Matala Beach and Caves – Famous Hippie Shelter in the 1960s

Welcome to one of the most famous beaches in Greece. You will find it located 67 km southwest of Heraklion city. The beach is 300 meters long, it has golden sand, cozy bamboo umbrellas and sunbed you can rent for the day. Nearby you find ancient Phaistos.

Matala beach with caves on the rocks that were used as an early Christian cemetery and at the decade of 70's were living hippies from all over the world, Crete, Greece
Matala beach where hippies from all over the world were living in the 1970’s

Matala was a sleepy fishing village for many, many years, until the beauty of the place was discovered by hippies back in the 1960s. Today most of the locals are engaged in tourism, and you will have no problem in finding accommodation and modern facilities. There is a camping site and a great many fish tavernas as well.

Imposing cliff wall with caves

Matala beach with caves on the rocks that were used as an early Christian cemetery and at the decade of 70's were living hippies from all over the world, Crete, Greece
The Matala caves on the rocks were used as an early Christian cemetery

To the right from the beach, you will see the imposing cliffs with the rare, curvedly shaped cave openings. It was in those caves which the hippies found shelter back in the 1960s. As a matter of fact, this beach was first inhabited in prehistoric times when the locals dug the caves into the rocks above the beach. Today you will find the prehistoric caves fenced.

Where is Matala Crete?

Overview of Matala beach, south coast of Crete, Heraklion Prefecture, Greece
Overview of Matala beach, south coast of Crete in Heraklion Prefecture

You will find Matala, the most ancient village in Crete, about 70 km south of Heraklion. For many years it was a quiet fishing community. If you want to see the ancient city of Matala you will have to dive or snorkel since the city submerged under the sea. It is built along the coast of Messara Bay inside a beautiful, tiny inlet. During summer this nice, long, and sandy beach is attracting many tourists from all over the world.

How to reach Matala?

Overview of Matala beach, south coast of Crete, Heraklion Prefecture, Greece
Overview of Matala beach

Arriving by plane or ferry to Heraklion Crete you have three options for reaching Matala.

  • Car rental: First option is renting a car from the airport. It is an easy road to travel on your own, driving the about one hour’s drive to Matala on the south coast of Heraklion Prefecture.
  • Pre-book taxi: The second option is to pre-book a taxi from Heraklion airport. The fee from the airport to Matala is around 80€. See below
  • By bus: The third option is to use the national bus service KTEL. The bus ride from Heraklion to Mata takes about two hours and costs 8-9€.
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Prehistoric, artificial caves

Sandy beach and sandstone cliffs with caves at Matala. South coast, Heraklion Province, Crete, Greece
Sandy beach and sandstone cliffs with caves at Matala

Above and to the north of the famous Matala beach the artificial caves were carved into rocks and inhabited first during the Neolithic Age. They were initially used as dwellings and places of worship. During the Minoan period Matala was the port of Phaistos. In the year 220 BC. Matala was occupied by the Gortynians, and during the Roman period Matala became the port of Gortys. One of the caves is called “Brutospeliana” as according to a legend this cave was frequented by the Roman general Brutus. Later during the 1st and the 2nd centuries the caves were used as tombs by the early Christians.

Famous Hippie shelter during the 1960s and early 1970s

Entrance of Matala camping at Matala beach, south coast of Crete, Heraklion prefecture, Greece
Entrance of Matala camping at Matala beach

During the 1960s Matala saw an increase in number of tourists who visited the caves. In the early 1970s, the caves became home to an international hippie community, where great musicians like Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens lived, using the stunning beauty of the bay as inspiration for their beautiful songs. The 1971 song Carey by Joni talks about her experiences in Matala. Eventually, the hippies were driven out by the church and the military junta who did not approve of the hippie community during these years in Greece.

Rock of Theosyni

Just south of the caves you will see a huge rock formation named Theosyni. It offers a spectacular view of Messara Bay and forms a marine cave in sea level, called Kouropi. Wild pigeons and the Mediterraneans seals find shelter here.

Where to stay in Matala Crete?

Hammocks at Matala beach, Heraklion Crete, Greece
Hammocks at Matala beach

The Matala Caves are today protected by the Archaeological service. You pay an entrance fee of about 2 Euros to enter the caves, but you are not allowed to stay overnight anymore. Today you will find many great accommodation opportunities in Matala as well as tourist facilities. You will no longer find free-spirited hippies and you should visit the caves for their stunning beauty amidst the landscape with golden sand, turquoise colored sea and the red sun setting into it.

Young woman reading a book at the beach while the sun rise, Hersonissos, Crete Greece

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Travel to Matala Beach, Crete, Greece
Matala Beach, seen from the caves

Ancient Phaistos

Picturesque alley on the ruins of ancient Minoan Palace of Phaistos (Festos) and beautiful plateau Messara and mountains in the backdrop. District of Heraklion, Crete Greece
Picturesque alley in the ruins of ancient Minoan Palace of Phaistos (Festos) and the beautiful plateau Messara and mountains in the backdrop

Phaistos is an ancient city in Crete. Phaistos was located in the south-central portion of the island, about 5.6 kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea. It was inhabited from about 4000 BC. A palace, dating from the Middle Bronze Age, was destroyed by an earthquake during the Late Bronze Age. Knossos along with other Minoan sites was destroyed at that time. The palace was rebuilt toward the end of the Late Bronze Age.

Phaistos - general view, Crete
The ruins of ancient Phaistos
Amazing beach at the exit of Agiofarago canyon, Municipality of Phaistos, Heraklion prefecture,

Agiofarago Gorge Matala


The Phaistos Disc – late Minoan Bronze Age

The Phaistos disk (2nd millennium BC) in Heraklion Archaeological Museum
The Phaistos disk (2nd millennium BC), Heraklion Archaeological Museum

The Phaistos Disc is a disk of fired clay from the Minoan palace of Phaistos on the island of Crete, possibly dating to the middle or late Minoan Bronze Age (2nd millennium BC). It is about 15 cm (5.9 in) in diameter and covered on both sides with a spiral of stamped symbols. Its purpose and meaning, and even its original geographical place of manufacture, remain disputed, making it one of the most famous mysteries of archaeology. This unique object is now on display at the archaeological museum of Heraklion. The disc was discovered in 1908 by the Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier in the Minoan palace-site of Phaistos, and features 241 tokens, comprising 45 unique signs, which were apparently made by pressing pre-formed hieroglyphic “seals” into a disc of soft clay, in a clockwise sequence spiraling towards the disc’s center.

Minoan Agia Triada

Agia Triada is the archaeological site of an ancient Minoan settlement. Agia Triada is situated on a prominent coastal ridge, with the Mesara Plain below. The site sits at the western end of the ridge, while Phaistos is at the eastern end. Agia Triada means holy trinity in Greek.

Archaeological site of Agia Triada, Crete
The archaeological site of Agia Triada

Agia Triada is in south central Crete, 30-40 meters above sea level. It lies four km west of Phaistos, situated at the western end of the Mesara Plain. The site was not one of the “palaces” of Minoan Crete, but an upscale town, and possibly a royal villa. After the catastrophe of 1450 BC, the town was rebuilt and remained inhabited until the 2nd century BC. Later, a Roman period villa was built at the site. Nearby are two chapels, Agia Triada and Agios Georgios, built during the Venetian period, as well as the deserted village of Agia Triada.

The famous sarcophagus, now exhibited in the Archaeological museum in Heraklion, Crete
The famous sarcophagus, Archaeological Museum Heraklion
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Kommos – a Bronze Age port and archaeological site

Archaeological site of Kommos, South coast of Crete
The archaeological site of Kommos

Kommos is a Greek prehistoric Bronze Age port and archaeological site in southern Crete. It was a busy port with connections to the Near East that continued into historic periods; the rich finds and elaborate buildings reflect the importance of foreign trade for the Cretan economy. Its ancient name was probably Amyklaion, which would reflect a link with Amyclae. The site first attracted the attention of archaeologists in 1924, when Arthur Evans heard about large storage vessels found there and speculated about the existence of a Bronze Age “customs house”; excavations have been carried on by J.W. and Maria Shaw since 1976.

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The sandy beach of Kommos, near Matala and Kalamaki on the south coast of Crete


Trafos islet, south of Crete
Trafos islet

Papadoplaka is a natural reef islet off the southern coast of the Greek island of Crete in the Libyan Sea. The islet is in a bay between cape Lithino and Cape Kefalas, at Kommos, and close to Gortyn which was the ancient capital of Crete. The name can be loosely translated as the priest’s rock.
It belongs to a group of four islets in the bay Papadoplaka (to the west), Megalonisi (with the lighthouse), Mikronisi (also known as Agios Pavlos), and Trafos.
Papadoplaka was more substantial in Minoan times, due to lower sea levels, and is likely to have offered safe harbor for ships in that part of the bay. J. W. Shaw believes that Papadoplaka is likely to have been linked with the coast via a partially submerged sandy shore. This would make a Minoan harbor at Kommos similar to the harbor at Amnisos.

Yet another view of the beautiful sandy beach of Kommos

Zaros village and Lake Votomos

Zaros village, Crete
Zaros village

Zaros village, at an altitude of 340 metres, is a village with a lake and gorge nearby. The village has a couple of hotels and it is 44 km from Heraklion at the southern foothills of Mount Psiloritis. The population of 3,400 produce olive oil, sultanas, vegetables and spring water. There are a couple of fish farms that serve both trout and salmon. In Zaros, there are cafes near Lake Votomos, as well as a tavern called I Limni (The Lake) that serves fresh trout . Close by is Rouvas Gorge, which is part of the Psiloritis mountain range and is on the hiking route known as the E4 European Walking Path. Nearby Zaros village are traditional water mills which have been working since the 16th century. Zaros is also famous for its water derived from Lake Votomos and bottled by a bottling plant called Votomos SA.

Votomos Lake at Zaros village in Heraklion Crete, Greece photo by Y. Skoulas
Votomos Lake at Zaros village – Photo by Y. Skoulas

Weather and climate in Matala Crete

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Average monthly temperatures in °C and average rainfall in mm in Matala, Crete