Balos Beach Crete: Complete Insider's Guide

The incredible image of Balos Beach and Lagoon is probably one of Crete’s most famous sights. A unique turquoise sea and white sand that make it a dreamy spot on the island. Despite being rather difficult to access, Balos tends to be overcrowded during the peak season. To enjoy your day trip to Balos beach (Crete), this guide will tell you when to go, how to get there, and more. If you’ve checked my Insider’s Elafonisi Guide, you already know that these are thorough guides that you can trust. They are written by a local and tell you more than a few secrets. As usual, I will show you the nice, the bad, and the ugly. So, are you ready? Let’s explore one of Crete’s most wonderful beaches.

If you are visiting or staying in Chania, Crete, and plan to visit the popular Balos Beach, read through this guide including all you need to know before exploring the most exotic beach on the island.

About Balos Beach and Lagoon

Many times described as one of the best beaches in the world, Balos Beach and Lagoon is located in the regional unit of Chania, Crete. Its main characteristics include the impressive color of the sea, the white-pinkish sand, and the virgin landscape that surrounds the area. All features that give Balos an exotic feel to it.

The lagoon is formed by the proximity between the Gramvousa peninsula and Cape Tigani, a big square mass of land located right in front of Balos beach.

Useful resources to plan your trip to Balos, Crete

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Read before you go: Basic information about Balos Beach

Map Balos Beach
Google Maps 2019.

Regional unit: Chania
Location: Northwestern tip of Crete

Distances to Balos from Crete’s main cities:

  • From Agios Nikolaos: 248 km, 3 h 50 m
  • From Heraklion: 190 km, 3 h 20 m
  • From Rethymno: 114 km, 2 h 15 m
  • From Chania: 52 km, 1 h 15 m

Public transport: Public buses from Chania to Kissamos-Balos were operative until a couple of years ago. There’s no available service at the time of writing this post (2019). From Chania, you can travel by public bus only until Kissamos. From Kissamos you can either reach the port (2.5 km from the city center) and take the cruise, hire a taxi or look for a Kissamos tour operator covering the route Kissamos-Balos.

Balos Beach Crete: The beach, cape Tigani, and the island of Imeri Gramvousa.
The beach, cape Tigani, and the island of Imeri Gramvousa.

Balos, FalaSsarna or Elafonisi: Which one is best?

These 3 beaches are in the same regional unit (Chania) and are considered among the top 5 beaches of Crete. They are heavenly spots and it’s hard to choose one over the other.

As usual, it all depends on the type of holiday you prefer. If you’re the lazy type and don’t enjoy walking / hiking, then you might consider other options.

Balos Beach, Crete
The exotic feel of Balos.

A visit to Balos Beach and Lagoon requires some amount of hiking for at least 20 minutes, though it’s usually more. The climbing can be exhausting especially on the way back since you’re climbing up.

Also consider that carrying a cooler, and umbrella, and beach toys in the heat of summer might be too much. If you suffer from vertigo or steep cliffs are not your piece of cake, you’ll be more relaxed in Falassarna. Even the breathtaking road to Elafonisi doesn’t imply a dirt road.

If crowds are not for you, Falasarna might be the solution. Despite being very popular among tourists, the beach is so wide that you can easily find an isolated spot.

Not sure where to go yet? Check this Elafonisi guide as well as this Falassarna guide to get a better idea of what to expect.

How to reach Balos Beach, Crete

Balos Beach is located in the Gramvousa Peninsula, a place with difficult access and yet, every year thousands of tourists venture on this road to visit this spectacular beach.

Road to Balos, Crete
Road to Balos beach.

Two are the popular ways to get there, driving or by boat. However, you can reach Balos in many other ways. Here, you can read about all the options available at the time of writing.

Road to Balos Beach

Road to Balos Beach.
Road to Balos Beach.

To get to Balos, you have to drive past the city of Kissamos, and the port of Kavonisi. After about 1.5 km, turn right turn towards Kaliviani village. The narrow road passes through the village, the local church, and a couple of hotels.

Signpost to Kaliviani and Balos.
Signpost to Kaliviani and Balos.

Let’s start by talking about the dirt road that begins after the village of Kaliviani. After the entrance post and once paid the 1€ fee to access the peninsula (cash), you’re officially on the road to Balos.

Booth to pay to enter Balos
Booth for payment before accessing the road to Balos.

First and foremost, this infamous road is not really that bad as reviews claim! I took the cruise to Balos twice, but once I tried driving, it became my favorite way to go. You do not need a special off-road vehicle if you drive carefully and pay attention to the road.

Dort road to Balos Crete.
The road is not really that narrow.

There are a few narrow spots along the way, but they’re not so narrow nor they are so many. On most of the way you’ll find enough space for 2 (and even 3) cars. There are areas to turn around and manoeuvre as well.

The road gets narrower close to the parking entrance but that’s because when the parking area is full, people park on the road itself. You can avoid this by either arriving very early or later in the afternoon. Besides, if at that point you decide to go back, you can still access the parking to turn back.

Second, the real reason why driving this 8 km can take you so long is not the size of the road, but its conditions which I’ll discuss in a moment. Many tourists drive a rental car there, so they want to avoid damage to the tires (not normally covered by the insurance).

Dusty road to Balos, Crete.
Dusty road, Balos.

The same goes for the locals driving their own cars…. who wants a broken suspension? That’s the main reason why the trip tends to be long, it’s a slow drive.

And this brings me to the third consideration, it’s not – or not always – actual dirt. It’s a mixture of big stones, dirt, and a very old cement (it’s concrete, not asphalt).

Road to Balos, Crete.
Not all of the road is actually dirt.

All of these are in pitiful conditions and cause a lot of dust too. There are also big potholes which you want either to avoid or drive through slowly. As you can see, those are the real reasons that make the trip long and shaky.

Goat in a car, Balos
Goat in our car.

And then, there are the goats, they might slow you down a bit more, but those are fun!

Goats Crete.
Beautiful landscape and goats.

Hike down to Balos Beach

Once you’ve left the car in the parking area, you will need to hike towards the beach for 20 to 30 minutes. The first part of the walk is fairly easy, while the last is irregular and more risky. I’ve seen people falling, nothing serious but be careful, especially on your way back.

Signpost Balos beach
Walk to Balos (official information).

As you follow the path down to the beach, you’re surrounded by the landscape of the Cretan mountains, maquis, and reddish soil. After a while, you start descending towards the lagoon by means of rocky steps. The first sight of the beach will simply leave you in awe.

The same trip will take you back to the car park, however, it is usually more exhausting since this time you’ll be climbing up. Take all the time you need, carry abundant water, and don’t be ashamed to stop to catch your breath… or a last sight of the lagoon.

Kid walking to Balos
Walking to Balos.

Many people choose to go up and down riding a donkey or a horse. We don’t support this practice, but you have that option.

Horses Balos beach.
Horses and donkeys can take you down the path.

It’s better to carry your beach flip flops in a bag and walk with comfortable shoes. A pair of tennis or hiking sandals would be enough. Make sure you have enough water with you on both ways. You can stock up on water for the way back on the beach bar.

Rock path to Balos beach
Path used to descend towards the beach.

Remember, the last hundred meters of your hike down to the beach are steep and on very soft sand. I understand that you might feel the urge to run to the sea… but just don’t stumble!

Balos beach hiking down to the beach.
Last meters before reaching the beach.

From Heraklion to Balos

Heraklion – Balos Beach road. Google maps 2019

After some years living in Crete, and many traveling on the island, I’m an advocate of seeing Crete a place at a time. Slow travel on Crete can be a rewarding experience. Stopping on different cities and changing accommodation every 2-3 days has always worked great for us.

That being said, if you’re wondering whether to reach Balos from a remote location is worth the effort…. yes, it is! Traveling to Balos is always a trip worth taking, however, it’s very tiring to cover the long route Heraklion-Balos as a day trip.

View of the beach of Balos in Crete.
The beautiful views of the beach and the lagoon make the trip to Balos really worth it.

On occasions, some readers have asked me if this trip is possible by taxi… I guess it is, if you’re ok with spending a lot of money!

The best solution in such a case is to set aside a couple of days, and make a few stops to see other areas. You can plan a stop to visit the Old Town of Rethymno, or some of Rethymno’s beaches. And take a second break in Lake Kournas, Georgioupoli, or Chania. It’s always better to add at least one night stop in the middle of the road.

From Rethymno to Balos

Rethymnon – Balos Beach road. Google maps 2019.

Rethymno is not as far from Balos as Agios Nikolaos or Heraklion, however, if you intend to make your Rethymno-Balos a day trip you will have to get up really early to avoid the crowds.

Likewise, if you’re traveling back to Rethymno on the same day, you might want to get back on the road early to avoid the dirt road in the dark, but also the traffic. Remember that the same highway also takes tourists to Falasarna, and the popular beaches of Elafonisi and Palaiochora.

Cars parked in Balos road, Crete,
Cars parked outside of the parking lot, on the actual road are a common view when you reach Balos late in the day during the high season.

An early departure will reduce your time on the beach. You might also have to leave before the wonderful sunset on the west coast.

Let’s say that the Rethymno-Balos route is a doable day trip, just be aware you might feel limited.

From Chania to Balos

Chania - Balos map
Chania – Balos road. Google maps 2019.

It’s fairly easy to reach Balos from Chania, a great departure point to visit the western coast. I recommend staying in Chania instead of Kissamos because Chania offers more things to do during your holiday.

Balos beach and kid.
My youngest favorite hike on the island is Balos, no doubt about it!

There are also many other beautiful beaches in the region that you can enjoy other than Balos, such as Stavros or Kalathas in the north, and Paleochora or Sougia in the south. However, Kissamos is still a great place to stay for those who want a relaxing holiday.

From Kissamos to Balos

Kissamos - Balos map
Kissamos – Balos road. Google maps 2019.

Staying in Kissamos is a winner to save on road times and make the most of a day in Balos. Basically, once you depart from Kissamos you just need to reach the village of Kaliviani and from there, keep driving to the Gramvousa peninsula.

Other good places to stay close to Balos include Falasarna, Drapanias, and Kolymbari if you want to stay by the sea. Otherwise, if you prefer a quiet, inland town, the village of Platanos is a good idea too.

How to reach Balos if you don’t want to drive

Boat to Balos
Boat, a popular way to visit Balos.

Balos Boat Trip

Another popular way to get to Balos is with a Day Cruise. This trip was never my favorite and I’ll explain why down below, but it was an acceptable experience and it can be a valid way to go to Balos and to visit Imeri Gramvousa too.

Let’s see the cons first

To start with, if you think you will be spending the whole day on the beach, do reconsider. You won’t. The time on Balos Beach will vary from 2 to 3 hours. You’ll spend another 2 hours in Gramvousa, and a lot of time sailing. Really, a lot!

The boat tends to get very crowded. Therefore, embarking and disembarking about 1500 people (or more) implies a waste of time. Besides, by the time you make it to Balos, there’s hardly any spot on the beach left.

Boats and beach bar in Balos, Crete.
The boats in the distance and the beach bar.

Snacks, lunch, and drinks are sold on board, but prices are a bit on the high side. So, if you don’t like crowds, get seasick, don’t enjoy the smell of boat fuel, or hate schedules, don’t go to Balos with the daily cruise.

Sea of Crete.
You can enjoy this landscape when sailing to Balos.

Now for the pros of a Balos Cruise

You don’t have to drive, and that’s the main positive point. Therefore, it’s a great solution if you’re not renting a car, or if you’d rather not drive on a dirt road for whatever reason.

You don’t have to think of packing a lunch or worrying about getting lost. All you need to do is to be at the port of Kissamos on time to get the ticket or – better – buy the ticket online beforehand. You can also rent an umbrella from them to use upon arrival, so that’s one thing less to have with you.

Kavonisi port in Kissamos, Crete.
Kavonisi port.

You will see the bay of Kastelli, and visit the island of Imeri Gramvousa. In a way, a day cruise to Balos is more than just going to the beach. The trip is a good compromise and prices are fairly reasonable. In my personal experience, the cruise was not bad, but I prefer to drive to Balos.

What the Cruise includes

The cruise to Balos officially includes a stop on the island of Imeri Gramvousa. Close to the disembarking point, there is a small beach and an old shipwreck just off the coast. It gets really crowded when your boat arrives, so many people choose to walk to a secluded beach near the chapel of Agioi Apostoloi for a swim.

Castle Gramvousa.
The castle on top of the rock, Gramvousa.

You can hike to the highest point of Imeri Gramvousa (137 meters), to explore the ancient Venetian castle, built il 1579. Together with the castles of Spinalonga and Souda, Gramvousa played an important role during the Venetian resistance against the Ottomans.

The steep hike takes about 25 minutes but repays with stunning views. If you plan to hike, leave the flip flops for later and wear comfortable shoes. The atmosphere is enhanced by the legend of a hidden pirate treasure, which makes kids really excited about the visit. You will spend about two hours on the island.

Imeri Gramvousa castle.
People visiting the castle of Imeri Gramvousa.

The next stop is Balos Beach and Lagoon where you will have 2-3 hours to swim and explore. If you intend to take the famous photo of the peninsula and the beach, you need about 45 minutes hike up and down the mountain. Take that into account!

Shipwreck in front of Gramvousa.
Shipwreck in front of Gramvousa.

Booking you Balos Cruise

We booked our Daily Cruise at the office in Kissamos the day before on two occasions, however, many people buy the ticket at the port the day of the tour, especially in less busy months.

General information:
(updated as of October 2019)

Departure: From the port of Kissamos, Kavonisi.
Fleet: “Gramvousa”, “Gravousa Express”, “Balos”, “Spirit of Athos”.

Schedule: Daily departures from April or May until October, weather permitting.
Hours: Departure 10.20, 10.40, 12.30 – Return to Kavonisi 17.45, 18.00, 19.30. The 12.30 departure is available from June to September. You must be at the port 1 hour before departure.
Prices: 27 € adult fee, 13 € child fee (2-12 y/o), free for kids under 2. Meals are not included.

Bookings: Online, at the ticket office in Kissamos, at the port (depending on availability).
Credit Cards: Accepted.
Car park at Kavonisi port: Free.
Municipal fee: The Municipality of Kissamos collects 1 euro from every visitor over 13. The fee is payable to the boat operator.

I recommend you confirm this information, check for timetables, and the latest prices here before reaching the port of Kissamos. In the high season, it’s a good idea to book one or two days in advance. You can use this link to book at no extra cost to you.

The fleet that reaches Balos daily.
The fleet that reaches Balos daily.

As I mentioned before, there are many other alternatives to visit Balos Beach and Lagoon. Let’s now see which are some of the less popular ways to get there.

Safari to Balos Beach

Safari to Balos.

Safaris have transformed into a popular way to discover many off-the-beaten-track areas of Crete. I wouldn’t necessarily define Balos as a place with such characteristics, it’s not isolated nor unfrequented, it’s only more complex to access than other areas.

In any case, these adventurous trip are interesting, very fun, and despite being a bit more expensive than the traditional boat trip, you are able to split the price if traveling in a bigger group (6 or 8 is the usual numbers of seats these excursions include). Besides, it’s a private or semi-private trip and it might be possible to discuss stops and other preferences with the drivers on the spot.

Safaris are not just off-road vehicles. It’s also possible to enjoy a quad safari (maybe too dusty for my taste) or a rib-boat safari, certainly faster than a cruise boat.

These tours may sometimes include an extra stop for lunch, check before booking if that’s included in the price or if you will be in charge of the bill once the meal is over.

You can check the following tour operator for prices, availability, and their low-cost Balos tour.

Private Boat to Balos Beach

You just need to walk along the Old Port of Chania to see how many different boats offer boat trips to Balos. Trips can be private or semi-private and they vary from sailing boats, to middle range transportation, to more exclusive luxury yachts and cruises.

It’s a good idea to visit the port after 20.00, when all the boats are already back from Balos and you can negotiate a price directly with the crew.

Sea view road to Balos Crete island
Impressive view on the way to Balos

Private Transfer to Balos

If you prefer not to drive all the way to Balos, private transfers are a good compromise although prices tend to be on the higher side. As a pro, transfers usually also take care of your pick up and drop off and hours are more flexible.

If you’re traveling in a group of about 6-10 people, it can be a comfortable solution since the cost can be shared. Bear in mind that this service usually does not have a fixed price, the farther from Balos the transfer begins, the higher the price will be.

Hiking to Balos

Hiking from Kaliviani

Agia Irini on the road to Balos Beach, Crete
Agia Irini chapel.

Those keen on hiking and outdoor adventures will be happy to know that another way to reach the coast is by walking (and even cycling) all the way from the village of Kaliviani. However, the car traffic is heavy in summer and you might end up swallowing an undesired amount of dust from the road.

If you go for this experience, remember to carry enough water since it’s an 8 km hike. In summer, wear a hat and lots of sunscreen protection. During the walk, you’ll encounter goats and will be able to enjoy the magnificent landscape.

Vulture, Balos
Keep an eye on the landscape around you.

Keep your eyes on the ground for eventual rocks and terrain irregularities but don’t forget to look up from time to time too as you will certainly spot some of the local vultures up in the sky.

One place worth a stop is the chapel of Agia Irini, a rather isolated little church on the edge of the cliff overlooking the bay of Kissamos.

Hiking from Falasarna

This alternative road is only for those who enjoy extreme adventures, the hike from Falasarna to Balos goes along the western coast of the Gramvousa peninsula.

It’s a very dangerous trail and the whole hike can last up to 8 hours. It goes without saying that you should not venture on this path without the required resources, excellent hiking shoes, hiking poles, and plenty of water.

My instinct advises you to avoid the experience altogether unless you’re an experienced hiker. On the other hand, both locals and experts recommend to face this adventure in groups and never as a solo traveler.

Hiking to Cape Vouxa

Cape Vouxa is the extreme tip of Gramvousa and it’s possible to reach the area after a 1-2 hour walk along the eastern coast of the peninsula. It’s not a dangerous trail, but it’s long and can be a little tiring in the heat of the Cretan summer.

Cape Vouxa, Balos
You can also trek to Cape Vouxa.

The path also starts in the parking area of Balos. In fact, in the same spot where the hike down to the beach begins, there’s a second signpost with information about the path to Cape Vouxa. The trail is never too crowded and it’s well marked. Upon arrival, you’ll be rewarded with the stunning view of the channel that stands between the peninsula and the island of Agria Gramvousa.

The Landscape of Balos Beach Lagoon

The impressive shallow turquoise lagoon and the pristine sand beach have made Balos one of the must-visit places on Crete. During sunset, and once every cruise ship has left, there’s an abandoned-island atmosphere that completely transforms the place, giving it a magic aura.

The Bay of Balos is one of the best-known pictures of Crete that you can find online, which has made it a popular touristic spot on the island.

The lagoon is usually shallow, very clear, and warm. However, there are some black spots on the sand and in the water in the areas closes to the shore. When asking, locals have told me that the black stains are coal-tar (they’re very slippery indeed). Some people have described them as organic material that remains in the lagoon (and it does get smelly at times). Others have told me that it’s volcanic soil, but Crete is not a volcanic island!

Balos Beach, Crete
Enjoying an afternoon shooting at Balos beach and lagoon, Crete.

A combination of alga and the endemic sea species known as Neptune grass also gather on the sea bottom when it’s windy.

Cape Tigani

Once on the beach you can wade to the Tigani Peninsula, and visit the small chapel of Agios Giorgos as well as a big cave close by. This cave has a tragic story dating back to the Ottoman invasion, in this period, many women and children sought refuge in the cave but they were found and killed by the Turks.

Bushes, Balos beach and lagoon.
The nature in Balos.

In Tigani you can also reach the top of the formation. If you’re into photography, this is a great place for panoramic and unusual shots of Balos Lagoon.

The Nature of Balos

The protected biotope Balos-Gramvousa includes more than 400 different plants and shrubs, some of which endemic to the island. The Anthemis glaberrima is one of the species that only grows in the area. On the shallow waters there’s the Neptune grass (Posidonia oceanica) which shelters different varieties of marine life. You can discover it by snorkeling.

Thyme bush.
Thyme bushes, Balos beach.

There are plenty of birds, such as the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), not really hard to spot in autumn. Balos is another of Crete’s refuges for the Caretta Caretta turtle as well as the Mediterranean seal Monachus Monachus.

Facilities on Balos Beach

From mid-April until the end of October, there is a place where to buy water and snacks at the parking spot. There’s also a small bar on the beach.

Parking and canteen in Balos beach
Small canteen at the parking place.

Food options are limited so packing your lunch is a good idea. You can rent umbrellas and sunbeds, hire boats, and use public toilets.

Bathrooms, Balos beach.

Sports and Activities

Unless you book a tour to Balos on a private luxury yacht including jet ski, there are no water sports available on the beach. Just a few pedal boats with water slides.

Pedal boats.
Pedal boats.

Where to eat on Balos Beach

There’s just a small beach bar trying to serve all the visitors to the area. Options are restricted and prices are what they are when there’s just one bar available. The best thing you can do is bring all you need to spend the day. Include fruit and a lot of water.

Kaliviani restaurant in Crete.
Kaliviani restaurants on the main road of the village.

Another option is to buy a few sandwiches in one of the many bakery shops in Kissamos and bring fruit from home. On your way back, stop for an early dinner in Kaliviani village. My favorite place there is Aragathos. Here you can read reviews of restaurants in the area.

Spend the night

Balos Beach Hotels

There are only a few places where to stay close to Balos, this hotel is the closest one and it has excellent ratings. However, due to the isolated nature of the place, most hotels are far from the beach. Other good accommodation options, conveniently close to Balos are:

  • Seaside Villa Balos is a big villa that has been recently renewed, it would be great for a family with kids.
  • Kaliviani is another option, with great ratings too, you can see the photo below. Remember to check the reviews and – eventually – book here
Kaliviani Hotel, Balos Crete
One of the hotels closest to Balos (Courtesy of Kaliviani hotel).

Camping in Balos Beach

Greek laws forbid camping in areas other than official, designated caping sites. We definitely do not encourage breaking the law in Greece or anywhere else! However, and for the sake of precision, it’s fair to report that camping outdoors in Crete is a reality.

There are several beaches on the island (we’ve discussed the case of Kedrodasos here) where people spend the night illegally, Remember that if you choose to stay overnight and want to avoid a fine, the only way to do so is with just a sleeping bag. If during a police raid you’re sleeping overnight on the beach but do not have a tent, you won’t be fined.

It’s vital to know, though, that if you do make up your mind to camp in Balos, you should no leave traces behind you, collect your waste, even if organic, and do not damage any species. Besides, remember that lighting a fire is also forbidden.

Best time to visit Balos Beach, Crete

Weather vs. Crowds: Best time to go to Balos

Balos is one of the hottest places to visit in Crete during the summer, it’s one of the island’s most popular beach as well as one of the prettiest. However, I believe Balos is more than fascinating off-season.

Beach, way down Balos
Early October, not so crowded and great weather.

Without the crowds, there’s a unique abandoned atmosphere that’s worth to experience. Cloudy or stormy skies create a great visual contrast with the turquoise waters and the white sand. In colder months, this is definitely a place you will enjoy if you love photography or just quietness.

When Balos gets windy

Balos boasts a privileged position as it is often protected by the winds, however it can occasionally get windy, mostly in late spring and early fall. The wind won’t be blowing as much as it does in Falasarna or Elafonisi, but if it happens, there’s not much you can do.

One mild solution is to seek for a protected location to spend the day, the best-repaired spots are close to the shore on the Tigani peninsula, this area tends to be a more protected.

When Balos gets smelly

Being Balos mostly a lagoon, there’s little (sometimes none at all) water exchange from the lagoon with the sea. Therefore it’s sometimes a little smelly closer to the shore. This is because organic material that gathers there.

In fact, the problem is that being the lagoon so shallow and having a muddy kind of structure, the sea bottom allows the proliferation of microorganism. That explains the rather unpleasant smell on some days and in some areas.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do. Try leaving the lagoon and getting closer to the open sea. This can reduce the smell.

Best places to see near Balos Beach, Crete

Imeri Gramvousa Island

The island of Imeri Gramvousa has gained a place in Crete’s history because, together with the islands of Spinalonga and Souda (also known as Aptera island, at the entrance the port of Souda), it was the last Venetian outpost when Crete fell in the hands of the Ottoman empire.

Gamvousa island, Crete
Gramvousa as seen from the beach of Balos.

The castle was one of the first areas on the island to be liberated from the Turks (while Crete was freed from the Ottomans in 1898, Gramvousa was set free in 1825).

The castle of Gramvousa is a wonderful example of fortified architecture. It’s located on the highest point of the island and it dates back to the end of the 16th century. Remember that to visit the castle you need to hike your way up, so do wear comfortable shoes.

Falasarna Beach

Falasarna beach.

The beach of Falasarna is probably one of the top beaches of the island and it’s quite close to Balos. Many of those who put Balos on their Crete itinerary choose to stay in Falasarna since there’s a better choice of accommodation.

Falasarna is a tiny settlement with a wide beach, directly facing the west, with excellent wind conditions for water sports.

Sunset, Falasarna, Crete.
Sunset in Falasarna.

Known in Crete as one of the best spots to enjoy the sunset, Falasarna is famous for its laid-back atmosphere and great tavernas serving traditional Cretan food. Do read my guide to Falasarna with recommendations of things to do in the area.

Explore Ancient Falasarna

If you’re staying in Falasarna, or simply exploring the west of Crete, don’t miss a visit to the Archaeological Site of Ancient Falasarna.

Throne Ancient Falasarna.
Throne, Ancient Falasarna.

Once a major trading center and important harbor, the city saw its biggest splendor and expansion during the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C.

To reach Ancient Falasarna you should follow the main road that leads you out of the modern Falasarna. Just a few meters before the entrance to the site, it’s possible to spot the Throne of Falasarna, a stone structure with the shape of a chair that archaeologists believe was used as a podium to give public speeches.

Archaeological Site of Falasarna:
Entrance: free
Summer hours: (April-October) – Tuesdays to Sundays: 8.30-19.00
Winter hours: (November-March) – Tuesdays to Sundays: 8.00-15.00.
The site is closed on Mondays all year round.

Sfinari Beach

Golden hour, Sfinari beach.

Sfinari is a rather quiet seaside village about 30 km from Kissamos and 14 km south of Falasarna. Sfinari is a great place for a day trip or a good place to stop when reaching the southern beach of Elafonisi.

The landscape is rather green, and there’re mountains standing at the back of the beautiful beach. The shore is a mix of sand and pebbles while there are several trees for shade. When it’s not windy, it’s good for swimming and snorkeling.

For a great meal, I strongly recommend a stop at Captain Fidias, right in front of the beach. Here, choose one of their fresh fish dishes.

It’s possible to find accommodation in Sfinari if you’re looking to relax. Even more lonely than Falasarna, it’s also possible to camp in Sfinari.

Sifnari beach in Crete at sunset
Sunset by the sea, Sifnari.

We’ve several times said that Falasarna is a very quiet place, however, it’s also true that many visit from Chania during the summer, and it’s not odd for Falasarna to be crowded, this won’t be the case in Sfinari.

Camping sign in Sifnari, Crete
Camping, Sfinari.

You can also visit the secluded nearby Patanakia, another beach south of Sfinari, to get there, you need to hike across cape Korakas.

You can reach Sfinari following the coastal road from Falasarna, but there are also buses departing from Chania (Ktel, routes Chania-Kastelli, Kastelli-Kampos, with the following departure times: 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:30, 15:30, 16:30, 17:30, 18:30, 20:00, 21:45). The trip Chania-Sfinari is about 50 minutes.


Kissamos square and church
Main square, Kissamos.

Known by the names of Kissamos or Kastelli this seaside city has a life of its own. It’s about 43 km from the biggest city of Chania and it’s also one of Crete’s main cities in the west.

There are several beaches to choose from as well as many hotels and rooms to rent. There are also bars, tavernas, and restaurants, as well as shops and every facility you would expect in a medium-sized village.

In Kissamos it’s possible to visit the small fishing port and the main square where you can also check the Archaeological Museum. The museum hosts exhibits coming from the ancient cities of Falasarna and Polyrrenia. It’s hosted in a Venetian-Turkish mansion, and it can be seen in about an hour.

Archaeological Museum of Kissamos.
Archaeological Museum of Kissamos.

The whole area of Kissamos is famous for its olive groves, grapes, and the production of Cretan raki. About 2.5 km west of Kissamos, the port of Kavonisi has daily departures for Balos and Gramvousa island. There are also boats that link Chania with the Peloponnese, including Kythera and Kalamata.


Known locally as Polirrinia and also as Polyrrhenia, this fortified ancient city was an important Hellenistic center in Crete engaged in permanent fights with the ancient nearby naval settlement of Falasarna, and also a rival of Kydonia (today Chania), and Knossos. Many coins minted by Polyrrenia and Falasarna are exposed in Kissamos Archaeological Museum.

Polirrinia Acropolis, Crete
The acropolis (Source: Wikipedia, Pampuco, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Most of Polyrrinea’s surrounding fortification walls are still standing as well as the Byzantine fortification located on top of the acropolis, where it’s also possible to see the rest of an early Christian basilica.

In the area, you can visit different churches from several historic periods, as well as an ancient temple dating from the 4th century BC, probably dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis.

The new village and the ancient ruins of Polirrinia (Source: Wikipedia, Pampuco, CC BY-SA 4.0)

One of the most impressive remains are the Roman towers and the aqueduct tunnels and cisterns for the collection of water which was then distributed to public fountains.

The open-air, Archaeological Site of Polyrrenia is about 8 km inland from Kissamos and it can be accessed for free. You can reach Polyrrenia also with the local bus from Kissamos.

Explore beyond Crete: Kythera and Antikythera

Fonisa waterfall, Kythera (Source: Wikipedia, Comzeradd, CC BY-SA 3.0).

Even with so much to do and see in Crete, those who have some extra time in Greece can plan an addition to their itinerary by visiting these two islands. Also known by the names of Kythira and Antikythira, they belong to the region of the Peloponnese and the smallest of them, Antikythera, is located half-way between Crete and Kythera.

Chora and kastro, Kythera (Source: Wikipedia, Ingo Mehling, CC BY-SA 3.0).

Antikythera can, in fact, be seen from the coast of Balos on a clear day. The island has less than 20 inhabitants during winter, and reaches a population of up to 500 in summer. For information about the ferry from Kissamos to Kythera, check this official schedule.

Antikythera (Source: Wikipedia, Jimmyoneill CC BY 2.5).
Climbing, Balos.
Climbing back home.

And you? Have you ever been to Balos? Share your experience in the comments below!

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This article is currently up to date and includes the latest information about Elafonisi and the nearby areas. However, it can always be improved with your help! If you think that there’s important information missing, do let me know! Together we can make this article so much better and even more complete! Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!


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About the author

I’m Gabi. I moved to Crete a few years ago to have more and better opportunities to explore the island all year round. I love to backpack with my kids, taking pictures and driving around the spectacular mountain roads of Crete. I’m a freelance content creator and language consultant working for the travel and gastronomy industries in Greece.

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