Crete Island, the Glowing Gem of Greece

Crete Island
Source: Pixabay

The largest Greek Island, a jewel in the Mediterranean beautiful enough to make your eyes feel as if they’re going to burst into tiny little hearts and spill out all over the turquoise sea. This gem is an absolute paradise. Everyone hears about the hype of islands such as Mykonos or Santorini, but in my opinion they are overrated. They are touristy, pricey, crowded and filled with cruise ship passengers who just want to take the perfect Instagram photo, gain some bragging rights, and leave. Crete seems to be the well-kept secret amongst locals and wilderness/nature travelers and beach-goers. If you are planning a trip to Greece, my advice is to skip the hype and spend some quality time on Crete Island. You certainly won’t regret it. There is something here for everyone, whether you prefer the all-inclusive beach resort with your family, doing a 30-day trek across the E4 trail, hiking rugged gorges, exploring mountainous village towns, trying delicious local fare, or swimming in crystal clear turquoise waters. I have a feeling that this beautiful island will start popping up on travel guides and blogs across the country, and I am happy to be one of the contributors to share knowledge of this wonderful paradise. 🙂

People & Culture
Greeks, especially on Crete Island, are some of the friendliest people I have ever encountered in all of my world travels thus far. Most people speak enough English to ask you where you are from and how you are enjoying your stay, and the folks who work in the service industry speak English very well. They are extremely hospitable and I found them to be trustworthy. Being an island, the culture is laid-back and slow-paced. Nearly everybody on the street will say hello to you, and it is helpful to know at least a few words such as “good morning” (kalimera), “good evening” (kalispera) and “thank you” (epcharisto, pronounced “ef-har-eesto”). And the food…be warned, it’s best to view this article after you have eaten, otherwise you may very well attempt to jump through the screen or book the next flight out from wherever it is you are currently sitting. Crete will always hold a very special place in our hearts, especially because this is where we got engaged!

Where to Stay
There are three major cities on Crete Island:

Chania (Western Crete)
Rethymno (Central Crete)
Heraklion (Eastern Crete, the capital) – also the coolest name ever. It reminds me of a Sci-Fi movie.

The two major airports are in Chania and Heraklion. We stayed in Chania in one of Sasha’s friend’s parents’ house (free accommodation helped us out a lot during our six months of travel!) The house was just a 15-minute drive from Chania Airport (where we flew in from Athens), and a ten-minute drive from the Harbor, so we were close to shopping, beaches, nightlife, supermarkets and within a three-hour drive from all the beautiful hikes.

My Fiance’s parents also happened to be visiting Crete at the same time, and they stayed in a beautiful hotel just a 20-minute drive outside of Chania right across from the beach and paid a rate of $180 USD per night for a beautiful and spacious room. This would be a great option for families, as the hotel had a great pool! Airbnbs are also available on Crete Island.

We stayed a total of 11 days on Crete, which we felt was not enough time. If you’re going to travel all the way to Crete, I highly recommend staying two + weeks (if you enjoy hiking, relaxing on beaches, and driving scenic mountain roads.) However, I understand that many American companies only allow a total of two weeks of paid time off each year, so if you only have one week, I would suggest staying in one location and exploring that region, as it can take over five hours to drive from one end of the island to the other, and it is very mountainous, so driving takes time.

Transportation & Driving in Crete
We reserved a car online through Expedia as a backup, but when we arrived to Chania Airport, we negotiated rates with the companies who were physically there (most of them want your business and are willing to negotiate a rate, even if you are visiting during peak tourist season (we visited in July).) We used a company called Avance (yes that is spelled correctly without the “d”), and we paid 280 euro (around $320 USD) for ten full days. This included insurance, taxes and fees, and unlimited kilometers. We got a white Fiat Panda (most cars are white on the island because it is so hot.) Nearly all cars are a manual stick shift, though for extra money you can request an automatic. If you have a European or American drivers license, you do not need an international drivers license. We simply cancelled our Expedia reservation, though you should always have something reserved in advance just in case they are sold out upon arrival (which happened to us in Athens.)

Driving around the island will reward you with stunning views such as this one.

A car was the best option for us as we like to go off the beaten path and be away from the tourist crowds and busses. A car gave us the freedom to get lost on dirt roads and stumble upon the coolest-looking furry goats like these guys:

There may very well be more goats than humans on Crete Island.

If you have a family, renting a car is your best option to explore the island, though be forewarned that the roads are quite windy, so if you or your kids are prone to car sickness, be sure to bring ginger or ginger chews (helps ease the stomach), or Seabands (stretchy tight material that goes over the wrists with a ball at the pressure point on the inner wrist that aids balance and prevents nausea.) Driving on Crete is quite easy and laid back because of the slow, windy roads. We learned the driving etiquette very quickly, which is to allow others to pass on the left of you down the center line and for you to move over to the right side. Most Greek drivers actually drive at all times halfway into the shoulder lane and halfway in the actual lane so that fast drivers can pass on the left if they so wish. It was a strange concept to us as American drivers, but it worked and we felt safe and comfortable at all times.

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Aloha, I'm Lisa! I spent most of my young adulthood living on O'ahu, Hawai'i and now reside in Seattle, Washington. In 2014 I traded rubber “slippahs”, bikinis and kukui nut leis for warm boots, fleece scarves and REI gear when I moved to Seattle to get out of my little island comfort zone and to hike bigger mountains. I have lived in the Emerald City for three years, and this is where I met the love of my life and now Fiance, Sasha (Russian for Alex). I am a certified yoga instructor, self-proclaimed foodie and cook, and outdoor adventure-lover. I love games night at home with friends on a rainy Seattle Saturday night as equally as I love waking up at sunrise to hike to a far away mountain peak. Highly inspired by several books, including Tim Ferriss’ “The Four-Hour Workweek”, Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, and Rolf Potts’ “Vagabonding – An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel”, Sasha and I decided to take a big chance and make a life-changing move. We decided that adventure was calling and we must go. Because what you will learn outside the confines of four walls will be a far greater experience than anything else life can offer you. Sasha and I are both in our early thirties, so before we have kids, before we have a mortgage and increased responsibilities, we decided to act upon the travel itch in a somewhat unconventional way; in April of 2017 we left our corporate management careers, became minimalist by putting our life into a 65-liter backpack each, and took off on a “mini retirement” to travel the world. We visited ten countries and 50 cities in half a year, including: U.S. National Parks, Ecuador, Colombia, England, Latvia, Russia, Greece, Italy, France and Croatia. We are now back in the states figuring out the next chapter of our life together.


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