Elafonisi Beach can be wrapped up into one word: Breathtaking!
Dan and I recently had the opportunity to travel to this off-the-beaten-path gorgeous beach. And when I say opportunity, I mean you can’t travel here year round. It can be extremely dangerous depending on the weather conditions.
Elafonisi is located along the southwestern tip of the Island of Crete, Greece, and is surrounded by the Libyan Sea. It’s voted the best beach on the island as well as being rated one of the best beaches in the world. As soon as we arrived we couldn’t believe our eyes:
A panoramic view of sparkling, crystal-clear turquoise water dancing along with exceptionally fine white and crushed coral pink sand.
Elafonisi is beautifully exotic and one of a kind.
The beach often breaks into two parts by water, giving the impression of a separate island with lagoon-like features. The water is so shallow that you can actually wade through the lagoon to reach the nearly mile-long island, which is what we did!
We walked along the sand banks as the boys splashed through the shallow sea. Mind you, they’re mini dachshunds… so the shallow waters were perfect for them.
After doing some research on the beach, I found out that the coral pink sand gets its color from the deposited red and pink shells that are roughly ground up by the ocean.
Elafonisi is a protected site that is home to 110 plant species which include juniper trees, sea daffodils and marram grass. It’s also covered by sand dunes from the seasonal high winds.
Because it gets extremely windy, we were pelted with sand throughout many sporadic wind gusts. It felt like we were in a sand storm (all I could hear was the Y2K hit by Darude…). The poor boys got a ton of sand in their eyes – thankfully we had enough water in the car to flush the sand out.
Getting to the beach is an adventure to say the least.
You can get there by car or boat. Go figure we decided to take the most dangerous way… by car (we had no idea about the boat until after our exploration). It’s like you’re on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, but in this case you could literally fall off a real cliff into the depths of the gorge (scary skeleton men with spears not included).
Not only is Elafonissi Beach rated the best beach on Crete and one of the top beaches in the world, but the road to get there is also rated one of the most dangerous on the island.
Expect to drive on a narrow – mostly single lane – switch back road. Parts of the road are unpaved and, while you pass through small mountain villages, it feels like you stepped well over 200 years back in time.
The snake-like road is littered with steep rock boulders which are netted right above your head to catch the numerous rock slides from the high winds.
These “nets” are – and I’m not joking – right on top of your head.
Exhibit A: I took the photo (above) through the front windshield of our sedan. Look how close that steel net is to our car!
On the other side of the road, you are faced with a 500 foot (or greater) sheer cliff down to the gorge below – and don’t expect the sparse safety railings to save you! There’s even a one lane tunnel built into the side of the mountain (Topolia Tunnel) which is a little frightening… if you’re me and randomly freak out.
Because it’s a single lane stone-built tunnel where you can only rely on assumption that there isn’t another car driving the opposite direction.
I highly recommend driving early to the beach, as it takes about an hour just to get through Topolia Gorge, and that’s if no one’s in front of you. You have to drive slow and cautious. There are only a few safety banks along the road, so if one car is driving the opposite way you may have to be the one who backs up in order for them to pass.
If you have ever driven through Malibu Canyon in California, well, this is Malibu Canyon on crack.
Trust me though, It’s well worth it once you get there! With spectacular views of the gorge and the breathtaking Libyan Sea in the foreground, I doubt you will regret it!
(Or… just take the boat)
Stop by one of the mountain villages and eat lunch at a traditional Taverna.
You will seriously find some of the best food on the island in the small mountain villages.
Everything is fresh, organic and absolutely delicious! It seems every family has their own organic olive and/or orange grove and free-range livestock.
Some villages even sell their very own herb-infused or black honey! (If you know me, you’d know I’m a honey freak)
They will serve you only what is in season. Since the locals most likely don’t speak English, make sure you learn a little Greek because everything on the menu is not always offered. Though I do have to say, whatever they have available – take it! Like I said earlier, it’s the best food on the island (and some of the best food I’ve ever had).
Elafonisi means Treasure Island in Greek and, like all of Greece, its history goes back to Ancient times.
It’s known that singing fairies and a Greek Goddess named Vitomarti (who was worshiped during the Minoan era) thrived in Topolia Gorge. Also, the ancient Greeks built a temple in Elafonisi dedicated to Mousagetis (Greek Deities). Later on, the beach was occupied by pirates along with their buried treasures. Most of the historic stories about pirates were actually from the Greek Islands, not the Bahamas.
Actually, I’ve read that Elafonisi also means “Deer Island”, but I like the sound of treasure better. It just makes more sense with the given ancient history – and there’s no doubt in my mind that this place is truly magical.
You should also check out 10 vital tips you need to know before visiting Elafonisi! There is an awesome ancient sacred cave with shrines inside and a Taverna below it!