Elafonissi Beach on the island of Crete, Greece, is known for its unique pink sand and crystal clear waters, earning it a reputation as one of the best beaches in Europe.
Despite its remote location, 75 kilometres west of Chania, Elafonissi has visitor facilities. However, it tends to get very crowded during the summer months.
More than just a beach, Elafonissi is an entire island, separated from the southwest coast of Crete by a shallow lagoon and sandbar. In high season, the mainland beach and parts of the sandbar above the water are packed with sunbeds, umbrellas and a large influx of tourists.
If you don’t like crowded beaches, don’t visit Elafonissi in August, especially the days around 15 August (!). However, if you must visit, try to get there around 5-6pm when most people have left for the long journey back to their hotels. You will still have at least 2 hours of sunlight and you will be able to enjoy the spectacular sunset. Another option is to visit very early in the morning, before the tourist buses arrive.
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Pictures of Elafonissi beach
About Elafonissi Island
If you come to Crete on holiday, Elafonissi is a name you are sure to hear. Elafonissi is a tiny island with white sand, separated from the shore by a lagoon no more than a metre deep.
Elafonissi means “deer island”, but you won’t see any deer on the island or in the surrounding area. The island is situated 75 kilometres from Chania, and the journey there typically takes about an hour and a half. However, if you plan to visit around 15 August, which is a significant national and religious holiday in Greece, expect the travel time to be considerably longer.
On the way you will see Chrissoskalitissa (or Chrysoskalitissa) Monastery, visible from afar as it is a dazzling white and built on a great rock. Climb up to pay your respects at this historic monastery and look for the golden step which, according to legend, only the truly devout can see.
Elafonissi is 5 kilometres from Chrissoskalitissa. On arriving you will see a large bare expanse used as a car park, a few dusty juniper trees and the wonderful colours of the lagoon.
The island is less than 200 metres from the beach and you can easily walk there through the warm, shallow water of the lagoon. On reaching the island you will discover lots of tiny beaches on its south coast.
The sand of Elafonissi is white, but in many places it is pinkish due to the thousands of broken seashells it contains. The limpid, blue-green waters will remind you of an exotic paradise.
Seeing the idyllic beauty for which Elafonissi is famous, it is hard to imagine that its name is linked to tragic events.
The massacre in 1824 at Elafonissi
Here the Turks massacred 850 people on Easter Sunday 1824. The massacre was carried out purely in revenge to punish of the rebellious Cretan people, as the victims were mostly women and children.
The sinking of the Imperatrix at Elafonissi
Also, in February 1907 the SS Imperatrix ran aground on the reefs around Elafonissi, with the loss of 38 of the 140 people aboard who were travelling to India (120 crew and 20 passengers). The monks of Chrissoskalitissa Monastery and the few local inhabitants threw themselves into the wild breakers and managed to save 38 people.
To prevent similar accidents in future, a tall lighthouse, visible at a great distance, was built on Elafonissi, to warn sailors to stay away from the dangerous rocks. Unfortunately all the junipers and other trees on Elafonissi were sacrificed to build the lighthouse. The lighthouse was destroyed by the German army during the Second World War, and has now been replaced by a modern structure.
- More about the wreck of Imperatrix
Thousands of people visit Elafonissi each summer, reaching 2,500 daily in July and August, so if you want to enjoy the island it’s much better to come at the beginning or end of the summer or avoid the hours from 11 to 4, especially at weekends. There are a few rooms for rent and tavernas nearby.
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