I am a huge fan of reading other people's travel journals. Although I like to go out and explore by myself, sometimes I travel with a time constraint and I have to google things like “how to visit Indonesia in a month” or, like I did this time, “itinerary to visit Crete in three weeks”. And from time to time, I also write them.
In fact, that's why I wrote A Digital Nomad's Guide to Spending 15 Days in Cape Verde or A Digital Nomad's Guide to Spending 25 Days in Bali and the Gili Islands, among others.
I had been dreaming about driving around the entire island of Crete, in Greece, for three years. As it turns, most of my Greek friends and the locals told me it was doable in 15 days. So I took a few days to relax and chill at a good hotel and wind down from the first half of the year, which has been very intense for me, before starting the roadtrip.
Too long; didn't read
This is a very long post. I'm providing a TL;DR summary of this guide here:
This guide contains a travel diary of fifteen days worth of roadtrip around the island of Crete. I share my impressions, lessons learnt, tricks and personal expenses.
If you want to use my affiliate link to Booking.com, you'll save 10% in each booking and I'll also receive a few bucks. Find it here.
This guide is NOT for:
- Backpackers on a very limited budget.
- Couples or people looking for a romantic trip in high-standard hotels.
- People who need to work every day (digital nomads).
This guide is for you if:
- You want to travel around Crete in 15 days and cover the entire island.
- You want to prioritise visiting small towns and beaches rather than touristy stuff.
- You want to get a taste of everything in Crete, regardless of the budget and/or prejudices.
Table of contents
I will link you to the parts that mention the following subjects:
- Arrival & relax for some days
- Day 1: Knossos, Archanes and all the way down to Matala
- Day 2: Hiking around Lake Votomos
- Day 3: Agiofaragos, Mountain Road and Keratokambos
- Day 4: On the road to Ierapetra
- Day 5: Nissos Chrissis & to the West!
- Day 6: Vai, Voulisma Beach and heading East!
- Day 7: Nissos Spinalonga (or the Leper Island)
- Day 8: Lassithi Plateau & Cave of Zeus
- Day 9: Lake Kourna, Seitan Limani and hitting East
- Day 10: Elafonissi and Palaiochora beaches
- Day 11: Balos Beach & Phalasarna
- Day 12: A day in Chania
- Day 13: Heraklion & end of the trip!
Let's get this started!
Arrival & relax for some days
Since I took an overnight flight from Barcelona to Heraklion landing at 4 am, I was not in the best of the moods to look for how to get to the hotel. The fact that I’m not good at sleeping in planes added to having too many children crying during the entire flight didn’t allow for a good night’s sleep. I was a bit tense and just wanted to hug a bed real hard.
To reach the hotel, I could only take a local cab. At 4:30 am there are no buses, or maybe not to the place I wanted to go. Since I speak very basic Greek, I muttered a few words to the cab driver to see if at least he didn’t think of me as a tourist, but as someone who’s obviously a foreigner and lives there. I paid 25 euro to get to the hotel, which I believe is definitely expensive. I could’ve bartered to get it down to 20 or even 15, but I really didn’t want to. Turns out, the driver was very nice and gave me good conversation, so I don’t regret it.
I chose a good hotel not too close to the main cities. The north of the island is definitely more touristy than the south, mostly because the airports and the port are there, and most people just want to take it easy and stick around the area to stay for a few days.
My only requirement for these first days of relax was that the hotel be well-equipped with a swimming pool and a gym. I got an upscale place with a spacious room, as I wanted to depressurise, plan the Cretan roadtrip, plan two business trips I have coming up in September, organise a group visit with some friends to my hometown for the local celebrations, and sort a few things out I had buzzing in the back of my head for too long.
I chose Enorme Lifestyle Beach in Ammoudara, an adult-only hotel. Why? To be honest, I had never been in an adult-only hotel, and the whole idea of chilling by the pool with no children running around, screaming and splashing water on me sounded idyllic, so I gave it a try. Turned out to be a wise decision: it was really calm, clean and had a perfect environment to wind down and disconnect for a few days.
The hotel had pretty much everything inside, and I had breakfast and dinner (both buffet) included in my deal. It had a couple of swimming pools and a private beach, which was a bit over the top, for me, but since we had really windy days, I didn’t make use of it and stayed in the pool instead.
I spent a week there just waking up for breakfast, reading by the pool, working a bit on my laptop, playing a bit of Pokémon Go while walking around town, going for lunch to the Aris Katerina Taverna (REALLY good stuff and the nicest people), learning Greek on Duolingo, practising with the locals, going back to the pool to read more, exercising for 40 minutes, having dinner and then working a bit more on the laptop before going to bed.
As you can see, I didn't pursue very ambitious schedules, but I managed to sort out most stuff I wanted to deal with, read five books in six days, and planned my trip around the lovely island of Crete.
Since everything I saw around this area can be done in a day, I have included it on the first day of the trip.
Day one: Knossos, Archanes and all the way down to Matala
Around Gazi, there’s not much to see. There’s Ammoudara and the main attraction are the beaches, and the city of Heraklion, which I saved for my way back.
I went running one day to check the entire town inside out, but found nothing worth mentioning. If you happen to stay around here, just enjoy the beach, your resort/hotel and the local cuisine.
As I mentioned previously, I only got to try the Aris Katerina Taverna, as my breakfast and dinner were included in the resort, but I definitely recommend this place to eat because it’s not only cheap, but extraordinarily good. I especially liked their Domadakia (wine leaves stuffed with rice) and their grilled octopus.
At night, I would walk along the beach to ease my digestion and to do a bit of stargazing. It is pretty peaceful around here and as opposed to many beach towns, most bars and pubs are not exactly on the beach itself, but on the main road.
I got a car for 35 euro per day at the hotel, which is a very good deal even for Greeks. I rented it for two weeks, and then bartered a bit to round down the price. My goal was 35, and I got it, so go me and my negotiation skills!
Since there isn’t much to see nor do in Gazi, I recommend spending the morning at the beach, then having lunch in the Aris Katerina Taverna, and then hitting the road for about 25 minutes to visit the Ruins of Knossos and the town of Archanes.
In Knossos you will only find the Minoan Palace of Knossos, which is the main touristic destinations of the area. Prepare to meet gazillions of Germans complaining about how hot it is, how disorganised Greeks are and how they got still water instead of sparkling when they ordered at the restaurant. Luckily, parking is free.
The line for the tickets was unclear (another thing Germans seemed to complain about) and extremely long. I thought about turning back and leaving, but I saw you could buy tickets online. I struggled to get decent 4G coverage, but once I got it, I bought the ticket (15 euro) and quickly made it inside. By buying the tickets from the website, I saved 40-45 minutes of my time.
The place took me about an hour to see it all - may be less - but then I again, I don’t stop to read each sign and to contemplate for hours wandering around. I’m just not that kind of person. If you’re in a rush, I guess you can see it all in under 30 minutes. Also, outside of a couple of pretty big groups, the place wasn’t too crowded. I guess not everyone wants to visit ancient ruins at 33ºC, under a searing sun.
After that, I drove for about 15 more minutes southwards to visit Archanes. It’s a small cozy town with a beautiful city centre but not much more to it. Allegedly, it had some important Greek ruins, but I didn’t like them as much as the ones in Knossos, so you might want to skip this town. I ate at a pretty good restaurant, though, which sells their stuff, so if you are hungry before or after Knossos, I suggest eating at Bakaliko and buying some of their homemade food/spices/honey/etc.
All in all, I might’ve spent a couple of hours between Knossos and Archanes, so it was still 4 pm when I hit the road to go all the way south to see Matala.
I found a room for 50€ per night right on the beach at Hotel Nikos. It’s not the fanciest place, but it’s well clean and nice and super convenient. They even have free parking, but out of the 22 spots they have, I got one of the two that are not covered, so I was not very lucky in this.
After a couple of hours at the beach (a surprisingly nice beach 2 minutes away from my bedroom door), I decided to hike my way to the Red Beach, which is behind a hill a good 20-25 minutes from the beach of Matala. It is an easy hike, as it is short, albeit pretty steep both on the way up and down. Once there, you find a more intimate beach (one of the few nudist beaches on the island) and a Mojito Bar. The views from up the hill are gorgeous, as are from down the beach. I stayed until the sunset and it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.
For dinner, I set off to drive for 7 minutes to the nearby town of Kalamaki, where there’s one of the best places for seafood around.
What I thought it’d be an easy drive, turned out to be a pretty adventurous trip. Brace yourselves.
Turns out, Google maps will always recommend the shortest route, but in most of Europe, that does not include dirt tracks, so what I thought it’d be an unpaved road became a pretty hard drive even for a skilled driver like me.
If you want to avoid nasty surprises like this one, always stick to main roads no matter what Google maps says. A good map will be your best friend in Crete.
I had the same problem on the way back. After having enjoyed some decent Domadakia (one of my favourite foods, as you’ll learn) and an absolutely delicious grilled octopus, I was resolute to go back. As I paid, they brought me a big plate of desserts and a bottle of raki just for me.
It seems that every restaurant will give you dessert for free, so if you want to save some bucks, don’t order it from the get-go. A couple of times, when I wasn’t extremely full (portions are BIG in Crete), I managed to get fruit instead when I wanted to go for a healthier option.
So, on my way back, Google Maps tricked me again and wanted to bring me into a very small dirt track again, and after two attempts at re-routing (both leading me into terrible options), I decided to take the lead and look for the main road myself. It took me ten minutes, and I’m sure that I turned a 10-min drive into a 30-min drive, but I eventually made it home. It was hard to keep calm after too many unsuccessful attempts at finding decent roads.
In hindsight, I learnt that it’s a good investment to get a proper map and stick to the main roads, even if they look like a longer drive. It is a good investment, and you’ll car will thank you (and, most likely, the owners too, if you rented it).
Day two: Hiking around Lake Votomos
I woke up and planned the day: beach in the morning, visit two or three things during the day and then conclude with more beach before the sunset.
The Matala beach was not very crowded during the morning and the wind wasn’t strong, so it allowed for a perfect start of the day. The buffet at the hotel was OK but nothing to write home about.
I wanted to visit a couple of towns during the day, in addition to the lake of Votomos. Since the lake was the furthest of all the options, I decided to start there. On the way there I learnt the hard way that when iPhones reach 41ºC, they stop working so I lost my navigation for a good half an hour, until it cooled down.
Lake Votomos is nice. A beautiful small lake, not too high up in the mountains, easy to reach with the car. Around it, there are a few bars and a taverna or two. I had lunch at Eleonas Country Village, where I had a greek salad and a mix of grilled mushrooms. I wanted to eat light as I planned to be in the car the whole day.
Boy, was I wrong.
I thought the lake would be an open space where people would swim and lay down to bathe in the sun, but it looks more like private property, with no grass to lay on and swimming is forbidden (fishing too). In fact, the lake is all fenced.
Walking around the lake, I bumped into what looked like the beginning of a hiking trail, and a small sign which said something like “small church, 0.9km”, so I decided to go there for a walk. I didn’t even bother to leave my bag in the car, where I had my computer, beach stuff and other stuff I always carry around. I even had my towel with me, expecting to be able to swim in the lake.
Luckily, I had two liters of water with me.
What looked like an easy hike, it became one of the adventures of the trip.
Indeed there was a church about a kilometre from the start, but once I reached it, with less than ten minutes walking, I read another sign saying “to the gorge” and then unclear numbers, but it seemed like a 0.3km. I guess it was not.
I hiked for about an hour until I found the freaking gorge, which was ugly as shit. However, the hike up there provided outstanding vistas and a most enjoyable experience, and I suddenly realised I should have eaten something heavier, or at least loaded up on carbs, because the journey was far from finished.
There in the gorge, there was another sign saying “to the canyon - 0.9km”. Fuck me, it was another hour and 15 minutes hiking up. I thought about giving up consistently, but everything was thoroughly beautiful and I had the time of my life walking.
Again, the so-called canyon was not the best of the hike, but I definitely enjoyed the entire adventure. All in all, 2 hours 15 minutes on the way up, one hour 15 minutes on the way down. The trail was all-around well-signalised and it was not tricky at all. Maybe, save for two parts of barely 5-10 minutes, where big boulders and gravel were involved, but it was pretty long, and might be tricky for people who are not well-equipped or not used to hiking.
Before leaving the lake, I had a big yogurt with honey and fruits to recover from the effort and two litres of water, which went down as if I hadn’t drunk for months.
Such an eventful day needed to be wrapped up properly, so I searched on Foursquare a good place to eat and found Petra & Votsalo Taverna, where I ate a pretty good tuna fillet and a delicious piece of grilled feta.
Day 3: Agiofaragos, Mountain Road and Keratokambos
Day 3 should’ve been one with visits to many towns, starting pretty early in the morning. However, a night of insomnia made me change plans and forced me to sleep in.
I went for one hour to the beach of Matala to make time before the checkout, while I planned what to do next.
I wanted to visit several towns (Mires, Kousses, Festos, etc), so I went and started with Sivos. While the (small) centre was nice, it was nothing special. Since I was halfway to one of the beaches I was strongly recommended to visit, Agiofarago, I decided to go there before checking the towns. The road to Agiofaragos is asphalted until the Monastery of Moni Ogiditrias and then it’s a dirt road. Since it looked like there was going to be nowhere to eat nor buy water, I went back to Sivos and had lunch there at VAFI Taverna. Decent stuff (the calamari were too chewy) but at least it was very cheap.
As if I hadn’t had enough adventures yesterday, the third day had still many to unfold before me.
The dirt road was long and a bit complex. Not for beginners, again. However, bear in mind that my rental car is an old Citroën whatever, which cannot compare to a proper jeep, for instance. Mental note: next time get a more versatile vehicle.
About 30 minutes in, you reach the parking. There’s a small food/drinks stand, and after it, there’s a solid 20 minutes walk (an easy one, compared to the one from yesterday) before you reach the beach.
The trip, again, has been worth it. Since this beach is less accessible than others, it is considerably emptier, and at 3 pm, I reckon we were circa 30 people, not more.
Crystal clear water and playful fish a go-go which even dared to greet me by biting my legs. I spent well over an hour and a half, before leaving for Lentas.
The trip to Lentas was hilly and steep, but easy. However, I arrived too late and because it’s surrounded by mountains, there was no sun at the beach. The town itself didn’t look special either, so I had a quick snack at a beach bar and resolved to leave for Keratokambos.
I was looking forward to this part of the trip because the owner of the first hotel told me to get the mountain road to enjoy the views. This time, I made sure Google Maps followed the road I wanted to take, but to my disgrace, I think this time it was a human error who drove me into dirt roads AGAIN.
The man from the first hotel highlighted the wrong road on my map, and I got a pretty common road, 40% of which was not asphalted, but at least it provided a couple of “WOW” moments when we reached a certain altitude.
It was already dark, when I finally arrived in Keratokambos, and since I hadn't had decent data coverage in the entire day, I just stopped at a restaurant/pension and asked for a room. I got one for 25 euro, pretty basic but I didn’t need more. I wanted to spend only the night and then set off in the morning to go to Ierapetra.
Day 4: On the road to Ierapetra
I woke up reasonably late and I had to work for a bit during the morning to take a couple of calls. I practically spent the entire morning in Keratokambos, although there wasn't much to do. The frappé at Taverna Nikitas was good and their yogourt with honey and fruit too. Their wifi was pretty good for Cretan standards.
My goal was to visit the Chrissis island during the day, but after researching, I found that you need to book in advance and that boats only depart in the morning, so I put it off till the next day.
Since there isn't jack to do in Keratokambos, I found a room at Blue Sky Hotel near Ierapetra for 60 euro. Spacious room, close to the beach and with an outstanding pool. Well worth its money.
The pool, indeed, was the first thing I checked while I planned the entire day and the two days to come. I had a good lunch at the hotel and then asked for recommendations of local beaches, and everyone seemed to recommend Agia Fotiá. After a 15-20 minutes drive, I arrived at Agia Fotiá. It's a small town with a cozy and secluded beach, pretty tranquil and definitely not crowded. It wasn't the best beach I've ever seen, and the water was a bit dirty, but the calmness I experienced there compensated.
Just a quick tip on parking: people come and go all the time, and even though I parked 5 minutes away from the beach, I could've parked right there, as there were many parking spots at about 4 pm. Incredible. I guess it's because the South isn't crowded with tourists.
At times, I feel like I'm the only foreigner in town, and this was definitely one.
Back to the hotel, I booked a ferry ticket to the idyllic island of Nissos Chrissis for 25 euro both ways. At the hotel, they told me you need to book in advance because there are not enough ferries and they fill up fast, but that's not what I would find the next day.
Day 5: Nissos Chrissis & to the West!
An entire day needs to be devoted to a trip to Nissos Chrissis. Ferries depart early in the morning and don't come back until the afternoon. Hence, I took the 10:20 one from Ierapetra port and came back with the 16:20 boat back.
The port was just a short drive from the hotel (10 min) and you're advised to arrive 30-40 min before the departure of the ferry. I went with plenty of time to be able to find a good parking spot.
A few blocks from the port, I saw a sign saying "Parking for the boat to Chrissis" but it was a paid parking, and luckily enough, the hotel crew told me you can park for free at the port. I ignored the sign and drove further. Indeed, there was plenty of space at the port, and I guess that parking I came across earlier on was a tourist trap.
As I arrived at the scene, there were about six or seven boats departing with 10 minutes difference, and in most, you could buy the tickets on the spot (some for 10 euro only!). I don't know if I've been ripped off or not, but I guess I paid an extra charge for using the hotel as an agency.
Important: bring 1 euro coins! At the port, you will be required to disburse one euro per person as a tax for the preservation of the island. Fair enough.
The boat ride takes about 40 minutes, and once there, you walk into a nice beach with a beach bar on it. The prices on the bar are higher than in Crete, but understandably reasonable for an inhabited island. I had a salad and a frappé for 8 euro (5 + 3 respectively), which isn't terrible. They also have a great selection of food, mostly BBQ-based.
The main attraction of the island is the Golden Beach, on the northern part, a short 5-7 minute walk from the port, which is located on the southern edge of the island. The island is so small that it can be walked around in one and a half hours, give or take.
This is one of the most touristy attractions from around here, if not the biggest, so as soon as you set foot on the island, you'll be surrounded by only foreigners. Luckily for me, 99% of the people decided to stay on the very beginning of Golden Beach, and not venture too far.
Knowing this, I decided to walk a bit further, about 15-20 minutes, and found myself alone, with incredible beaches, snorkeling spots and one-of-a-kind vistas. After Koufonnisia island, I reckon Chrissis must have the best water I've seen in Greece.
I spent almost three hours in three different spots along the northern coast of Nissos Chrissis. The water is so clear and clean, that you can see many meters ahead of you. The water was very still and we had a very sunny day, which contributed to light up the underwater scenery and to burn my back.
This visit alone is worth the entire trip to Crete. Going to Crete and not visiting Nissos Chrissis makes no sense at all.
Back on the mainland, I got the car and drove to my next destination: Palekastro, barely an hour and a half direction north-east. I chose it because I wanted to be close to my next stop, arguably one of the most unique sights in Crete: the palm grove of Vai.
Palekastro has nothing to see or do, as it is a small town with a couple of hotels/apartment studios and a few restaurants, but it's conveniently located and very cheap. I also found an excellent restaurant where I had a fantastic dinner, Elia Restaurant, in the nearby urbanisation right outside Palekastro. If you go there, don't leave without trying their Dakos and their Roasted Lamb Chops.
Day 6: Vai, Voulisma Beach and heading East!
One of the advantages of sleeping close to your destination is that you save in time and money. In money, because by not sleeping directly at the tourist attraction you wanted to visit, you're probably saving money, as it should be cheaper. Regarding time, well, it's usually a short drive in the morning and you've got the entire day to enjoy it.
Or to fuck off somewhere else if you don't like it and spend the day doing something else.
That was my exact experience with Vai. Vai, according to Wikipedia, is the palm beach of Vai is one of the largest attractions of the Mediterranean island of Crete. It features the largest natural palm forest in Europe, made up of Cretan date palm. By and large, it was the attraction most of my friends recommended and almost 100% of the locals I've asked for recommendations all along this roadtrip. Also, judging by the Google image results, it looked gorgeous, so I had high expectations.
However, I was very deceived by Vai.
It's not that the place isn't beautiful (it is). It's that it's not very special. If having a bunch of palm trees boosts your experience at a beach and makes it more enjoyable or memorable, fine, but it didn't cut it for me. Although not excessively crowded, it was full of only tourists, which is proof that no Greeks would go there.
As per usual, I walked away from the big mass of people and found a nice spot on the rocks. Did a bit of snorkeling, but found nothing remarkable, so I decided to cut short my visit and hit the road for my next destination: Agios Nikolaos. With the extra hours I gained, I decided to invest them in visiting Voulisma Beach. This one, in my opinion, was ten times better than Vai, albeit similarly crowded. Again, there's a small trick to avoid the masses: on the way down to the beach, there's a small path to the left, which leads to a couple of smaller beaches right in front of Voulisma (so you're technically not on Voulisma Beach) but it's much emptier, cleaner and nicer. The water was crystal clear and we had outstanding weather. I also had lunch at a Taverna nearby, Mama Lukia, where I ate the best grilled octopus of the entire trip. Definitely worth going back to that place, if I ever have the chance.
Finally, I drove the last kilometres to my destination and reached Agios Nikolaos, a nice and welcoming coastal city. It's quite hilly, so if you plan to tour it as I did, you'll end up with extremely tired legs. As opposed to most towns in the island, this city has got a few things to see and it's enjoyable overall.
As I got an apartment for a couple of days, I bought some groceries and decided to cook home for a couple of days for a change.
Day 7: Nissos Spinalonga (or the Leper Island)
Headquartering in Agios Nikolaos has proven to be useful to travel around the area. It is well-connected and the city has many things to do. In case you're moving around the island with bus, this city has got one of the main bus hubs, so you'll most likely change buses here.
I woke up early to go to see the Spinalonga fort, famous for being the island where lepers were sent to be quarantined until 1957. Although the small island can be reached by boat from Agios Nikolaos and from Elounda, the number of boats is limited. I opted for the alternative way, and drove 20-25 minutes north to Plaka where they shuttle every 20 minutes for 10€ both ways. The boat ride takes about 10 minutes from coast to coast.
Spinalonga has been one of the highlights of this roadtrip. It cost 8 euro to get in (4 if you're a student), but they're well worth the price. Walking through the ruins of this abandoned city can give you the chills of being in a ghost town, and the spectacular views you get from the top of the fort (a mere 5-minutes hike) are from out of this world.
The entire thing can be visited in one hour, if you're fast, or perhaps two hours if you want to visit the galleries, read all the panels and so forth. In any case, the boats come and go every twenty minutes, so don't rush it.
On my way back, I wanted to check a small beach I had read good things about Kolokitha Beach. This one is easy to reach from Elounda, driving onto the island next to it. Although you'll be lured by the sheer beauty of the beaches from Elounda, keep driving.
Once you reach the parking, it's a ten-minutes hike down to the beach. Although it was packed as hell because a lot of private tours stop there, I found a spot on the rocks - again, where no one wants to go - and spend a good two hours there. Kolokitha Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen, and as close to a swimming pool as it gets, in terms of flatness, clear water and the entire feeling. What a wonder!
I had lunch at Taverna Despina, also in Elounda, where I treated myself to a bit of a high-end meal. I paid 25 euro for lunch, which seems a lot, considering that the rest of the days I've been eating for 10-15 euro per meal. It was a delicious meal and the service was excellent, albeit a bit slow.
I hadn't taken a look at the time, and my intention was to check the Plateau of Lassithi and the famous Cave of Zeus, but I finished lunch at almost 5 pm, and the cave closes at 7 pm. More than one hour and a half drive separated me from my destination, so I decided not to rush it and to take an easy afternoon enjoying a walk in the centre of Agios Nikolaos and a good run around the beach in the evening.
Day 8: Lassithi Plateau & Cave of Zeus
Driving from Agios Nikolaos to the Lassithi Plateau was about one hour and fifteen minutes. About twenty minutes before arriving at the place, you will come across the highest point of altitude in the trip, at the crest of a mountain topped with Cretan windmills. Take a short stop there to shoot some photos before continuing to your final destination: the Cave of Zeus (also known as Psychró Cave or Diktaean Cave).
This place is a pretty concurred tourist destination, and as such, it'll be crowded no matter what time you go. Park wherever you can, and walk up to the entrance of the cave. Contrary to most reviews you will find online, it's an easy 10-minutes hike, with some slippery stones, so watch out for these.
I was prepared for the worst, having read the reviews online: "it's really cold", "extremely slippery steps so bring your best shoes", "very difficult hike i almost died omg lol", etc. Nonsense. Once there, you pay 6 euro for the entrance and the visit to the cave is an extremely disappointing short walk through it. No guides, no signs, no explanations, no nothing. In less than 10 minutes you're in and out of the cave.
I would have felt pretty ripped off, but the mountain vistas, the small hike, viewing a cave of this sort from inside (I can't remember the last time I had seen something like this) and the fact that is was kind of on the way to my next destination made the trip worthwhile. However, if you're short on days, you might want to skip this and use these three hours more wisely elsewhere.
I continued my journey eastwards, and stopped for lunch at Bravo Seafood Agia Pelagia out of mere necessity. I didn't like the beach that much - mostly because it was absurdly crowded, but the food was very tasty.
Going forward, I decided to stop at the beach of Bali. I had heard good things about this beach, and hands down, it is one of the most beautiful beaches I've seen in this island. It's a short drive from Agia Pelagia (check the map) and again: extremely packed, but if you wander off a bit through the rocks, you can find peace. It's a good snorkeling spot, as well! I totally recommend checking out this beach, but maybe you want to avoid it on the weekend.
My last stop of the day was the small urbanisation of Skaleta. Although there ain't much to see in Skaleta, I found a charming hotel where I could rest for another night before hitting the Eastern edge of the island. The hotel is Oasis Skaleta Hotel, and it's a fine place with a good swimming pool near to the beach.
The area has many good restaurants directly on the beach, and that's the reason why I chose Skaleta. At Taverna Eleven - some twenty minutes walking from the hotel - I had one of the finest dining experiences of this roadtrip. Directly on the beach, extremely fresh seafood, attentive service and an all-around most pleasant experience. I would love to go back to this place someday.
Day 9: Lake Kournas, Seitan Limani and hitting East
Feeling adventurous, I decided to check yet another lake on this large island: Lake Kournas, the only natural lake in Crete. Barely 20 minutes away from Skaleta and about five from Georgioupoli, the Lake Kournas is also a pretty popular spot and will be crowded at whatever time you go. This is where I realised it'd be like this everywhere I went in Northern Crete, so I just assumed it and made the most of it.
This lake, compared to Votomos, at least is a proper lake and has got pretty clean water for a lake, and even two small beaches - packed with souvenir shops and pedal boats rental spots, so don't expect to have too much space for yourself, either. The view is nice and you can have a nice picnic around it for a change. Like with Lake Votomos a week ago, it felt good to be in the countryside after so much beach.
I didn't spend much time there, as I was a bit behind my schedule, so I decided to skip a few towns and cities and concentrate on beaches and nature solely. My next stop was the intriguingly-named Seitan Limania or in Plain English, The Port of Satan (aka Satan's Beach).
A brief 10-min drive from Chania's airport, you have to drive up a mountain - make sure you stop at Seitan Delivery to eat first - to then drive it down in a very steep road first - not for the faint of heart - and a tricky and steep hike down afterwards. Bring good shoes, as flip-flops aren't the best option here.
Seitan Limania provides one of the one-of-a-kind beaches in Crete, with sort of milk-ish white water like the one you'd find in Gala Beach, in Kouffonissia, in an extremely beautiful environment. The worst part - and maybe the only one - it's so small that it's easy to feel crowded. I barely found a space for myself, and I was alone, so I guess that big groups have to go there extremely early to get a spot.
The place definitely deserves a visit, even if only for the adrenaline rush of driving and hiking down and up again. I'm not sure you will enjoy the beach that much because of the sheer density of people in such a small place, but you will regret not seeing this from real close.
Back on the road, I almost hit the East coast when I realised that I hadn't booked anything for the night (and it was 7 pm), so I made a quick stop at Kissamos (Kastelli) and searched around for a bit.
At this point, I had two options: either continue driving and just going door to door looking for a place to sleep, which would've been cheaper and would've kept me going forward every day, or else I could set a basecamp somewhere for the next three/four days and just drive from/to there every day and make it more enjoyable.
I decided for the latter, as I hadn't had a really good hotel since the first one in Gazi, and I chose Asterion Hotel, a faux 5-star hotel conveniently located between Maleme and Platanias. It's close enough to Platanias / Agia Marina in case you needed to buy something or to feel civilisation, and far enough so you don't get pestered with all the cheap tourism you find there. In fact, driving from Seitan Limania, I decided to skip a few beach towns because driving through them I knew they were not me. Utterly fake and extremely exploited by aggressive capitalism at the mercy of cheap tourism, so I drove the hell out of there.
Day 10: Elafonissi and Palaiochora beaches
About to wrap up the roadtrip, I decided to spend more time on the road today than usual to be able to check two of the must-see places left on the east side of Crete: Elafonissi beach and the beautiful coastal town of Palaiochora.
About one hour and a half away from where I am headquartered, in Maleme, and after driving through quite possibly the most exciting road of this trip - both in beauty and in complexity - you will find the iconic beach of Elafonissi. You will most likely know it, it's the beach with pink sand, and the best beach, in my humble opinion, in the entire island.
Pretty isolated from everything else, the Elafonissi beach is something not to be missed. Just by seeing its beauty, its colours, the vastness of it (it's HUGE) and the fact that people were pretty spread out because it is, precisely, immense, it totally made my day.
Of all the "touristy spots" of the world, it is quite possibly my favourite: free to park there, plenty of space to park and to enjoy the beach, it didn't feel crowded and it seems to somehow, and in spite of everything, keep the natural beauty anyways. It was so good, that I didn't feel the urge to move away from the crowds and hike through the rocks to find a chill spot. I didn't venture to explore the rest of the zone either. I felt like I deserved my moment of peace - only broken a couple of times by some nasty gusts of wind.
I spent the entire morning there, until 2 pm, when I decided to move to the next destination, although I seriously considered staying the whole day in Elafonissi. The drive from Elafonissi to Palaiochora it's about one hour, maybe more, so I stopped halfway to eat at The Old Mill - Palios Milos in Plemeniana. A restaurant just by the river sounded like a good idea, and it actually turned out to be a good one indeed.
I ordered a salad and zucchini flowers with cheese, and they brought the biggest salad I've ever seen. I was hungry, and I'm a big eater, but I couldn't eat more than half of it and the fried zucchini flowers with cheese. I felt bad at such a waste of salad, so take this in mind if you order there. That salad easily feeds three people, if not four.
Then, I continued down to Palaiochora, in a curvy mountain road (asphalted, though, but never exempt from giant potholes), and I reached my destination. As the road goes in the middle of a valley, or between two mountain crests, it has very strong visuals and you might want to stop twice or thrice to capture some of the views with your phone.
Palaiochora is a really beautiful town. It's small, it's cozy and visually appealing. Since it was too windy to stay at the beach, I spent a good hour wandering around the small and colourful streets. I wanted to go into each shop, bakery and restaurant and buy something from there, so definitely, I added this visit to my "must see" of the trip, too.
Day 11: Balos Beach & Phalasarna
One of the bad things about visiting tourist attractions in popular places is that they tend to get crowded really easily. That's what I thought it would happen with the worldwide-famous Balos Beach and so I decided to leave it for a Monday morning.
Standing at the north-east tip of the island, it can be reached either by boat or by car. Boat means more money per person and having to adhere to strict schedules. On the other hand, it's easier, you get to visit also the nearby island of Gramvousa and you don't risk damaging your car and potentially risking extra charges from the rental car company.
Going by car, however, gives you the flexibility of coming and going and whatever time and it saves you money if you're a group (not my case, tho).
After driving for 20-25 minutes from Kissamos, you will come across a dirt road, which isn't particularly tricky or steep, but it's long. You'll be driving for 15-20 minutes on that dirt road until you find the parking. Also, remember to bring 1€ coins to pay for the visitor's tax at the entrance of the beach.
Once you will have parked, there'll be a pretty steep but easy hike down. Most posts and guides on the internet refer to this way down as really dangerous or generally unsafe. Bollocks. Most of it has got even steps and it's an easy walk for most people. The only difficulty appears only on the way up: the first 10 minutes are exhausting.
Balos Beach is THE place to see in Crete. If I had to pick the real gem of this trip on the island, it would be hands down Balos Beach. it has been a perfect way for me to end the roadtrip.
The place itself is so beautiful that you will find yourself taking pictures of it on the way down and on the way up, again (at least, I did that). The Balos area has got a "lake" and the actual beach. Maybe because it was Monday morning, I didn't find it crowded, but the area in itself is large enough to hold a couple of thousand people.
In fact, at 2 pm, a big boat arrived, and it unloaded maybe a thousand people. That's when I decided I had to go. Also, it was well windy and in spite of all the beauty and calm I experienced there, it was becoming increasingly difficult to enjoy it any longer.
In fact, before heading back to the hotel, I drove to Phalasarna to check the town and the beach, too. However, I must have been unlucky enough to have chosen the windiest day of the month, and it was unbearable in Phalasarna, so I didn't spend much time there, although the beach was very nice, as well.
Day 12: A day in Chania
On the day before returning to Gazi, I decided to visit Chania, arguably, the most beautiful of the big cities in Crete.
Chania is well known for its Venetian harbour, dating back to the 14th century. As one of the main cities on the island, it's got a big port and an international airport as well. For more trivia, there's a military base nearby too.
Don't expect to find a big metropolis with infinite things to do. It barely has 150.000 inhabitants, which makes it easier to visit in one day. As a matter of fact, a couple of hours walking around the center/old town and the port will do, if you're in a hurry.
Although it is a pretty common stop in everyone's visit to Crete, it appears that most people stay in more touristy areas like Platania or Agia Marina, where most resorts and hotels are, and they take one-day trips to Chania and other destinations. Therefore, the city is easily accessible and you will find parking without any kind of trouble either. I was able to find a parking spot one street away from the old town.
The old town is beautiful and well-kept, and excessively cluttered with touristy souvenir shops which mix up with lots of "Traditional Greek/Cretan food" restaurants. You can wander through the small streets for a good while, and most of them are worthy of an Instagram picture, if you will.
Eventually, you will wind up at the port, which is the main attraction of Chania. The wall surrounding the old town, the harbour, the lighthouse and a few other buildings and remarkable sightseeing spots will keep you busy for a good couple of hours, if not more. The walk to the lighthouse, a barely 10-minute walk around the port, is worth it. Although you cannot enter the lighthouse, you get to see and step over the wall, where you will get really good shots of the sea outside.
The old town is full of neat cafés and cozy bars with wide terraces, mildly covered by grapevine or the trees. I particularly liked the ones on this small square, next to a church. I spent a good while in this area while researching what else to check in the city and where to eat.
As for restaurant recommendations, I haven't been lucky this time and the restaurant I picked (following someone else's recommendation) wasn't very special, therefore I won't be able to recommend any.
If you truly want to get to know the city better, there are other activities you might want to do, like a private boat trip to a nearby island, visit the Nautical Museum or the Archeological Museum.
On the other hand, you might also want to combine this visit with Seitan Limani, as they're pretty close one from the other. Get up early in the morning, go to Seitan Limani first right after breakfast (or eat there) and spend the entire morning at the beach. Come back by lunchtime to Chania and spend the afternoon visiting the city and chilling in this charming city by the sea until it gets dark, to have a good action-packed day!
Day 13: Heraklion & end of the trip!
On the last day of this trip, I decided to drive back to Heraklion to check the city with plenty of time, as I didn't do it in the first days.
I spent most of the morning doing some last-minute stuff, working a bit, working out and then I had lunch at Mitsos Restaurant, where I treated myself to a good cheese & garlic salad (pretty strong!) and really tender fried calamari. The restaurant is right on the beach and the service was very attentive, so definitely a place worth recommending.
After that, back on the road, straight to Heraklion, which would've taken me about two hours and twenty minutes driving.
I thought of stopping at Rethimnion, because I skipped it on the way east when I needed to catch up with the original planning. Although I think I should’ve done it, I decided against it so I could spend more time visiting Heraklion properly. In hindsight, I don't regret it. It has been well worth it.
At circa 3 pm, I arrived at Heraklion, to my hotel, Infinity City Boutique Hotel, right by the port of Heraklion. Since my boat to Naxos departed at 8:45 am on the next day, I wanted to be able to walk to the port in 5 minutes.
Once I checked in into the hotel, I drove back to Gazi to give the car back. The company I used is Autocandia. Luckily, their service is ten thousand times better than their website.
To go back to the hotel, I took bus 120, which drives along the coast, and for a mere 1.70€ and 30 minutes of my time, I was back at the port. From there, I began to wander around the city.
I spent the entire afternoon and evening strolling through the small streets, the old town, the first line of buildings on the coast, and the real gem of the day: the walk from the port to the far-away lighthouse is a must do. It takes about 40-60 minutes both ways, depending on how often you stop to contemplate the sea waves crashing against the rocks, the ferries and airplanes departing from very close, the sunset or even the graffiti and the art being displayed all along the pier wall. I didn't know a walk through the port could be so interesting, and it also provided a good workout.
Getting lost in Heraklion has been a good way to wrap up this roadtrip and I wish I could have stayed longer in this city. Although not very big, it looks lively and with lots of stuff going on. I saw heaps of restaurants and cafés where I would've loved to spend some time trying them out.
Completely knackered, eating around the hotel was in order, so a quick search on Foursquare told me I was in a good area to eat fish. However, I didn't quite like the food I ate at one of the seafront restaurants (the octopus was really chewy and completely devoid of taste), so I guess I won't be able to recommend you anything here!
That's it from my side! Enjoy Crete and reach out if you've got any questions, please!
Some major modifications that need to be done, before consider this guide finished, are:
- Adding photos.
- Adding the entire breakdown of costs in a PDF file.