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You do not have to spend a lot of money and fly far off to the Caribbean to see a piece of paradise on earth, just take a trip to Crete. The two best lagoons to visit in Crete tempt its visitors with white sand beaches, crystal clear and shallow water, shimmering in blue, turquoise, or dark sapphire depending on the time of day.
Both lagoons are beautiful and indisputably a “must see” during your stay in Crete, but each one has its own unique atmosphere, and it is definitely not enough to see only one to consider the Cretan lagoons as closed. In this blog post, I would like to share my experiences of what we saw in the two lagoons in the middle of a hot Greek summer in July 20.
Elafonisi is located in the south-western part of the island and it is often considered as the most beautiful beach in Crete. When writing about this lagoon, it is impossible not to mention the picturesque road that connects Elafonisi with Chania. The most spectacular part of the route runs through the Topolia gorge in the White Mountains, where the road over the cliff is so narrow that the traffic only works alternating in one way or the other.As soon as we enter the vast parking lot, we get overrun by the special climate conditions of the lagoon. We are literally covered with sand, as well as cars and the vegetation around us – everything is covered with a thin, white layer, and with the slightest movement, the sand rises into the air.
The car park is very big. Undoubtedly, this is a plus, because even in high season, everyone will find a place at the beach of Crete, which is the most crowded one on the island. But … the size of the car park may also be a minor drawback. Most of the cars that park there are small, white cars from the same rental company, and since the parking lot itself is just a vast, sandy square with small bushes, everything looks the same, which means: Let’s try to remember the place where we leave the car.
2. Welcome to Paradise!
Elafonisi is the name of the island, located about 100 meters from the coast of Crete which is connected with the island by a shallow lagoon, so shallow that you can usually simply walk to the island on a dry foot. The landscape is truly overwhelming, and, in my opinion, it meets all the requirements and associations of paradise: white sand, a shallow lagoon, mountains in the background and water, which, depending on the place and time of day, shimmers in shades of blue, sapphire, turquoise. What more could one want?
Even though it is one of the most touristic places on the island, the beach is so vast that everyone can find a place and, surprisingly, even crowds of tourists are not able to take away its charm. The lagoon has gained a lot of popularity due to the pink beach with tiny pink pebbles, the remains of a coral reef that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption.
These pebbles and crushed shells form picturesque and pink stripes that are clearly visible to the naked eye – a must see for everyone who visits this place! Unfortunately, there is also a sad version that explains the origin of the pink sand. In 1824, Egyptian troops under the leadership of Pasha Ibrahim slaughtered 850 women and 40 men there and according to legend, their blood stained the sand.
One downside of the lagoon we experienced was the strong African wind from the Sahara Desert which blows in this area especially during the summer months. That wind was the reason why my seven-year-old son complained that it was cold (despite temperatures around 43 degrees Celsius), and that he was stung by particles of sand, which the wind was mercilessly blowing into his eyes. But as soon as we found a slightly more sheltered part of the beach to hide from the wind, the heat became absolutely pitiless.
It is also worth noting that the entire island of Elafonisi forms a unique nature reserve with endemic species of plants and animals (for example sea turtles) and in the western part of the island, you can admire high cliffs that are quite dangerous for ships. All in all, the lagoon is incredibly beautiful. I always thought that the turquoise color of the water I saw in photos is because of editing them with Photoshop, but in this place nature itself perfectly coped with the creation of this miracle.
3. Balos Lagoon
We don’t intend to sunbathe at the lagoon, we rather just want to explore it and although we plan a bit accidentally to make the trip in the late afternoon, it turns out later to be a very good decision afterwards. The Balos Lagoon is located on the rocky Gramvousa Peninsula. Its location strongly determines the two possible ways of reaching it. The first option is a gravel-rocky road crossing the peninsula, and the second option is a ship that is regularly circuiting the peninsula. We choose the first option.
The road to the lagoon is definitely an unforgettable experience, exciting and even temporarily slightly scary. The road runs along the slope of the peninsula, on one side a rock overhead, on the other side a cliff and the sea. The road is rocky, we drive at a maximum pace of 15-20 km per hour, and stones keep popping up from under the wheels of the car. We are a bit worried about the chassis of our small rental car, since such damage is not covered by insurance).But no risk, no fun. The ride takes about 50 minutes and although it is possible to be faster than that, we decide to be careful as we prefer to return the car to the rental car company without additional scratches and dents. Despite these inconveniences, the route is so picturesque that it takes our breath away every now and then.
Halfway through, a herd of Kri-Kri goats crosses the road. These fascinating and curious goats can only be found in Crete and three other small islands nearby. We also pass beehives suspended on rock shelves and I start to get hungry just thinking about the tasty thyme honey that is produced inside of them. We notice that we are coming closer and closer to our destination and already about 2 km from the parking lot we are passing cars parked on the narrow side of the road.
Every now and then more cars leave, and it is not difficult to understand why they were parking there and not on the parking lot. Apparently, a few hours earlier, they couldn’t get any closer to the parking lot because of the rush of traffic during the day. But now, in the late afternoon, we are lucky to find a lot of parking space.
However, the parking lot is not the end of the route. We still have a 20-minute hike, which in the final section runs steeply down and after only a few minutes, the views begin to compensate for any hardships of the trip: in front of us we see the entire lagoon with the surrounding islands.
We go down to the beach. The amazing thing is that apart from us, there are only a few people, which is we start to get the impression that we have found some undiscovered land. We walk along the beach; we cross the lagoon.
It is beautiful, the lowering sun is coloring the surrounding peaks in shades of orange. Next to the lagoon, you can admire the small island of Gramvousa. Many believe that it is the mythical Ayaya island on which Odysseus spent one year during his long wandering. According to the myth, the fairy Circe, who hosted Odysseus, lived on it.
On the island, you can find a fort that was built by the Venetians in the years 1579-1584, when they still ruled over Crete. It was a strategic place of resistance against the Ottoman Empire. The fortress is surrounded on three sides by walls several meters thick.
The island can be visited by boat since organized tours usually make the first stop there. However, by choosing this option, most often you will already lack in strength to climb the cliff above the lagoon, and it is from there that you can see the popular Instagram view of the otherworldly lagoon stretching out.
4. An Unforgettable Experience
After about 1.5 hours of walking, we begin to climb the cliff towards the parking lot. I am very sure that this endeavor must be a very tough one during the hot midday sun. There is another unforgettable experience right ahead of us: the sunset over the lagoon. As soon as we reach the cliff, we already see a few people waiting for this spectacle.
We sit down next to them on the rocks and wait. The show starts fairly quickly and lasts about half an hour, causing shivers of excitement all over my body. It is delightful, stunning, and the impressions are difficult to put into words. One can only admire this miracle of nature in peace and quiet.When we get back to the parking lot, there are only a few cars left, a woman selling honey and a donkey who probably works hard during the day carrying tourists on his back. We also pass the ubiquitous Kri-Kri goats and a herd of sheep returning from the pasture, which made me wonder what they eat in this dried out, moon-like vegetation.
Both Cretan lagoons are absolutely amazing, and although Elafonisi is on all the lists of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Balos is my personal favorite. So, do not hesitate to visit both lagoons during your stay on the island!
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