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Discover the three pink beaches in Crete, all breathtakingly beautiful beaches on the west coast of the island.
The island of Crete is endowed with many astounding beaches, and the three pink beaches in Crete are among the most extraordinary of all. These three beaches often have a fringe of pink sand along the shoreline, a sprinkling of magic stardust that draws visitors from around the world to the remote Crete west coast.
Pink sand – formed from millions of crushed red and pink shells – is extremely rare, and only seen at a few beaches around Sardinia and on Formentera in Europe. The sight of this vivid salmon-pink sand being washed in by pristine turquoise water is magical, well worth the trek to remote corners of Crete to see for yourself.
Our guide to the three pink beaches in Crete takes you to three of the very best beaches in Crete. One of these, Elafonissi, is renowned for is pink sands, while the others aren’t as well known for this unusual phenomenon.
Why Are There Pink Beaches In Crete?
The Crete pink beaches are the result of a very unusual natural phenomenon. The pink sand you see on the fringes of these beaches is made up millions of crushed red shells of foraminifera. These minute sea creatures can be found in ocean environments across much of the world, and they come in a great many colours. So pink sand only forms when their shells are red or reddish-pink.
Foraminifera tend to live close to the sea bed, and feed off other creatures and are also eaten themselves by others. Some of the pink fragments washed ashore are fossilised, and are possibly as much as 500 million years old. Some are also tiny remnants of pink coral.
Is All Of the Sand Pink?
No. When you visit the beaches with pink sand in Crete, you’ll see a fringe or rim of pink sand being washed ashore by each wave. Sometimes the strip of pink sand is barely a few centimetres wide, but it can be several metres wide. It all depends on the tide and how much of the pink detritus happens to be in the water at the time.
Are there Pink Beaches Anywhere Other than Crete?
Yes, though they are very rare in Europe. There is one on Formentera, one of the Balearic Islands, and others around Sardinia. Here is one on Isola Budelli, off the north coast of the island, and another, Lo Cisso beach, on the west coast of Sardinia.
Pink Beaches In Crete – Elafonissi Beach
The most famous pink sand beach in Crete is Elafonissi Beach, in the remote south-west corner of the island. Elafonissi – also spelt Elafonisi – is a series of beaches, with one on the shore of a lagoon, the main Elafonisi beach and a series of smaller beaches on Elafonissi Island, a short walk away across the lagoon.
Elafonissi’s pink sand is the prime draw for most visitors, and it’s much more famous for it than the other two beaches we’ve written about.
If you’re absolutely set on seeing one of the pink sand beaches in Crete, our tip would be to go to Elafonissi, as the pink sand seems to be in greater and more regular supply than at the other two beaches we describe.
The main Elafonissi beach – on the ‘mainland’ – is by far the busiest of the Elafonissi beaches. One side faces the sea, and the other, quieter side faces the lagoon. There was plenty of pink sand on each side both times that we visited.
Elafonissi Island is a short walk across the shallow lagoon from the main beach. The first time I visited, the water was little more than ankle-deep. The second time was just below my knees, around half a metre deep.
Relatively few people venture as far as Elafonissi Island, which isn’t surprising as nearly all the beach facilities – beach bars, sunshades, loungers, toilets – are back near the entrance to the main beach. However, if you seek solitude and a frisson of pink sand, I’d advise heading onto the island, where the further you go, the quieter it gets.
If you get a whiff of wanderlust, there is also a walk in the opposite direction, along the E4 trail to the secluded paradise of Kedrodasos Beach, a series of coves with a large bay interspersed with groves of juniper trees.
Elafonissi beach is one of the most popular day trips from Chania, the regional capital. Day tours to Elafonissi depart from Chania, Rethymno and most resorts on the north Crete coast, even as far east as Heraklion.
Buses also run from Chania to Elafonissi during the season, taking the scenic route through the magnificent Topolia Gorge. The other option you have is driving – if so, be prepared for some slow, narrow and winding roads, especially in the later stages of the journey. Count on around two hours to get to Elafonissi from Chania.
Small ferries to Elafonissi also run from Paleochora during the season (usually ending mid-October).
Pink Beaches In Crete – Falassarna Beach
Stunning Falassarna Beach – also on the isolated Crete west coast – is not widely known as one of one of the pink beaches in Crete. However, as our images show, it’s a beach with pink sand, so that makes it a Crete pink beach in our estimation.
Falassarna is an incredible place, a series of five beaches hidden away from the rest of Crete and the world by a wall of mountain peaks, a remote coastal Arcadia.
If you seek the Falassarna pink sand, make your way to the main (and busiest) beach, and head beyond the left (southern) end of the umbrellas. Soon after this you’ll reach a small headland overlooking a curve in the beach and some rocks in the shore.
This is where I found the Falassarna pink sand.
I should point out that we stayed at Falassarna for over two weeks, and passed this section of beach five or six times. However the pink sand was only visible twice – only traces the first time, and a lot more the second time.
Several locals I spoke with also tipped me off about a tiny beach just beyond Falassarna harbour, at the southern end of the main beach. It’s only around 20-30 metres long, but the strip of pink sand appears there more frequently than on the main beach.
Falassarna can be reached by regular bus from Chania during the season – check the K-tel website for times. Otherwise it’s a 90-minute drive from Chania, or 20 minutes from the nearest town, Kissamos, the departure point for our final Crete pink beach, Balos.
Pink Beaches In Crete – Balos Beach
Breathtaking Balos Beach Crete is one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, in a spectacular lagoon setting in north-west Crete surrounded by mountains. We weren’t expecting it, so got a wonderful surprise to find that Balos was the third pink beach in Crete we had encountered.
Balos Beach is one of the most popular places to visit in Crete, and most people book a tour which includes a return ferry from the port of Kissamos. Our article on How to Get to Balos Beach gives you all the information on how to arrange this – and we also advise on the dirt road to Balos in this feature.
Like Elafonissi, Balos Beach is located in a lagoon, though the setting of Balos is much more dramatic, with a steep rocky cape on one side of the beach and lagoon and a striking peak rising out of the sea on the other.
As with Elafonissi, Balos is one of the best beaches in Crete for families, with the shallow water of the lagoon – the south side – giving ideal conditions for paddling and splashing. There is also plenty of deeper but still shallow water for the little ones to try out their swimming strokes.
The Balos Beach pink sand can be found along the busy central strip. It’s more prominent on the seaward side (to the left as you approach from the ferry, looking north towards nearby Imeri Gramvousa Island). There are several patches of pink sand in this area, with one of the largest close to the mainland shore.
When walking along the beach, I didn’t really notice the pink tinge in the sand on the lagoon side. It was only when I was looking down on Balos Beach from the hillside above (I’d urge anyone to make this brief, steep climb) that I noticed a considerable amount of pink sand on both sides of the main strips of sand.
If you take the Balos beach ferry, you usually get the bonus of two hours at the astonishing Gramvousa Beach, on Imeri Gramvousa island. Our editor Faye even preferred this beach to Balos Beach – it is one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete, undoubtedly.
For more information & inspiration about various places in Greece, please check out our Greece travel guide.
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