, too. Tsk, tsk. And don’t even get me started on the smell inside the cave. Anyway, long story short, I really hope you think the photo was worth it (because I’m pretty sure Laynni’s only pretending it was to make me feel better).
There are two islands north of Balos Beach – known as Imeri Gramvousa (Tame Gramvousa) and Agria Gramvousa (Wild Gramvousa). Both are uninhabited but can be visited as part of a boat tour (or by private boat).
Imeri Gramvousa is larger and by far the most popular, with the most to see. Often simply referred to as Gramvousa Island, it was formerly an ancient Venetian castle. The 16th century Gramvousa Castle is located on the high point of the island, requiring a fairly short but strenuous hike.
It is an impressive site with just a €1 entrance fee, which is a bargain based on the views alone.
Gramvousa was one of the last forts to succumb to the Ottoman invaders, along with Souda and the fascinating and scenic Spinalonga Island across from Elounda. Then it managed to free itself from the Turks in 1825 even though it took until 1898 for the rest of Crete to achieve independence.
There is also the pretty little Gramvousa beach, a small church and a relatively modern (20th century) shipwreck just off the beach that you can check out if you bring snorkelling gear.
Called Wild Gramvousa because of its primitive, rugged landscape, Agria Gramvousa is surrounded by rocks and dangerous coves, making it inaccessible to tourists except from passing boats.
However, it is an important nature refuge and home to the vast majority of the flora and fauna mentioned earlier, and it looks great in photos.
Also spelled Agneion, these Roman ruins can be found a short distance north of the Balos Beach parking area. As with most Cretan ruins, a lot of it requires some imagination but there is a fairly impressive Temple of Apollo. You can hike there in 15-20 minutes from the parking lot.
If you’re feeling like a longer walk you can continue past Agnion all the way to Cape Vouxa at the far northern tip of Gramvousa Peninsula. The end is about 4 kilometres from the Balos Beach parking area and features an outstanding viewpoint of Tigani, the channel and both Gramvousa islands.
The trail is well-marked, fairly flat and rarely crowded (most people come for beach time, not extended hikes).
Balos Beach and Lagoon Crete Facilities
Balos Beach is very “organized” as they say in Crete, although because it is so difficult to access the facilities are fairly limited.
You can rent sunbeds and umbrellas on the east side of the beach but they go quickly and you may have to arrive before 10 am to get one in high season. Of course, we visited in early November and I think there were only two loungers being used. So, it all depends. If you can’t get a Balos beach umbrella because they are sold out you can sometimes find some shade by the bigger rocks lining the Balos Beach lagoon.
There is a small beach bar selling drinks and snacks and some basic public toilets (€1). There is also a small shack next to the parking lot at the top where you can stock up on stuff for your beach day (or grab something for the road on your way out). You can also rent gaudy but fun pedal boats (with built-in waterslides!).
Balos Beach Sports and Activities
In addition to hiking to the top of Tigani, the end of Gramvousa Peninsula or just exploring down the coastline, snorkelling is also a popular activity in Balos lagoon. There are many small fish and sea creatures hiding among the rocks and Neptune grass. Or if snorkelling isn’t your thing, you can find all sorts of fascinating stuff in the tide pools.
Where to Stay: Balos Beach Hotels
There are no hotels on Balos Beach but here are three great choices for hotels near Balos Beach.
Kaliviani Traditional Hotel is an excellent mid-range choice with bright, modern rooms with terrific sea views and an optional (but popular) traditional breakfast.
Olive Tree apartments are a fantastic value for well-equipped units set among the olive groves just outside Kaliviani. There is even a pool.
Located in a quiet spot between Kissamos and Kaliviani are the comfortable Viglia Beach Apartments. They have studios with and without views, plus a family apartment. Breakfast is included and you can choose between the pool or the nearby beach.
Those are some of the best hotels closest to Balos Beach and then Kissamos has a multitude of choices not much farther away. From beach options to quiet rural apartments, there are plenty to choose from.
Check here for a full list of Kissamos hotels.
Camping in Balos Beach
Technically, there is no camping allowed in Greece except in designated campgrounds. However, in practice, fines only apply to people sleeping in tents. If you find a quiet spot where you aren’t bothering anyone, don’t have a fire, “leave no trace” and can trust the weather enough to just use your sleeping bag under the stars you will probably be fine.
Officially, though, wild camping in Greece is illegal and we do not recommend it.
Balos Beach Crete Map
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How Do You Get to Balos Beach?
There are three ways to get to Balos Beach – boat, car and on foot. Public boats are cheaper but crowded, private boats are more flexible but also more expensive. Driving means braving the difficult road along the Gramvousa Peninsula. Hiking follows the same route, just takes longer.
Overall, probably the main reason Balos in west Crete has remained so gorgeous is because it is so difficult to access. I mean, it’s not Mongolian-national-park hard to reach or anything, but as far as Greek beaches go, Balos Lagoon isn’t the most accessible place. Which has meant no big developments or even small hotels and busy tavernas. So the common question is:
Here are detailed descriptions of the three ways to get to Balos Beach:
1. Get to Balos Beach by Boat
Between May and October the vast majority of visitors to Balos lagoon arrive by boat. Most board the pubic ferry at the Kissamos port in the village Kavonisi (3 km west of Kissamos). There are usually 3 departures per day with the last heading north at around noon. The boats then return to port between 5 and 7 pm. You also need to pay a €1 Municipality of Kissamos per person fee for the privilege of visiting.
You may also want to check out Kissamos: Gateway to Crete’s Most Famous Beaches
How much does it cost to get to Balos Beach?
There is free parking at the port and tickets cost €25-30 (adults) / €10-15 (kids). Most of the Balos boat trips include 2 hours on Imeri Gramvousa and then around 3 hours on Balos Beach. You can buy food and drinks on board at comparable prices to the Balos Beach bar but keep in mind these boats can get very full and sometimes the lines for snacks can be pretty long.
There are several benefits for choosing a boat tour to Balos Beach:
A Balos Beach boat trip means you don’t need to rent a car and/or tackle the rough road to the Balos Beach parking area (more on that in #2). And the Balos Beach tour means you:
- You can see the entire Bay of Kastelli.
- You get to visit Gramvousa Island.
- You might make some new friends while waiting in line for a Cretan pie at the boat snack bar.
There are also downsides to a boat cruise, though (which you probably saw coming):
- The crowds on the boat.
- The crowds on the island when you all get off together.
- The crowds at the beach when you all get off there.
- Plus, the best views of Balos lagoon and Cape Tigani are from the top of the stairs between the beach and the parking lot. So even though you technically can avoid this climb when coming by boat you’ll probably still want to trudge up for the view.
Private Boat to Balos Beach
Of course, if you are willing to splash out for a private boat you can theoretically avoid the worst of the crowds by planning to arrive earlier or later than the main boats. There are lots of private boats that run out of Kavonisi or Chania and the quality, price and features can vary widely from very basic to extremely luxurious.
Many can be booked online or you could go down to the port in the evening when the boats have returned from Balos Beach and discuss your specific needs and negotiate a price and itinerary.
Another very unique option is to take a Balos Beach sailing tour, where you not only get to see all the same sights in a slower, quieter way, but you can even learn to the basics of sailing, if that’s something you might be into.
2. Drive to Balos Beach
Public transportation on Crete can be tedious so we highly recommend renting a car so you don’t miss out on any of the best spots. Plus, it is nice to be able to set your schedule. We have rented using Discover Cars all over the world and usually find they have the best prices. We certainly got an outstanding deal on our Crete rental.
And, while the road to Balos Beach has a fairly awful reputation (there have been reports of some rental car companies banning their cars from making this trip), we really didn’t find it that bad compared to a lot of other Cretan roads. Which, admittedly, is not saying much. But any vehicle can make the trip as long as you are careful.
Basically, everything is paved and normal until Kaliviani. Here you stop at the booth to pay your €1 per person entrance fee and it turns into a dirt road which you will need to follow for roughly 9 km.
Well, not always dirt, in some places it is mostly rocks, or old, crumbling pavement and, in a few short bursts, some actual intact pavement. Bottom line, it is pretty rough and you should go slowly, especially if you’re driving a tiny, little rental car like most visitors to Crete. And assume it will be a slow trip. It only takes one overly cautious driver to hold up the entire line.
The road runs along the outside of the ridge with amazing views of the Bay of Kissamos. It passes a pair of small churches, one right on the road and another on the steep slopes down below the road. For the most part the road is actually quite wide – plenty wide enough for two cars to pass each other, sometimes even with enough room for a small herd of goats as well.
Yes, there are usually a lot of goats on the road. In all honesty, this statement could apply to all of Crete, but still. One morning, though, on our way to the Balos Beach parking lot there was a herd of goats who literally wouldn’t move until Laynni got out of the car and chased them off, yelling nonsensically (a creative choice) and arms akimbo (an obvious choice).
Anyway, before you know it, you’ll be there. And by “there”, I mean a small, poorly designed car park that practically guarantees at least a car or two will get trapped in by other cars eventually. If you have a choice I would pick a spot close to the road and park facing out so you’re ready to roll when the time comes.
In summer the parking lot typically fills up by 10 am but after that people just start parking along the side of the road. But even if you see cars parked on the road don’t assume the lot is full – many people just come for a short visit and may have left already.
So, it is worth driving all the way in to check things out, then if you end up on the road after all, at least you’ll be facing the right direction later and won’t have to try to execute a delicate three-point turn while dozens of cars are trying to get past (and probably not interested in letting you cut in).
From the parking lot it will take most people around 20 minutes to walk down to the beach and around 30 min to come back up, although take as much time as you need, the beach isn’t going anywhere.
The rocky path descends gradually for the first half until you reach the main Balos Beach viewpoint, where you’ll definitely want to stop for some photos (and to just soak it all in, so much turquoise!). From there a rocky staircase leads you most of the way down, giving way to a soft, sandy slope just for the last hundred metres or so.
Overall, it isn’t that bad but I would still recommend wearing decent walking/hiking shoes and carrying your flip flops down in your bag. And, not surprisingly, coming back up is much more exhausting (especially if you just spent several hours drinking beer in the direct sun, for example).
In high season it is usually possible to hire a donkey to take you back up, although for various reasons (most of which have to do with the hopes and dreams of the donkeys) we would not recommend this.
There is no longer any public transport to Balos Bay but if you don’t like the idea of dealing with all of this on your own you can hire a private shuttle. Obviously, these tend to be a bit pricey but if you have a group it could be surprisingly affordable.
Agios Nikolaos to Balos Beach – 250 km / 4 hrs
Heraklion to Balos Beach – 190 km / 3.25 hrs
Preveli Beach to Balos Beach – 140 km / 2.75 hrs
Rethymno to Balos Beach – 110 km / 2 hrs
Elafonisi Beach to Balos Beach – 60 km / 2 hrs (scenic route)
Chania to Balos Beach – 50 km / 1.25 hrs
Sfinari Beach to Balos Beach – 25 km / 1 hr
Falasarna Beach to Balos Beach – 20 km / 50 min
Kissamos to Balos Beach – 15 km / 40 min
The final option is to park (or stay) in Kaliviani and hike the 9 km to the parking lot (plus the half-hour down to the beach). The scenery is fabulous but, unfortunately, there is not a dedicated trail so you will simply be walking along the road.
At least the cars are going to be driving slowly but it can still get very dusty on hot days. There are also a surprising number of small slopes that really add up when it’s all said and done.
Hiking from Kaliviani to the parking lot and back will mean 18 km of walking with 600m of total elevation gain – most people should count on 5-6 hours of walking time.
And if that doesn’t sound challenging enough for you, it is also possible to hike all the way from Falasarna following the rough (and very hilly) coastline. This epic journey is 18 km return with an exhausting 1,500m of elevation gain. Allow 7-8 hours.
Here is a Wikiloc GPS you can follow if you decide to try it:
Balos Beach Crete Map
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Balos Beach Weather and When to Go
Like most of Crete, Balos Beach enjoys a very mild climate year-round thanks to the surrounding Mediterranean Sea. Summers are warm and there is almost no rain. Most precipitation comes in the winter months, although that is still pretty minimal compared with many coastal cities.
The north coast is typically cooler than the south and also gets a bit more rain. On the bright side, Balos Greece is relatively protected and isn’t usually as windy as Elafonisi or Falasarna. If you do happen to hit a windy day, the shoreline on Cape Tigani usually offers the most sheltered areas (depending on wind direction, of course).
Crete is one of the most southerly islands in Europe and compared to most of the continent the weather remains bearable all year, with the daily average temperature on Balos Beach only dropping as far as 9 / 15 (low/high) in January. Which is why Crete is one of the best places to visit in Europe in winter.
Not surprisingly, summers get very busy, especially at the best beaches like Balos, Falasarna and Elafonisi. The ferries fill up and the sun beds get taken early in the day.
For warm weather, minimal rain and fewer people, we would recommend visiting in the shoulder seasons. June and September are practically perfect, with May and October appealing more to those who prioritize peace and quiet over hot beach weather.
As for the best time of day, like most places, Balos Beach is best either early or late in the day. First thing in the morning you can get great photos of the white sand contrasting with the blue lagoon before all the crowds roll in.
Anytime before noon you’ll miss the bulk of the tour groups and late risers, and if you stick around until after 4 or 5 you’ll see the place empty out again. Sunset is truly gorgeous, just keep in mind you’ll have to hike up (and drive out) in the dark.
Where to Eat Near Balos Lagoon
There is a basic beach bar on Balos Beach with a fairly limited selection and rather high prices. But at least you have an option for drinks and snacks. There is also a small shop next to the parking lot offering similar choices.
The boats to Balos Beach also feature a snack bar where you can grab a bite or stock up for the beach and, somewhat surprisingly, the prices are actually a bit cheaper than at the beach hut.
Most people choose to bring their own snacks and drinks to enjoy on the beach and just supplement that as needed. There are several grocery stores and mini-markets in Kissamos where you can set yourself up with some sandwiches, fruit, drinks or pastries to get you through the day.
Then, if you’re looking for a full meal or some better value drinks on your way back from the beach, there are two excellent options in Kaliviani, the closest village to Balos Beach in Chania province:
Agarathos Taverna is a simple, friendly place with a nice garden and outstanding homemade food at very good prices and is a great place to stop for a cold beer after hot beach day. And you can entertain yourselves, like we did, watching cars squeeze by the massive old tree taking up valuable road space.
Nearby Gramvousa Taverna is beautifully decorated and serves delicious local dishes (including vegetarian options) and has a pretty good view over the olive trees.
Places to Visit Near Balos Beach Chania
While Balos Beach and the surrounding area deserve your full attention for at least one full day (several if you have the time), there are also many other great destinations nearby to check out during your stay.
Also known as Kastelli, Kissamos Crete is the closest city to Balos Beach (40 minutes by car) and is a good area to base yourself for easy access to the beach and Gramvousa Peninsula. The port of Kavonisi is just a few kilometres outside of town and is the departure point for most boat trips to Gramvousa Island and Balos Beach.
There are lots of hotels and AirBnBs in Kissamos and a wide range of restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies and shops. If there is anything you can’t find in Kissamos, the major centre of Chania is just half an hour’s drive away.
Kissamos has been around for centuries as an important port – military and shipping in the past, fishing and tourism these days. It is more functional than pretty, although there is a nice little Old Town area with a pleasant square, an Archaeological Museum housed in a classic mansion and a pretty cool Venetian fountain (the atmospheric black cat we saw may or may not live there permanently).
There are several beaches around Kissamos, but probably the best Kissamos beach for beauty, shelter and facilities is Mavros Molos Beach just north of the Old Town.
Falasarna Beach (also called Falassarna Beach/Phalasarna Beach) is a long, wide beach that can handle a lot of people even though it doesn’t get quite as busy as the heavy hitters like Balos Beach or Elafonisi Beach. With a small town, lots of accommodation options and a massive beach it can be a good area to base yourself. There are even buses that run to Falasarna from Kissamos and Chania.
It is known for its amazing sunsets which you can enjoy at one of several superb seaview seafood restaurants. Falasarna also gets its fair share of wind, making it popular with wind and kite surfers.
And if you aren’t looking to spend all of your time on the beach there is the famous Archaeological Site of Ancient Falasarna right next to the beach (free entrance, closed on Mondays, hours vary by season).
Not much of it is still standing but there are still some impressive buildings and surviving walls dating back to its time as an influential port back in the 4th century BC. Watch for the Throne of Falasarna next to the road before you even reach the entrance.
If you’re looking for something a little quieter, Sfinari Beach is a perfect choice. Just a 15-minute drive south of Falasarna on a truly spectacular road along ocean cliffs, the beach is a bit rockier but there are a couple of friendly tavernas (we recommend Sunset Fish, although they are both good) and some trees for shade. In our opinion, Sfinari is worth a visit for the road trip alone.
At the beach, the colourful mountains backing the beach provide some fantastic views, especially from the top of the rocky point at the south end. It is also one of the better places for snorkelling as long as it isn’t too windy (a common issue in the area).
The tavernas also rent out rooms and there is actually a camping area at the southern end of the beach, perfect for tenters or vanlifers. If you don’t have a car there are buses from Chania and Kissamos.
Directly south of Sfinari, this adorable little beach hemmed in by tall rocky promontories on both sides can only be reached on foot, either by hiking over Cape Korakas from Sfinari or down the gorge from Kampos. Platanakia Beach is a popular nudist destination, probably because it is somewhat remote and hard to access.
The 30-minute hike from Sfinari can be tricky in spots but should be manageable for anyone comfortable with a bit of scree and steep slopes. The hike down Kampos Gorge is longer (roughly an hour one-way) but is relatively straightforward.
Almost every place in Crete goes by more than one English spelling but ancient Polyrrhenia takes the cake, also being referred to as Polyrrenia, Polirrinia, Polyrrhen, Polyrren, Polyren, Pollyrrhenia, Pollyrrenia, Polyrrenion or Polyrrhenium. Basically, if you see a sign that starts with “poly” you’re probably on the right track.
Regardless of how you spell it, the name means “many sheep”, something we can confirm still applies today. Anyway, this very important historical site is located just 8 kilometres up into the hills from Kissamos along slow, winding roads with terrific views. Buses also run up here from Kissamos if you don’t have a car.
Somewhat surprisingly, there is no entrance fee to visit this impressive fortified ancient city. Dating all the way back to the Laconians in 1,100 BC, Polyrrhenia has been occupied by Romans, Hellenes and Byzantines among other, less famous, civilizations.
Most of the buildings are down to barely recognizable ruins but some sections of the walls are reasonably intact and some of the old houses, cisterns and churches have been restored to their former glory.
But the highlight is the Byzantine fort at the very top of the hill featuring panoramic views of the entire regions which, in the past, would have allowed it to survey its domain (including the ports of Kissamos and Falasarna).
Other Gorgeous Beaches Around Crete
If you love Balos Beach, you should probably check out at least a few of the other beautiful beaches on Crete.
Rivalling Balos Beach for sheer beauty, Elafonisi Beach is tucked away in the southwestern corner of Crete about an hour from Kissamos. The narrow, pink sand isthmus separates two great beaches and shallow swimming areas, features sand dunes and leads to an island with caves, a church and phenomenal views.
Not far from the major city of Chania, Seitan Limania features a small but incredibly photogenic rocky gorge leading to a miniscule beach sheltered by tall cliffs on each side. It only gets a few hours of sun each day but is worth a visit for the view from the top alone (although we would highly recommend taking on the rugged 10-minute descent to explore more closely).
Find out how to visit at Seitan Limania: Guide to Crete’s Most Unique Beach
Another extraordinarily beautiful Crete beach, popular Preveli Beach is unique because of its lush forest of palm trees extending up a gorge from the beach. The clear, cold water of the river runs down to the ocean, forming a pretty lagoon that splits the beach in two.
Crete’s original hippie beach, lovely Matala Beach features a hillside of old caves that are well worth exploring for the beach views alone. Also quite sheltered, the swimming is great at Matala Beach, and the streets around the beach are a haven for hippie-themed paraphernalia and art.
For more details, see Matala Beach: Crete’s Original Hippie Village
Boasting some of the best sand of any beach on Crete, popular Voulisma Beach is close to the city of Agios Nikolaos and gets seriously hopping in summer. With shallow water in a protected bay and a vast array of hotels, restaurants, cafés and bars nearby, it is the best place to go for stereotypical beach fun.
Find all the details here: A Guide to Crete’s Gorgeous Voulisma Beach
Located at the far eastern end of Crete, Vai Beach has been famous since the 1970’s for its lush, impressive palm forest. The beach is somewhat sheltered, offers some nice viewpoints and there are even some ancient Minoan ruins in the area.
For more info, check out Vai Beach: Stunning Palm Forest and Ancient Ruins
Getting to Crete
Crete has airports in Chania and Heraklion that both have regular flights to and from Athens, as well as many international destinations for most of the year. For checking out flights we usually find that SkyScanner is the fastest and most accurate site.
There is also an airport in Sitia but it only handles domestic traffic from Athens and Karpathos and flights are only scheduled in high season. Plus, Sitia is about as far away from Balos Beach as you can get on Crete so it wouldn’t be the ideal choice.
Most people travel to Crete by ferry from Athens (Piraeus) or one of the other islands. Heraklion is by far the best connected port in Crete, although there are also ferry terminals in Chania and Sitia.
We can probably rule out Sitia because of the distance but taking the ferry to either Chania or Heraklion is reasonable. Athens and Milos offer ferry connections to both Chania and Heraklion in different frequencies throughout the year. Heraklion is connected to all of the above, plus the following islands:
Schedules and fares vary considerably throughout the year. In summer, the most popular routes often sell out well in advance so it is a good idea to reserve your spots as soon as you have finalized your dates.
FerryScanner has one of the best ferry networks in the world and is the most user-friendly site we’ve come across. It is the site we use to book all our own ferry trips.
Trip Planning Resources
Here is a list of the most important resources we use when planning our travels, all in one convenient spot. Full disclosure, when you use any of these links to reserve or sign up for something, we receive a small commission which is greatly appreciated. However, your price does not change and we have only included products and websites that we can honestly recommend.
- We book the majority of our hotels on Booking.com. With frequent stay discounts, thousands of reviews and free cancellation, it is very rare for us to have a bad hotel experience these days.
- Wise is by far the best international multicurrency bank account we’ve found. We can now send and receive money in half a dozen different currencies, convert to dozens more with no exchange premium and pay or withdraw local currencies. Highly recommended.
- When travelling we always get SIM cards with data for our phones. Local SIM cards are sometimes a bit cheaper but if you have a relatively new smartphone (iPhone XR or newer, Samsung S20 or newer) you can just buy an eSIM online, get a QR code by email and you’re good to go. After extensive research I have decided that KeepGo eSIMs have the best coverage and prices for most of our trips.
- If you’re interested in local guided tours, including everything from city tours to cooking lessons to adventure activities, check out the huge range of options at Get Your Guide.
- World Nomads offers some of the best global travel insurance coverage. It is especially good for frequent travellers and digital nomads but also has competitive plans for short trips.
Balos Beach Summary
Hands down one of the most photogenic beaches in Europe, a day trip to Balos Beach should be included in every Crete itinerary. Even though it isn’t the easiest beach to get to, sometimes the journey is half the fun, as they say. As rough as the drive is in parts, the views are absolutely stunning, and taking a boat trip gives you a chance to include Imeri Gramvousa. Either way, you win.
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