Did you know there's a pink beach in Crete? With actual pink sand? No? Hold on, let me start at the beginning.
You can imagine I was pretty happy when I found out HouseTrip had rented cars for us to use during our stay with them on Crete in Greece. We needed them to drive to our tours – I did a food tour in Chania and took a cooking class the first day we were there – but on the second day we were free to use them to explore the island.
Amanda from MarocMama and I claimed a car together and immediately headed south. Our destination? The pink Elafonisi beach of Crete!
- General information on the pink Elafonisi beach in Crete
- Is it always pink?
- Other nearby things to see and do
- How to get to Elafonisi beach from Chania
- How to get to Elafonisi beach from Heraklion
- Hotels near the pink beach
- Other pink beaches in Crete, Greece
- What to bring to Elafonisi, Greece
- How to get to Crete
General information on the pink Elafonisi beach in Crete
Where is the pink sand beach? The most famous Crete pink sand beach – known locally as Elafonisi beach – is found on the southwest coast. Just out from the coastline is a small, mile-long island called Elafonisi that gives the beach its name. It is separated from the coast by a warm shallow lagoon and a sandbar, flanked by spectacular pink sands.
The pink beach itself has skyrocketed in popularity since it was named one of the world’s top beaches by Tripadvisor a few years ago. This, unfortunately, does mean an inundation of beach umbrellas and sun loungers in high summer! However, out of season (or even early summer), it still retains its magic and charm.
The sand is pinkish in color mostly because of crushed up pink shells of sea creatures called foraminifera. This is added to by small red organisms that live on coral and tiny pieces of other microscopic sea life that line the surrounding seabed.
When these shards are washed ashore the sand turns pink. It stands out from other beaches of the area for its soft-to-the-touch consistency – a dreamy powdery sand that starkly contrasts Greece’s other more pebbly beaches.
This beach in Crete with pink sand and its surrounding coastline are a sanctuary for flora and fauna and has some extraordinary geological features. It’s part of a protected dune area called Natura 2000 that supports a number of rare plants and animals. One such plant is the Androcymbium rechingeri, a small, incredibly rare winter-flowering bulb. Worth noting is that it’s illegal to remove anything from this area – from plants to the sand itself.
At low tide, you can walk out from the beach to explore Elafonisi island. Even at high tide the water level only ever reaches a meter high. There are plenty of secluded coves and inlets if you want to be away from the crowds. Here you’ll find idyllic sand dunes that harbor over 100 rare plants including the beautiful sea daffodil.
If you’re very lucky you may catch sight of the shy (and exceptionally rare) loggerhead sea turtles that use the island to lay their eggs!
Water-sports lovers will be in their element here too. Prevailing winds on the southwest coast of the island are perfect for windsurfing – and there’s also the sheltered and shallow lagoon for beginners.
The exotic combination of white and pink sands, turquoise-blue warm shallow waters, against the backdrop of the Cretan mountains is breathtaking. The beach is supplied with plenty of facilities – although these do get a bit overused and under-maintained during the high summer season. There are two beach bars, toilets, sunbeds and umbrellas, and windsurfing kit hire.
Is it always pink?
Don’t be surprised if you arrive to find beautiful beaches – but no sign of pink sand! When we got there the sand didn't really seem pink and for a moment we wondered whether we'd driven to the right beach. We asked a local and it was then that he told us about the beach not being pink all-year-round. He did point us to an area where we could still see leftovers of pink and indeed, we did.
This is because the sand takes its color from millions of crushed seashells that wash up and scatter throughout the beaches, giving the coastline its iconic pinkish hue. The intensity of this color will vary depending on the movement of the tide. Some say that it is at its pinkest in spring and early summer.
In reality, the beach is not entirely pink but fringed with these shells at the tideline, and even that depends on changeable conditions of the tide and the winds. However, even when the beach is at its least pink it is a scene from paradise, and the soft sand and beautiful setting is well worth the trip.
Other nearby things to see and do
If you have a bit of spare time while visiting the area, make sure to check out the monastery 5 km / 3.1 miles to the north at Chrisoskalitissa. This 17th-century monastery perches high on the cliffs, overlooking the sea.
According to legend, one of the 90 steps that lead up to the monastery is golden, only visible to the most devout of Christians. ‘Chryso’ means gold in Greek, giving the Chrisoskalitissa Monastery its name.
Elafonisi beach is located on the popular E4 hiking trail that passes through Crete. More adventurous hikers could walk all the way to Paleochora in about seven hours – a distance of around 19.5 km / 12 miles. But even if you just want an easy short walk, you can just follow the trail left along the coast to the next beach along Kedrodasos. Kedrodasos is quieter and surrounded by a beautiful cedar forest.
In 1907 there was a terrible shipwreck of an Austrian boat Imperatrix on Elafonisi island. The victims were buried on the island, and there is now a commemorative cross to the event. Near here is a small charming chapel, dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the protector of seafarers. It’s definitely worth walking to check it out – but be careful if it’s a windy day as the route is a little tricky!
How to get to Elafonisi beach from Chania
The Elafonisi pink sand beach, Crete, can be found about 75 km / 47 miles from the town of Chania. There is a daily bus service that runs from Chania to the beach that takes just over 2 hours. Buses leave at 9 am and return at around 4 pm, so if you’re going by bus, be prepared to spend the whole day. Buses only run during tourist season.
You might want to consider renting a car. Most people consider this the best option as it gives you flexibility with the time you spend there. However, some people find the road from Chania tricky as it does have several hairpin bends and steep mountain passes.
With a scenic route that takes you through Topolia gorge, you’re guaranteed spectacular views! If you’re arriving by car, you’ll probably want to stay the night, or make sure to leave well before sunset – the roads are not ideal for nighttime driving.
There is a large parking lot next to the beach with easy access, and the beach itself is well signposted. One benefit of driving to Elafonisi beach from Chania is that you can get there before or after the other tourists have left on their buses – a slice of paradise all to yourself.
If you prefer to let someone else do the organizing for you, there are several Chania to Elafonisi tours that run in the summer months. These normally pass through other villages in the area and make for a great day out.
How to get to Elafonisi beach from Heraklion
Getting to Elafonisi beach from Heraklion is a bit more difficult, so be prepared for a longer journey. If going by bus, the journey from Heraklion to Chania is around 2 hours 45 minutes, and then you need to factor in the 2-hour journey from Chania to Elafonisi beach (that leaves at 9 am). This means getting the bus from Heraklion at about 5.30 am if you want to travel from Chania on the same day.
Unless you specifically want to fit in a visit to Chania, driving’s a better bet from Heraklion. The total distance is about 212 km / 132 miles, which normally takes about 3 hours 12.
And if you don't want to have to worry about anything at all, get on this organized bus trip from Heraklion to Elafonisi. You'll have a full day at the beach without needing to worry about how you'll get there and back. Bliss!
Hotels near the pink beach
Budget: Camping Paleochora
A great nearby option for those on a budget. This campsite has sea views and its own restaurant and is located near several different stunning beaches. You don’t even need to bring your own camping equipment, as you can rent a tent at the site (with raised camp beds – luxury!). It’s about 14 km / 9 miles from Elafonisi making it ideal if you have the use of a car. It’s within walking distance of the town of Paleochora, from which you also have the option of getting a ferry to the pink beach at Elafonisi.
From Xasteria hotel it takes under ten minutes to drive to Elafonisi beach. It’s furnished in a very modern and classy way, and rooms have patios and balconies with gorgeous mountain and garden views. In your room, you also have access to a mini-fridge, kettle and coffee machine.
Luxury: Elafonisi Paradise
This couldn’t really be any more convenient for the Crete pink beach. Elafonisi beach is less than ten minutes away on foot. These air-conditioned studio apartments have one bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchenette. The hotel also features a restaurant and an outside terrace. There are free WiFi and private parking on site. The rooms are large and clean and you even get a fruit basket on arrival!
These homely apartments are comfy and clean with their own sun terraces. The kitchen comprises an oven and stovetop, fridge and coffee-making facilities. They’re located just outside of the town of Paleochora, with a selection of local beaches. Elafonisi beach in Crete is about 13 km / 8 miles away from Vakakis-ME apartments.
For more apartment options, don’t forget to check out Airbnb. I generally use Booking to find hotels, but for apartments, I always head to Airbnb as they offer a great selection.
If you want to try Airbnb but you don't yet have an account, you can get a discount on your initial booking if you book through my link. This won’t cost you anything more.
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Other pink beaches in Crete, Greece
There are only a handful of pink beaches in the world created by this bizarre coincidence of natural events. Crete is fortunate to hold two of the most dramatic – Elafonisi, and another called Balos. Both of these beaches are widely considered among the best beaches on Crete.
Balos is found 56 km / 35 miles northwest of Chania. This second pink beach on Crete is one of the most photographed beaches on the island, found beside a magnificent lagoon blessed with warm and shallow waters. This iconic beach is another picture-postcard location with crystalline waters and stunning sands. Home to cormorants, falcons, turtles and monk seals, this is another great spot for wildlife fanatics.
Balos can be accessed by boat or by road. Ferries run from the nearby town of Kissamos. The ferry journey takes in some great landmarks on the way, including the shipwreck and old fortress of the Imeri Gramvousa islet. You may be joined by the dolphins that frequent these waters!
If you have a car, you can take the dirt road from Kaliviani. Be aware you do have to pay a small road maintenance fee en route. The parking area at Balos is about one kilometer /two-thirds of a mile from the beach, with stunning scenery but a rather strenuous hike back up at the end of the day.
For adventurers, there’s the option of trekking to Balos from Kaliviani. This takes about three hours but is well worth the effort. The route is remarkable and leads you through some fantastic sightseeing spots. You’ll travel through Tigani, and see the small chapel of St George, and the memorial site at the cave where a large number of women and children were killed during the Turkish massacres of 1825.
What to bring to Elafonisi, Greece
- Sun hat
- Sun umbrella. Do not rely on there being available sun umbrellas as when it’s busy these are in high demand.
- Diving equipment if you want to dive. Most water sport equipment is available to rent but snorkeling gear is not.
- Snacks and drinks. There are beach bars but in tourist season these get extremely busy so it’s wise to bring your own.
- Camera. Whether it’s rare wildflowers or pink beach sunset views across the bay, you’ll want a memento.
- Beach towel
- Something weighted to keep your towel from blowing away. This area gets very windy!
- Euros for the public toilet
- Change of clothes. If you’re taking a bus, they can sometimes be strict about not sitting in your swimsuit.
- Appropriate footwear if you’re doing any of the E4 trail
How to get to Crete
The easiest way to get to Crete, is by flying there. There are direct flights to Crete from some destinations but oftentimes, you will have a stopover in Athens. Check Skyscanner for the best flight prices and possible routes.
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