The beaches on the southern coast of Crete island are known for their solitary and rugged character, perfect for visitors looking to unwind and avoid the crowds. From wild and dramatic mountainscapes to intimate coves and stretches of golden sand, there is something here for everyone. Most visitors will arrive in Heraklion or Chania, either by plane or ferry, after which you can drive south. Depending on where you are located, it will take about an hour to reach the south coast. The morphology of the island has contributed to the isolation of the southern cities and villages which becomes obvious straight away just by looking at the map. The central part of the island is marked by the presence of five mountain ranges, starting with the White Mountains and followed by Mount Psiloritis, Asterousia, Mount Dicti, and lastly Sitia Mountains. Their presence has allowed the villages in the south to retain their original character and visitors prefer this slower pace of life. Moreover, due to the challenging terrain, access to some of the best beaches is only possible by hiking or on a boat.
Starting in the prefecture of Chania, on the west side, we find the beach of Elafonisi, famous around the world, and Kedrodasos, a unique location with a stunning juniper forest. The area between Palaiochora and Chora Sfakion also has a plethora of options, most completely isolated, like Domata, Agios Pavlos and Glyka Nera. Moving east towards Rethymno, we meet one of the best beaches on the island, Preveli. This unique ecosystem, where the Kourtaliotis river meets the sea forms an oasis complete with lush vegetation and crystal clear waters.
In Heraklion, you can’t overlook Matala with the cliff-face caves made famous in previous decades, as the favourite spot of hippies and famous musicians. There are, of course, other, less crowded options like Diskos, Tsoutsouras and Tripitis, mostly popular with nudists. The region of Asterousia is particularly worth visiting if you wish to combine swimming with various hiking trails and gorges found in the area. Finally, the area of Lassithi, the easternmost regional unit on the island, is a hidden paradise, with sites of immense archaeological significance and beautiful bays with secluded beaches. Ierapetra is the only major town found on the southern coast and has been steadily rising in popularity in recent years, as an alternative holiday destination. From here, you can catch a ferry to the island of Chrissi (also known as Gaidouronisi or Donkey Island). The villages of Makrigialos, Koutsouras and Achlia also offer plenty of swimming spots, and you will also find century-old monasteries and beautiful gorges that you can explore at your leisure.