Is Elafonisi Beach Worth Visiting?

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Another beautiful beach in Crete? Do go on. Yes, I know this is not the first Cretan beach we have raved about (and it probably won’t be the last) but the amazing pink sand on Elafonisi Beach is definitely one of the best places on Crete to visit.

Elafonisi Beach (often spelled Elafonissi Beach) is especially good for families because of its shallow, protected water and the long stretches of sand dunes that allow kids to really stretch their legs (one of many things I’m told they require, along with food, water and loads of patience).

It is uniquely scenic thanks to the narrow sandbar/isthmus that connects Elafonisi Island to the mainland, creating a shallow, turquoise lagoon on one side and a slightly less shallow (but protected by rocks and still fine for kids) bay on the other. The sand itself also alternates between bright white and startling pink, a fascinating phenomenon created when small shells are crushed by the relentless lapping waves.

Turquoise water and the Elafonisi pink sand beach in Crete

The initial stretch of beach near the parking area has snack stalls, sun beds, umbrellas and various rentals, not to mention the vast majority of visitors. However, the farther you walk toward the island the fewer people you will see and the wilder the terrain gets among the protected sand dunes. Some of the more remote coves are popular with nudists, also.

Much of this section is roped off to protect the sensitive natural areas (referring to flora and fauna here, not the nudists) from the plodding feet of tourists. Unfortunately, it seems there are always a few people who see a small rope and polite “no entry” sign as yet another challenge to be conquered. Nonetheless, the vast majority are happy to follow the rules so the Elafonisi sand dunes retain their pristine beauty.

Where is Elafonisi Beach?

Chania (pronounced Han-ya) is the main city on west Crete. From Chania to Elafonisi beach you drive roughly 75 kilometres southwest (1.5 hours) through some of the most impressive hills and gorges on Crete ending up on the southwest coast.

Elafonisi Island, or Elafonisi Peninsula, depending on who you ask, sticks out into the Libyan Sea like Crete’s deformed little toe, or the price tag you forgot to remove from that brand new bathing suit. This location on the extreme southwestern point of Crete serves both to limit tourist numbers (keeping them at merely “staggering”) and provide fabulous sunsets.

Elafonisi Beach Crete

Is Elafonisi Beach Worth Visiting?

Yes, but only if you like gorgeous white sand beaches framed by clear, shallow lagoons backed by a striking island on one side and dramatic green mountains on the other. If that type of scenery isn’t really your thing, well, Elafonisi probably isn’t for you. Now, I’ll admit, there is also something to be said for old towns full of dank alleys tucked beneath crumbling fortresses, something else Crete has a lot of. But, as I always say, why not both?

Of course, Elafonissi isn’t just nice to look at. The beach is wide and soft, the water clear and warm, plus there is the island where restless types can wander till their heart’s content (or at least tired enough to sit still for a little while). The shallow water and malleable sand are perfect for kids, allowing parents to sit back and relax with a drink or two.

Even though Elafonisi Beach isn’t necessarily the most convenient beach on Crete to get to, and can get a tad busy, it definitely has enough going for it to make the trip worthwhile. If nothing else, you will want to see for yourself the beach that was once named one of Trip Advisor’s Top 25 Beaches in the World.

Elafonisi Beach Map

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Elafonisi Beach History

Not to be mistaken for Elafonissos, a small Peloponnese island, Elafonisi Crete has a fascinating history dating back to when the ancient Greeks built one temple dedicated to the Lord of Muses on the island and another to Ino, the daughter of Kadmos, on the mainland.

Much later, when it had become a common haven for pirates, it was given the name Elafonisi, meaning “Treasure Island” in Greek. To this day, there are plenty of legends about hidden treasure on the island but it is unlikely any hidden gems have survived the past decade of busy summers.

Sand dunes and sparse plants
Elafonisi sand dunes

Right next to the parking lot you’ll find a monument to the horrific massacre of over 600 Cretans (most of them women and children) by the Turks at Easter in 1824. The cave where they attempted to hide can be visited on the island. Those that weren’t killed were taken and sold as slaves.

In 1867, during the revolution against the Ottoman rulers, the famous war ship, Arkadi, was destroyed close to Elafonisi. Then, 40 years later, the Austrian ship “Imperatrix” tragically sunk after colliding with the island. 38 people died and were buried on Elafonisi, although that number would have been much higher if not for the brave efforts of many locals, the monks of the Chrysoskalitissa Monastery and the passing Russian ship, “Hivendis”.

 This led to the building of a massive lighthouse which went into use in 1920 (with 144 steps, making it even taller than me in hiking shoes). All the juniper trees on the island were cut down for use in building projects but at least there were no more shipwrecks. In a nod to their 1907 heroics, in 1924 the Russian Admiral in charge of the Hivendis, Nikolaevich Filosofof, was appointed lighthouse keeper.

Then, after the original lighthouse was destroyed by German bombs in World War II, it was replaced (eventually) with a more modern (but less atmospheric) metal one.

Up until a decade ago, Elafonisi Beach was relatively unknown and very few people made it down to this remote corner of Crete. However, these days the word is out and it can be positively swarmed in high season. Nonetheless, it offers enough space and variety to be enjoyable even in the busiest times.

People in the blue water at Elafonisi Crete beach

Elafonisi Beach Highlights

The beach is quite large and much longer than it looks at first glance, stretching about 1.5 kilometres from the parking lot to the island. While most people congregate around the wide, sandy area by the lagoon, you can continue on to find on more solitude among the dunes and coves near the island.

Pink Sand Beach

Another unique feature of Elafonisi is the colour of the sand, with billions of tiny, crushed shells combining to form one of the best pink beaches on Crete. The colour really comes alive in the sun and it can be mesmerizing to watch it come and go as the waves lap up on the shore.

Small wave and pink sand on Elafonissi Beach

Laynni practically fell into a trance, studying the miniscule shells (some of which remain intact) with an intensity and focus normally reserved for delicate surgery or an Arsenal-Tottenham derby.

Tiny shell from Elafonisi Beach Crete
One of the tiny intact shells that make up the sand

Is Elafonisi Beach Always Pink?

The pinkness is affected by the tide, wind and level of microbes in the water at any given time, although it is always most noticeable in bright sunshine. It tends to be at its best in the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky.

We also found that the colour of the pink sands stood out most when there were some waves, with the brightest pink occurring as the waves retreated back from the beach leaving the wet sand glittering in the sun.

Pink sand and blue water at Elafonisi Beach Chania

Elafonisi Lagoon

As beautiful as the beach, dunes and island are, many people come specifically to enjoy swimming in Elafonisi Lagoon. Protected by the island and a series of rocky reefs, the stunning turquoise water of the lagoon is calm, warm and crystal clear.

Two kids playing in the Elafonisi Lagoon

While it is a particularly fun and safe place for kids to play, plenty of adults also enjoy relaxing in the shallow water. There are few things better than sitting in Elafonisi Lagoon submerged up to your neck while the sweltering heat of Cretan summer bakes the beach. Maybe wear a hat.

Elafonisi Island

As busy as the main part of Elafonisi Beach gets, Elafonisi Island and the sand bar leading out to it are part of a Natura 2000 protected area so they retain more of their original beauty and charm. At the west end of the beach and lagoon you reach an expansive area of sand dunes, rugged rock formations and tiny coves. Continuing on you’ll soon reach Elafonisi Island (it’s pretty hard to miss), where you can check out a cave (the site of the 19th century Easter massacre), Agia Irini (Saint Irene) Church, Elafonisi Lighthouse, a memorial to lost lives and a photogenic cross.

A cross on rocks overlooking a beach

The views back to the beach from Elafonisi Island give a shockingly different perspective on the beach. While the best big picture views of the beach are from the small road coming down the hill, showing a beach paradise, looking back from the island you see something that more resembles a coastal desert landscape.

Can You Walk to Elafonisi Island?

It takes roughly 45 minutes to walk from the Elafonisi Beach parking lot to the top of the island (at a very relaxed pace, Elafonisi’s default speed). During particularly high tides you may need to wade across a small amount of water but sometimes it can be done without even getting your feet wet.

Sandy path between sand dunes
Path to the beach on Elafonisi island

The walk is essentially flat until you reach the bottom of the island where you will start climbing up the soft sand path. We would recommend visiting the cave first, then working your way across and up to the Elafonisi Lighthouse and Chapel of Agia Irini. After that you can wander the summit of the island, enjoying panoramic views from a variety of angles and locations.

Elafonisi Lighthouse

You don’t have to be a nautical expert to recognize that the waters around Elafonisi Island are a dangerous place for passing ships. After the massive tragedy of 1907, the lighthouse was built to protect against any future disasters.

Unfortunately, the original lighthouse was destroyed by the Germans in World War II and its spare, metal replacement lacks the classic charm of the original. However, it is still worth a look as the views from the Elafonisi Lighthouse are outstanding.

Androcymbium Rechingeri

Elafonisi has been classified as a protected Natura 2000 area, in part because of the many unique and endemic plants found among the sand dunes including Marram grass, junipers and picturesque sea daffodils. The island alone is the habitat for over 100 different species of plant, including the very rare Androcymbium rechingeri, a delicate white flower found only in a small number of specific regions in western Crete.

Plant growing on rock
Elafonisi plant life

Please stay outside the protective ropes to avoid damaging any of the many unique plants. The removal of any plants, shells or sand is also prohibited.

Sea Turtles on Elafonisi

Another reason Elafonisi was designated as a nature park besides the rare plants is its status as a loggerhead sea turtle nesting area. Each year these sea turtles – stunningly graceful in the water, comically clumsy on land – visit Elafonisi each year to lay their eggs.

In the summer, these areas will be roped off to protect the proud parents and their sandy nests from human disturbance. Please respect these restrictions at all times and always stay well back of any sea turtles (pregnant, post-natal, infant or otherwise).

Snorkelling at Elafonisi Beach

With calm, clear water and myriad rocky areas to explore, Elafonisi Beach is a great place for snorkelling. Avid snorkellers will love the many different fish and types of marine life among the fascinating rocks and tide pools of the ocean side. Other are content with a relaxing float around the sandy lagoon.

You can either bring your own snorkelling gear or pick some up at the shop near the parking lot.

People in the blue water at Elafonisi Crete beach

Kite Surfing at Elafonisi Beach

With strong winds being fairly common, Elafonisi is a great place for kite surfing. Experts flock to the area when conditions are right but there are many good places for beginners as well. Elafonisi Kite Club offers rentals and lessons for those looking to add a little adrenalin boost to their beach day.

Scuba Diving the Shipwreck of the Imperatrix

The Imperatrix, which famously sank off Elafonisi Island in 1907, still lies at the bottom of the sea and is accessible by scuba divers. Snorkellers can only get a glimpse of this former Austrian steam ship but divers can get much closer to some of the fascinating remains.

You can check in with Nireas Adventures in Paleochora to find out if they have any dives heading to the Imperatrix during your stay.

Elafonisi Beach Facilities

Despite its remote location, Elafonisi Beach has all the facilities necessary to enjoy a day at the beach. Lifeguards, showers, pay toilets (€0.50), change rooms and two separate snack/drink bars. There are also several good restaurants just up the road above the parking area.

Beach bar with drinks

You can rent a pair of sun beds and an umbrella for €8 per day, although they are often all taken by 10 or 11 am in mid-summer.

Plus, there is a brilliant shop next to the parking area selling basically everything you could ever dream of needing at the beach. Snorkelling gear, floaties, towels, bathing suits, souvenirs and much more.

Store selling things you would need at a beach

How to Get to Elafonisi Beach Crete

There are essentially four ways to get to Elafonisi Beach:

1.      Drive to Elafonisi Beach

The simplest way to get to Elafonisi Beach (or anywhere on Crete, for that matter) is to rent a car and drive yourself. Just watch for goats (something that also applies everywhere on Crete). There is a large, unorganized and somewhat confusing parking area at Elafonisi.

Parking lot with two cars

I would recommend just obeying the sign we saw in a small village between Paleochora and Elafonisi – “Welcome to Crete, park anywhere”.

Heraklion or Chania to Elafonisi

Chania is the closest major city to Elafonisi. It is roughly 75 km away and it will take about 1.5 hours to drive to Elafonisi Beach from Chania. The road is often slow and winding but the scenery is fantastic, especially around the little village of Elos and passing through Topolia Gorge. The route to Elafonisi Beach from Heraklion another 1.75 hours to the trip.

Kissamos to Elafonisi

Kissamos is a small city in the northwest corner of Crete that serves as the main transport hub for visits to Balos Beach and Falasarna Beach. It is only about an hour’s drive from Kissamos to Elafonisi by the most direct route, although we would recommend taking the scenic coastal route in at least one direction.

That road passes Sfinari Beach and the village of Kampos and is one of the most exceptionally scenic stretches of road on an island full of them. Going this way will take about an extra half-hour but is well worth it for the views.

Paleochora to Elafonisi Beach

It is also easy to visit Elafonisi from the vibrant beach town of Paleochora. The easiest route takes you up into the hills before joining up with the main road from Kissamos and Chania, taking roughly 75 minutes. There is a more direct coastal route but you will need a 4×4 to navigate the rough, rocky sections.

Chrysoskalitissa to Elafonisi Beach

If you want to spend multiple days enjoying Elafonisi Lagoon and the surrounding area, the pretty little village of Chrisoskalitissa is a good place to base yourself. There are several places to stay and it is just 5 minutes away by car (or 1.5 hours on foot).

2.      Guided Tours to Elafonisi Beach

There are many tour companies that run a guided tour day trip to Elafonisi Beach from Kissamos, Chania and even Rethymno and Heraklion, although coming from those farther destinations will make for a very long day. Most of them will pick you up directly from your hotel.

3.      Bus to Elafonisi Beach

In high season the Elafonissi Express Bus goes from Chania to Elafonisi (stopping in Kissamos) every Tuesday and Saturday, leaving around 9 am and returning at 4 in the afternoon. You get around 5 hours at the beach and it costs €26 per person (return) and half that for children 12 and under (kids under 4 free). It is best to book seats in advance as they tend to fill up.

There are also a few public buses that make it down to Elafonisi Beach between May and November. You’ll need to check the KTEL bus website for up-to-date schedules.

4.      Boat to Elafonisi Beach

One of the most exotic and comfortable ways to get to Elafonisi Beach is by boat trip along the incredible south coast of Crete. In high season, there are daily boats that travel between Paleochora and Elafonisi. Boats usually leave around 10 am and return around 4 pm.

The trip offers unbelievable views of the wild coast, takes about an hour and keeps you off those winding Cretan roads (a big bonus if you’re more prone to carsickness than seasickness, but no help at all if it’s the other way around).

Unfortunately, boats don’t go to Elafonisi from the northern centres of Kissamos or Chania so this will only work if you’re based on Paleochora (which is a good idea in itself, at least for a few days). And the trips are often cancelled if the weather takes a nasty turn, although they will usually be able to let you know the night before.

When to Visit Elafonisi Beach in Crete

Like most of Crete, Elafonisi enjoys a very mild climate year-round thanks to the surrounding Mediterranean Sea. are warm (some would say hot) with almost no rain. Most precipitation comes in the winter months, although that is still pretty minimal compared with many coastal cities.

The south coast is typically warmer than the north and also gets less rain. It does, however, get its share of wind.

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 in Elafonisi 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.

Rock with plants growing on it
Still warm even in the winter

Not surprisingly, summers get very busy, especially on popular beaches like Elafonisi. For warm weather, minimal rain and fewer people taking up the sun beds, we would recommend visiting in the shoulder seasons.

When it comes to Elafonisi weather, June and September are practically perfect, with May and October appealing more to those who prioritize peace and quiet over hot beach weather.

The best time to visit Elafonisi beach really just depends on your priorities.

Toward the end of August and into September be sure to head over to the island to see the Sea Daffodils in blossom. And if you happen to arrive in the off-season of December or January you will have the chance to see the extremely rare white Adrocymbium Rechingeri flowers in bloom, endemic to western Crete and found mainly in the sandy areas on the top of the island.

Tips for Visiting Elafonissi Crete

  • Park close to the exit of the parking area and walk the extra few hundred metres. It will be well worth it when everyone is trying to get out later.
  • Protruding into the ocean as it does, Elafonisi is often exposed to strong winds. While the water is mostly protected enough to keep the waves down, extreme winds will mean flying sand and escaping umbrellas. If possible, try to visit on a calm day (unless you’re into kite surfing, in which case, let it fly, baby).
  • On busy summer days, most people with cars arrive between 10 and 11, with the tour groups and boat trips showing up soon after. We would recommend coming early in the morning while Elafonisi Beach is still quiet, then spending the hottest part of the afternoon exploring the sights and villages of the cooler, quieter highlands.
  • Or arrive late in the afternoon when the crowds have already had enough and are packing up, then stick around and hope for one of the classic Elafonisi sunsets.
  • Umbrellas are not allowed on the island because of the sensitive ecosystem so if you want shade, make sure you arrive early enough to get one of the umbrellas on the main beach.
Lounger and straw umbrella at Elafonisi Beach in Crete

Where to Stay: Elafonisi Hotels

To truly enjoy the beach we would recommend staying nearby so you can experience it before and after the crowds.

If you want to rent a villa, check out the Elafonisi Villa Above the Beach. It has two bedrooms, a kitchen and terrace with amazing sea views as well as spectacular views from the massive windows. It also has a bbq, A/C, a cozy fire place and even a washing machine. Plus, the beach is within walking distance.

Click here to see prices for Elfonisi Villa Above the Beach

Another good choice is Lafo Rooms, about 800 metres away from the beach where the rooms all have balconies, a fridge and kettle. It is close to the local tavernas as well.

Click here to see prices for Lafo Rooms

A great choice is the Elafonisi Resort by Kalomirakis Family in the Elafonisi village. The units all have terraces with views overlooking the olive groves or the ocean, yet they all feel very private and quiet. We didn’t stay there but we had lunch there, liked the look of the place and asked for a tour of the resort. Safe to say, we are now thinking about staying there next time.

Terrace and deck furnature at a Elafonisi hotel
Private decks at an Elafonisi hotel – Elafonisi Resort by Kalomirakis Family

Camping on Elafonisi Beach

Elafonisi is protected as a Natura 2000 area as well as a Micro-Reserve for the protection and study of Androcymbium rechingeri, so camping is not allowed, neither officially or unofficially.

Technically, camping is never allowed in Greece outside of designated campgrounds but usually you can get away with it if you don’t use a tent and don’t bother anybody. But the unique natural aspects of Elafonisi mean they enforce the rules much more strictly. I wouldn’t try it.

Where to eat: Elafonisi Restaurants

There are two small snack shops and a beach bar right on the beach where you can get something to hold you over. Or there are several good tavernas just up the hill.

We would particularly recommend Taverna Kalomirakis, a friendly, family-owned restaurant a short drive from the beach. They serve traditional Greek food and Laynni highly recommends the Cretan salad. If it’s too hot for eating on the terrace you can still enjoy great views from the covered dining area.

Cretan salad piled high
The Cretan salad

Things to do Near Elafonisi Crete

Aspri Limni Beach

Cute little Aspri Limni (White Lake) Beach between Elafonisi and Chrysoskalitisa Monastery is a good place to take small children as it nearly entirely enclosed (hence the name). The water is very shallow (often too shallow for swimming) and there tends to be fewer people here than at the main beach.

Chrysoskalitisa Monastery

Just 5 kilometres north of Elafonisi Beach, you’ll find the magnificent Chrysoskalitisa Monastery, the perfect stop on your way to or from the beach. Enjoying a commanding position on a rocky cliff overlooking the sea, the views both from – and of – the monastery are superb.

The Chrysoskalitisa Monastery on a hill

In all honesty, it impressed us more in photos than up close, although there are both icon and folklore museums on site. Plus, legend claims that the last step of the staircase up to the monastery is made of gold. The catch is that this special step can only be seen by true believers. At least I didn’t trip on it, so there’s that.

Stomio Beach

Wild and rocky, Stomio is a great choice if you want to get away from the crowds. Or if you’re just looking for a quick stop, drive up to the small church at the north end for nice photos back toward the bay.

White church with blue door near Aspri Limni Beach

Kedrodasos beach

Another quiet option is Kedrodasos Beach, roughly 20 minutes east on foot from the Elafonisi parking area. Backed by a shaded juniper forest and featuring soft sand, photogenic outcroppings and the usual clear water, Kedrodasos is a wonderful choice, especially if you’re spending multiple days in the Elafonisi area.  The path can be hard to find at first but if you just stick close to the shore you’ll run into it eventually.

Sfinari Beach

If you’re looking for something a little quieter, Sfinari Beach is a perfect choice. Just 38 kilometres north of Elafonisi on a truly spectacular road along ocean cliffs – the drive will probably take close to an hour. The beach is a bit rockier than others in the area 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.

View from the road between Falasarna Beach and Sfinari Beach
Views along the drive to Sfinari beach

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).

Clear blue water at Sfinari Beach Crete

The tavernas also rent out rooms and there is 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.

Bottle of beer on table at Sfinari Beach

Platanakia Beach

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 also a popular nudist destination, probably because it is somewhat remote and hard to access.

Small beach hemmed in by cliffs at Platanakia Beach

The 30-minute hike from Sfinari can be tricky in spots but should be manageable for anyone comfortable with steep slopes and a bit of scree (wear good shoes). The hike down Kampos Gorge is longer (roughly an hour one-way) but is relatively straightforward.

Other Unique and Famous Crete Beaches

If you love Elafonisi Beach, you should probably check out at these other beautiful beaches on Crete.

Balos Beach

Around 2 hours straight north of Elafonisi (although just 55 km) you’ll find Balos Beach, the most beautiful beach on Crete (in our considered opinion). Here is our Guide to Balos Beach with everything you need to know for your visit. Tucked away in the extreme northwest corner of the island, Balos Beach can only be reached via rough dirt road or on a boat tour.

Man looking down at Balos Beach from viewpoint

Still, it is well worth the journey for the spectacular viewpoints and warm, shallow Balos Lagoon. Balos Beach is another option if you are looking for a pink beach in Crete.

Seitan Limani

Not far from the major city of Chania, Seitan Limani features a small but incredibly photogenic rocky gorge leading to a miniscule beach sheltered by tall cliffs on each side.

Small beach at Seitan Limani Crete
Seitan Lemani Beach

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 walking path down to explore more closely).

Preveli 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.

Preveli Beach with palm trees and a river in Crete
Preveli Beach

The clear, cold water of the river runs down to the ocean, forming a pretty lagoon that splits the beach in two.

Elafonisi Beach Summary

Looking like a classic postcard, Elafonisi Beach is nonetheless more than just a pretty photo op. With clear, shallow water, protected natural areas, wild sand dunes and soft sand, it is a terrific place to spend a day (or three) Oh, and did we mention that sometimes the sand is pink? Yeah, you don’t see that everyday.

Throw in the opportunity for a bit of hiking, some rather brutal history and a pretty nearby mosque and you start to see why Elafonisi Beach is one of the top destinations on Crete.

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