0Boat trips and surrounding islets

Crete has near­ly 100 small­er islands sur­round­ing it and many of these can be vis­it­ed with reg­u­lar boat trips or with a pri­vate hire. Some of the islands are pro­tect­ed nation­al parks (called Kri-kri) though and can’t or should­n’t be vis­it­ed. Many of the less­er known islets are also hard to iden­ti­fy with even google maps not show­ing names. Whilst we may have some sep­a­rate pages for the most pop­u­lar islands to vis­it, here we sum­marise details for all the islands for those peo­ple who like to explore a bit fur­ther from the beat­en track

Islands with regular boat trips available

Spinalonga & Mirabello Bay

Mirabel­lo bay is a large bay on the north coast of Crete towards the east­ern end of the island near Agios Niko­laos. Spina­lon­ga (or Kaly­don as it is also known) is prob­a­bly the best known island any­where around Crete. It is famous as a for­mer lep­er colony and is fea­tured in the book ‘The Island’ by Vic­to­ria His­lop. Before being a lep­er colony the island was the site of a Venet­ian fortress and has been pop­u­lat­ed on-and-off for near­ly 2 mil­len­nia. Spina­lon­ga is a muse­um pre­served by the Greek state and costs €8 to enter (still a good price, but a notable increase from the €2 it cost until recent­ly). Boat trips to Spina­lon­ga run reg­u­lar­ly from Agios Niko­laos (€16–25, 1 hour jour­ney) and Eloun­da (€12 return, 30–40min jour­ney) as well as from the near­by vil­lage of Pla­ka (€8 return, 5 minute jour­ney). Trips from Agios Niko­laos and Eloun­da often include addi­tion­al stop offs for swim­ming and can include guides or lunch, whilst trav­el­ling from Pla­ka offers the oppor­tu­ni­ty for lunch on the seafront in Pla­ka at once of the tav­er­nas there. Most vis­i­tors spend around 90 min­utes on Spina­lon­ga but if you want to be more flex­i­ble the best option is the boat from Pla­ka as this runs back and forth every 30 min­utes and your tick­et is an open return. Whilst it is a lit­tle bit of a climb it is worth fol­low­ing a path to the top of Spina­lon­ga as the views are superb.

Agios Pantes, Miko­ro­nisi & Nikolonisi are small islets just off the coast of Agios Niko­laos. Some boat trips to Spina­lon­ga may stop by these to allow swim­ming. It would also be pos­si­ble for a strong swim­mer to swim to them as they are less than 1km from the coast, but care must be tak­en of boats and water sports. Kolokytha is a small island just behind the Kaly­don penin­su­la. Many boat trips to Spina­lon­ga from Agios Niko­laos stop here as it has an unspoiled sandy beach. Pseira is an island on the east­ern side of Mirabel­lo bay that has archae­o­log­i­cal remains from Minoan and Myce­nean civil­i­sa­tions. There are no reg­u­lar boat trips but a pri­vate hire could be arranged and expe­ri­enced kayak­ers may choose to vis­it. Winds and cur­rents can be strong in the 2 mile cross­ing so it is not advis­able to swim or for inex­pe­ri­enced sailors or kayak­ers to attempt the jour­ney. Koni­da is a small islet of lit­tle note in the south of Mirabel­lo bay just off the coast from Pachia Ammos. Moch­los is a small island only 150m off the coast from the cur­rent vil­lage of Moch­los. It is thought that in Minoan times it was con­nect­ed to the main­land (sea lev­els were low­er in Minoan times), and there are ruins from a Minoan set­tle­ment by the present-day vil­lage. Google Maps calls Moch­los ‘Nisi­da Agios Niko­laos’. Moch­los is also a short dri­ve from Richtis Gorge mak­ing it easy to vis­it both in the same day.

Chrissi

Chris­si island is actu­al­ly 2 islands — the main Chris­si island itself and Mikro­nis­si just to the east. Also known as Gaidouro­nisi (Don­key Island) Chris­si is anoth­er pop­u­lar island with dai­ly boat trips from the har­bour in Ier­ape­tra which leave around 9.30 — 10am and return around 5–6pm, tak­ing about an hour each way. The reg­u­lar boat ser­vice runs from mid May until late Octo­ber. The name Chris­si means ‘gold­en’ and it lives up to it’s name with fine gold­en sand that helps it look like a stereo­typ­i­cal ‘trop­i­cal par­adise’. There isn’t very much shade on the island so if you go in the sum­mer months it is impor­tant to take some­thing to pro­vide shade and also take good qual­i­ty sun­cream. The fer­ries drop off on one coast and pick up on the oth­er coast so make sure you know where to go to catch the ride home. It is also pos­si­ble to camp on Chris­si and some peo­ple do this. Most peo­ple who vis­it Chris­si do so for the clean water, beau­ti­ful sand, and warm shal­low bays per­fect for snorkelling, but there are also some Minoan ruins on Chris­si which can be viewed.

Gavdos & the Gulf of Mesara

Gav­dos is anoth­er rea­son­ably well known island off the south west coast of Crete which can be reached by boat from Pale­o­cho­ra or Cho­ra Sfakion. There is a reg­u­lar sched­ule throughtout the year as Gav­dos has a small per­ma­nent pop­u­la­tion. Gav­dos is only 170 miles from Libya and is in fact the south­ern­most land in Europe. Due to it’s size and his­to­ry Gav­dos is wor­thy of a full arti­cle of its own so we wont repeat that here. Gav­dopoula is a small island to the north-west of Gav­dos which is a pro­tect­ed nature reserve for migra­to­ry birds and sea life. Much near­er to the coast of Crete are 2 small islets col­lec­tive­ly known as the Pax­i­ma­dia islets. These are indi­vid­u­al­ly named Pax­i­ma­dia Ena (one) and Pax­i­ma­dia Dio (two). Locals some­times refer to them as Ele­phant. In the peak months the Pax­i­ma­dia islands can be vis­it­ed by boat from Kokki­nos Pir­gos and Agia Gali­ni. The web­site Cre­tan Beach­es has good infor­ma­tion about the beach­es on both.

Gramvousa & Kissamos Bay

There are 3 small islands just off the north-west coast of Crete, near to Balos lagoon. Imeri Gramvousa has the remains of a Venet­ian fort and thanks to it’s his­to­ry as part of Cre­tan inde­pen­dence from the Ottoman empire it is a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion. It is includ­ed on most boat trips to Balos lagoon. Just to the north is Agria Gramvousa which is less vis­it­ed. Pondikon­isi (known to locals as mouse island) is fur­ther to the west and is also unin­hab­it­ed and rarely vis­it­ed. Next to it is a small islet called Pon­tika­ki, which means small mouse.

Dia & the Gulf of Heraklion

Dia is a large island imme­di­ate­ly north of Her­ak­lion that fea­tures in much Greek mythol­o­gy and is now a pro­tect­ed nature reserve. There are sail­ings from the ports in Gou­ves, Her­sonis­sos and Her­ak­lion but not as fre­quent­ly as to some of the oth­er islands. It is pos­si­ble to arrange to stay overnight on Dia but this must be arranged with the Her­ak­lion port author­i­ty. Dia served as the prin­ci­pal port for many civil­i­sa­tions in Crete from Minoan times and offers some inter­est for his­to­ri­ans. Dia is not par­tic­u­lar­ly renowned for beach­es but there are places to swim for those wish­ing to do so. There are also 2 small islets by Dia: Pax­i­ma­di and Peta­l­i­di which are unin­hab­it­ed and rarely vis­it­ed.

Other notable islands and islets

Agioi Theodoroi & Chanion Bay

Agioi Theodor­oi are 2 islets just off the coast to the west of Cha­nia. There are 2 islands: Agios Theodor­os and Mikros Agios Theodor­os. Agios Theodor­os, also known as Thodor­ou is the larg­er island and is home to native Greek Ibex called Kri-Kri. There are the remains of 2 Venet­ian fortress­es, the high­er one being called Turlu­ru, which is a name some­times used for the island. The small­er islet of Mikros Agios Theodor­os is also known as Glara­ki (Gull) and Theodor­opoula. As the islands are an impor­tant nature reserve for Kri-Kri vis­it­ing is not per­mit­ted except dur­ing the ones-a-year fes­ti­val the feast of Saint Theodore. Much near­er to Cha­nia is the islet of Lazare­ta which has a small but nice beach which is vis­it­ed by some boat trips and is pop­u­lar with snorkellers.

Souda bay

There are a num­ber of small islands in Sou­da Bay near Cha­nia. Nisi­da Sou­da (also some­times called just Sou­da fea­tures in Greek mytholody and is also home to a Venet­ian fortress. There are lim­it­ed num­bers of boats that run trips to Sou­da in peak sea­son from var­i­ous places on the north coast from Cha­nia to Rethym­non, but only guid­ed-tours are avail­able. Leon is next to Sou­da island and is rarely vis­it­ed. Palaiosou­da, also known as Marathi is pop­u­lar for snorkelling and scu­ba div­ing. Pri­vate boat trips can be booked in Cha­nia. Kar­ga is on the south side of Sou­da bay near to Almiri­da. It is sim­i­lar to Palaiosou­da in that it does­n’t have much in the way of beach­es so is main­ly pop­u­lar with divers.

Bay of Malia

There are 3 tiny islands in the Bay of Malia. Afen­tis Chris­tos is direct­ly in front of the main Malia tourist beach and can (and is) eas­i­ly swum to. It has a small church on it. We advise vis­i­tors to not climb on the church or to ring the bell as this is dis­rep­sect­ful and is like­ly to offend locals. To the east of Afen­tis Chris­tos is Agia Var­vara which is rocky and of lit­tle note. Fur­ther still to the east, near Sis­si, is anoth­er small rocky out­crop which is not iden­ti­fied on maps.

The Dionysades & Cape Sidero

The Dionysades are a group of 4 islands off the north-east penin­su­la in Crete which are part of an envi­ron­men­tal­ly pro­tect­ed area. Drag­o­na­da is the largest island. Gianysa­da is the south­ern­most island of the group. Pax­i­ma­da and Pax­i­mada­ki are home to Eleono­ra’s Fal­con which migrates from Mada­gas­car. It is not advised for reg­u­lar tourists to vis­it these islands. Elasa is on the oppo­site side of the penin­su­la from the Dionysades, fur­ther south and east. It is part of the same pro­tect­ed area and also should be left to nature.

The Grandes & Kouremenos Bay

The Grandes islands are less than 1km off the coast at Palaiokas­tro in Koure­menos Bay. The mid­dle islet is Pra­son­isi which has a bit of beach. The oth­er 2 islets, Savoura to the south, and Pax­i­ma­di to the north are lit­tle more than rocks. There are a num­ber of ship­wrecks in the area so it is a good place to vis­it for divers. Koure­menos Bay is pop­u­lar with wind surfers which gives an idea of the lev­els of wind in this part of the Crete. It would be pos­si­ble to swim to the Grandes islands but care should be tak­en if the winds are strong as this can lead to strong cur­rents. The beach at Chiona (or Hiona) on the main­land is a bet­ter beach than any­thing on the islands as can be seen in the video below.

Saran­tos Nikos has filmed a video of the Grandes with a drone which gives you an idea of the clar­i­ty of water and the small size of the islands. Also vis­i­ble in the video are parts of the main­land and the near­by island of Elasa.

Kavali & Kymo

Kavali is a group of 3 small islets just off the coast at Xerokam­bos. The largest island is Kaval­los which is the south­ern­most. Kefali is just north of Kaval­las, and Ana­vatis (also called Kaval­oi) is a lit­tle fur­ther to the east. Like the Grandes to the north all 3 islands lack a beach, and nest­ing spots for sev­er­al species of bird includ­ing fal­cons and vul­tures. The near­by Alat­solimni beach on the main­land is a nice sandy beach. The main­land near­by also has a salt­lake in spring that attracts many migrat­ing birds which may be of inter­est to ornithol­o­gists. Kymo (aka Koumeli) is a small islet a lit­tle to the south of the Kavali group. It also has no beach and has noth­ing of note to see.

Koufonissi and Cape Goudero

Kou­fonis­si is a fair­ly large island to the south of east Crete. There are some­times reg­u­lar boat trips to Kou­fonis­si from Makrys Gia­los in peak sea­son but this has­n’t been the case every year so check before trav­el­ling. An alter­na­tive would be a pri­vate hire which would like­ly cost around €50–60 per per­son. Kou­fonis­si does have love­ly sandy beach­es, and some inter­est­ing Minoan and Roman era ruins, as well as a more mod­ern church — the church of Saint Niko­laos, and a light­house that was destroyed in the sec­ond world war. There are 4 oth­er much small­er islets around Kou­fonis­si: Makroulo, Strogi­lo, Tra­chi­la and Mar­mara none of which are par­tic­u­lar­ly note­wor­thy.

Psili Ammos bay

Trafos is only 100m off the main­land and can eas­i­ly be swum to. There are the remains of the ancient town of Lassea on the main­land. Mikro­nisi (also known as Aghios Pav­los or St. Paul’s Island) is to the west of Trafos and is occu­pied by an oil stor­age ter­mi­nal so is not a place for tourists. The next island in the group is Mega­lonisi which is just west of Mikro­nisi. Mega­lonisi has a light­house but is oth­er­wise of lit­tle note. Papado­pla­ka is the small­est and most west­ward of the islets. It is the top of a reef that pro­trudes from the water and has no beach.

Phalasarna bay

Pha­lasar­na is a well-know beach on the west coast which forms a nat­ur­al bay. It has 3 tiny islets that can be swum to. Kour­saroi is the towards the south of the bay and is the largest. It is actu­al­ly a group of rocks rather than a sin­gle island and it has one tiny area of sand. It is less than 100m from the main­land beach. Petal­i­da is the fur­thest north of the 3 and is around 400m from the near­est point of the main­land or about 1km from the main beach. It is rocky and has no beach. Pra­son­isi is the fur­thest south, approx 500–600m from the coast, and has a small bit of sand on the east­ern side

Larger islands with ferry service from Crete

Antikythera

Antikythera is a large inhab­it­ed island to the north west of Crete famed for the ancient tech­nol­o­gy named after it. Boats sail reg­u­lar­ly from Cha­nia

Santorini

The famous (and still active) vol­cano of San­tori­ni is due north of Crete and boats sail dai­ly year round from Her­ak­lion. High­er speed cata­ma­rans make the jour­ney from May to Octo­ber but out of sea­son only the much slow­er fer­ries pro­vide a ser­vice. A round trip is typ­i­cal­ly €100–150 per per­son in peak sea­son although it can be done for less if you watch for dis­count­ed prices. San­tori­ni is much big­ger than most peo­ple realise as it is not a sin­gle vol­canic crater but an island formed from a series of erup­tions over 200,000 years. To dri­ve from the port to the most pop­u­lar north­ern vil­lage of Oia takes around 35 min­utes, whilst walk­ing would is a trip of 18km includ­ing a climb of around 500m.

Other islands

Fer­ries from Her­ak­lion also link to many oth­er Greek islands in the Aegean includ­ing…

  • The Cyclades: Anafi, Andros, Ios, Milos, Mykonos, Nax­os, Paros, and Tinos
  • The Dode­canese: Chal­ki, Karpathos, Kasos, and Rhodes

A complete list

For a com­plete list of all 93 islands, islets, and tiny rocks pok­ing out of the sea around Crete Wikipedia has a tem­plate table with a full sum­ma­ry. As far as I am aware this includes every bit of rock no mat­ter how notable. Cre­tan Beach­es also has quite detailed infor­ma­tion about many of the more notable islands and groups of islets although their list is not as com­plete as the one on Wikipedia.

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