Crete is a majestic, gorgeous island in the southernmost part of Greece and is the biggest island of Greece’s thousand islands.
It is famous for its beautiful natural landscapes, from the seaside to the top of its snow-capped mountains, for the great food and wine, for the colorful traditions, and for the hospitality and heritage of its locals. There is so much to do and see in Crete that you are often advised to make a whole vacation out of this one island.
No matter which season you visit Crete, your vacations will be unforgettable. But if you do visit Crete in the summer, you should make it a point to visit one of Crete’s gems: its highly rare, pink beaches.
That is not some kind of metaphor! These beaches truly are pink, with a light or very vibrant pink colored sand. Pink beaches are extremely rare. There are under ten solidly pink in the entire world, in places like the Bahamas, Barbuda, Indonesia, California, Maui, Spain… and Crete!
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The best way to explore the pink beaches of Crete is by having your own car. I recommend booking a car through Discover Cars where you can compare all rental car agencies’ prices, and you can cancel or modify your booking for free. They also guarantee the best price. Click here for more information and to check the latest prices.
Why is the sand pink?
The characteristic pink color is thanks to an oyster-like microorganism called Benthic Foraminifera. The foraminifera are tiny, shelled animals that live in the sea, attached by a pseudopod (i.e. a ‘false foot’) under various rocks, reefs, and caves to eat. The shell of these animals is bright pink or red.
When other animals feed on them or when they die, their shells calcify and are washed up on the sand, mixing with it and giving it the pink pigmentation in various shades. This process has been going on for the last 540 million years, and most of the foraminifera shells and remnants in the pink beaches are actually fossils!
The sediment of these tiny organisms is extremely important for how we understand our environment and its history, in fields of science such as biostratigraphy, paleobiology, and marine biology in general.
At the same time, foraminifera gives us a gorgeous and almost fairy-like experience on the few pink beaches in the world.
The beautiful pink beaches in Crete
Travel blogs and travel fans have periodically compiled lists of the best pink beaches in the world, and the two beaches of Crete, Elafonissi and Balos, always feature prominently in each one of them!
Elafonissi beach has been named by the BBC as one of the best “secret” beaches of Europe. Elafonissi itself is actually a small islet separated from the Cretan shore by a lovely, warm, and shallow lagoon not more than a meter deep.
The sand in Elafonissi is a glistening pink hue that changes in intensity depending on the weather, the tide, and the condition of the water. It is always some shade of pink, however, with a velvety, smooth texture that makes the sand feel unique.
The waters are a gorgeous light turquoise, making it feel like you’re not in Greece or Crete, but somewhere in the Caribbean.
Elafonissi is very popular with families because of the lagoon’s shallow and warm water, so it often gets rather crowded. It’s best to get there early, or very late. If you hit the beaches in early summer or late summer, you’re also likely to encounter fewer crowds.
You will find Elafonissi 75 km from Chania. The drive to Elafonissi is very picturesque, so consider making a road trip out of it if you are staying either in Chania or Rethymno. You will find parking easily.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a car or don’t want to rent one, you can get to Elafonissi by the Elafonissi Express Bus, which will drop you off there in the morning and pick you up at around 4 in the afternoon. There are also guided tours which you can take.
Another way to get to Elafonissi is by boat from Paleochora, a village in the southwest of Crete, in a small peninsula of Crete. This option isn’t available if you are in Chania or Rethymno.
Balos’ pink beach was named “one of the gems of the world” by Business Insider. It is truly a painting: pink hues against glossy white in its sand’s fine rippling, gorgeous turquoise, emerald, and white-blue waters, and a uniquely beautiful formation of rocky outcroppings like works of modern art.
Balos is a lagoon as well, located in the northwest part of Crete, near the port town of Kissamos, in the Chania region. Balos is actually a cluster of tiny bays around a lush, vast strip of sandy land, making the beach segmented, which makes the range of its colors erupt in variations of blue, pink, white, and green.
You can get to Balos by car or by boat.
Like in the case of Elafonissi, the road trip is very picturesque as you go along the road past Kissamos, and then past the village of Kaliviani. The road turns into a dirt road for about 8 km but the view is worth it.
Please note that a lot of rental car companies don’t allow you to take the car to Balos. Make sure to ask before you go.
You can park your car at the end of that road, and then it’s a walk to Balos beach. The walk is pleasant, for about 20 minutes if you go at your leisure. Just keep in mind it might be less pleasant when you return, hot and tired, so make sure you conserve energy for that!
If you opt to get to Balos by boat, you will be taking a day trip boat cruise from Kissamos or other locations offering such day cruises. If you opt for the day cruise, you will be taken to the boat by bus. Getting to Balos will be a lot easier than by car, but it also will be quite crowded, as these day cruises are very popular.
Recommended tours to Balos Beach
From Chania: Gramvousa Island and Balos Bay Full-Day Tour
From Rethymno: Gramvousa Island and Balos Bay
From Heraklion: Full-Day Gramvousa and Balos Tour
(please note the tours above don’t include the boat tickets)
Balos beach, like Elafonissi, becomes very crowded during the high season. Your best option, if you go by car, is to get there quite early or rather late in the day. If you go by boat it’s unlikely you will be able to avoid the crowds!
Another option to avoid the crowds is to get to plan your vacation early in summer (late May or early June) or late in summer, which for Greece is in September.
No matter what you pick, visiting Crete’s pink beaches is a unique, wonderful experience you must not miss!