Elafonissi Beach: Travel Guide to Pink Beach Crete
January 20, 2020
Elafonissi Beach: Crete’s Award-Winning Pink Sand Beach
It was an initial read-through of a travel blog on Chania, Crete where I first came across an image of the pink sand beach in Crete called Elafonissi (interchangeable with Elafonisi). I was so “wowed” by the images, that I immediately became laser focused on visiting Elafonissi Beach as soon as I made it to Chania.
Unfortunately, you and I are not the only people interested in visiting this remarkable pink sand beach. What was once a well-kept secret is now a tourist hotspot due to Elafonisi’s placement on TripAdvisor’s 25 Best Beaches in the World list in 2014. From that point forward, backpackers, families, Instagrammers and their Instagram husbands have come in droves every summer to experience the glorious combination of brilliant pink hue and soft sand –a stark and welcome contrast to the many pebble beaches found in Greece.
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But, what exactly makes that sand so pink and so soft? Science…which to be fair, is not my strong suit. So here’s a brief explanation: The light pink sand gets its hue from tiny pink crushed shells, broken coral pieces, and calcium carbonate materials, all of which ultimately fall to the ocean floor. For a more detailed version of this pink phenomena, click here. Depending on the motion of the tide, the boldness of the pink will vary. What won’t be variable is the softness of the sand and the shallowness of the water. I have never experienced a beach quite like it! You can walk out to where you would be completely submerged at your local beach, but at Elafonisi you might only be up to your knees in water!
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Elafonisi Beach: How to Get There
Chania to Elafonisi By Bus
After arriving in Chania on a bus from Heraklion with a quick one hour pit-stop in Rethymo, we saw a tourist information counter at the Chania bus station and went to discuss the best way to visit Elafonissi Beach. Turns out, Elafonisi is not the most convenient place to get to. Elafonisi is actually an island on the southwestern side of Crete about 75 kilometers from Chania. The island is only about 200 meters from the mainland. Between the island and the shore is a lagoon so you can actually get there on foot because the waters are so shallow. The public bus costs 11 euros and leaves at 9:00 AM from Chania. The ride takes approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes, but the bus doesn’t leave Elafonisi until around 4PM/ 5PM (17:00), which is quite a long time to spend there.
Chania – Elafonisi Tour
Keeping that bit of information in mind, we walked to our hostel, Cocoon City Hostel (P.S. this hostel was AMAZING), and asked what our options were. Turns out, the hostel works with a tour company who does day trips to Elafonissi for 22 euros. We opted to do this the following morning because it was only 11 euros more and provided a much more reasonable time table in terms of how long we would stay at the beach. Included in the day trip is a stop at the Agia Sofia cave or Cave of the Gods, which is located right off the main road in Topolia Gorge. There is a small monastery built within the cave along with well-formed stalactites and stalagmites. To be fair, this was not the most well-run tour I have ever been on. The amount of hotel pick-ups we had to do along the way coupled with a brash tour guide makes me hesitant to recommend this particular tour. Oh yea, we also arrived at the same time as all of the other hoards of tourists. But, I ultimately don’t regret the decision for the following two reasons: a. The beach more than made up for a lackluster experience b. I would not have wanted to drive those roads on my own.
Drive to Elafonissi Beach
The next day I met some native Greeks at the hostel who were headed to Elafonissi at about 3:00 PM (15:00). I was shocked and confused as to how they were able to leave so late in the day. Well, it turns out they had rented a car and were planning on getting to Elafonisi beach once the tourists had left on their tour buses. They had time to enjoy the pink sand beaches and do so at their own pace at a time of day where the sun isn’t quite so harsh. What is the downside to this? The drive to Elafonissi is composed of hairpin turns around mountain ridges. If you are not a local Greek or someone accustomed to driving on the island, I don’t recommend doing so yourself, especially not at night. If you are comfortable driving, then I would recommend going early morning before the day trippers get there.
Paleochora Boat Trip to Elafonisi
There is a boat option to Elafonisi Beach from Paleochora, but as it is almost just as difficult to reach Paleochora as it is Elafonisi, this option only makes sense if you are staying at accomodation nearby. Most boats are operated by locals who operate their own businesses. It’s also important to note that the waters are very shallow at Elafonissi, so you will be dropped off a short walk away from the island where the boats are capable of docking.
Before spending three weeks on the Greek Islands, I had no idea just how windy it could be. Being from Los Angeles, we have this pesky situation known as the Santa Ana winds, which is the only thing I can properly equate to the Greek Islands’ gusts. If you are a windsurfer, it’s a paradise; in fact, one of the highlights was watching the wind surfers do their thing in the Elafonissi lagoon. However, the winds are not so great for us sunbathers. In order to avoid these winds plus the masses of tourists that visit during the summer, early autumn is the ideal time to visit. Plus, the water temperature will still be warm in September and October before dropping in November. If you do go in spring or summer, make sure to check the forecast for wind warnings and plan your day trip to Elafonissi Beach when winds are at their lowest!
Sunbeds, Facilities, & Amenities
Come for the beach, not for the services. There are tons of sunbeds and beach umbrellas for hire but they usually fill up by late morning. By the time our tour bus arrived, every spot in those sections were taken. That wasn’t too big a blow though because they really pack you in there sardine-style. Bring some towels instead and walk out past the Elafonisi lagoon toward the island and you’ll find some slightly more secluded areas to sit and dip in the water. It’s basically like finding a hidden immunity idol on Survivor. The reward is worth the walk: you won’t be crammed in too tight and you will have the opportunity to venture out past the crowds and explore the island. Just expect your towel to blow around violently in the wind.
The bathroom situation? Not too enticing. The limited infrastructure is ill-equipped to host so many visitors at Elafonissi. There are a couple of WC’s near the beach bars and the parking lot, but the lines may take you all day.
While there are two places to eat at Elafonissi, I recommend bringing some filling snacks or packing a lunch instead. Go to a local supermarket the night before and grab some fixings for a turkey sandwich and chips.
Canteen Kukurakis is a snack bar at the beach, but with incredibly long lines. There is also a sit-down restaurant option, Panorama, which does have the views going for it, but not much else. Stop at a local taverna without a tour bus outside on the way back to Chania and enjoy authentic Cretan cuisine. You should also pull over at a local honey shack and try a sampling of honey raki, a popular alcoholic beverage in the Middle East, Greece, and the Balkans.
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I wouldn’t necessarily recommend staying overnight at Elafonisi unless you are really determined to avoid the crowds during high season or are spending a very long time on the island of Crete, Greece. However, if you do decide to stay, then Elafonisi Resort by Kalomirakis Family is your best option. The property is just 500 meters from the beach and is situated in an olive garden. Fun fact: there are 30 million olive trees on Crete. Cretan industry is based around agriculture and their main product produced is olive oil.
Elafonisi’s Plant Species
Don’t judge a book by its cover because Elafonisi is more than its pink sand. The beach is also home to 110 different plant species! Elafonisi remains a protected area for Androcymbium rechingeri, a small, bulbous plant that only grows in small coastal areas of Western Crete from December to February. Consequently, it is illegal to remove any wildlife, sand, or animals from the beach and if caught, you can be heavily fined.
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Elafonissi Beach Packing List
- Beach Towels – Make sure to pack a Microfiber Quick Dry Towel!
- Swimsuit – wear it!
- Sunscreen –Australian Gold Botanicals Sunscreen Tinted SPF 50(the best!)
- Weighted objects to keep towels from blowing around in the wind
- Euros for WC, local taverna on the drive home, and honey raki
- Sun hat
- Change of clothes ( the tour buses are adamant that you put on clean clothes and don’t wear your wet swimsuit on the bus)
- Water Shoes/Flip flops
Have you been to Elafonissi, the pink sand beach in Crete, Greece? Did it meet or exceed your expectations? Share your thoughts on Elafonisi beach Crete in the comments below!
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