Let’s start by saying that Pink Balos Beach is one of the most awe-inspiring natural sights in the world. It is almost indescribable. If you’re going to Crete, you have to add this beach on your itinerary.
A thin rocky strip on one end and a narrow stretch of sand on the other, is all that connects the Cretan mainland to the tiny round island, known as the Tigani, which means frying pan in Greek. It forms a crystal clear shallow lagoon on one side and a sheltered turquoise bay on the other, and is by far, the most photographed beach in Crete.
1. Why is the Sand Pink at Balos Beach?
What makes this place even more special, is the pink colour of the sand, making Balos one of only two pink beaches in Crete. In fact, the “sand” is made up of millions of tiny pink and red shells, scientifically known as foraminifera, which have been around for millions of years. Of the thousands of species that exist today, some are planktonic and float around the oceans, while others live on the bottom, clinging onto shells, rocks and seaweed.
In places like Balos Beach, Elafonissi Beach (also in Crete) and some beaches in the Bahamas, where foraminifera are abundant, the seabed is made almost entirely of their shells giving the beaches their unusual pink colouring. Just pick up a few “grains of sand” and look carefully to see that they are in fact tiny microscopic shells. Just why these deposits have ended up here, remains a mystery.
2. Balos Beach location
Located virtually on the north-westernmost tip of Crete, Balos Beach is not a place you see while passing by, but a place you specifically set out to visit. It lies on the west facing shoreline of the Gramvousa Peninsula, about 50 kilometres west from the city of Chania.
3. How to get to Balos Beach, Crete
There are two ways of getting to Balos Beach – by ferry or by road.
Three daily cruises that operate from Kissamos Harbour during the summer months, bring most of the visitors to Balos Beach. The trip is a full day affair which includes a stop-over at the small island of Gramvousa for some sightseeing, a swim and a visit to an ancient fortress, before proceeding to the pink Balos Beach.
Trips are fairly inexpensive, costing around €30 per person, but are also quite restrictive and usually crowded. You can book your tour online.
There are also tours from Chania and Heraklion. Below are the best options:
- From Chania – click here
- From Heraklion – click here
If you’re feeling like spending some money, private boats are more flexible options and take you to exactly where you want to go. Several private boat rental companies operate from the Kissamos Harbour. My advice is to book your tour online, the demand is quite high during summer.
Hiring a car or scooter is definitely the most popular way of getting around Crete, and although the road trip to Balos may be a little more tedious, the views you’ll pass along the way are to die for. The road to the village of Kaliviani is paved, thereafter becoming a little rough for the next 10 km as you wind your way up steep slopes, stopping frequently to take in the panoramic views of the Rodopos Peninsula, some 10 kilometres across the blue Kissamos Gulf.
After passing a few churches and herds of goats, you’ll reach the car park at the peak, from where you’ll walk for about a kilometre down to the most famous pink beach in Crete. The viewpoint will take your breath away.
Some people may choose to hike to Pink Balos Beach from the village of Kaliviani, but one needs to be fairly fit as it is about 10 kilometres to the beach, with some serious inclines and rough terrain to negotiate. You also needs to consider the amount of time you will need to spend here to really appreciate the natural beauty of the place, and be back before the night sets in.
If you’ve come to Balos Beach seeking grand and luxury facilities to make your trip worthwhile, just stop for a second and take a good look around you. Nature has provided all that you need. In my opinion, even the sunbeds and beach umbrellas that dot the beaches around the lagoon, spoil this otherwise pristine landscape.
Apart from sunbeds, umbrellas and some pedal boats that you can rent and the two basic loos on the hillside, there is nothing else here. It is advisable to bring your own snacks and drinks. However, a small Beach Bar provides a limited yet sufficient range of snacks, drinks and welcome ice creams to get you through the day.
5. Things to do at Pink Balos Beach
Thankfully, there are no crazy watersports here to disturb the tranquillity of this piece of paradise. The clear, shallow and warm waters are perfect for swimming and snorkelling, particularly for families with small children.
It’s best to get there early in the morning, as by 11 o’clock, the ferries start bringing in hundreds of tourists. Fortunately, there is enough space for everyone to spread out without anyone feeling swamped.
There are however other things to do except swimming in crystal clear water, while being surrounded by a majestic island landscape and the Balos Beach pink sand.
Go to the Main Viewpoint
If you have arrived by car, you will have passed by the viewpoint when setting off from the car park. If you have arrived by boat, you need to climb up here in a hurry. From here the pink beach, lagoon, the Tigani and the two Gramvousa islands dotted in the deep blue Mediterranean, make for the most unforgettable spectacle.
Climb up to the Tigani Viewpoint
Climbing to the top of the Tigani is another absolute must, giving panoramic views of this magical landscape but from a different angle. Just take your camera. Looking onto the lagoon there is a cave of historical importance to Crete. It was here that many Christian Cretan women and children were massacred by the Turks in 1825.
Admire the Chapel of All Saints
On the way to the top of Tigani, you’ll come across this quaint and humble little Orthodox Church. A small plaque states that it was restored by two dedicated locals in the 1970s. Like all Greek churches, I am sure it has a fascinating story as to why it was actually built here on this remote rock, of all places. Perhaps it was built in the memory of the 1825 massacre?
Hike to the most north-western point of Crete
For one of the most picturesque walks of your life, hike from the car park to the island’s most north-western point, named Cape Trummeluff. From the car park, the hike is about five kilometres and should take about an hour, but probably longer as you’ll be stopping regularly, soaking in the breathtaking scenery and snapping pictures.
Along the way, you’ll come across the Agnio archaeological site. Apart from the scenery, there is little trace of any ancient ruins. A little further, you’ll reach the Three Benches Viewpoint, which is exactly what the name implies. Three benches to sit and catch your breath, while taking in the stunning views of the peninsula and the Gramvousa Island barely a kilometre away.
From there on, it’s a two kilometre section to the tip of Crete, from where you will be unable to stop taking pictures. From here you can clearly see both Gramvousa islands jutting out of the blue ocean in the distance.
6. Best time to go
Summer is always the best time to go anywhere in Greece, but if you want to avoid the tourist masses, consider the shoulder months of June and August. May or October may be even better if you prefer more peace and quiet.
Although the winds usually blow on Crete during summer, Balos Beach is somewhat sheltered, unless it’s blowing gales.
Even during the winter, the average temperature is a tolerable 11° C, making Crete a popular winter destination too.
7. A few basic tips for visiting Balos Beach
- Load the sun lotion and wear a hat and good hiking shoes.
- Bring snacks and water for the day.
- Bring some cash to pay for parking and sunbed rentals.
- Get there early to avoid the ferry crowds.
- Drive slowly to and from the car park. The road is rough, twisty and goats have right of way.
- Try to pick a day with good weather to really appreciate the scenery.
- If you go there by ferry, book the earliest trip to give you the maximum time to truly appreciate the beauty of Balos Beach.
8. Where to stay in Crete
As there is so much to do and see around this spectacular and often forgotten corner of Crete, you may want to consider spending a night or two in the area. Fortunately, there are numerous lodging options near Kaliviani village.
- Budget – Gramvoussa Bay – clean and spacious rooms, close to the beach, air conditioning, good amenities
- Mid-Range – Martimi Apartments – sea view, beautiful pool, great amenities, modern rooms, friendly staff
- Luxury – Sapphire Blue Suites – modern and luxurious suites, beautiful pool, close to the beach, private kitchen
If you’d like to stay in a bigger city in Crete, I recommend Heraklion. Below are a few accommodation options for those looking for a good value-for-money stay.
- Budget – Rooftop Cosy Apartment – beautiful spacious apartment, good location, friendly owners, good amenities
- Mid-Range – Kastro Hotel – close to the beach, clean rooms, good amenities, great rooftop
- Luxury – Ibis Styles – modern rooms with excellent amenities, sylish hotel with friendly staff, good restaurants
There is no doubt that Pink Balos Beach one of the most beautiful and scenic spots on our planet, and although it takes some effort getting there, it is the remoteness of the place that adds more charm and beauty, making the effort truly worthwhile.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me in the comment section below. May the travel bug bite you!