Only 14 km off the coast of Ierapetra, in the stunning south of Crete, Chrissi island is a magnificent gem and a natural ecosystem with pristine beaches facing the Libyan sea. Popular among day-trippers, Chrissi’s bare geography features white sand beaches and turquoise clear waters. In this article, you will learn how to organize a day trip to Chrissi Island, one of the last uninhabited spots remaining on Crete.
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What to see on Chrissi Island, Crete
Things you need to know about Chrissi Island
Known as Chrissi (often also written Chryssi, in Greece: Χρυσή “golden”) Island but also as also Gaidouronisi (Γαϊδουρονήσι “the island of the donkeys”), this very small, uninhabited Greek island is located off the southern coast of Crete, about 14 kilometers south of Ierapetra, on the Libyan sea. Locals in Ierapetra just call the Island, and it has turned into one of the most important reasons for tourists to stop by in the city of Ierapetra.
Chrissi Island is a protected reserve part of the Natura 2000 Program. It covers a surface of no more than 2 km wide and 7 km long. Most of the island features a rare cedar wood forest (juniper trees), thought to be the largest in Europe.
The island is uninhabited, and being a protected area, visitors are not allowed to collect stones, shells, or any kind of plant from Chrissi.
Although there are no places where to stay on the island, and even when it’s officially forbidden to spend the night. Many people simply “forget” to get on the last boat back to Ierapetra and choose to spend the night. You can do so provided you don’t light a fire. Spending the night under the stars of Crete’s blue sky, without any other soul in sight must be a unique experience! If you plan to do so, travel with all the equipment you need, including a sleeping bag or some sort of a tent.
The nature in Chrissi Island
The island, which is the southernmost natural park in Europe, is an important ecosystem where you can find a variety of flora and fauna, including lizards, rabbits, sea turtles (Caretta Caretta, and nonpoisonous snakes).
When it comes to the vegetation, there’s a rare forest of juniper trees which covers a huge portion of Chrissi. The Lebanon cedar trees have deep roots in the sand and grow as much as ten meters in height and up to 1 meter in diameter. The extensive cedar wood is the biggest one in Europe.
A thick layer of solid lava along a few portions of Chrissi’s coasts reflects the origin of the island, archaeologists and researchers have found over 40 different species of corals and shells trapped in the layers of lava.
A bit of history about Chrissi Island
The island is a popular spot for fans of snorkeling, an activity that allows you to explore ruins of pirate ships around the seabed of Chrissi. As a matter of fact, the island was a pirate cove for several years.
There are ancient chapels, ruins, and graves dating from the Roman Empire. The island, which probably used to be a great place for hermits and fishermen, has been a place of interest for humans as back as the Minoan period. There’s some evidence showing that the island probably functioned as a salt mine in ancient times.
In more recent times, the island was the place where the locals from Ierapetra would carry their old donkeys to spend their last days after a lifetime of hard work on Crete. This gained the island the second name, Gaidouronisi, donkey’s island.
Beaches in Chrissi Island
The island has a beautiful northern coast, quite rugged and exotic, yet not really popular as it tends to be hit by winds. The place offers stunning views of the nearby coast of Crete too.
On the southern coast, instead, the landscape is even more exotic, with a sea that has incredible shades of blue as well as unique beaches, often forgotten by those who visit. All in all, there’s no shortage of stunning beaches to discover on a day trip to Chrissi Island.
Also known as Golden Sand, or also Belegrina, Chrissi Ammos is the beach that’s closest to the pier. That of course means that it’s usually crowded by those disembarking from the cruise ship. People usually leave the boat and follow the main path on the sand that leads to this organized beach. Most of them don’t explore the rest of the island and just stay here until the time of departure. The beach is incredibly beautiful, the sand is white and mixed with shells and tiny pebbles (do consider packing a pair of swimming shoes).
Probably the best place on Chrissi Island if you intend to avoid the massive crowds that populate Chrissi Ammos beach once the boats make it to the island. Vages is a lonely beach on the southern portion of Chrissi. Despite its unique landscape, the area can be hit by strong winds. Due to the rocky seabed, and the number of shells and pebbles found in the area, do not forget to pack a good pair of swim shoes in order to explore.
Quieter than Chrissi Ammos, Chatzivolakas enjoys a calmer sea and a long line of cedar trees that offer natural shade under the scorching sun of Chrissi. The area has that unique desert-island feeling that you’ve probably many times dreamed of experiencing. In the surrounding area, it’s possible to visit the old lighthouse, an ancient salt lake, and the only house on the island. It’s also possible to visit a the small church of Agios Nikolaos, the patron saint of fishermen.
When you leave Chatzivolakas and head towards the westernmost point on Chrissi, you will come across the remains of an Ancient Minoan settlement before reaching the beach of Avlaki.
Also known as Vogiou or Vogiou Mati, this shore is the place where boats arrived on the beach (on the southern coast of the island). However, you need to walk a little bit towards the west so as to explore the sea caves and hidden coves with pristine waters and ideal for snorkeling and underwater sports.
Another lonely spot on the island, Kataprosopo features a line of rocks that divide the bay in two creating a set of magnificent shallow pools, perfect for snorkelling. Opposite the beach, you can admire the tiny Mikronisi, (which in Greek means small island) a place where hundreds of different species of birds find shelter in the middle of the sea. Not far from here, you can easily reach Kefala Hill, the highest point on Chrissi. Although it’s only a bit more than 30 m high, reaching the top of the hill allows you to enjoy stunning views covering the whole island!
If you’re looking for a wild landscape, with a rugged coast and endless caves to explore by the sea, reach the westernmost beach of Kendra.
The rocky terrain is better and more safely explore wearing anti-slippery hiking shoes. Although the area can get windy at times, the magnificent pools offer endless opportunities for unique pictures and fantastic views.
What to do on Chrissi Island
The island is the perfect place to relax and forget everything about your everyday routine. However, other than just lazily lounging under the sun, reading a book, or swimming, Chrissi is a perfect place to explore the sea bed. Snorkeling is a popular activity among visitors, you don’t need to carry with you a lot of heavy equipment and you will certainly be rewarded by the amazing submarine landscape off the coast of Chrissi Island.
If you belong to the more active type and enjoy walks surrounded by nature, don’t forget to pack comfortable walking shoes, a hat, and good sunscreen protection. Then, you’re ready to go…
Walk along to the designated paths to discover the ancient cedar trees with imposing twisted branches resembling more to bizarre sculptures than to actual trees. The spectacular blue shades of the sea, the shape of Crete, and its mountains in the distance, everywhere you look is a unique collection of breathtaking landscapes.
Walking around Chrissi, you will come across the 13th-century church of Agios Nikolaos, constructed on top of an ancient temple. In the area, it’s also possible to admire the ruins of a well and ancient graves probably dating back from the Roman period.
>> If you want to visit Chrissi Island, book a day trip from Ierapetra <<
How to get to Chrissi Island, Crete
You can reach Chrissi by sea from the port of Ierapetra as well as from the smaller port of the nearby beaches of Mirtos and Makrigialos, if you depart from these two small beaches, be ready to pay a higher fee.
There are several different ferry companies as well as a few private ships that, between the months of May and October, reach the coast of Chrissi Island.
Departing from Ierapetra: The trip is about an hour and it’s always better to buy the ticket a few days in advance in one of the offices by the port of Ierapetra. The return ticket is 25 euros. The boats depart daily (weather conditions permitting) every morning, from 10.00 until midday. Trips back to Ierapetra are usually between 4 and 5 pm.
Private tours: It’s also a great idea, if your budget allows, to reach Ierapetra with a private tour. Some of them also include an onboard grill or a lavish Cretan lunch.
Remember: There’s a visitor tax (€1) payable on the boat. I always suggest booking the trip in advance, especially if you’re traveling in the high season.
Upon arrival, your boat will be docking on the southern coast, and it will be necessary for you to reach the northern coast on foot. You will walk a well-marked path but don’t forget to bring walking shoes or sandals, other than your flip flops.
Essentials for Chrissi
Bring a good pair of walking shoes or sandals for trekking and swimming shoes, especially if you travel with kids or if you don’t enjoy pebbles or shells. If you need more details about what to pack for your day on Chrissi Island, check this beach bag guide.
A whole day on an uninhabited island calls for water, lunch, fruit, book or Kindle, sunscreen, and whatever makes your day more comfortable. Don’t forget a hat and sunglasses.
Consider a fee ranging from €10 to €15 for an umbrella and sunbeds. Carry your own beach towels too as often the umbrellas are already taken when you get there.
Have you ever been on a day trip to Chrissi Island, Crete?
Let me know in the comments below!
Travel Plans for Crete?
More Resources to Organize Your Trip!
Start by heading right to my tips to plan a trip to Crete for in-depth details you need to know about Greece. You can also check my post to better know what to pack for a trip to the island or read this info to visit Crete with children!
Get in touch if you need extra help to plan your trip. If you want to tour West Crete, check my guide. Want more? Join my Private Facebook Group to connect with like-minded travelers who love Crete as much as you do!
Make Sure You’ve Got Everything For a Hassle-Free Vacation!
I never move around the islands without my Osprey backpack, a sturdy but light travel partner I just love. For short trips, I carry this little crossbody bag. If I drive, I pack my Nikon D7200 and a good travel guide! Lonely Planet’s Best of Greece & the Greek Islands.
For accommodation, I personally use Booking.com. Traveling to remote places is easier with Discover Cars. Other times, I join organized tours with GetYourGuide, which features anything from cooking lessons to airport transfer!
Are you coming to Crete any time soon?
Get in touch and let me know!
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About the author:
Gabi has been living in Crete for the last five years. Here, she juggles being a solo mom, hosting culinary tours in the summer, translating, and working as a tech advisor.
She’s written for Greek Reporter, published two travel guides about Greece, and drunk more glasses of frappe than any regular person would be able to handle.
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