Ierapetra, “Sacred Stone” and a Stunning Seaside Town

Ierapetra, meaning Sacred Stone, is a beautiful seaside town in southern Crete. It is set among golden beaches with warm winds blowing from Africa. With cozy tavernas and countless beaches along the shore it is perfect for a laid-back holiday any time of the year.

Ierapetra

Where is Ierapetra Crete?

Ierapetra is a town and municipality in the southeast of Crete. The town of Ierapetra is located along the beach of Ierapetra Bay. It lies south of Agios Nikolaos and is an important regional centre. With its 15,000 inhabitants it is the most populous town in the prefecture of Lasithi, and the fourth town of Crete. Ierapetra is some times called “bride of the Libyan Sea” because of its position as the only town on the south coast of Crete.

Ierapetra on a map

Crete map - Lassithi with Sitia, Agios Nikolaos and Ierapetra, Greece
Map of Lassithi with Sitia, Agios Nikolaos and Ierapetra – Click to enlarge map

How to reach Ierapetra?

Airport Transfer

TO IERAPETRA AREA FROM HERAKLION – UP TO 6 PERS.

You can reach Ierapetra by flying to Sitia Airport and from there drive the 60 km to Ierapetra. Sitia Airport (IATA: JSH, ICAO: LGST), also known as Sitia Public Airport, is a small airport with domestic flights only from Athens, Alexandroupolis, and Preveza (Lefkada). If you fly to Heraklion the distance to Ierapetra is 140 km. Heraklion International Airport “Nikos Kazantzakis” (IATA: HER, ICAO: LGIR) is the primary airport of Crete, and the second busiest airport in Greece after Athens International Airport.

Distances to Ierapetra from the main cities in Crete:

  • Agios Nikolaos: 30,8 km, 45 m
  • Sitia: 60 km, 1 h 10 m
  • Heraklion: 140 km, 2 h
  • Rethymno: 173 km, 2 h 30 m
Transfer from airport - photo by Kylie Paz

Private Transfer from Sitia

PRIVATE TRANSFER FROM SITIA (JSH) AIRPORT TO IERAPETRA

Ierapetra Beach Guide

You will find beaches at the seaside of Ierapetra. To reach the city beaches you just need to walk past the port either to the East or to the West. Traveling some kilometres further away you will find amazing, exotic beaches.

View of the beach in Ierapetra at sunset with the Kales Venetian fortress at the entrance to the harbour, Ierapetra, Crete, Greece
View of the beach in Ierapetra at sunset with the Kales Venetian fortress at the entrance to the harbour, Ierapetra
  • Ierapetra city beach, Paralia – long black-pebbled beach, tending to get crowdy. It is equipped with sunbeds and watersports. In walking distance from town.
  • Mirtos beach – organized long, family friendly beach next to the traditional village of Mirtos. Located 14 km west of Ierapetra.
  • Koutsounari (or Long Beach) – it is a 2,5 km long organized beach with several beach bars and tavernas located 5 km east of Ierapetra. It also has a good camping site nearby.
  • Ferma beach – 10 km east of Ierapetra is the seaside village of Ferma. Around the village you will find two great beaches Ferma and Livadi set in the most stunning environment with beautiful rock formations, date palm trees and deep, blue waters.
  • Agia Fotia – is one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. It is a small bay with lush vegetation, steep cliffs and a narrow river reaching the beach from the mountains. You will find beach bars, restaurants, and rooms/hotels nearby. Agia Fotia is located 12 km east of Ierapetra.
  • Koutsouras beach – near the village of Koutsouras you will find several small, beautiful beaches with clean calm waters. They are black pebbled with a few trees to provide shade. Koutsouras beach is located 20 east of Ierapetra.
  • Makrigialos – a small seaside town with several beaches next to each other. They are sandy with shallow, calm waters and a long promenade along the beach. The beach is unspoiled with traditional tavernas and a quiet ambience. It is located 20 km east of Ierapetra.
  • Ammoudi – also know as Dragon’s cave is a secluded beach, quite secluded and a bit difficult to find. It is located almost 22 km east of Ierapetra, but not visible from the road. Just opposite of where to find the beach is a restaurant named Cave of the Dragon. You need to descend a rather steep hill to find Ammoudi cove, but safely down at the beach you will be rewarded with crystal-clear waters and rock formations in the shape of a dragon asleep.
Famous sandy beach of Agia Fotia near Ierapetra, Crete, Greece
The sandy beach of Agia Fotia near Ierapetra

Ierapetra in antiquity

Ierapetra has had a place in the Cretan history ever since the Minoan period. The Greek and later Roman town of Hierapytna was on the same site as present day Ierapetra. In the Classical Age Hierapytna became the strongest town of eastern Crete and as a Dorian city in continual rivalry with Praisos, the last Minoan city in the island. Later, in the 3rd century BC, Hierapytna was notorious for its tendency to piracy and took part in the Cretan War along with other Cretan cities on the side of Philip V of Macedon against Knossos and Rhodes. Its importance as independent state ended when it was conquered by the Romans in 67 BC (the last free city in Crete) and was surpassed by the city of Gortyn. The Roman conquest of Ierapetra occurred about the same time as that of Knossos, Cydonia and Lato. Today remains of the Roman harbor can still be seen in the shallow bay.

In the Venetian era, from the 13th to the 17th century, Ierapetra – now known by its present name – became prosperous again. The Fortress of Kales, built in the early years of Venetian rule to protect the harbor, is a remnant of this period.

Ierapetra and Napoleon

Koufonissi island, crete, greece Photo from Koufonisi,one of the two tiny, uninhabited islands that you can find close to Ierapetra, south of Crete, Greece
Photo from Koufonisi, one of the two tiny, uninhabited islands that you can find close to Ierapetra

In July 1798 Ierapetra made a small step into world history: Napoleon stayed with a local family after the Battle of the Pyramids in Egypt. The house where he stayed can still be seen. In the Ottoman period a mosque was built in the town. Finds from Ierapetra’s past can be found in the local Museum of Antiquities, formerly a school for Muslim children. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a well preserved statue of Persephone.

The Archaeological Collection of Ierapetra

Ierapetra Sarcophagus, Crete
Ierapetra sarcophagus

The first Archaeological Collection in Ierapetra was established in 1886 and in the past served more as a safe place for archaeological finds. The Archaeological Collection is now housed in the beautiful 1899 building – once known as the Ottoman School or Mehtepi – since 1986. The exhibition is arranged in two separate thematic units.

The first showcases include pottery ranging from Prehistoric to Roman times and the second contains magnificent sculptures from Ierapetra, most of which date from the Roman period.

The sculptures in the collection are also worth a visit. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a well preserved statue of Persephone. Ierapetra, especially during Roman times, was endowed with vibrant sculpture workshops which specialized in making excellent replicas of Classical sculptures, providing us today with invaluable information on pieces from that period that are lost. The sculpture area also houses a collection of 2nd century AD epigraphs that make reference to Ierapetra’s relation with Gortyns.

Ancient Gournia

Ruins of the ancient Minoan settlement Gournia, Crete, Greece
Ruins of the ancient Minoan settlement Gournia

Gournia, situated at the Mirabello Gulf, is the most characteristic of the excavated medium-size settlements, dating back to the period of the peak of the Minoan culture (Late Minoan I period: 1550-1450 B.C.). It is also called “Pompeii of Minoan Crete” because of the good state of preservation. It occupies a low hill, close to the sea, at the Isthmus of Ierapetra. The first inhabitants settled here in the Early Minoan III period (2300 B.C.). Remains of the Middle Minoan period (2000-1600 B.C.) are also preserved; in c. 1600 B.C., the palace was erected but was destroyed along with the surrounding town in 1450 B.C., at the same time with all the other palatial centres of Crete. Fifty years later the site was partly reoccupied and was finally abandoned in around 1200 B.C.

Gournia, Minoan Palace, Crete
Gournia, Minoan Palace

The ruins of the settlement were visible before the excavation in 1901-1904 – hence the name “Gournia” given by the villagers because of the stone basins (“gournes” in Greek) preserved in the area.
The town of Gournia provides a picture of the everyday life of the Minoans. They were mainly occupied with agriculture, stock-breeding, fishing, pottery, and weaving, as indicated by the relevant tools (chisels, hooks, hammers etc.) found during the excavations. Other, more luxurious vases (such as rhyta and ritual vases) were also uncovered.

handicraft in Crete Greece

Tour in East Crete

EAST CRETE OFF THE BEATEN TRACK: THROUGH THE EYES OF LOCALS FROM IERAPETRA

Makrigialos – a village and tourist resort

Harbour in Makri Gialos village in southern Crete, Greece
Harbour in Makri Gialos village in southern Crete

Makrigialos faces the Libyan Sea. The backdrop of the area is mountainous and made up primarily of granite. From the mountains there are small valleys and gorges leading down to the coast. On the higher slopes there is an abundance of walnut, apple, pear and olive trees. On the lower slopes the main industry is farming and olive trees.

ship like pirate schooners with two masts for sails near rocks of the coast of Crete

Koufonisi Island Cruise

FULL-DAY KOUFONISI ISLAND CRUISE TOUR FROM MAKRI GIALOS

Makrigialos with a population of about 4,000 is located on the south-east coast of Crete. It is a municipal unit of Ierapetra. The seat of the municipality was in Koutsouras, 22 km east of Ierapetra. The name Makri Gialos is also specifically given both to a village and tourist centre on the coast, and to the nearby archaeological site of an ancient Minoan country house.

Harbour in Makri Gialos village in southern Crete, Greece
Harbour and beach at Makri Gialos village in southern Crete

The coastline that runs from Galini to Kalo Nero, is etched with rocky inlets, small coves and long sweeping stretches of sand and pebble beaches. The Bay of Makry Gialos boasts the longest shallow sandy beach of East Crete. Other beaches are Diaskari, Langada, Amoudi, Mavros Kolimbos, Galini, Koutsouras; some of them are commercial beaches and some are deserted. Between the mountains there are dried up riverbeds, which are flowing down to the sea during the winter months.

Ierapetra – What to see?

  • Napoleon Bonaparte – in July 1789 Napoleon spent a night in Ierapetra on his way to Egypt where he was to declare war on the Mameluks. You will find the two-storey building in the old town.
  • Ierapetra is a bishop’s seat, and as such it has some interesting religious monuments. Visit the churches of Afendi Christo, Panagia tou Kale, Agios Spyridon and Agios Ioannis, which was converted into a mosque in the 17th century.
  • Selakano valley and forest – Selakano is a forested valley and a hamlet in the municipality of Ierapetra. Selakano forms one of the most important ecosystems on Crete. The forest core of wild pine is also important on a Mediterranean level. It is located in the northwestern territories of Ierapetra in the southeastern part of the Dikti massif, surrounded by the four highest peaks (Lazaros 2085 m, Spathi 2148 m, Afendis Christos 2141 m, Psari Madara 2090 m). In the East, there is a panoramic view of the Libyan Sea, at a distance of 15 km. The forest is the nesting and hunting ground of many predatory birds like the hawk. It is the most productive apiculture spot in Crete, while in the past wood and resin were harvested.
Selakano valley surrounded by the main ridge of Dikti mountain, Crete
Selakano valley surrounded by the main ridge of Dikti Mountain
Lake of Skafi on the mountain of Thripti at spring, Crete, Greece.
Lake of Skafi on the mountain of Thripti in Lasithi region

Bramiana Wetlands

Bramiana Dam is an artificial dam and lake that demonstrates how human intervention may occasionally serve the needs of nature. The lake was made to supply the local greenhouses with water in the dry summer.
The lake area is the biggest wetland in Crete, and has become a nature reserve known for its birdlife. It is supplied with water from Selakano, Kalamafka and Malavra. Migratory birds make Bramiana dam a stopover each spring on their way from Africa to Europe and on the return trip in autumn. The dam has an idyllic setting that contains interesting flora and fauna and it has become a very important protected area.

Ierapetra – Things to do?

A lifebuoy, symbol of assistance, security, rescue, SOS on Golden Beach in Chrysi island, Crete, Greece.

Chrissi Island Cruise

FULL-DAY CHRISSI ISLAND CRUISE FROM IERAPETRA

Horseback riding in Crete

Horseback riding in Greece

Horseriding through the Dikti mountains to the Libyan Sea. This adventurous trail of 160 km is only for the experienced rider. The travel has a duration of a week and takes you through the Dikti Mountain Range to the Cretan south coast and the country side. Lassithi Trek Website

Ierapetra – Weather and climate

JanFebMarAprMayJuneJulyAugSepOctNovDec
Day14°15°16°19°22°26°29°29°27°23°19°16°
Night11°11°12°14°17°21°23°24°22°19°16°12°
Average monthly day and night temperatures in °C in Ierapetra, Crete