Ancient ruins, rugged mountains, divine cuisine, hospitable people, glorious beaches ... if that sounds like your idea of heaven, welcome to Crete. Boasting a 650-mile-long coastline, it's the perfect destination for anyone who likes their vacations to come with a hearty dose of sun, sea, and sand. And as for choice... well, you're spoilt for it. From pink sand beaches to eerie sand dunes, pebbled coves to sweeping bays, there's quite literally a beach for everyone and for everyone a beach. But with choice, comes a problem. Vacations come with a time limit. Unless you've figured out how to teleport, you're not going to be able to pack all of Crete's beaches into just one trip. So, how do you decide which ones can be missed and which one's really shouldn't? Not to toot our own horn, but following our traveler's guide to the best beaches in Crete is probably a good place to start.
There's a reason Crete's beaches are often voted among the best in Europe - a reason that becomes crystal clear the moment you set foot on Elafonisi. Hidden away in a remote part of the island's south-western corner, this magical lagoon has everything: warm, aquamarine waters shallow enough for bathing, swirls of candy floss pink sands littered with shells, and plenty of privacy in the surrounding coves and dunes. Although it can get a little busy on the weekends in peak season, visit during the week if you prefer a bit of peace and quiet.
Travelandleisure.com recommends you make time for a visit to Mátala Beach during your Cretan adventures. As do we. Once a favorite hippie hangout, today, Mátala is THE place to go for honeymooners and couples. Stunning though it is during the day, the beach really hits its stride at dusk. One glance at the gorgeously romantic caves with their strings of illumination will tell you why.
As cntraveller.com writes, the greenhouses that litter the short, winding road down to Falassarna and that block any hint of sea view don't exactly inspire much hope. But as soon as you set eyes on the huge sweep of beach at the bottom, all your negative thoughts will vanish in an instant. As wide as it's broad, this is a beach that can pack in the tourists but still seem blissfully empty. The superbly clear waters can get a little too choppy for kids, but for windsurfers, the rolling waves are perfect. Visit at dusk for the most glorious sunset you can imagine.
Visit Vai Beach and you could be excused for thinking you'd suddenly been transported to St. Lucia. Studded with hundreds of palm beaches and delivering up the perfect package of sun-blushed sands, glossy aquamarine waves, and endless ocean views, there's something distinctly Caribbean about the vibe. Although summer can get a little crowded, early spring and late autumn are blissfully serene and still plenty warm enough for a dip in the ocean.
First up, Balos Bay gets crowded. Really, really crowded. Visit at midday on the weekend in peak season, and you'll spend most of your time jostling for elbow space. But the crowds go there for a reason - namely, it's spectacular. Set in the Chania region of Crete on the island's northwest corner, Balos is a gorgeously exotic lagoon that delivers everything you'd expect of one of Greece's best beaches - emerald waters, soft white sands, and sweeping views - in spades. The waves are gentle and shallow enough for families. Bear in mind that facilities are limited in the area, so be sure to pack your own supplies. Getting there can be challenging - it's accessible either by sea or a slightly rugged, off-road drive - but's it more than worth the effort. If you want to avoid the crowds, take the advice of dreamsinheels.com and visit in early spring or late autumn.
If you like your beaches small, intimate, and set well off the beaten track, then may we introduce you to your new favorite place - Stefanou Beach. Tiny, largely unknown, and slightly challenging to access (actually, forget 'slightly', the almost vertical climb down is liable to make even the most intrepid explorer's heart skip a beat), it's not even on the radar for most of the island's tourists. And let's hope it stays that way. Set against a backdrop of steep cliffs and consisting of a small, mixed sand and pebble beach and a narrow slice of electric blue water, Stefanou isn't somewhere you're likely to forget in a hurry. It also happens to be the perfect place to while away a day doing nothing more than sipping something cold and turning the pages of your holiday blockbuster.
If you like a beach with a view, the stunning panoramas of ancient Minoan ruins that make up the backdrop to Kommos will go down a treat. But it's not just the views that make Kommos so noteworthy. Brave the white-knuckle drive down the steep, curving road that leads to the bay and you'll be confronted with a swathe of pure white sand, shimmering blue waves, and all the ingredients for a perfect day at the beach. The waves are a little rough for young kids, but the stuff of dreams for surfers. Amenities are limited on the north side of the beach but wander over to the south side and you'll find a few places offering sunbeds and umbrellas for hire, along with a scattering of Taverna's that offer snacks, drinks, and the perfect venue for a sunset cocktail.
Picture perfect Preveli is nestled at the junction between the Megalopotamos river and the Libyan Sea. With its banks of palm trees, dense vegetation, and rugged cliffs, there's something strangely desert island-esque about the backdrop. The beach itself, on the other hand, is textbook. Expect crystal clear waters, gentle waves, and pure white sands. The trek down is a bit 'challenging' (the trek back up even more so), but if you're prepared to put in the leg work, you'll reap the rewards. Before you leave the area, don't miss a quick visit to the dramatic Preveli Monastery- again, you'll need to put your thighs to work on the steep climb up, but the view from the top is worth the effort. As the beach is quite remote, be sure to pack anything you might need for the day before you come.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn