Whether you’ve got several weeks or only a few days on Crete, we can simplify one piece of your trip-planning process: dedicate a full day to visiting Balos Beach. We’ll show you how to find this remote destination, avoid the crowds & get some exercise while you’re out there.
Balos Beach—on the far northwest corner of Crete—is one of the most picturesque locales in the entire Mediterranean. But there’s much more to the Balos experience than just a day at the beach.
There’s Balos Lagoon—an inviting cove of warm turquoise water. There’s Cape Tigani—the rocky, shrub-covered islet narrowly connected to the mainland. And there’s Balos Beach—tying it all together with its soft mixture of fine white & pink sand. The stunning view that overlooks these intertwined elements of natural beauty, truly makes the experience whole.
3 ways to visit Balos Beach
Staying somewhere on the west side of Crete will give you more flexible options for visiting Balos Beach.
Crete is the largest Greek Island. It’s enormous. On the map below, Chania appears close to Balos Beach, but the drive took us 90 minutes each way.
1. Take a full-day ferry tour
As far as physical activity, this is the easiest option since there’s no hiking involved. Many companies—like this one—offer these tours. Make your decision based on reviews, price and schedule: departure & return times can vary by several hours!
Three things they all have in common:
- They will take you to both Balos Beach and nearby Imeri Gramvousa (more on that later).
- The total trip takes 7-9 hours, and usually 2.5-3 hours are spent in Balos.
- The ferry portion of the trip begins in Kissamos.
What if you’re not staying anywhere near Kissamos, and you don’t have a rental car?
You’ll need to choose a company that offers ground transportation to Kissamos. Some companies—like this one—will bus you in from as far away as Heraklion…3 hours each way by bus. If this is your only option, make it happen—it’s worth the trip!
2. Hike from Kaliviani
This is by far the most aggressive option. The distance is 10 km (6 miles)…each way! That’s 3 hours in the morning, and then again in the afternoon, across the dry rocky landscape, with no shade to protect you from the sun.
If you choose this option, please wear a hat and bring plenty of water & sunscreen. Good luck!
3. Drive to the Balos Beach parking lot & hike down
We chose this option, and absolutely recommend it! It’s an energizing combination of smooth driving, bumpy driving, and a total of 2.4 km (1.5 miles) of hiking, roundtrip.
- Drive from Chania to Kaliviani—60 minutes
- Drive from Kaliviani to Balos Beach parking lot—30 minutes (very bumpy)
- Hike down to Balos Beach—30 minutes (multiple stops for photos)
- RELAX—as long as you want!
- Hike back up—30 minutes (may take longer; stone staircase is pretty steep)
- Drive back to Chania—90 minutes
Rather than hike, you can also ride a donkey down and back up. Not our style, but you do have the option.
Balos Beach: know before you go
A few big things we wish we knew before we went:
- Get there early: even in the busy season (July & August), you can find a few hours of silent sanctuary if you arrive early in the morning. The ferries don’t begin arriving until early afternoon.
- Bring cash: if you’re driving, you’ll reach a gate near Kaliviani where you’ll need to pay an entry fee. The entry fee is inexpensive (maybe 2€), but they only accept cash.
- Parking: later in the day, if you see cars parked on the side of the narrow road, that means the parking lot is full. We’d advise you to park your car, but first, TURN AROUND and park facing the “out direction.” It will make your life a lot easier when it’s time to leave at the end of the day!
Some more practical Balos Beach info:
- Food: bring everything you need to eat for the day.
- Drinks: it’s hot! Bring plenty of water. There is a small hut near the parking lot that sells drinks. And during the hike down, we saw vendors selling cold water, beer and soda.
- Water: most of the lagoon is shallow and warm. At least 50 meters out, our feet were still on the ground. Further out toward the edge of the lagoon, the water is deeper and cooler. Bring a snorkel!
- Sand: soft & fine which makes it perfect for napping…but these fine grains blowing in the wind can be painful! Come prepared with face & body protection (clothes, towel or blanket).
- Bathrooms: there are some public bathrooms & changing rooms available near the beach.
What to pack: Balos Beach travel essentials
Bring a backpack or beach bag packed with everything you might need for the day:
- Bathing suit
- Beach towel
- Hat or umbrella
- Waterproof speaker
- Portable cooler
- Drinking water
- Cash (Euros!) for snacks, water, beer or Raki from the parking lot hut or beach vendors
bring athletic shoes for the hike! the hike takes about 30 minutes each way, depending on speed. It’s very rocky and steep. Not advised in sandals!
Balos Beach: the long & bumpy road
Earlier we mentioned that you’ll pay a small entry fee at a gate near Kaliviani. When you reach this gate, you’re still about 9 km (5.5 miles) away from the beach, and this is where things get very bumpy. This final stretch took us 30 minutes.
Drive very slowly, and be prepared to constantly swerve back and forth to avoid potholes…and goats…in the road. It’s all part of the experience! Soon enough, you’ll be able to kick your shoes off and relax in the turquoise waters of Balos Lagoon.
Please excuse picture quality: these are freeze-frames from videos we took during the drive!
Steep hike…stunning view
After you park your car and pass through the parking lot on foot, you’re ready to begin the hike down.
but before hiking down, ask yourself: “do I need any more water…or beer…or maybe some homemade honey Raki?” If the answer is “yes” or even “maybe”—stop at the small hut and buy what you need!
Once you begin the hike down, beautiful lagoon views like these are quick to grab your attention. Hike carefully and try not to get distracted while walking down the steps.
Balos Beach & Balos Lagoon
When you make it to the beach, find your spot and set up shop!
Just off the coast of Balos, about 2 miles (3 km) north, two uninhabited islands are visible: Imeri Gramvousa & Agria Gramvousa. The island closer to Balos—Imeri Gramvousa—is also a tourist destination.
If Imeri Gramvousa interests you—whether for its history or for its beauty—you’ll probably need to choose a full-day ferry tour from Kissamos, rather than the drive & hike option that we did. Or, make friends with locals who own a private boat!
Where to eat after leaving Balos Beach
After a long day at the beach, you’re probably hungry, and you definitely deserve a drink. After navigating the rocky cliffside road back to the village of Kaliviani, we found the perfect place.
Agarathos Tavern lured us in with its peaceful garden setting and many cats roaming freely. It took about a half hour to get here. The ice cold beer and delicious homemade meal made it well worth the wait.
Where to stay
For our 2 nights on the west side of Crete, we stayed at the laid-back, beachfront Corinna Mare in Chania. Great apartment, great restaurant, and not a bad view!
In the middle of the photo below, notice the couple sitting at a private table out by the water. This was our dinner table the next night!
We hope you enjoy your Balos experience, and that you can get there early enough to find some quiet & relaxation.
If there’s anything we can do to help your trip-planning process, please reach out!
Planning a trip to Crete?
Crete is the largest Greek island, and there’s a lot going on. Check out the links below for some guidance on other cool destinations:
- The best time to visit the Minoan Palace of Knossos
- Lyrarakis Winery: How 1 Greek Family Saved 3 Grapes from Extinction
Where to stay on Crete
- Heraklion: we stayed at the fabulous Lato Boutique Hotel. Enjoy a meal with a view at their top-floor restaurant!
- Other options on Crete: search all accommodation here