A Guide to Elafonissos Island, Greece

Elafonissos island is the tiny touch of the Caribbean, waiting for you to discover it! It’s a tiny but inhabited island that is famous for its gorgeous sandy beaches and crystal-clear turquoise waters. Despite its small size, there’s hardly a list of the most beautiful beaches that don’t feature at least one from the island of Elafonissos.

If you’re looking to unwind, relax, and recharge surrounded by gorgeous scenery and with easy access to delicious, fresh Greek food, Elafonissos is the place for you. It is the perfect spot to let all stress go and renew yourself in this small touch of paradise.

It is also excellent for laid-back vacations, with some unique activities and a lot of beauty to take it. This guide will help you make the most of what is bound to be an unforgettable, amazing holiday in Elafonissos!

Visiting Elafonissos Island

How to get to Elafonissos

Elafonissos is located just off the coast of the Peloponnese. That’s why it’s very easy to travel there by car or bus! All you need to do is to get to Pounta port and ride the ferry for 10 minutes to find yourself there.

If you want to go by bus, you want to take the KTEL bus. If you are in Athens, you need to take the KTEL Lakonias from Kifissos Station to Neapolis. From Neapolis, you will switch buses to the dedicated bus to Pounta Port and take the ferry to Elafonissos!

The fare ranges from 20 το 34 euro for the main trip and for the ride to the port 1,80 euro. The cost of the ferry is 1 euro per person. The trip is roughly 3 hours to get to Neapolis. Calculate 4 hours for the entire trip from Athens to Elafonissos.

If you opt to go by car, you still need to get to Pounta. One way to do it from Athens is via the route to Sparti. Once there, get to the road to Monemvasia and past that to Molaous. The route is extremely picturesque and has many stops for sightseeing if you’re not in a hurry!

Once you get to Pounta port, you’ll ride the ferry with your car. The fare for the ferry is 11 euro for the car plus 1 euro per person. Consider renting a car to explore if you don’t have your own!

A brief history of Elafonissos

During ancient times, Elafonissos wasn’t an island at all! It was a peninsula jutting out into the sea from the Peloponnese in the same of a donkey’s jaw, according to Pausanias, the geographer who lived in the 2nd century AD.

That’s why at the time, Elafonissos was called “Onou Gnathos” which means “Donkey’s Jaw” in ancient Greek. A good part of the peninsula sank into the waters during a terrible earthquake in 375 AD, together with other smaller islands, creating Elafonissos.

The current name means “island of deer” thanks to the opulent hunting game that existed on the island. That’s why there were many shrines to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. There were many small deer of red coloration. The deer is the sacred animal of Artemis, and that’s why Elafonissos was basically dedicated to her worship.

The island has been inhabited on and off throughout history, with Venetians giving it similar names thanks to the deer population, and using the island as hunting grounds.

After the Greek War of Independence of 1821, because the English didn’t claim the island in their sphere of control and influence, Elafonissos was included in the newly founded Hellenic State.

Later, in the 1850s, during a dire set of incidents used as an excuse for the British Empire to force Greece to adopt pro-English policies, rather than pro-Russian ones, the British demanded to annex Elafonissos.

However, King Otto ensured that the island remained within the Greek territories of the time by secretly getting flocks of livestock and new permanent inhabitants on Elafonissos to secure the Greek claims.

That’s how the island’s current inhabitants came to be, as they are all offspring of those first settlers sent there by King Otto to hold down Greece’s claim to the land.

Is Elafonissos worth visiting?

Just for the sheer beauty of the island, the answer is yes. Elafonissos is a NATURA 2000 protected habitat with several unique plant species as well as a lot of unique animal species- especially birds, turtles, and some kinds of fish. Elafonissos is also a very important stop for migratory birds. Its sandy beaches and low-height vegetation are a perfect home for all these animals.

The sandy beaches with sand dunes are also gorgeous, offering you a unique experience of relaxation in pure nature. You can also easily explore the entire island, its picturesque villages, and its main town which provides the perfect rustic backdrop of whitewashed buildings and beautiful churches one expects of a Greek island.

When is the best time to go to Elafonissos?

Elafonissos is the perfect destination for a relaxing summer holiday. Because it’s off the beaten path, it never really gets very crowded by tourists. However, if you really want to avoid crowds, avoid going there in August, as that is the peak of the high season for tourists and locals alike.

The best time for the fewest crowds but still all the high-season amenities and services available would be late June or early September, as it is still summer in Greece, but most tourists have already departed to prepare for Autumn.

How much time should you spend in Elafonissos?

If you’re looking to relax, recharge, and just detox from the stress and pressure of everyday life and work, then consider spending your entire vacation in Elafonissos. You will have your choice of beaches, a general feeling or laid-back enjoyment, good food, beautiful surroundings, and not a care in the world.

If you want to explore, you can also easily visit gorgeous locations in the Peloponnese, such as Monemvasia, the medieval castle town. Elafonissos is the perfect destination for a relaxed holiday with little planning but a lot of flexibility.

If you’re not looking to relax as much as explore what you can of Greece, Elafonissos will keep you occupied for a couple of full days before you move on.

Things to do on Elafonissos Island

Explore Elafonissos’ Chora

The main town of Elafonissos is a beautiful village of whitewashed houses and paved pathways, with a seafront promenade alongside the lapping waters and bobbing wooden boats of the port. The calm waters of the port glisten like glass when the sun sets, so make sure you enjoy at least one of these resplendent, gorgeous sunsets.

Explore the rest of the picturesque town, discover the pubs, cafés, and restaurants there, and then walk towards the narrow strip of land that bridges Elafonissos with where its most beautiful church is built.

Visit the Church of Aghios Spyridon

Aghios Spyridon is the main church of Elafonissos and it was built in 1858 when the first settlers came under King Otto’s command. It is built on an inlet with cedar trees and it has a story behind its foundation.

According to local legend, the church would originally be dedicated to Aghios Nikolaos, who is the protector of sailors and fishermen and would be built elsewhere on Elafonissos proper. However, the man who had undertaken the task of building the church saw the apparition of a mysterious old man who asked him to build the church at the Inlet.

The man replied that this would be hard because the bridge connecting it to Elafonissos didn’t exist back then. However, he saw the apparition two more times and was asked the exact same thing. Then the man asked the apparition who it was, and it replied “I am Aghios Spyridon.”

That’s how the church was built on the inlet, and until the 1950s, the people would hop on rocks to get to the inlet. Aghios Spyridon was declared the patron saint of Elafonissos.

The church itself is simple but charming. Inside you will find many remarkable icons from the late 1800s including a large one of Aghios Spyridon which was crafted in Asia Minor in 1921, before the sacking of Smyrna by the Turks in 1922. It bears an inscription reading “This was saved from destruction, as a memento of abandoning Smyrna.”

Around Aghios Spyridon’s church, there is a lovely park with benches to enjoy the view of the sea and the cedar tree shade, so take a moment to rest and refresh as you enjoy.

Go around the ring road

The best way to see the whole of Elafonissos in one quick overview, so you can then decide where you want to stop and take in the beauty surrounding you, is to use the island ring road. You can drive on the ring road or you can cycle. Driving will take you only about a half-hour to circle the entire island.

With a bike, it’ll take you maybe an hour, but the experience will be even better! Use a regular bike or an electric bike or scooter which you can rent on the island, and let the wind in your hair as you take in the gorgeous views and the summer scents.

The ring road connects all of Elafonissos’ villages and beaches, so you’re in for a treat when it comes to sweeping vistas and stunning natural tableaus. It also gives you the most efficient access to some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece.

Hit the beaches

The only real must-do in Elafonissos is to enjoy its stunning beaches! There are many to explore and discover, but here are the best ones to start with:

Simos Beach: This is by far the most popular beach in Elafonissos. It is also often cited as one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece. In reality, it’s two beaches in one- Large Simos (Megalos Simos) and Small Simos (Mikros Simos).

Both are sandy, with deep sapphire or turquoise waters and are only separated by a narrow strip of white silky sand coursing between them. It is also organized so you will find sunbeds and umbrellas and some services and amenities available.

Lefki Beach: Its name means “white” for the white fine sand that contrasts dramatically with the crystal clear, azure sea. It’s protected from the winds so this is where you want to go if it’s too windy for Simos beach. It’s a bit off the beaten path, so you will need to walk to it from Chora, and it’s not organized so be prepared.

Panagia Beach: This is the second largest beach in Elafonissos, with lush fine sand and stunning royal blue or turquoise waters, depending on the time of day.

It has a view of the coast of the Peloponnese and features some islets you can easily swim to and explore. It is organized so you will find all the necessary amenities there.

Explore Pavlopetri

Opposite Pavlopetri beach there is a rock islet that is also called Pavlopetri. All around there, and to the north of the islet, the area is full of the ruins of the ancient city of Pavlopetri. Between the islet and the beach, there lies the main ancient city, now submerged in the waters. It is 5,000 years old and the oldest submerged city to have ever been discovered.

The city is stunning in that it isn’t just faint ruins, but complete with visible roads and a cemetery. It dates from the beginning of the Bronze Age and there are around 15 buildings that are visible underwater.

You can see for yourself this remarkable submerged city if you do some snorkeling! The great thing about it is that you don’t need to have great skills or experience to do it. The waters are relatively shallow and safe to navigate. All you need is your snorkeling mask and snorkel tube and you’re good to go!

Things to do near Elafonissos

If you’re seeking more adventure, you can use Elafonissos as your base to travel nearby. Take the ferry back to Pounta port and visit some of the most unique places you can imagine before you return t Elafonissi to rest:

Visit the cave of Kastania

The cave of Kastania is considered one of the richest specimens of its kind in all of Europe. It is a large, deep cave with a stunning variety of colorful cave formations, from stalagmites and stalactites to entire rooms and balconies and sculptures that resemble mushrooms, elephants, birds, octopuses, and exotic plants. There are seven different naturally created colors that took 3 million years to be the way you’ll see them.

The cave is minutes from Neapoli in Lakonia and makes for a great day trip.

Explore Monemvasia

Monemvasia is a living, breathing, perfectly preserved medieval castle town. Founded in the early Christian times, and fortified in the early Byzantine period, Monemvasia is the best preserved medieval castle town that has been continually inhabited in all of Europe. Perched on the shores and side of a cliff, it guarantees breathtaking views and amazing vistas.

The moment you step through the Main Gate, it will feel like you have traveled back in time when pirates were a threat and the robust, fortified walls of the castle are your only- but powerful- protection. Explore the uninhabited upper town and have coffee or a meal in the inhabited lower town after exploring the many churches and the gorgeous castle pathways.

Visit the petrified forest (Aghios Nikolaos Geopark)

The Aghios Nikolaos Geopark is one of its kind in all of Europe, so it’s worth a visit! It’s a rare geological phenomenon where an entire forest that was alive millions of years ago has been fossilized. When you visit, you will see not only giant tree trunks that have been petrified, but also various animals, sea shells, and mollusks.

There are giant tree trunks to see, one nicknamed “human” by the locals, and more. Wander around the petrified forest, knowing you’re seeing what existed way before man took a single step.

To get to the park drive towards Aghios Nikolaos and follow the signs to a gravel road leading there.

Where to eat in Elafonissos

While there are many tavernas and restaurants to discover in Elafonissos, start off with these two excellent ones:

Ta Nisia Tis Panagias: The name means “Virgin Mary’s Islands” and you are in for a treat! The restaurant is family owned and specializes in homemade traditional dishes with seafood and meat.

While you eat, you will also enjoy a gorgeous sunset if you’re there for dinner. For dessert, let yourself be surprised by what the house will treat you with!

Antonis’ Taverna: This is perhaps the most popular fish tavern in all of Elafonissos and with good reason! Seafood and fish are served fresh from the day’s catch, and all cooked dishes are traditional and homemade. There’s a general retro feel in the tavern’s ambiance, but don’t let that fool you!

Along with the wholly traditional, classic dishes you will find new, modern Greek cuisine spins which would do well in any fine dining menu. All ingredients are locally produced from Lakonia, so you know you’re getting quality on all levels!

Where to stay in Elafonissos

Berdoussis Hotel is by far the most popular choice for accommodation, thanks to the excellent location in Elafonissos, the cleanliness of the rooms, and the top-tier service provided. The hotel is located very near Chora but distanced enough that you only hear the night’s quiet when you want to relax.

You will get an excellent breakfast included, all basic amenities including free Wi-Fi, and you will be within walking distance from at least one beach and the main town. Its strategic location as well as its other perks, including the affordable pricing, makes Berdoussis Hotel another reason for complete relaxation.

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