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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