Elafonisi – Unique Beach, Islet and Lagoon in Southwestern Crete

Elafonisi (“deer island”), also called Laphonissi, is located close to the southwestern corner of Crete, in the region of Chania. When the weather is fine it is possible to walk to the island through the shallow water. The island is a protected nature reserve.

Where is Elafonisi beach?

Aerial view of beautiful turquoise water with pink sand Elafonissi, Crete, Greece
Aerial view of beautiful turquoise water with pink sand Elafonissi

Elafonisi is a small islet in the west coast of Crete in Chania region. It is connected to the rest of Crete by a shallow reef which can be crossed on foot when the sea is calm.

Chania region on a map

Map of Chania region in Crete, Greece
Map of Chania region – Click to enlarge map

How far is Elafonisi beach from Chania?

You will find the tiny islet of Elafonisi 82 km southwest of Chania town.

Elafonisi – How to get there?

You can reach Elafonisi by boat from Paleochora or by car from Chania or Rethymno. Upon arrival you will find a huge parking lot in the sand. From there you walk on foot the last 2-300 metres to the beach.

Elafonisi – Where to eat?

Elafonisi beach - white sand with purple hues, Chania Crete, Greece

Elafonisi & Agia Sofia Cave


Elafonisi beach is well organized with sunbeds, umbrellas and serving at the beach. You can lunch in one of the two beach canteens or have your lunch served under your umbrella. Toilet conditions are ok. Beware though, to arrive early during July and August, if you want to find vacant sunbeds and umbrellas. It is a good idea to bring your own umbrella as a safety measure since there is no natural shade anywhere.

Why is Elafonisi beach pink?

Elafonisi beach - white sand with purple hues, Chania Crete, Greece
Elafonisi beach – white sand with purple hues

At different points of Elafonisi beach the white sand is pinkish. In certain light it is really pink. It is said to be caused by the crushed sea shells that over time has been broken down by Mother Nature.

Elafonisi – a small paradise

Travel to Western Crete, Elafonisi
Elafonisi beach

This small paradise will rival Balos for a place in your heart. Elafonisi – which has given its name to the region is a small island separated from the mainland by a few metres of shallow sea. Here you will enjoy the crystal-clear waters and fine white sand with purple hues caused by the broken shells. Around the beach you will find clusters of cedar rooting directly through the dunes. Try to camp on the island – it will be a unique experience.

canyoning through Samaria Gorge in Crete, Greece

Crete Tours


Greek War of Independence

At the highest point on the island there is a plaque that commemorates a tragic event. On Easter sunday of 24 April 1824 several hundred Greeks, mostly women and children, were killed on Elafonisi by Ottoman soldiers. To avoid advancing Ottoman troops, forty armed men had taken refuge on the island with women, children and old folk where they were waiting for a ship to take them to the Ionian Islands. The Ottoman soldiers had decided to camp on the beach opposite the island. One of their horses walked along the shallow water to the island and the people hiding on the island were discovered. According to several sources there were between 640 and 850 people in total, most of whom were killed and the remaining survivors were sold in to slavery in Egypt.

Shipwreck at Elafonisi island

Elafonisi beach - Boat underwater, Crete Greece
Elafonisi beach – Boat underwater

In the past Elafonisi was feared by sailors, because of the huge waves that rise when the northwest winds blow. These waves have demolished many a ship in the scattered reefs.
On February 22nd in 1907 an Austrian Lloyd passenger steamer by the name Imperatrix wrecked on the cliffs of this little island. A large wooden cross is placed in remembrance of the 38 people who lost their lives when trying to reach the shore in a lifeboat. The strong northwest winds caused the lifeboat to sink. They were all buried on the island. You can still today see the Imperatrix lying on the seabed in front of the island’s cliffs.

Monastery of Chrysoskalitissa in Crete near Elafonisi Island
Monastery of Chrysoskalitissa in Crete near Elafonisi Island

On the mainland the 17th century Monastery of Chrysoskalitissa is approximately 5 km from the island.

Venetian Harbour of the city of Chania at sunrise with turquoise water, Crete, Greece

Chania Tours


Palaiochora village

The traditional village of Paleochora at sunset, Chania, Crete, Greece
The traditional village of Paleochora at sunset, southern Crete

Palaiochora is a small town in Chania prefecture. Paleochora is located 77 km south of Chania, on the southwest coast of Crete and occupies a small peninsula 400m wide and 700m long. The town is set along 11 km of coastline bordering the Libyan Sea and its population was 2213 in the year of 2001.

Palaiochora has crystal clear waters, well organised beaches, and beautiful isolated small anchorages. It is served by numerous hotels, restaurants, tavernas, cafés, and bars. Facilities in Palaiochora include bank branches, a post office, a central telephone office, a health centre, doctor’s offices, dentists, chemists, a police station, a coast guard and customs office, and many types of stores. Ferry boats connect Palaiochora with Sougia, Agia Roumeli, Loutro, Chora Sfakion, and Gavdos.

Local attractions include the abundant wild flowers in the spring, the opportunity to see Venetian and Byzantine wall paintings in some of the local churches (those in Anidri and Voutas being particularly impressive), and a museum dedicated to the Acretans in the town itself. The nearby village of Azogires, 5 km away, contains a museum dedicated to the area as well as the, now empty, Monastery of the 99 Holy Fathers and what is claimed to be the largest Evergreen Plane Tree on the Island. In 2009 it is planned to open a number of signposted walking routes in the area and the town is on the European E4 Long Distance Footpath. Palaiochora is built on the ruins of the ancient city of Kalamydi.

Sougia village on the south coast of Crete

Sougia is a small village in the municipal unit of East Selino (Anatoliko Selino). It is also located on the south coast of Crete, 70 km south of Chania.

How to reach Sougia?

Sougia is reached from Chania by car in 2 hours or by ferry boats from Palaiochora, Agia Roumeli, Loutro and Hora Sfakion. Although it is not one of the larger towns of the province of Selino, Sougia is interesting to the tourist, providing a lovely beach, impressive mountains and interesting remains of an ancient city and old Byzantine churches. Sougia has some tourist services, such as small hotels, rooms to rent and a few taverns, cafes and bars. Sougia was the ancient city of Syia, a harbour of Elyros. In the village church, an important basilica of the Byzantine era, was found a beautiful mosaic, now exposed in Chania’s Archeological Museum. In 1943, during German occupation, Germans razed the villages Livadas, Moni and Koustogerako, by way of harsh reprisal for local partisans actions.

Agia Irini gorge exit at Sougia, southern Crete, Greece
Agia Irini gorge exit at Sougia

Things to do in Chania region

Close by Paleochora there are areas of exceptional natural beauty and environmental value which you can visit, such as the Gorge of Samaria, the Gorge of Agia Irini, and the small Gorge of Anydri-Gianiskari. Other beautiful areas are, the Island of Gavdos, the beach at Elafonisi, the district of Koundoura, and picturesque villages inland like Voutas, Anydri and Azogyres.

canyoning through Samaria Gorge in Crete, Greece
Samaria Gorge in Crete

Beaches around Paleochora: Pachia Ammos beach, Halikia beach, and Gianiskari beach

You can also see archaeological sights on  the way to Paleochora like the ancient Byzantine churches of Kantanos and Plemeniana, villages like Asfentiles, Prodromi and Spaniakos. Also very interesting is the Monastery  of Chrysoskalitissa near Elafonisi and the archeological sites of Lissos and Kadros.

Flowers in old town of Paleochora (or Palaiochora), southern Crete, Greece
Flowers in old town of Paleochora (or Palaiochora), southern Crete

Daily ferries  connect  Paleochora with Sougia, Agia Roumeli, Hora Sfakion, Elafonisi and there are regular ferry trips to Gavdos.  In the evening roads of Paleochora are closed to all motorized vehicles,  to provide people with a place to walk, buy, eat and enjoy the exceptional night life of the town.

Gavdos – the southernmost point of Europe

The tropical beach of Tripiti at the southernmost point of Gavdos island and Europe with the famous giant wooden chair, Greece
The Beach of Tripiti at the southernmost point of Gavdos island and Europe with the famous giant wooden chair

The caves of the area are: Zoures in Azogires, Ligias, Sapouna in Rodovani village, Xotospiliaro, Nerospilie and Thafto in Koustogerako village, Dissea’s, Halaro and Stalihtra in Temenia village, Bitoro’s and Sfadahtospilio in Kabanos village as well as 13 caves in Agia Irini gorge.

Paleochora is a place that you will never forget. Enjoy the sun, the sea, the great Cretan food and the warm hospitality of the people.