Regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world by TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards in 2017, Elafonisi Beach seems to be a logical destination, even though it takes 3 hours by a car from Heraklion city. One Of the reasons why we decided that it is worth to spend 6 hours in the car is that the road which leads Elafonisi beach goes through a mountainous area near a shore and connects three biggest cities in Crete: Heraklion, Rethymno, and Chania.
And we were right, the first part of the trip was really exceptional, full of ridges, flowers and close to the sea. The quality of road itself is amazing as it probably the most important road in the island. Though we were still fast to hit one of those Cretan caravans. The funny thing about the cars in Crete is that a lot of them are white and our guess is that white cars are the ones rented to tourists. Not only that they are white, they are also low fuel eating vacuum cleaners. We had a car like this and it was quite funny to try to make your way through the other tourists.
A small cozy city by the sea – Rethymno, provides you with many picturesque views. You can find a long sandy coastline full of umbrellas and sea sunbeds, it goes up to the Venetian Harbour where you can find an old lighthouse and further down the road – Rethymno Fortress from where you can observe the coastline and the city. Rethymno narrow small streets are filled by various shops, restaurants, and people. The city is a nice place to stop if are you on your way from Heraklion to Chania as it the midpoint between the two cities.
All hats down to this beautiful pearl city Chana, my heart is broken that I had so little time to explore its amazing streets, which somehow just feels like I could live here. Venetian Old Harbour with surrounding picturesque colorful houses is definitely the place not to miss. Not even to mention a Venetian lighthouse built on the entrance to the harbor. You can walk to it on a pier which you should do as it brings the best views anyway. An amazing Old Town of Chana and giant mountains above it which seem to reach the sky.
I could only wonder how my trip would be different if I stayed in this jewel instead of Heraklion. Just one more reason to get back to this diverse beautiful Greek island.
West Coast of Crete
This is the place where you can find the most beautiful beaches in Crete, though they are not as easily accessible as you might want, in my opinion, it is well worth to travel here even from Heraklion like we did, just don’t expect to see all of it in one day as you’ll probably spend most of the day on the road.
Getting to Balos beach
One of the most photographed places in Crete – Balos Beach, was left out of our radar as the only roadway there is an off-road. And our small white vacuum cleaner didn’t have insurance for it as any other similar rented car. From what I read, people are still risking the journey and probably for obvious reasons, but we had time only for one beach and we chose Elafonisi as it was accessible through ‘normal’ roads.
Alternative ways to reach Balos Beach is to hike 12km one way from Trachilos village, where the asphalt road ends, or get there on a day trip with a boat from Kissamos port, where you can get with a public bus from Chania. You can also pay your way there to a taxi driver, no buses go there.
Getting to Elafonisi beach
There are two main roads to Elafonisi beach if you drive from the north. One is longer and follows the western coast of the island, full of picturesque panoramas and even a possibility to visit Chrisoskalitissis Monastery at the south-west of the island, really close to Elafonisi beach itself.
Still, we chose the second option, mainly because it is shorter, and we wanted to spend more time on the beach, but also it goes through a beautiful traditional Crete village Topolia and a wonder of nature nearby – Topolia Gorge. Even though the road is quite narrow, there are quite a few places on the road where you can stop to enjoy the spectacular views of the gorge and even buy some goods, mainly olive oil, sold by the locals who live in these mountainous areas and cultivate the lands.
To Elafonisi beach through Topolia
The road starts as a normal road in Crete and slowly climbs the mountains, with time the road gets narrower and the turns gets deeper until it turns into full 180 serpentines. From our perspective people doesn’t seem to use a signal before a serpentine-type turn here, but nobody drove as crazy in these areas, so we haven’t experienced any dangerous situations linked to other drivers.
Talking about danger, this path has other problems. The road is exceptionally beautiful as it goes through picturesque Topolia gorge, but it has its downsides – falling rocks. Though you drive almost all the time below a net, at some parts it seems to be broken. You never know when a big one is coming, so it doesn’t feel as safe as it could be. And in our case – we drove in the rain, so it only increases the probability of debris falling from the mountain above you.
Somehow, we didn’t expect that, so our ‘touristy’ travel suddenly turned into an adventurous journey. And as we drove deeper and higher the rain got stronger and stronger parallel to the views, which got more beautiful with every meter.
There is even a tunnel near a deep slope of the ridge which let us forget that we are here to explore beaches and rather obsessed us with mountaineer moods.
The climax of this part of the journey was when a really heavy rain struck us (the strength of it shifted really fast), visibility was really low when we saw a sign that the road is closed. First, we didn’t believe it, but soon we hit a road blocked by the road-workers’ big trucks and a man waving and pointing us to turn around. Sadly, he didn’t speak English, so we never will know if the road was closed due to road repair works or was it closed due to some accident, or even debris avalanche.
At that moment we thought that this day might be a complete failure, as our plan B was to go to Balos beach, which we couldn’t reach with our white vacuum cleaner and there was close to no time to make it to Elafonisi beach through another road. We just drove in silence back to Kisammos while I tried to find a way not to waste our last day.
The arithmetic was simple, we can’t get to Balos beach with this car and we had no time for 12 km hike back and forth. We can risk the road by the coast toward Elafonisi beach, but from reviews, it seemed like this one was supposed to be even more dangerous.
Luckily, our opinions were the same, after such an interesting drive it would be insane to still make it to the beach and even if the road is dangerous, the moment we would get to that beach will be worth remembering for quite some time to come.
To Elafonisi beach by the coast
From what we read the whole road in the year 2018 is covered with an asphalt, so technically we can go there with our white rented car. The problem was that a lot of reviews online wrote that this road will keep you on the edge of both your nerves and mountain slope. The upside is that the road is incredibly beautiful and you‘ll remember it for the rest of your life. I can agree with both statements without a second‘s doubt.
As I mentioned road from time to time goes by a slope and there is no protection net above you to stop rolling stones as well. Which is present, because we saw a lot of stones pulled to the side of the road and some of smaller ones still hanging on the road. The other encouragement is that the road is so narrow that it seems to be one way, you need to really slow down to bypass cars from an opposite direction. And even that is not it, at places, there are no road borders protecting you from rolling down from the edge of a cliff.
Oh, and did I mention goats roaming on the road?
Not to mention that those roads which are dangerous look picturesque as you can direct your camera at any angle and it will look nice, the magnificence of nature reveals itself at the highest level here.
The road starts and ends near the coast, but it goes up to the mountains and then descends at the moments it feels like you are a God on the top of Olympus mountain. You are relatively high, but there are no obstacles, as you are on a high cliff, the panorama you see is endless. As the land goes down to the sea, the sea itself goes to the vastness until it reaches the horizon. It is the place to invite your flat-earthers friends to question the roundness of the Earth again.
The fauna is way richer when you go up to the mountains when it is in lower parts of islands at this part of the year as well. And it changes so quickly that it feels like you are traveling in a totally different place.
The adrenaline of extreme driving conditions and the majestic beauty of miraculous nature surrounding you was well worth the whole trip alone, but we were yet to arrive to Elafonisi beach.
You can park quite close to the beach, but the road is not the best, so if you are in your white vacuum cleaner or generally don’t want to torture your city car, I suggest leaving your car as soon as you reach the hotel nearby the beach.
As you descend the road and get a first glimpse of the beach the first thought is not appreciating the beach, but questioning how the fcuk all the people got here. Like you can found anywhere on the internet Elafonisi beach is pretty crowded with people. The opposite side of that is that the beach is watched by lifeguards, so it is probably a safe place to bring your kids, though if I were you I would research about the fauna round here first.
Most people and all sunbeds are around beach junction to a nearby sand island. You can cross to it without getting your items wet as the depth is only around one meter. The island itself is protected and there is only one path open to the public, it is done to preserve the rare flora of the island.
You can also see some rock formation staring out of the water around the beach and the island, all of this makes it pretty interesting enough, but let’s go to the most impressive things.
First things first, probably everyone wants to go to this beach due to its blue waters and purple beaches. There are plenty of pictures online of people hanging out in a purple beach surrounded by a marine color lagoon. The latter is true, but, sadly, Elafonisi beach is not as purple as you’d expect. This might be a wrong season for it (early summer), but I was explained that tourists simply collect the colored sand and it looks more or less normal. Nevertheless near the passage between the island and the beach you can still find some patches of purple sand which still looks nice, just not as majestic.
One of the more interesting features of Elafonisi beach for me was a relatively large area of a very shallow water to the north of the passage. You can see plenty of people just sleeping or catching a sun and producing some vitamin D straight from the water. Amazing place for kids to play without any possibility of drowning as well.
The beach could seem mediocre, but the crown jewel appears in front of you when you actually turn around. The panorama leads to the inner island covered by giant mountains. Without any obstacle, you can enjoy the view of a mountain range at its full height and even while enjoying a hot summer day, observe clouds moving around mountains’ peaks.
This view gives you a sense of how microclimate is forming. A moving air or simply a wind clashes into mountains and is forced to ascend to the top of it to overcome the obstacle. The higher it goes the colder the air gets, after a certain point it can no longer hold its water in a gas state, it stars to condense into liquid water, forming clouds, which caused the rain we were in before coming to this beach. As soon as cloud overcomes the mountain the temperature starts to drop, and the clouds disperse.
All you need to do is to lay down in shallow waters, grab a cold drink, enjoy the sun and observe this dramatic scenery. You cannot fall in love with the diversity of Crete island after experiencing such a majestic nature.
The road back
As it should be expected, when you know what is waiting for you, it is not as adrenaline rushing as it was before. The road back to Heraklion, as relatively smooth and without any major fears or accidents. Thought it provided us with a few last miracles of an already miraculous day.
First, when the Sun is low, Crete seems to shine, and everything paints in rich colors, even dry fauna seems to get alive.
Second, the sunset itself on north and west coasts is simply amazing. We had to stop everywhere we could to try making more and more good shots.
And also, more goats on the road.
To sum up everything we saw, I would highly recommend visiting Crete, you can find everything from parties to an amazing nature, great food, very friendly people, as rich history as it gets, great architecture and vast amount of resorts.
For great beach parties go to Malia or Hersonissos, for Crete’s rich history go to Heraklion, and for overall good vibes and majestic nature go to Chania.
Visit once, visit it twice or as many times as you want, I guarantee you, you’ll feel welcomed here.
This article is a second part of the series 'Exploring Crete'.
Author: Mantas Ališauskas
Photography: Mantas Ališauskas
Design: Mantas Ališauskas