Vai Palm Beach is located in the region of Lasithi, on the remote easternmost coast of Crete and it is a peculiar place to check on the island. Vai Beach (Παραλία Βάι – Paralia Vai, in Greek) is one of the most beautiful and exotic beaches in Crete and a fantastic place to discover. In this detailed guide, I will give you all the info you need to visit this authentic slice of paradise, Vai Beach, read on!
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Tips to Visit Vai Palm Beach in Crete
In this guide, you will find all the tips to visit, including:
- Curious details and general information
- How to get there
- Things to do in the nearby area
- Other beaches close by,
- Where to stay, what to see, where to eat, and more for a perfect visit to Vai Palm Beach in Crete.
General Details about Vai Beach
Vai is located in the heart of a protected natural palm tree forest known as Finikodasos (Φοινικόδασος), so you might often hear locals referring to it as Φοινικόδασος του Βάι (the Palm Grove of Vai) or simply Finikodasos. Home to the largest palm forest in Europe, the landscape in Vai is simply astonishing.
Where is Vai Beach
Vai is right before the peninsula leading to the solitary Cape Sideros, about 23 km from the city of Sitia. It’s a bit north of the small village of Palekastro (8 km), on the northeastern coast of Crete, and facing the sea of Karpathos (a wonderful Greek Island that belongs to the Dodecanese located 97 nautical miles from Vai).
- Distance from Heraklion: 150 km (2 hours and 30 minutes by car)
- Distance from Agios Nikolaos: 90 km (1 hour and 40 minutes by car)
Vai Beach Crete Map
A Bit of History
Often described as one of the largest attractions on the island, the area remained generally unknown to tourism until the 1970s, when many hippies left the more crowded Matala or Preveli, two flower-power hot-spots in Crete, in search of more quiet places
Moving on to the 80s, Vai Beach became a backpacker’s destination, travelers from all over the world would stay in the forest which unfortunately lead to a mixture of chaotic campgrounds and garbage dumps (cit. Wikipedia).
Thanks to a decision by local authorities, the forest was then enclosed and declared a protected area, and then all the space, including the beach, was recovered.
Most of the forest is enclosed by a fence, visitors have access only to the palms located by the sea, however, if you reach the lookout point on one of the extreme ends of the beach (south), you can climb quite a few steps to get a great aerial view.
… And a Bit of Legend
Since ancient times, Crete has been an attractive place in the heart of the Mediterranean for those sailing and trading in the area by sea. Conquerors, invaders, and pirates have coveted a piece of Crete since time immemorial. The most isolated parts of the island, that is the southern and eastern coasts, were particularly attractive to pirates, (you can read about that in the legends surrounding Gavdos Island too), and this is proved by the local history!
According to the legend, the palms originated from the stones of dates tossed on the floor by invaders who would spend the whole day eating this fruit. Some say that it was the Turks (this palm variety can be found in some places on the Turkish coast), others claim it was African pirates shipwrecked on the coast of Vai.
It really doesn’t matter since we do know now that these trees have been growing on the island since the Minoan times, long before pirates and the Ottoman Empire, and that their dates are inedible! However, it is a curious and fun legend!
CURIOUS FACT: The beach belongs to Moni Toplou, one of the most important monasteries in Crete.
The Palm Grove of Vai Beach
The natural grove, which starts a few kilometers before reaching the shore, and that you see as you drive your way from Sitia to the beach, ends right by the seaside.
The palm grove boasts about 6000 palm trees covering 20 hectares (200.000 square meters). But don’t expect the regular palm… trees in this grove are really thick and ancient, granting plenty of natural shade and a cooler atmosphere even during the very hot summers typical of eastern Crete.
The beach, which has been awarded the Blue Flag for the clean waters, is maybe one of the most exotic and beautiful beaches in Crete.
How to Get to Vai Palm Beach
There are no important villages or towns near the beach, something that adds a touch of mystery to this magnetic area. The best way to get there is by car from the closest bigger city, Sitia which is 23 km (about 25 minutes) west of Vai Beach.
The beach is about 15 minutes from Palekastro and from one and a half to two hours from Ierapetra, depending on the road you choose.
If you pick the eastern coastal Ierapetra-Vai, the road is 105 km, while driving from Ierapetra through Sitia, staying closer to the northern coast, the road is about 85 km.
As you approach the shore, the hundreds of palm trees on both sides of the road mean that you’ve almost arrived. The road is well maintained and signs are enough so as not to get lost. There is a parking spot in the area, try to arrive early as it gets really crowded!
Driving from Heraklion to Vai Palm Beach
This unique road trip along the north coast of the island can take a bit more than 2 hours… or much more if you stop at any of the interesting landmarks of Crete located along the way, including the towns of Agios Nikolaos and Sitia, the Mirabello Gulf, and Richtis Gorge, among others.
If you wish to stay close to this spectacular beach, there are plenty of accommodation options in the villages located 10-20 km to the south. Vai Beach is easily accessible as there is a road that goes right there. There is also a large parking space south of the beach, where you can find a bar and a tavern.
There is no public transportation to this destination and the only option would be to take a bus to Sitia and take a taxi or find other means of transportation, but this is quite difficult in comparison to having your own rental car at all times.
Getting to Vai Palm Beach by Bus
You can also get to Vai Palm Beach by public transport. It is not really convenient though, and hiring a taxi from the start might be much easier. However, if you are on a budget, there’s a bus that departs from Sitia bus station to Vai twice a day. The bus does not reach the access to the beach, there is a portion of the road to be done on foot or by taxi until you actually arrive at the beach.
Best Time to Visit Vai Palm Beach
Eastern Crete has arguably the best climate on the island. It rarely rains, and it tends to be sunnier more days per year than in the other regions.
I don’t suggest going to Vain in January, of course, but any time from April to late October will be fine. I visited also on a hot November day, sunbathing was ok, but swimming was out of the question (at least for me, other people were swimming!)
July and August are the peak months of the tourist season, the weather is awesome, but the crowds are too big. Spring (May and June), as well as late September and October, are good moments to visit. The weather is more pleasant too.
Keep in Mind for a Visit to Vai Palm Beach…
- Vai Palm Beach has been awarded a Blue Flag, which says a lot about the cleanness and quality of the sea and the shore. Vai is also very calm which makes it great for swimming and certain water sports.
- The beach is organized, you can rent loungers and umbrellas.
- There is a parking lot (free)
- Water sports are available
- The observation point offers on the south of the beach grants a great panorama of the palm grove and the beach.
Things to Do Near Vai Palm Beach
You can spend days exploring the region of Lasithi, only focusing on the isolated area near Vai. If you choose to spend a few days in one of the villages near the beach, I suggest you devote some time to these highlights.
In no particular order, these are some of the best things to do in the area of Vai when you visit.
Itanos Beach and Archaeological Site
Maybe the closest place to visit is the beaches in Erimoupolis, or Itanos, a walking distance towards the north of Vai Palm Beach (just under 3 km). This series of different small but relaxing shores have a hidden position and are protected from waves or winds.
The main beach of Itanos is shallow, has fine sand and it’s ideal for families.
On one of the extremes of the coast, there’s a secluded naturist area. The beach has no organization, the closest places to buy drinks or food are the canteens in Vai Beach.
Itanos lies right behind the ruins of the ancient town of Itanos, a powerful Dorian settlement, very powerful in East Crete. The ruins include ancient temples and early Christian churches.
Much of Itanos ruins continue underwater and can be explored with basic snorkeling equipment.
Toplou Monastery is one of the main monasteries on the island, located between Sitia and Vai and about 9 km from Vai Palm Beach. The beach of Vai is part of the land belonging to the monastery. Due to its isolated and rather vulnerable position, but also because of the continuous attacks it went through, Toplou stands behind solid fortification walls which are about 10 meters high.
Although the monastery is not as big as the monasteries of Arkadi or Preveli, it’s certainly one of the prettiest religious buildings on Crete. At the premises, visitors can check the rare collection of icons, the war museum, and the on-site winery that produces some of the best wine labels on the island.
Ruins of Ancient Roussolakkos
Roussolakkos is a former ancient settlement located near the village of Palekastro that flourished during the Minoan times. Among the ruins, you can check the harbor, outlying settlements, and quarries that have been preserved under sediments accumulating over more than 2000 years.
The most important place to visit is the ruins of the temple honoring Diktaian Zeus. According to the myth, this is where Jason and the Argonauts confronted Talos, a giant automaton made to protect the Phoenician princess Europa.
Less than 1 km away from the small eastern settlement of Palekastro, Kouremenos is a wide bay bathed by unique turquoise waters. The beach is shallow with fine, yellow sand, ideal for families with kids.
Kouremenos is almost 2 km long, and usually not too crowded. Its unique marine landscape makes snorkeling a favorite activity while the most popular thing to do is windsurfing.
The beach is partially organized, and you can opt to rest under the tamarisk trees if you prefer not to rent an umbrella.
Another beautiful shore in Eastern Crete is Chiona, a favorite for those who visit Lasithi every year, and a secret place for naturists too.
There are different coves you can visit in the area, which is also close to the village of Palekastro. Palekastro is an important village in East Crete and the perfect place to find accommodation in the area when visiting Vai Palm Beach.
Located 35 km from Vai, Zakros includes the smaller villages and hamlets. Zakros is often divided into Epano Zakros the portion higher up on the hillside, and Kato Zakros, near the ruins of an important Minoan Palace. In the area, it is also possible to check the Gorge of the Dead, which runs through both the upper and lower parts of the ancient site, named after the numerous burials that have been found in the caves along its walls.
In the area, excavations brought to light an ancient built-in winepress and a storage jar with linear A inscriptions (Minoan).
Near the lush springs of Zakros village, the Museum of Water and Hydraulics is a thematic museum that showcases the importance of water in Cretan life through ordinary objects of the past. The museum is housed in one of the eleven watermills that used to supply water to the whole of East Crete.
Palekastro Village – Folklore Museums
Also known as Palaikastro, Palekastro is a relatively important town, which, extending back to prehistoric times, hosted different important settlements extending back into prehistoric times.
During the Minoan period, this was a remarkable commercial center, together with Roussolakos and the port of Itanos.
The whole region was an important trade center during Minoan Times, in fact, the ruins of a Minoan sanctuary can be seen on Mount Petsofas, above the town.
The Minoan Moulds of Palaikastro were discovered in by a farmer 150 meters from the town.
The Kouros of Palekastro can be seen today in the Archaeological Museum of Sitia.
In the village, you can also check the Folklore Museum of Palekastro will give you a glimpse into the lifestyle of ancient Cretans.
Your visit will start with a perfect view of authentic Cretan home, filled with furniture and utensils of the past.
You might enjoy: The most interesting museums in East Crete.
Beaches of Xerokampos
The extensive region known as Xerokampos is about 35 km from Vai, it features a group of varied and beautiful beaches on the extreme southeastmost tip of Crete.
Remote and hard to access, as well as far from every local airport, Xerocampos is the place to go for complete isolation and total relaxation. You will find more info about this unique collection of shores in this article about the best beaches in East Crete.
Where to Stay Near Vai Palm Beach
When visiting Vai, it’s important to keep in mind that it is quite an isolated spot, far from towns or villages, so renting a car is the best way to explore the whole area. If you’re planning to stay near Vai Palm Beach and also visit all the places listed above, then you should consider staying in Sitia, or – even better and closer – in one of the small settlements further to the south.
However, don’t trust Vai being a remote place in order to find accommodation last minute. The beach is stunning and therefore very popular, booking in advance is really important to be able to find the right place to stay for you and your travel partners.
Onar (Palekastro) is a rental home in Palekastro, about 5 minutes from Kouremenos Beach and 2 km from Chiona Beach.
The home features hosts up to 4 guests and has one bedroom, a fully equipped kitchen, and a patio with pool views.
There is also free private parking.
Click here for more information and the latest prices.
Villa Aiolos (Palekastro) is within walking distance of Maridati Beach and Kouremenos Beach. The self-catering vacation home features a private pool, a garden, grill facilities, and free private parking. It has 2 bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, and a patio with pool views, and hosts up to 5 guests.
Click here for more information and the latest prices.
Grandes Apartments Kouremenos
Grandes Apartments Kouremenos (Kouremenos) is a beautiful villa apartment located only 5 km from Vai Palm Beach and Forest, perfect for up to 4 guests. It has a garden and free private parking available.
The property comes with a terrace, a dining area and seating area, and a kitchen with an oven, toaster and fridge. Guests can enjoy the on-site bar and restaurant while the property also offers packed lunches.
Activities in the property include beekeeping lessons nearby and car hire is available at the property too.
Click here for more information and the latest prices.
Best Places to Eat Near Vai Palm Beach
Palm Beach Vai Restaurant
One of the best places to eat in the area, the restaurant enjoys a privileged position overlooking the gorgeous beach of Vai.
But it’s not only about the views, the restaurant serves traditional Cretan dishes (Certified Cretan Cuisine) and seafood dishes.
Read reviews here.
Located by the beach of Kouremenos, this is a great place for food in the region.
It serves fresh and delicious food, with great views over the sea. It enjoys great reviews for the friendly staff, perfect landscape and atmosphere, and awesome cuisine.
Read reviews here.
You might enjoy: Best restaurants in Agios Nikolaos and the rest of Lasithi.
Please, help us protect the beaches in Crete. Respect the environment and don’t leave any trash on the beach.
Have you ever been to the gorgeous Vai Palm Beach? Are you eager to visit?
Let me know in the comments below!
You might also want to check these articles about Lasithi:
– 2 Days in Agios Nikolaos Crete – A guide to visiting the capital of the Lasithi region when you have limited time.
– Fantastic Day Trips From Agios Nikolaos – A guide to choosing the best activities and tours in Lasithi, Crete.
– How to Get from Heraklion to Agios Nikolaos (and from Agios to Heraklion) the Easy Way! – A guide to learn how to easily travel from the capital of Crete to Agios Nikolaos.
– Most Stunning Beaches in East Crete – An insider’s guide to the best beaches in the Lasithi region.
– Unique Things to Do in Ierapetra – A guide to discover the southeastern coast of Crete.
Best hotels in Lasithi
Affordable: Porto Maltese and Katia Apartment in town.
Mid-range: Ostria Apartments in Ammoudara or Villa Olga.
Luxury: Elounda Peninsula in Elounda and Miramare Resort in Agios.
Check also Rental Homes in Agios Nikolaos and Best Elounda Resorts.
LAST-MINUTE PLANS FOR CRETE?
– Use Ferryhopper and Skyscanner for the best ticket rates.
– Find great accommodation deals on Booking.com.
– Compare car rental prices with Discover Cars.
– Check the best tours with GetYourGuide.
– Visit Elafonisi, discover Balos Beach, hike Samaria, or explore Knossos.
– Pack the Lonely Planet Guide to Crete or get my digital guide to Chania.
Pin this Useful Visit Guide that will Help You Discover Vai Palm Beach!
About the author of this blog:
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 writing for The Tiny Book and her other blogs.
She’s written for Greek Reporter, published three travel guides about Greece, and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person would be able to handle.