Today we are traveling to Crete with Julie DeCocker.
Crete may not be the first island people think of for a Greek destination, but maybe it should be. It has idyllic, and remote, white, sandy beaches and an incredible mountain range called the White Mountains. It was also home to one of the oldest civilizations in Europe, has great food and wonderful people.
Humans have inhabited this island for over 130,000 years. The Minoans lived here from 3,000 BC to around 1,100 BC. Their sophisticated civilization included palaces, and extensive trade routes in the area, and beautiful frescos depicting their life.
Why did you choose this location?
I once asked a Greek friend what his favorite island was. He said Crete. After that, I knew I had to explore it.
How Long Were You There?
I visited for 12 days and 11 nights in May, 2019, stopping in between visits to Portugal and Israel.
What’s The Estimated Cost of the Trip?
My costs were less than $775, or about $65 per day. This includes my flight from Faro, Portugal, all my expenses, the day trips noted below, and a few other excursions. It does not include my departing flight to Israel.
As I have been traveling for almost 4 years now, I have learned to keep costs low by staying in hostels, taking public transportation, and finding low cost flights.
Must See Attractions?
Balos Bay and Gramvousa Island – Day Trip
Crete has amazing beaches. The most beautiful ones, like this one, are remote. The remoteness only adds to the beauty as there is virtually no development on them. It does, however, make them challenging to get to. They are, definitely worth it though!
Balos Bay, or Balos Lagoon, is off the northeast corner of Crete. The land and water here, form to create an incredible bay. The water color varies from turquoise to deep blue, against the fine white, sandy beach.
The beach itself is beautiful, but to really get a perspective on this paradise, you need to hike up the donkey trail on the mountain, for a panoramic view.
Getting here can be challenging, so I recommend using Crete’s public bus service. They organize transportation here almost daily. Busses leave early in the morning and return late in the afternoon. Although it is best to use Chania as a base for getting here, you can also visit from Rethymno. Chania is closer, but still several hours to get there. The bus takes you to a port, where you catch a ferry to this destination.
The ferry stops at Gramvousa Island, where you can walk up to the ancient Venetian fort, or swim in the bay. After about two hours there, the ferry takes you to Balos Bay. It docks, allowing you several more hours to swim or explore. The bus and ferry are included in the ticket price.
Visit the main bus station in Chania or Rethymno for details.
Elafonisi Island – Day Trip
Elafonisi Island is another must-see location. This is a protected nature preserve off the southwest coast of Crete. This beach is known for its sunning beauty and pink sand.
To get to this island, you actually walk from Crete, through a shallow area on the Mediterranean. The shallow water between the two islands provides a perfect place for children, or water activities. As the water is shallow, it is also warm, making it great for visiting during shoulder season.
When visiting, make sure to walk to the ocean side of the island. Here, you can find the pink sand, and beautiful views like the ones below. It is also better to find a private area to sit for the day. If sitting on the beach is not your thing, you can spend the time exploring the coast of the nature preserve.
As above, it is best using Crete’s bus transportation to get here. Chania is also closest to this beach, but there are busses from Rethymno as well.
Hiking Samaria Gorge – Day Trip
Snow-capped mountain ranges weren’t what I was expecting to find in Crete! I was mesmerized my first day here, after seeing them glimmering above the deep blue, Aegean sea.
They are called the White Mountains. They have 36 summits over 6,500′. The tallest is over 8,000′. There are also 58 gorges, with Samaria Gorge, not only the longest in Crete, it’s also the longest in Europe!
The hike starts at 4,100′ and is 8 miles down the canyon. There is an additional 1.25 miles to the small village of Agia Roumeli, on the Libyan Sea. Hiking time ranges from 4-6 hours.
At the 7 mile mark, you walk through an impressive natural formation, a mere 13′ wide, but massive 980′ high! Carved through the centuries by the tiny river here, it is called, “The Gates”. It is an example of mother nature at her finest, and walking through this area is very humbling.
The area around the Gorge is considered sacred by locals as it also symbolizes freedom to them. Many citizens have found refuge here during some of Crete’s more violent history.
After you finish the hike, you walk to Agia Roumeli village on the coast. Here, you can have lunch, stop at a bar, or swim in the ocean until your ferry picks you up and takes you to your return bus. As above, the ticket includes both the bus and ferry.
As above, getting here is also best using Crete’s public transportation. Just visit the main station in Chania or Rethymno to learn ant the schedules and days.
Knossos Palace – Day Trip
Another great day trip is to visit the ancient Minoan Palace of Knossos. This palace was built in 1,700 BC, when Minoan civilization was at its peak.
At one time the buildings here covered 3 acres. The palace had up to 5 levels, with stairways, up to 1,300 rooms, including ceremonial rooms, baths, toilets, a theater, and a sophisticated water/drainage system.
The remains of the building, pottery and frescoes indicate just how sophisticated their civilization was. There were about 100,000 citizens living in the area surrounding the palace.
Knossos Palace is in Crete’s largest city, Heraklion. As most flights arrive/depart form Heraklion, it is best to visit at the beginning or end of your trip. As this area is not as remote as the others noted here, it is very easy to catch a bus here. Formal tours are also offered, but not required.
Chania – 3-4 days
Chania is a great base for visiting Crete. It is the closest big city to Balos, Elafonisi Island, and Samaria Gorge. The old town area of this city, near the port, is also charming in itself. It’s full of shops and restaurants, making it a great place to relax after your days trips.
Historically, this area has been ruled by the Ottomans and the Venetians, before it became Greek after the Greek War of Independence. The mix of influences from the 3 cultures, gives the city flair unlike any other.
This area was an important port for the Venetians. They built the lighthouse and the neoria, or ancient dockyards, here in the late 16th/early 17th century. If you walk out past the town to the lighthouse, you can see the beautiful White Mountains framing the city in the background.
Things to Know Before You Go
Crete is a big island, at 160 miles X 30 miles! Although it’s big, it is not necessary to rent a car for your trip. Crete has a very comprehensive and efficient bus network to see the main sites. It’s also a great way to meet other travelers if you’re doing this trip as a solo traveler.
It is also easy to get to this island if visiting other locations in Greece, like Athens, or Santorini. Both ferries and internal flights connect to these and other locations. I found the cost of a ferry to be almost the same as a flight. The ferry ride would be more beautiful, but also takes longer. It all comes down to your preference.
What Was Your Least Favorite Part of the Trip?
When initially determining what city to use as a base, I started my visit here in Plakias. It was a charming old fishing village that has grown into a popular beach area. Although I enjoyed it, bus transportation was not as consistent, so I felt somewhat isolated. If you want to see the sites noted above, I suggest Chania as a base.
What Was Your Favorite Part of the Trip?
Although I loved it all, I had two favorite day trips, Balos Bay (along with Gramvousa Island) and Hiking Samaria Gorge.
In addition, I always love seeing a location come to life by actually visiting it in person.
Make Sure You Try
As I try to keep costs low when I travel, I generally don’t usually dine at nice restaurants, but I found a restaurant I absolutely loved in Chania’s Port called, The Pallas. Along with excellent food, at a decent price, you can get a seat outside and watch the sunset at Chania Bay. Their website is www.pallaschania.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Since my childhood, I have had a love for all things French. My French ancestry is deep in my heart, and as a former French teacher, I have a passion for the regional specialties of France. I love discovering the local flavor, and I want others to explore deeper than the tourist destinations and experience something more authentic. I propose self-guided itineraries featuring the artisans in the region, as well as unique experiences, restaurants and places to stay. My videos allow artisans to showcase their passion and expertise. I also have an online boutique so we can enjoy artisanal specialties back at home.
Amities, Traci Parent