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snorkeling in crete

The Best Place for Snorkeling in Crete: 9 Top Spots (Insider Guide)

So, you’re looking for the best place for snorkeling in Crete? You’re going to be spoiled for choice! This is the largest of over 6,000 Greek islands; a land ringed by warm, nutrient-filled water that allows marine life to blossom. More than that, the rugged coast and the rocky Mediterranean seabed is the perfect habitat for underwater creatures of all shapes and sizes, from sea turtles to anemones to octopi.

Practically any coastal stretch of Crete is a good place to snorkel. From the pink-tinged sands of Elafonisi in the south to the idyllic lagoon of Balos up north, there are certainly stand-out stars. They sit right next to remote runs of coves and shoreline where you can snorkel without another soul in sight. And there’s precedence, too, because some historians believe Crete was actually the birthplace of snorkeling! As far back as 350 BC, Aristotle wrote about local sponge divers using some kind of breathing tube made from hollowed-out reeds.

This guide will help reveal the very best place for snorkeling in Crete. It draws on insider knowledge from a well-known Greek dive school and offers up a few tips of its own, all to help you discover the most amazing underwater scenery that the island can muster. Let’s dive in…

Elafonisi Beach

Elafonisi Beach, crete
TPhoto by porojnicu/Envato Elements

Elafonisi is a must-see, even though it’s often very crowded – the spot draws in up to 2,500 daily visitors during peak season. What draws the crowds is the absolute beauty of the place: Sand dunes, cedar trees, incredibly rare ‘cup-and-saucer’ flowers of perfect white, jet-black volcanic rock, and, mostly, the pink sand. Yes, Elafonisi is one of the world’s very few pink beaches, and it tops the list of Condé Nast’s Most Beautiful Pink Sand Beaches in the World. Impressive, eh?

Technically an island, Elafonisi seems more like a mile-long peninsula thanks to the silted channels of the lagoon that sits in front of it. You can easily walk through the water to get to the pink beaches. The H2O is no higher than waist level, and lovely and warm to boot! The area beyond is now a designated Natura 2000 nature reserve, named for the rare loggerhead sea turtles, who use the island to lay their eggs.

(Fun fact: the pink beach is formed from the crushed red shells of tiny crustaceans, called foraminifera, that mix with the beach’s white-colored sand to give an overall pink hue.)

How’s the snorkeling at Elafonisi?

Elafonisi Beach is consistently rated as the best place for snorkeling in Crete. The lagoon’s crystal blue waters have excellent visibility — up to 30 meters — and there’s only the gentlest of currents. The first few sandbanks aren’t too exciting, plus they’re usually jam-packed with sunbathers and swimmers. Instead, avoid the crowds by venturing past at least 50 meters, where you’ll find a variety of medium-sized fish swimming around volcanic rock fissures.

Where is Elafonisi? 

Elafonisi beach is on the southwest tip of Crete, about a 90-minute drive from the city of Chania. During high season, a bus picks up from Chania at 9am and drops back off at 4pm, but renting your own transport is preferable, and a lot more reliable. The roads are tricky after dark, so you should consider staying the night in a cheap hotel (they start at about $55).

What’s nearby?

The 17th-century monastery of Chryssoskalitissa is on the way from Chania, and well worth a visit. This orthodox Christian monastery sits 115 feet (35m) above sea level, and it takes 98 steps to reach, one of which is said to be made of gold (Chryssoskalitissa translates as “step of gold”). Bizarrely, the monastery was saved in 1824 from the Turk-Egyptian army by a swarm of bees!

Kedrodasos Beach

Kedrodasos Beach
Photo by Dimitris Kiriakakis/Unsplash

It may be only half a mile from Elafonisi, but Kedrodasos is a completely different sort of Greek beach. The first thing you’ll notice is how enticingly uncrowded and empty it is. There are no food stalls, no ski-jet rental outlets, and no sun loungers. It’s just stretches of untouched white sand, framed by a 110-acre grove of dwarf juniper trees. Whoever named the beach mistook those for cedars, and so the beach was named kedros (“cedar”) dasos (“forest”).

The main stretch of beach is roughly 450 yards wide, and there are a series of smaller beaches hidden between the rocks. Some of these are tiny and offer perfect seclusion, making them very popular with naturists (technically, nude sunbathing is illegal, but nobody’s been prosecuted since the 1970s in this part of the world!).

How’s the snorkeling in Kedrodasos Beach? 

Unlike Elafonisi Beach, Kedrosas is protected from the wind, which means the water is very calm. There are plenty of underwater rock formations which are home to large schools of fish — be sure to look out for the delightful sea horses, but also keep an eye out for the red scorpion fish, with its painful venom-injecting spines.

Where is Kedrodasos Beach?

Kedrodasos is on the south-western corner of Crete, close to Elafonisi Beach. You can get most of the way by car, but the small car park gets full quite quickly and it’s a magnet for thieves, so pre-booking a taxi is probably the smarter move. You’ll need to be reasonably fit, as there’s a steep stone stairway to get to the beach, which will feel even steeper going back!

What’s nearby?

Nothing, which is the whole point! Actually, you’ll see some black and yellow paint daubed onto the rocks, which might seem confusing. It’s there to direct those on the trans-European ‘E4 Path’, which covers 6,200 miles from Andalusia to Cyprus and includes the path between Elafonisi and Kedrodasos. It’s a popular gap-year trek, so people from all over the world end up passing through Kedrodasos.

Matala Beach

matala beach
Photo by Leonhard Niederwimmer/Pixabay

Back in the 60s and 70s, Matala was a very hippie place, full of beautiful people preaching free love and flowers. Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin passed through, as did Joni Mitchell, who wrote her 1971 hit Carey about the idyllic lifestyle in the town. Nowadays it’s a lot more touristy, but the beach is still excellent. It’s over 300 yards long and mainly fine golden sand, with pebbles at the water’s edge. Uniquely, one whole side of the beach is a giant rock, full of man-made cave dwellings.

At night the atmosphere can get a bit boisterous, but stay away from the crowds and you’ll find an impossibly romantic setting. That’s largely thanks to the fact that the town lights up all the hand-carved caves that surround the beach. If you’re feeling fit, there’s a scramble path through the rocks that leads to an enchanting red sand beach, known locally as Ammoudia.

(Fun fact: Legend has it that when Zeus, king of the Greek gods, seduced the princess Europa, he crossed the sea and brought her to Matala Beach. There he changed into an eagle, and carried her off to the nearby city of Gortys, where he “lay with her” for many days. We’re sure the free-love hippies would’ve approved!)

How’s the snorkeling at Matala Beach?

Excellent! We’d say it’s arguably the best place for snorkeling in Crete on the south coast. Dramatic underwater topography provides shelter for a wide variety of sea life, including rare monk seals, loggerhead sea turtles, and the occasional basking shark (yes, there are quite a few sharks in the Aegean Sea, but they’re mostly harmless!). Either side of the rocks you’ll find the sunken remains of an ancient Roman port, so you can also tick ancient culture off your vacation to-do list!

Where is Matala Beach?

Matala sits in the center of Crete’s southern coastline, approximately 50 miles from Heraklion, the nearest major city. A bus from Heraklion costs only $10, but the trip takes over two hours going through the mountains. For that reason we’d suggest a hotel for the night. Most cost around $70, but some, like the family-run Stergios Apartments, have great deals if you book in advance.

What’s nearby?

Matala village used to be a working fishing village, but since hippie culture arrived in the 1970s it’s grown into a cool tourist spot. Bright colors decorate every street, including the actual road surfaces, which are painted with hippie motifs. These are re-done every June, as part of the Matala Beach Festival – the biggest free music festival in Europe. If you want to spend a few days in Matala, there are a limited number of beach-front hotels, starting from a reasonable $48 per night.

Chrissi Island

Chrissi Island
Photo by Pat_Photographies/Pixabay

Lying at one of the southernmost points in Europe, Chrissi Island is hardly a part of Crete at all. You’ll need to ride a ferry here for an hour (more on that below) to enjoy its shell-studded sands and snorkeling waters. The good news is that means there’s often not the same crowds you find elsewhere in eastern Crete. Plus, this far south heralds swimming in the Libyan Sea, which is the warmest of all the water bodies in the area.

How’s the snorkeling at Chrissi Island?

Pretty spectacular. This island might be a bit more of a chore to get to compared to some of the other options on this list, but it rewards the effort with some of the clearest H2O around Crete as a whole. Seriously, the bays here glint and glimmer a swimming-pool hue. On still days when there’s not much swell, the visibility cannot be beaten. The best two spots on Chrissi are Golden Beach and Agios Nikolaos Beach. They are both on the northern shore and flanked by pockets of ancient, fossilized shells.

Where is Chrissi Island?

Chrissi Island is set just under 10 miles off the south coast of eastern Crete. You can get there by hopping on one of the daily (at least in the peak season) ferries from Ierapetra. They take about 45-55 minutes in normal conditions and are pedestrian-only, as there’s no road for cars on the isle itself. Don’t worry, though, it’s a cinch, nope, a pleasure, to wander from cove to cove once you arrive.

What’s nearby?

Not much! Seriously, this is an island all on its own, set in the Libyan Sea some 9 miles south off the coast of Crete itself. Escaping everything is sort of the point of heading over. However, the main port that you use to get to Chrissi – the town of Ierapetra – has some points of interest. There, you can explore a collection of archaeological relics found in east Crete and see a house where Napoleon once stayed for the night.

Balos Beach

balos beach
Photo by Dimitris Kiriakakis/Unsplash

For once, the hype is absolutely justified! The sandy beach, the beautiful lagoon, and the tiny picturesque islets of Balos make it unquestionably one of Crete’s premier destinations. Despite the crowds, Balos still manages to retain a touch of wild and raw character. Facilities are at a minimum – some sunbeds and beach umbrellas – but the bay draws real character from being wind-blasted and rugged and largely untouched.

The water in the lagoon area is warm and shallow, so Balos is a great place for families, although younger kids might bemoan the lack of any pizza or burger stands. Keen swimmers are catered for as well – the seaward (north) side of the beach has deeper water that’s ideal for swimming, with a gentle current that sweeps you back to shore.

(Fun fact: The Mediterranean monk seal is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world, though sadly it’s also the most endangered marine mammal in Europe. Currently, only 600 to 700 individuals remain, although a collaboration between Greek scientists, conservation organizations, and wildlife authorities has a program in place to protect the monk seal’s habitat, and recent results have been positive.)

How’s the snorkeling at Balos?

The lagoon area is particularly great for novice snorkelers, although the sandbanks only hold smaller fish. The good stuff is further out, and if you’re lucky you’ll meet some loggerhead sea turtles, or maybe a rare Mediterranean monk seal. Just be wary of the swells and currents if you do break past the boundaries of the lagoon – things can get a little rough out there, especially in the winter and windy spring months.

Where is Balos?

Balos is located on the northwestern corner of Crete, at the tip of the westernmost peninsula called Gramvousa. It’s a remote place and accessible mainly by ferry, which leaves early in the morning from the quaint port of Kissamos. The trip takes about an hour from port to beach. Alternatively, you could rent a bike from Kissamos town and brave the rocky coastal path. It’s not easy going but you will earn your swim at the end!

What’s nearby?

You’re also close to another highly-regarded beach — Gramvousa — and many ferry trips include a two-hour stopover there, giving you a chance to experience a duo of the best places for snorkeling in Crete in a single day. The other main attraction is a 15th-century Venetian fort, built to repel the Ottomans.

Koutalas Beach

Koutalas Beach
Photo by Sean Oulashin on Unsplash

Koutalas Beach hides just 15 miles west of Chania beneath the charming little village of Kokkino Chorio, which was thrust into the limelight when it was chosen as a filming location for the 1964 film Zorba the Greek. The bay isn’t that well known, so the upshot here is that there’s a chance you’ll be totally alone when you come to don the snorkeling gear.

In fact, Koutalas Beach is little more than a tiny cleft in the high cliffs that dominate the coastal landscape on this western corner of Crete. It runs inland for about 40 meters, with steep-sided walls of stone and a very narrow dash of pebbles at its end.

How’s the snorkeling at Koutalas Beach?

The rocky seabed that rolls through Koutalas Beach might not be the best for paddling (reef shoes are a gift) but it does help to keep underwater visibility very high. You’ll need to swim out from the shore about 20 meters to where things get deeper. Then, starfish, anemones, rainbowfish, and seahorses are all common sightings. We’ve even seen a sea turtle here before!

Where is Koutalas Beach?

Koutalas Beach isn’t going to be the easiest to find. Even the locals of little Kokkino Chorio call it by a different name (or do they just want to keep it a secret?). You’ll definitely need your own wheels to arrive. Head west from the charming resort town of Almyrida for a couple of clicks on the main road. It will soon turn into a dirt track heading northwest. That finishes at a small carpark where a track leads down to the sea.

What’s nearby?

Do lunch in Almyrida. There are a number of fun tavernas right on the beachfront there, along with quirky pirate bars that always have cold beer and Greek wine. A visit to Kokkino Chorio is also a good option, to see if you can spot the filming locations used back in 1964!

Kourna Lake

Kourna Lake
Photo by Envato Elements

A lake? In Crete? Yep! Kourna Lake is the ONLY natural freshwater lake in the whole of Crete. It sits on the cusp of the White Mountains just a short detour from the main coast road. It’s got cool H2O, a rugged setting, and even the chance to do some snorkeling with a bit of a difference.

Kourna Lake actually becomes something of a favorite for local Cretans in the summer months. When the hot winds pick up in July and August, the spot offers a welcome respite from the balmy shoreline of the island where there are usually big crowds of international visitors. A few dashes of rocky lake banks and a smattering of tavernas add to the draws, so you can expect a pleasant day out even if you don’t come with the snorkel gear in tow.

How’s the snorkeling at Kourna Lake?

Don’t come here expecting the abundance of sea creatures you find on the island’s saltier shores. However, Kourna Lake is definitely the best place to snorkel in Crete in freshwater. It’s a chance to dive into cool highland aqua where reeds and pockets of water mosses cover the rocks. Sightings could include diamondback terrapins, eels, and even water snakes. Just be sure to watch out for the pedalos!

Where is Kourna Lake?

Kourna Lake is a short drive south of the main coast road that crosses northern Crete. You can get there in about 10 minutes after turning south at Georgioupoli. There’s lots of on-site parking but you might need to walk a little to the lake banks.

What’s nearby?

Visit the little highland village of Lappa. It’s a strange town up in the mountains to the southeast of Kourna Lake. A microclimate there means it’s a rare spot for avocado cultivation in Europe. There are some excellent health food shops and tavernas, along with the remains of an ancient village.

Almyrida

snorkel in crete
Photo by Envato Elements

Almyrida is a bit of a tourist town just to the east of Chania. It’s stretched along a wide, open, and – crucially for snorkelers – shallow bay on the north coast of the island, with lovely views of the airport peninsula in the distance. Don’t expect to be in the water on your own here. Almyrida is popular from spring to summer thanks to its accessibility and wealth of hotels and shoreline tavernas. That said, it’s rarely as busy as Malia or Chania itself, and has a fun, family-friendly vibe.

How’s the snorkeling in Almyrida?

Almyrida opens into a duo of bays separated by a fishing jetty and a small spit of sand. The western side is the best for snorkeling, while the eastern side lends itself to swimmers, although you will need to keep an eye out for the incoming fishing skiffs on both. You’re looking for the area between the concrete plinth and the rocks at the end of Almyrida bay itself. That’s very shallow and well protected from the N-NW swells, meaning it’s a good choice for beginners and families, especially when you add in the regular presence of lifeguards.

It’s not normal to see bigger sea creatures here, but you might get lucky and come across a sea turtle. More likely are plumes of sardines and whitefish. The main hazard are the venomous weever fish in the shallows, but they’re all around Crete and not all that common. Just be careful where you stand and bring reef shoes.

Where is Almyrida?

A drive of about 40 minutes from Chania Airport and a little less than that from Chania town can bring you to welcoming Almyrida. It’s set in a cleft on the north coast of Greece overlooking a bay that looks north into the Aegean. Access to Heraklion and Rethymno is easy, too, thanks to the close proximity of the main 900 highway.

What’s nearby?

Lots. Chania is a must. Half an hour’s drive in the car can take you to that enchanting Venetian city with its famous lighthouse and old harbor. There’s also the little village of Kokkino Chorio up the road, which was used as a filming location for Zorba the Greek.

Crete’s secret beach – the best place for snorkeling in Crete?

Woman snorkeling by herself
There are hundreds of pristine snorkeling spots with no crowds underwater – just you. | Image Credit: Envato Elements

OK, we’re cheating with this last one, because we can’t tell you anything about the beach, or where it is. But what we do know is that Crete holds a myriad of hidden coves that you won’t find on any map. Reachable only by boat, local diving and snorkeling guides run excursions to some of these nameless beaches. But for a real hidden paradise, you need a different source…

Rather than book an organized tour, we suggest you charter a local fishing boat and ask the skipper to take you to an uncrowded place that’s good for snorkeling. It might cost you a bit extra, but there’s no place these fishingfolk don’t know, and you’ll likely find a super secluded spot, all to yourself.

Doing it this way leaves it up to you to find the best place for snorkeling in Crete!

How’s the snorkeling?

You tell us! We’re hoping that it’s hands down the best place for snorkeling in Crete.

Where is it?

Only the fishermen know.

What’s nearby?

Ideally, nothing but sand and empty coastline!

FAQs

Can you swim with turtles in Crete?

There are three types of sea turtle that inhabit the coastal waters of Crete: the common green, the leatherback, and the loggerhead. It’s perfectly OK to swim with all of these — they live for upwards of sixty years, so they’ve had plenty of time to get used to a few inquisitive humans. During the nesting season — late May to August — you’ll see many sea turtles making their way up Cretan beaches during the day, to lay their eggs in the warm sand.

Which Greek Island has the best snorkeling?

Most people would agree that Crete is the best Greek island for snorkeling, as there are so many great snorkeling (and diving) locations. Crete also boasts shallow coastal waters, meaning the snorkeling is kid-friendly, and low currents ensure underwater visibility is always perfect. Crete offers a myriad of secluded beaches where often it’s just you out snorkeling, giving you plenty of time to study the underwater scenery undisturbed.

Is the sea warm in Crete?

The sea in Crete is very warm (up to 25°C, 77°F) during the summer. Even in winter the temperature never falls much below 17°C (62°F), so you can swim and snorkel all year round, without needing a thermal wetsuit. Along the north coast of Crete, the sea temperatures are usually a few degrees warmer and the water is shallower, so families with very young kids might prefer beaches on that side of the island.

Where’s the best place for snorkeling in Crete?

There are a whole load of spots that could be the best place for snorkeling in Crete, from the pink-sand coves of Elafonisi in the south to the amazing Balos Lagoon up north. You can be the judge of where’s your favourite, but generally speaking it’s the western half of the island that has the better snorkeling options, around Chania and the south coast Libyan Sea.