The eastern part of the island hides some of the nicest surprises. The exotic beaches of the islands Chrissi and Lefki can be explored by taking a sea trip on excursion boats from Ierapetra and Makrigialos. The protected palm forest at Vai and Itanos strongly reminds of an African landscape, while the secluded beaches of Karoumes and Xerokambos are a must-see for nature lovers. The dry rocky landscape changes dramatically a few miles to the west, on the serene strands formed below the slopes of Thripti range. The capital of Lassithi, Agios Nikolaos, hosts the lovely beaches of Gargadoros, Istron and Ammoudara.
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In front of the touristic settlement, there is a nice sandy beach with turquoise waters. The sea surface is mainly flat, because the beach has easterly orientation. while winds in Crete come mainly from west. The beach is organised with umbrellas, sunbeds and water sports.
Vai was totally unknown until the early 1970s, when a popular commercial for the Bounty chocolate with coconut was filmed here, using the magical background of palm trees. In the advert, coconuts were falling from trees, however Vai palms produce dates. Consequently coconuts had to be falsely hung to create the right impression. The ad made this unknown earthly paradise renowned throughout the world.
The thousands of visitors arriving daily with the boat from Ierapetra to Chrissi island mainly swim on the beach of Belerinina or Golden Beach. Bright blue waters, white sand with pink shades from the thousands of broken shells, the junipers that hold the sand with their huge roots is the backdrop that makes anyone fall in love with this place.
Kolokytha is a small island just opposite the Peninsula of Spinalonga, 12km north of Agios Nikolaos and close to Elounda. Opposite the island there is the fantastic beach of Saint Luke, mostly known as Kolokytha. To access the beach you should first follow a scenic route: From the town of Elounda, follow the road leading to the East, along the shore. You will pass the old salt pans on your right hand, which now host many birds.
Sitia is the easternmost city on Crete and is located 64km east of Agios Nikolaos. The wider area of Sitia province hosts several small beaches where you can enjoy the sun and the sea. However, some who prefer to stay close to town, can visit the long city beach.
Almiros beach is located 2.5km south of Agios Nikolaos and is the most popular beach of the city. It is shaped near the exit of Almiros River, which empties on the south part of the beach. Next to the beach, the protected wetland of Almiros hosts several rare birds, towering eucalyptus trees, reed and palm trees of Theophrastus (such as these in Vai).
1km south of the village Agios Ioannis lies the Long Beach of St. John that has a length of 5km, being one of the longest in Crete. This wide quiet beach the characteristic wonderful coarse grayish sand of southern Crete, which in the sea turns to fine sand. This is an interesting detail, because although you walk on the fine sand in the sea, when you get out your feet is clean because you step on the fine pebbles.
Ammoudi is located just 1km north of Agios Nikolaos city centre, in a large and well protected bay. It is a small sandy beach with shallow waters, which is preferred both by locals and visitors. It is hidden among large tamarisk trees and picturesque buildings, offering many options for accommodation and eating around. The beach has also water sport facilities.
Agia Fotia, one of the favorite beaches of all Cretans, is located 45km southeast of Agios Nikolaos and 12km east of Ierapetra. It is a small bay formed at the mouth of a small stream that descends from the surrounding mountains. The settlement takes its name after the local Church of Agia Fotini (or Agia Fotia). The area is hidden in plane trees and tamarisks, while the bay is surrounded by high mountains and cliffs that create a magic scenery.
Kato Zakros is a traditional fishing village located 107km east of Agios Nikolaos and 40km east of Sitia. It is the picturesque harbor of Zakros village (located 7km on the west), situated in a fertile valley with olive groves surrounded by rough mountains. The area is one of the most remote areas of Crete and is ideal for those seeking tranquility, away from the bustling daily life of cities.
The name is taken after the ancient city Itanos, sited in the area. Next to the archaeological site of Itanos there are the three consecutive bays of Erimoupolis (a second name of the region). Thus, you can combine your visit to the archaeological site with a dip in the cool waters. It is noteworthy to tell that part of the ancient Itanos is under water. Thus, a unique experience is to snorkel above the ruins, which now house only fish!
Makrigialos is located 58km southeast of Agios Nikolaos and 23km east of Ierapetra. It is a large village, located near the exit of the lush canyon of Pefki. Being initially a humble harbor with no roads in the ‘50s, Makrigialos has faced a strong growth and has become the largest tourist destination in the region. It actually consists of two settlements, Makrigialos and Analipsi, which are now united.
Sissi (or Sisi) is located 26km west of Agios Nikolaos and 41km east of Heraklion, in close proximity to Malia. It is a peaceful traditional village with narrow streets and beautiful taverns. Its trademark is the harbor with the clean and calm waters.
Myrtos is located 13km west of Ierapetra, in the output of a wide valley filled with greenhouses and citrus groves, crossed by the River Kryos. It is a small seaside village, which has experienced a mild form of development in recent years, which fortunately has not altered its traditional style. The village is built on the exit of the imposing Sarakina Gorge, which is worth visiting.
Plaka is located 16km north of Agios Nikolaos, opposite the entrance of the lagoon of Korfos (or lagoon of Elounda), in one of the most beautiful places of Crete. A feature of Plaka is the wonderful views of the island Kalydon, on where the famous fortress of Spinalonga stands.
The beach is artificial and is formed in a narrow bay, which is very well protected from the winds. Only easterly winds could affect the area, but they are very rare in Crete. The beach has fine white sand, making the colors of the sea stunning. It is very well organized, because it is operated by the luxurious local hotel.
Chiona means carob storehouse in the Cretan dialect and is taken after the storehouses that were usually built next to the shore in order to transfer carobs with ships. Indeed the area was known for trading carobs. Here you can have a perfect day, especially if you combine your visit in Chiona with eating at the famous local fish taverns of Batis and Amanakis.
Galini is located 47km southeast of Agios Nikolaos and 13km east of Ierapetra, by the beach of Achlia, located 500m on the east. Galini is a small village, slightly developed, which is built in a lush landscape with pine trees. The coast around the village is full of hidden coves with pebbly beaches, where access is tricky, since only some well-hidden paths lead there.
To get there you should follow the dirt road that crosses the green meadows west of Kavoussi, known as Lakos Ambelion position, till the entrance to the gorge. From here begins a short path, not particularly difficult, leading after 10 minutes on the beach of Agriomandra. Just before you reach the beach you will see several small caves in the rocks.
The area of Asprougas could easily be described as an open-air geological museum, full of fossils (one slope of the area is fully covered with fossils from a extinct species of snail). Besides the rich fossils, the morphology of the whole area with the white and stripped rocks scattered everywhere is amazing.