Greece is not just about Santorini or Mykonos. The largest island is one that is underrated and often overlooked- Crete! On the hunt for beautiful beaches in Greece, we almost booked our flight to Zakynthos until we discovered Elafonissi Beach and Balos Lagoon. We ended up spending 3 days in Crete!
It’s been a year since we left the island and my tan lines are still slightly visible! No amount of sunscreen was going to protect us from the blazing sun; most definitely not in August and not in Crete. We were sweaty, sticky, smelly, and covered in sand or dirt the entire time. It was definitely not your typical honeymoon itinerary but did we regret it? Hell no! The adventurous aspect made it that much more fun!
How to spend 3 days in Crete
With only 3 days in Crete, there was no way we could’ve explored the entire island. We made our home base in Chania (pronounced HAN-NYA) and limited ourselves to 3 main points in West Crete: Elafonissi Beach, Samaria Gorge, and Balos Lagoon.
Our friend advised us against driving in Crete because of the rough terrains leading to these places. Boy, were we glad we listened. The only thing separating vehicles from falling off huge drops and cliffs were rails at about 3-4 feet high (srs, no joke!). Traffic isn’t bad within town but if you’re going to these 3 places, leave it to the pros! I don’t know how they do it but the Cretan bus drivers are able to navigate gigantic tour buses like nobody’s business. The ones on the Balos route especially deserve an award. It was a total shitshow squeezing a massive bus through parked cars on both sides on a cliff.
3 Days in Crete – Day 1: Elafonissi Beach
We walked to the bus station from our Airbnb in Chania Old Town for the 9am bus (€10.90 per person). KTEL (Cretan bus service) uses tour buses as their public transport, so the 2.5hr ride was actually quite comfortable. We grabbed an umbrella and 2 chairs (I think it was about €7 for the whole day), slathered on sunscreen, and explored this famous pink-sand beach.
Elafonissi is actually a small island, with a long strip of sand connecting it to the mainland with shallow waters on each side. The sand itself isn’t really pink- the hue comes from dead corals and red microscopic organisms. It’s no wonder it’s one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I mean, just look at it!
Of our 3 days in Crete, this was our favourite stop. 6 hours passed quickly splashing around in the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Libyan Sea. Before we knew it, we were 6 shades darker and on the bus ride back to Chania.
- Public bus services to Elafonissi and Balos are only available in tourist season, so check their most up-to-date timetables before you go. If you can’t see them on this site, it means they’re not operating these routes at this time.
- There’s only ONE bus coming back from Elafonissi. Make sure you get on the 5pm bus!
- Snacks, water, and sunscreen are a MUST. There are stands at the beach but prices are steep.
3 Days in Crete – Day 2: Samaria Gorge
This is a 16km hiking trail in one of Crete’s National Parks- the longest in Europe. You can drive here on your own but I wouldn’t recommend it because you’ll have to leave your car at the entrance of the park and somehow pick it up at the end of the day after your downhill journey ends in Agia Roumeli. Plus, you’ll want to save your energy for the hike.
We joined an excursion for €18 each, and were picked up from Chania at 6am for a stunning 1hr comfy ride to Xyloskalo. We began our downhill journey from an altitude of 1250m, passing by floral and fauna (and tons of goat poop!) during our descend. You might come across “Kri-kri” goat on your hike, but we weren’t so lucky.
It was nice and cool for the first hour or so, but by the time we got to the 10km mark there was no more shade! We were baking in the August Cretan sun. It took us around 4-5 hours to reach Agia Roumeli– the hike really isn’t as bad as some make it sound unless you have knee problems, because it’s pretty much all downhill with some rocky parts. We also didn’t have an issue with overcrowding, even in peak season, because the gorge is massive. In fact, we were actually all alone 2-3hrs into the hike.
To be honest, we felt a little underwhelmed by Samaria Gorge, probably because we have some of the most beautiful hiking trails back home in BC Canada. However, that’s not to say Samaria Gorge isn’t amazing! The landscape, crystal clear creeks, and rock formations (especially the Iron Gates) are truly magnificent. This is something you’ll have to experience at least once in your lifetime. Definitely squeeze this in your itinerary of 3 days in Crete.
- The entrance fee to enter the gorge is €5; ferry ticket to Sougia is €10.
- There are washrooms and water fountains throughout the trail. You’ll be fine with just a small water bottle.
- Bring a roll of toilet paper with you- my husband thanked me for this.
- Bring flip flops (and a swimsuit) so you can soak in the sea after you get to Agia Roumeli. So refreshing!
- You can pay €2 for a shuttle ride for the last 2km of the trail.
- Bring a hat and lots of sunscreen. Your skin will thank you, especially after you pass the 10km mark.
- Make sure you keep your entrance ticket because you will need to show it when you exit. There is no overnight camping at the gorge. This is also how the rangers keep track of lost hikers.
3 Days in Crete – Day 3: Balos Lagoon
“Balos by bus or by boat?!” We took the 11am bus (7.80 per person) to Balos Lagoon via Kissamos from Chania. After 100min of being amazed by our bus driver (30min of which was us close to shitting our pants because of how close we were from falling off the cliffs, we arrived at another one of the most stunning beaches in Europe. 2 stunning beaches within only 3 days in Crete? Score!
Upon arrival, you have to walk for about 20-30min down a rocky hill. This is easy peasy as long as you watch out for goat poop. It is also here where you get the best view of the lagoons!
The first part of our day was fantastic. It started going downhill when more people and more people started to arrive, and then some. As the day went on, the temperature rose higher and higher. I started getting really dizzy and nauseous from the extreme heat. Hiking (or shall I say crawling) back up the rocky hill was an absolute nightmare, especially when there is no shade!
We liked Elafonissi a lot better than Balos because the sand here wasn’t as soft and clean. Once in the water it’s a different story, but there is a noticeable difference on the beach itself. Another thing to point out is the washroom at Balos, or lack of. I really needed to pee when we were waiting for the bus, but the closest thing was literally a hole in the ground in a little shack. No doors. No flushing mechanism. It was FILTHY in there with other people’s shit and piss everywhere, but when you gotta go, you gotta go!
- If you’re planning on driving, keep in mind that the last 30min is on a rocky, steep, and winding dirt road.
- Or just take the bus! You’ll be able to rest up on the way back. There are multiple services to and from Balos every day during peak season.
- Bring a pair of sneakers for the rocky descend/ascend.
- I have yet to figure out where the legit washroom is at Balos. Do people just pee in the water? What if they have to take a dump?