Santorini may have been perhaps the most visually stunning location I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing; however, Crete is an equally appealing destination, due in large part to its beaches. Within the western part of Crete, there are a number of beautiful beaches that are among Greece’s most highly rated.
Our favorite beach in Crete was Elafonissi. (Don’t just take our word for it – Elafonissi was rated the #1 beach in all of Greece by TripAdvisor!) Getting there is a bit of a drive – it’s about 1.5 hours (72 km driving) from Chania, and the road is filled with twists and turns up and down the Gorge of Topolia (which can be enjoyable if you’re a cautious and adventurous driver). You will pass through the picturesque mountain villages of Topolia, Elos, Myli, Kefali, Vathi, and Koutsomatados. If possible, allow some time to enjoy the views along the way. Better yet, stop in one of the local towns for a bite at one of the roadside tavernas.
Stop for a bite at a family-run taverna in one of the small towns along the roadway
Once you get to Elafonissi, find a parking spot. There should be plenty of space in the large parking lot, even in the summer months. We preferred parking our little roller-skate of a car under one of Crete’s finest trees.
A goat accompanies us into the beach parking lot
Elafonissi is actually a tiny island just off the coast of southwestern Crete. The water between Elafonissi and mainland Crete is so shallow, however, that you can easily walk from the parking lot to the small island. There is ample parking and a taverna by the parking lot, where you can get fresh-caught fish and a cold Alfa.
Enjoying the view from the taverna at the beach, with the tiny island of Elafonisi in the background
Once you get to the beach, there is plenty of room for all. Near the entrance to the beach (still on mainland Crete), you will notice that it is a little more crowded. You can rent a lounge chair and umbrella for a few euro. It is recommended, however, to venture a bit further onto the beach and wade through the knee-high water to the island of Elafonissi. There, you will find some more space to call your own for the day. As far as the beach, it has a soft sand cover and a peaceful, Caribbean feeling to it.
The small island in the distance
The pictures speak for themselves; Elafonissi is stunning. While the water is too calm for watersports, it is perfect for relaxing and swimming. And there’s no need to go to the spa to get the dead skin scrubbed off your feet; you can just lay in the water and wait for the “doctor fish” to come up and nibble on your skin! It costs 30 euro at a proper spa (if nibbling fish are your thing).
History lovers will also love Elafonissi. If you walk up to a high point on the tiny island, you will notice a plaque that commemorates a tragedy that happened on Elafonissi during the Greek War for Independence. While the Greeks were fighting for liberation from the Ottoman Empire in 1824, forty armed men gathered on the island with women and children to wait for a ship to rescue them. Unfortunately for them, the Ottoman soldiers were able to wade across the shallow water to the island, where the Greeks were either killed or sold into slavery. Additionally, there is a large wooden cross on the island commemorating the 1907 shipwreck of the Austrian ship Imperatrix, which resulted in the loss of 38 lives. The remains of the ship still lie right off the coast and are easily accessible by scuba enthusiasts.
After you enjoy the serenity of Elafonissi, don’t forget to stop at the taverna at the entrance to the beach to enjoy some fresh-caught fish.
Next time, we’ll take you to the impressive Falassarna Beach.