To be very honest, we didn’t really plan on coming here. We needed a place to go between Santorini and Zakynthos and we’ve heard of Crete before so…why not give it a try? Devin booked us an Airbnb and Ryann quickly searched things to do and places to see.
After a delayed flight from Santorini, we finally landed in Crete at Herkalin Airport, which is located on the eastern side of Crete. The airport advertised that Crete was famous for exporting many diverse wines. Later that night, we’d be trying some ourselves. *hiccup*
After picking up the rental, we soon discovered that this is definitely not a place we wanted to stay in longer. So far, not impressed. Passing truckloads of ceramics as cargo, we crossed our fingers that we’d be out of the city and make our way to a more beautiful side of Crete.
Crazy (and not so crazy) Cretans
Luckily, we didn’t have to wait too long. We came rather up close and personal to the mountains and volcanic hilltops, with promise of more greenery than concrete walls donned with spray paint and rubble. Scratch our earlier thoughts- this place was breath-taking! Olive tree groves lined the countryside, the dark green mountains drastically contrasted the blues of the ocean. From the road, drivers and passengers alike could enjoy either view, taking their pick of preference. Holy crap, this place is real! There were local men and women selling oranges, tangerines, olive oil and honey on the side of the road. Of course we had to stop to buy a bag of tangerines. We got a picture of one such adorable woman, proudly standing by her display of goods and insisted that Devin show her the picture after he took it because she needed to approve. Again, adorable.
We had read in a Lonely Planet book that 50% of Cretans own a gun– and that there are more guns than people on the island. Due to the history of occupation and leadership of the island, Cretans enjoy their rights to bear arms, which is obvious is some bullet-riddled street signs. We kept that in mind as we met more Cretans later, greeting with smiles on our faces. You can never be too careful.
Men were seen sitting around the “men-only” cafés. Wth? No “women-only cafés? Devin suggested they’d be busy at home anyway. Oh. Truly though, it didn’t seem like the Cretan women were out and about much. They were almost always dressed in all-black ensembles. Lonely Planet said that the women enjoyed crocheting or sewing during their town time. We’re assuming times might be a’changing?
Our Airbnb was situated high atop the hills, delivering us a postcard worthy panorama. We ate dinner at a local restaurant, equipped with 3 homeless cats and a stray dog. New friends! The employer treated us with some white wine from their own vineyard. Cheers!
Pink sands, perfectly teal water, and the longest stretch ensuring privacy anyone would desire. Fortunately for us, we visited in late May and avoided the large masse of tourists. We heard from the locals that it is nearly impossible to actually enjoy the beach during the “busy season,” and we were lucky to go when we did. We’re sure it’s a whole different beast then. Anyway, our experience proved to be one of the most unique and beautiful beaches we’ve ever visited. Contrary to belief, it wasn’t because of the topless women.
We meandered around the lot to park the car somewhere, as there is no actual parking lot designed for visitors. Also, there really aren’t any other facilities. We found one unisex bathroom charging 50 cents per use. There weren’t any showers, trash cans or snack stands. So if you go, pack a picnic and prepare to pee in the ocean!
There are signs throughout the beach asking visitors to refrain from taking any of the pink sand home. In many online pictures, it seems like the entire beach is composed of purely pink sands. In reality, it didn’t actually look like that. Some spots were more vivid than others but, as a whole, not really. Besides the sand, there is a funny plant lining the shores. It is spongy and soft, reminding us of white Easter grass or the string you’d find on store-bought balloons.
There are different shores to choose to lay on. There seems to be a different vibe for different parts of the beach. Kite surfing crowd, for the family, for the younger crowd, for couples, and those working on their tan lines (topless). We wandered along the shore, climbing the different sand dune mountains to get better views of the beach.
Truly this lagoon was a beautiful beach and we were instantly enamored by it.
Balos Beach & Lagoon, Kissimos
After stopping at the first beautiful beach in Elafonissi, we didn’t think it could get much better. Part of us didn’t even want to bother. We are so thankful we did!
In order to get to the actual beach, you first have to climb the mountain, steering clear of the cliff and oncoming traffic, leaving you with a cloud of dust to peer out of. That’s not all. The numerous goats will also try to keep you from paradise as well. The drive certainly is a little unnerving but just go slow. We managed to pull off a couple times to get pictures. The cost of maintaining the park is 1 euro/person. Totally worth the cost because they do a good job keeping everything really clean.
The drive to the parking lot area to get to the beach took around ten minutes. There were a lot of cars parked alongside the mountain on the same road width, so driving here proved to be a little more difficult. Because we went a little later in the afternoon, cars were leaving so we were able to find a spot in the lot. We imagine that at peak time, the parking is insane.
A Little Smelly
We got out and saw a group of people walking down a trail towards the beach, but there was a sign that advertised a lookout. We went to the lookout. There was a fenced-in area of goats and not so much of a lookout, but we had already walked really far from the path to the beach, so we scaled the hill as a shortcut. We probably looked so badass.
It took around another 15-20 minutes to get to the beach. We timed it right because a small cruise ship of people had
just been “horned-in” to leave for the day. We did notice that the smell of the beach wasn’t as beautiful as it let on. Sulfur? It was a little unpleasant but still bearable. The water was shallow but perfect to rinse off in after sunbathing. Remember to bring towels though, unless you want to pay to use their chairs (6 Euros per chair!).The climb back up the beach isn’t exactly a breeze, and you’ll wish there was another beach at the top once you’re all soaked with sweat again. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed and uninspired, there are donkeys (?) that’ll take you around on a ride. One primadonna had her boyfriend pay for her to ride up the stairs while he carried all the bags. But really, come on girl, get it together.
So maybe this beach wasn’t the most stunning in the world, but the view up top was pretty incredible and still absolutely worth a visit!
Our Airbnb hosts recommended that we visit Sougia. Apparently, we must’ve looked like homeless hippies. Could’ve been Ryann’s roots or Devin’s unshaved face? Whatever though, bottom line is: don’t go. The drive to Sougia tests your car sickness, and does provide some killer views of the mountains and other little towns, but the end point? No. No. No. Not worth it.
When we arrived, we had to pee and craved a coffee. By the way, Greece does need to step up their coffee game. It’s o-kay. So, anyway, we drove past the “main strip,” turning left towards the campers. First mistake. We’re pretty sure it was a private commune. When we walked up to order coffees, everyone turned to stare at us like: FRESHIES. NEW PEOPLE. A little scary. Dreadlocks, worn tattoos, hand-rolled cigs, skimpy clothing… you get the picture. We grabbed our cups of caffeine and went back to the “main strip” for lunch. We had a tuna salad and Greek omelet sitting so our legs got some sun. That was the most we got out of our side trip to Sougia.
Ignoring the uglier sides of Crete, the island was a favorite for us. We loved the drastic differences of the geography and the people were so damn nice. Maybe a return visit is in store for us?