Crete is the crowning jewel in the crown of Greek islands when it comes to vacations: there is a lot to see and do no matter what type of vacation you prefer, from the adventurous to the cosmopolitan, from the quiet and relaxing to the vibrantly loud nightlife, and more. To tackle the highlights, taking daily trips designed to treat you to the best that Crete has to offer is a great idea!
One of these must-have day trips will take you to Crete’s most gorgeous beaches- in fact, one of them, Balos, is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world! It will also let you in on a lesser-known fact: that Crete has its own little island, Gamvousa, with its own history and beauty.
Here is what to expect and what to do if you choose to take this wonderful day trip to Balos and Gramvousa:
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What to Expect on a Boat Trip to Balos and Gramvousa
Getting to the port of Kissamos
To get to Balos and Gramvousa, you will need to depart from the port of Kissamos. The tour bus will pick you up from Eastern Crete, depending on where you are staying. Then, you will be treated to roughly three hours (if you’re based in Heraklion) of scenic, picturesque routes to the port.
The port of Kissamos itself is very picturesque, as is its port town, so as you wait for the ferry, it’s going to be a treat to relax and enjoy the surroundings. Then, you board the ferry. It will take you to Balos and then to Gramvousa.
The trip is like a mini-cruise, complete with a guide to inform you of what you’re seeing. That’s because the bay of Kissamos has gorgeous rock formations to see, complete with secluded beaches and wild, dramatic-looking cliffs.
As the boat pulls out of the bay, you will also see two unique sights that are impossible to experience otherwise. First is a big cave which is thought to have been an ancient shipyard. Then, you will get to see the ground rise. Crete’s western side is slowly rising as the eastern side is sinking, due to the movement of the tectonic plates underneath. As you sail past the rockface, you will be able to clearly see where the ancient shore had been, compared to where the modern one is now.
The ferry trip only takes 20 minutes to get to either Balos or Gramvousa. To do so it passes through the gorgeous narrow waters between the islets of Agria Gamvousa and Tripiti, treating you to one of the most scenic vistas you can find.
Your tour also includes lunch that you can have on board when you feel like it. Also, there is an option to book an umbrella for the day.
Stop 1: Lounging in Balos Lagoon
The beach of Balos is also called the Balos lagoon and is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Its exotic feel, with the turquoise waters, is just a small part of what makes this beach unique and stunningly gorgeous. Balos is listed as one of the rarest beaches in the world because the sand isn’t exactly white. It is pink.
The pink color of the sand is due to a tiny fossil of an organism called Benthic Foraminifera that has a bright pink or red shell. These shells are what wash up on shore and calcify over hundreds of millions of years, giving the sand its characteristic pink color. There is one more pink beach in Crete, that of Elafonissi. There are only 12 pink beaches in the world, some of them in Bermuda, the Bahamas, Italy, and Spain.
Balos is right between Gramvousa and Cape Tigani and has been dubbed the “Kiss of Three Seas” because of its location and shape that allows the Ionian, Lybian, and Aegean seas to merge and create the unique coloring of the waters of Balos Lagoon. The beach is structured as a thin strip of land connecting Cape Tigani to the island of Crete.
The waters of Balos are warm and shallow for quite a bit, making them perfect for families and playing in the water. The formation of the beach is also beautiful, with dramatic rock formations adding to the exotic landscape. There are sand dunes and unique vegetation which adapted to survive in the inhospitable environment of the seaside, such as thyme and calluna (heather).
The lagoon is also home to rare species of mollusk and an important spot in the bird migratory itineraries. That’s why it is protected under NATURA 2000 just like Gramvousa. Thus, it can’t be developed or have any human intervention done.
Swimming in Balos lagoon is an authentic experience, a true piece of virgin paradise for you to enjoy for a few hours, depending on the tour you choose (but never less than two and a half).
Stop 2: Exploring Gramvousa
Gramvousa is, in fact, two islands: Agria Gramvousa (Wild Gramvousa) and Imeri Gramvousa (Tame Gramvousa). You will be disembarking for a couple of hours on the tame one!
For the uninhabited little island it is, there are surprisingly many things to do!
Visit the castle: Gramvousa is most famous for its Gramvousa castle. The castle was built by the Venetians in the 14th century when Crete was under absolute Venetian rule, and the Venetians were seeking to protect Crete from the Ottoman Empire. Though that eventually failed and Crete fell to Turkish rule, Gramvousa remained in Venetian hands and became a sanctuary for Christians.
In fact, the castle of Gramvousa didn’t fall. It was relinquished to the Ottomans through bribery by its last commander. Later in history, the castle was used by pirates and by revolutionaries and became swathed in legend. It is said that treasure still is hidden somewhere in its ruins.
See the shipwreck: As you walk onto Gramvousa, you will see two big bays. The western one is where the castle is, and the other is where a beautiful beach with a shipwreck is. The ship was marooned there in the 1960s (fortunately the crew was saved) and is slowly eroding, giving a haunting portrait of the passage of time.
Visit the churches: There are also two churches in Gramvousa that are worth visiting. One is the small chapel of Aghios Georgios right next to the beach, and the other is the church of Panagia Kleftrina in the castle.
Explore the unique nature: Gramvousa can’t be inhabited because it is a protected NATURA 2000 area as it is part of birds’ migratory itineraries. On the island, there are roughly 400 species of plants and 100 species of birds. There are even some species of plants that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
It is also a sanctuary for the Mediterranean seal and the endangered Caretta-Caretta sea turtle. As you wander around the island you will see several cacti and vegetation that look more African than Mediterranean. The views are gorgeous and the environment is as pristine and unaltered as it gets!
Things to be aware of:
Both Balos and Gramvousa are protected under NATURA 2000, which means there are some state and EU rules you need to follow to keep the environment safe and pristine as you found it.
Primarily, you can’t wander off the designated paths to explore the island. That can disturb or even destroy important natural elements or disrupt animal behaviors.
You cannot pollute in any way (that includes trash, cigarettes, food, etc.).
You cannot collect and take with you any tokens or mementos. That includes animals, plants, rocks, or anything that belongs to the habitat you’re visiting.
You cannot camp or start a fire anywhere on the island.
You can’t smoke anywhere where it’ll be a fire hazard and you can’t litter due to smoking!
Whatever you do, make sure to enjoy yourself to the fullest while respecting the gorgeous, unique places you get to see!
Return to Kissamos
You will be called to return to the ship about ten minutes before departure so you can pack up and go on the ferry at your leisure. The trip back is the same scenic route, treating you to more eye candy as you relax.
Once you get to Kissamos, the bus will take you back to your hotel in Heraklion to rest from making memories in one of the most beautiful places you can visit while in Crete!