Elafonissi beach with pink sand on Crete.

©Mustang_79/Getty Images


Top choice in Hania Province

Tucked into Crete’s southwestern corner, this symphony of fine pink-white sand, turquoise water and gentle rose dunes looks like a magical dreamscape. As the water swirls across the sands, rainbows shimmer across its surface. Off Elafonisi's long, wide strand lies Elafonisi Islet, occasionally connected by a thin, sandy isthmus, which creates a lovely double beach; otherwise, it's easily reached by wading through 50m of knee-deep water.

Elafonisi Islet is marked by low dunes and a string of semisecluded coves that attract a sprinkling of naturists. Walk the length of the beach and up to its high point for mind-blowing views of the beaches, sea and raw mountainscape. The area is part of EU environmental-protection program Natura 2000.

Alas, this natural gem is less than idyllic in high summer, when hundreds of umbrellas and sunbeds clog the sand (dash out to the island, where you can find peace). The invasion puts enormous pressure on this delicate ecosystem and on the minimal infrastructure, especially the toilets (€0.50). Come early or late in the day; better yet, stay overnight to truly sample Elafonisi’s magic. Outside high season, when there's no public transport to the beach and very few tours, you may have it all to yourself. There are a few snack bars and stores at the beach entrance.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Hania Province attractions

1. Kedrodasos Beach

0.64 MILES

If you’d like to get even more off the beaten track than gorgeous Elafonisi, head 1km east to similarly gorgeous Kedrodasos, a soft arc of sand favoured…

2. Moni Hrysoskalitissas Monastery

2.82 MILES

Four kilometres north of Elafonisi is this beautiful monastery perched on a rock high above the sea. The church is recent, but the monastery is allegedly…

3. Pappadiana & Amygdalokefali

6.83 MILES

The western Innahorion villages that line the coastal road enjoy a stunning location between mountains and ravines. First is the hamlet of Pappadiana,…

4. Perivolia & Kefali

7.13 MILES

Two and half kilometres west of Elos, atmospheric Perivolia leads to Kefali, with its 14th-century frescoed church. Kefali has a handful of tavernas…

5. Pahia Ammos

8.26 MILES

Pahia Ammos, often simply called Sandy Beach, lives up to its name. When the winds kick up it's good for windsurfing, and it's got the best sunsets in…

6. Elos

8.26 MILES

Elos, near the south of the Innahorion region, is the area’s largest town and the centre of the chestnut trade – hence the annual chestnut festival,…

7. Museum of the Acritans of Europe

8.38 MILES

This little museum is dedicated to the border fighters and heroes of Europe’s medieval and Byzantine times. It has a well-displayed historical exhibition,…

8. Kambos

8.42 MILES

Good hiking, beach access and decent accommodation can be found at Kambos, a tiny village at the edge of a gorge along the Innahorian region’s winding…