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 Chrissi Island, one of the last uninhabited spots remaining on Crete.
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- Here’s the reading challenge!
- Preparing the Travel and Reading list
- 1. Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
- 2. Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph
- 3. J.R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
- 4. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
- 5. Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek
- 6. Tiziano Terzani, A Fortune-Teller Told Me
- 7. Sujata Maasey, The Sleeping Dictionary
- 8. David Lodge, Small World
- 9. Stephen King, On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft
- 10. Lonely Planet, The World: A Traveller’s Guide to the Planet
- Final words… (and here is where I cheated!)
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 in 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, it’s a great idea to 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.
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.
Carry your essentials for a whole day on an uninhabited island: water, lunch, fruit, book or Kindle, sunscreen, and whatever makes your day more comfortable. Hat and sunglasses are other musts.
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.
Are you ready to explore Crete? It can be the trip of your lifetime. Get in touch if you need extra help to plan your itinerary and join our Crete Travel Group on Facebook. Or check this guide if you’re touring West Crete. You’ll find detailed info about where to go, what to see, where to eat, and more!
Coming to Crete any time soon? These fantastic resources will help you organize the trip!
- Start by heading right to my post with helpful tips to plan a trip to Crete, which goes over every detail you need to know, from when it’s best to travel to what documents you need, or how to get a SIM card. You can also check my post to plan a Crete trip with kids!
- Probably, you’re also planning to spend some time at the beach on the island. Check my guide to the best beaches in Crete to choose the one you like the most. Read this article to decide what area suits best to stay in Crete, or check this post is you still don’t know all the things you can do in Crete.
- Finally, to have updated information about the island, join my private group on Facebook about Crete and download a copy of my West Crete Travel Guide to have it always with you on the island!
Finally, make sure you’ve got everything you for a hassle-free trip!
- I never move around the island with any of these… my Osprey backpack has been the most loyal travel partner over the last 5 years. It’s sturdy, light, roomy, and super comfortable! I just love it. To visit the old town, archaeological sites, and museums, this little crossbody bag is always around.
- When driving around Crete, I always pack my Michelin map, clear, accurate, and easy to read and my Nikon D7200, I’m lost without any of them. In summer I also carry good sunscreen lotion, the sun on the island can be pretty aggressive.
- Greece, and especially Crete, is a fairly safe destination, however, I’m sure you know that it’s always better to travel with an insurance policy for complete peace of mind. My favorite? World Nomads. Already left home? Buy your travel insurance online now!
- Always bring with you a good travel guide to Crete! The best Crete Travel Guide I’ve found so far is the one published by Lonely Planet. It has all the information you need.
- Airfares to Crete can vary immensely from one airline to the other, make sure you always compare ticket prices with a powerful search engine. Getting to Crete can be really comfortable with an airplane, but nothing beats the romantic experience of traveling by sea. I always choose Direct Ferries to visit other Greek islands or to travel directly to Crete from Athens. It has a powerful search engine to get the right ticket you need!
- If I need to book accommodation in Crete or anywhere else, I personally use Booking.com. Their Genius Loyalty Programme allows me to find better fees. As they say, the more you stay with them, the more rewards you get.
- Road trips in Crete are the most authentic way to explore the island. Find the cheapest rental car using a good car rental search engine. Discover Cars searches over 500 trusted rental companies for you to find the best deal. Compare prices for rental cars in Crete here.
- Sometimes, the best way to get to know a place better and make the most of your time on Crete is to join an organized tour. GetYourGuide has a great selection of proposals that help you save time and money. From cooking lessons to archaeological site tours, skip-the-line attractions, and even airport transfer!
Do you have everything you need? Then you just have to get ready to discover Crete, Greece’s most beautiful island!
- Further reading
If you would like to read more about Crete’s best beaches, you should also check this article featuring over 40 stunning beaches in Crete. Those staying in Chania should definitely check both West Crete beaches and the stunning beaches on the Akrotiri peninsula. The southern coast of Crete boasts the most spectacular, unspoiled beaches on the island while the remote shores in East Crete are lonely and fascinating, ideal to relax and enjoy.
Traveling with kids? There are so many child-friendly beaches on Crete that you’ll have a hard time choosing which one to visit. Falasarna as well as Elafonisi are among them. For a romantic beach holiday, head straight to Balos Beach and Lagoon! And if you’re longing for some naturist swimming and sunbathing, do check my guide to Crete’s best naturist beaches. It’s super helpful and includes GPS coordinates to find your way!
Have you ever been on a day trip to Chrissi Island, Crete?
Let me know in the comments below!
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About the Author
Hola! I’m Gabi. Welcome to The Tiny Book – Crete Travel Blog! I moved to Crete to explore the island all year round. I love taking pictures and driving on the mountain roads of Crete. I’m a beach freak and on this island I’ve found heaven on earth!