No one can deny the striking beauty of Crete, however, its vast size can be intimidating for its visitors who are unsure of what they should spend their time on. Follow us on a trip around the island of Crete and discover unique landscapes satisfying the taste of every traveler!
Crete is the fifth biggest island of the Mediterranean and the biggest one in Greece. It covers an area of more than 8000 km2, which means that it is approximately the size of Corsica or three times the size of Luxembourg! It has a population of over 600.000 people and it is the homeland of one of the most ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean region, the Minoans. The island of Crete stretches for more than 350 km from East to West and operates as the southernmost border of Greece and Europe between the Cretan and the Libyan Sea of Africa. Due to its sheer size, it offers a huge variety of landscapes for the traveler to explore, from snowy mountain ranges, lavish alpine forests, to palm tree forested gorges and desert-like sceneries. Let us introduce you to some of the most iconic landscapes of Crete!
Elafonisi beach - credits: Zakhar Ma/Shutterstock.com
Elafonisi, which literally translates to 'the island of the deer' in Greek, is a tiny island located at the southwest shores of Crete. Less than 100 meters away from the mainland and dependent on the tides, a narrow strip of sand connects it to Crete. On your way to Elafonisi, located some 75 km away from the city of Chania, you will pass through a protected 'Natura 2000 natural park' with cedar trees that reach the beach. Take advantage of the low tide and walk on the pink sand towards Elafonisi, otherwise, prepare to get wet! Due to its natural beauty, Elafonisi is a really popular destination that can get pretty crowded. Most of the island's south side though is covered with pinkish sand creating wonderful beaches, long enough to accommodate everyone.
Elafonisi was the set of one dramatic event during the Greek War of Independence in the 19th century. The rebelled Greeks that fought against the Ottoman Empire, found refuge on the small island along with their families, hiding and waiting for a ship to transport them to the Ionian islands which were under the protection of Britain. With the low tide, the Ottoman cavalry reached Elafonisi and slaughtered everyone before they even had a chance to escape. A small monument at the highest point of the island commemorates the event.
The Samaria Gorge
George of Samaria - credits: Panos_Karas/Depositphotos.com
The Gorge of Samaria in a protected National natural landmark and one of the most popular tourist destinations of the county of Chania. The region is dominated by high mountains the locals call the 'White Mountains' and natural springs forming small rivers that carve their way to the sea creating numerous gorges and a unique landscape. Home to the indigenous goat known as kri-kri, Samaria is the most accessible gorge to the public offering a wonderful route from Omalos plateau to the port of Agia Roumeli. The task of crossing the gorge can prove to be quite arduous, especially during the summer months. It is approximately a 16 km walk -which translates to approximately 6 to 7 hours- down the river through the mountains of south Crete. If you find the courage to attempt the crossing, prepare beforehand by checking whether the gorge is open to the public and make sure to be at the starting point as early as possible. This trip is an ideal way for you to experience Cretan nature at its finest! Reach the Gates, a point where the walls of the gorge have a width of just 4 meters before reaching the end at Agia Roumeli, where a small boat waits for you to get you to Sfakia or to a bus back to Chania.
The Balos lagoon
Balos lagoon, Crete - credits: natalyphotography/Shutterstock.com
A place of particular interest and beauty, the Balos lagoon is a must-see destination for absolutely anyone visiting Crete. Accessible by ferry from the port of Kissamos or by an off-road route and a trail for the more adventurous ones, Balos offers a memorable day-trip experience. If you choose to take the ferry, you will have the chance to see the islands of Gramvousa and the Venetian Castle at the top of Imeri Gramvousa. Enjoy the crystal clear blue and turquoise waters of the Cretan Sea and lay on the pinkish sandy beaches of Balos or explore hidden caves and small coves nearby. An ideal way to end your day at Balos is with a typical Cretan meal in one of the nearby small restaurants that offer authentic and delicious dishes of the island's deep culinary tradition. According to CNN, Balos lagoon is considered to be the 35th best beach in the world, so you'd better not forget your cameras!
Lake Kournas - credits: Aphotog/Shutterstock.com
An approximate half-hour car-ride west from the city of Rethymnon, Lake Kournas is located at the northern feet of the White Mountains. It is the only freshwater lake on the island with a perimeter of about 3.5 km. The lake is linked to many Greek myths and legends of the area. The most popular one speaks of a young maiden that pled to God to save her from rape. According to the story, this is how the lake was created and legend says that the ghost of the maiden still lingers there. The lake is also associated with the ancient city of "Korion" with a temple dedicated to goddess Athena. Nowadays, the visitor can cool himself down in the clear waters of the lake, rent a pedal boat around the lake or even walk around it -depending on the water level- and get a free fish-spa!. The biodiversity attesting in the region of the lake is impressive including numerous bird species migrating towards Africa to freshwater fish, harmless water-snakes, eels, and indigenous terrapins! A must-see visit for every nature-lover, Lake Kournas is an alternative option for you to take into consideration.
Crete is a world of its own, unique and diverse in such a way that easily satisfies every travel taste. Plan your own trip to Crete and visit some of those places or check out one of our Greece tours!