As the appointed curator of travel destinations, I only have three simple requirements when hunting for a new location. Number one, a gorgeous environment and compelling history. Number two, no current political shenanigans (we don’t need those kinds of problems). Most importantly, three, it falls in the ‘Cheap Travel’ category.
If it meets those specifications then honestly, my methodology is basically pin the tail on the country. That’s how we ended up in the Greek Islands. Corendon offered an eight-day holiday to Crete for the ridiculous price of €199, which included the flight, transfer and three-star accommodations at Irene Village. We couldn’t pass that up.
Now that we’ve been back in the Dam for a little over a month I’ve finally put together a guide for those of you interested in or planning a visit to the ancient Greek Island. It includes all the basic need to know information to plan your trip.
Greece is located in Southern Europe and Crete is the largest, most southern of the Greek Isles. Any further south and you’ll be in North Africa. It’s surrounded by the cerulean waters of the Aegean Sea to the north and the Libyan Sea to the south. The landscape is characterized by a rough mountainous terrain and almost 100 miles of stunning beaches. It’s divided into four regions: Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion and Lassithi. Our stay was in the Heraklion Region but we were able to briefly visit Chania and Lassithi.
Travel Routes and Requirements
There are two main airports in Crete: Heraklion (HER) the 2nd largest in Greece, and the much smaller Chania (CHQ) We flew into the oceanside Heraklion since we were staying in the nearby Hersonissos. It’s an older, no-frills airport but the staff was friendly and the lines moved quickly. Greece is in the European Union so United States citizens are allowed entry and stay for a period of 90 days with a valid passport. Since we are also residents of the Netherlands we weren’t required to go through customs. EU citizens may enter with a national identity card.
It goes without saying that Greek is the official language. We had no issues communicating in English. However, the Greek alphabet is almost impossible to read unless you can understand the Phoenician alphabet. Luckily, most information has translations in English, Dutch, German and French.
Seasons & Weather
High Season is May through August. This is the most crowded, most expensive time of the year. Temperatures are at their hottest ranging from 77 F (25 C) to 95 F (35 C) degrees. Hotels are at capacity, restaurants are packed, and tours and attractions are booming.
Shoulder season months, April, September, and October, are considered ideal because of slightly lower prices and thinner crowds. Temperatures are milder between 60 F (15 C) - and 85 F (29.4 C) degrees, which is optimal for those interested in hiking. Hotels have better rates as there is more availability and ferries are still operating frequently.
Low season is considered November through March. Prices drop by up 70% but so does the temperature. The weather during this time is about 36 F (2.2 C) - 6o F (15.5 C) degrees. November through February is also typically the rainiest time of year. Transportation is limited, and some ferry routes are canceled entirely not to mention that most tourist attractions are closed though most resorts are open year-round.
Food & Drink
The restaurants in Crete give new meaning to the term 'dine fresh' as most catch their own seafood and make their own cheese, olive oil, and wine. Anything with feta is obviously great, the Feta Fournou (baked feta with tomatoes) is our new favorite appetizer. Horiatiki (Greek Salad) is a basic staple, and Steph raved about the amazing gyros. I’ve been told that Ouzo, a classic Greek aperitif, is a must try. I'm not an anise fan so it wasn't my cup of tea. Homemade Raki is commonly served as a complementary digestive after a meal. Beware. They give you an entire carafe and insist you drink it all. It’s strong stuff so be careful. I wish someone would have given me that same advice. Service cost is included when dining out, but an added extra is appreciated.
Pack light, breathable fabrics during high season. Our stay in Crete was in mid-June, and the typical Mediterranean summer was already hot and humid. Shorts, tanks, summer dresses and swimwear are the standard wear. However, in the higher mountain elevations make sure to dress warmer. I recommend a light sweater or jacket.
Currency & Connectivity
Greece is in the eurozone thus the local currency is the euro. Credit cards (except AMEX) are accepted in most shops, restaurants, and hotels. ATMs are plentiful in most tourist areas. They are more challenging to find in the remote mountain regions. However, be careful, my card was gobbled up by an ATM in Star Beach, and bank policy prohibits return of retrieved cards to foreigners.
Wifi is available in most hotel common areas and a few restaurants. Outlets are European standard. Purchasing a universal adaptor with a surge protector for your electronics makes life so much easier. You can plug in no matter where your travels take you.
There are a couple of options for getting around the island. We became quick friends with two American gentlemen stationed in Souda Bay. They somehow convinced me to ride on an ATV with a little goading from Steph. I wasn’t a fan at first, but it was a fun way to explore short distances. You can rent one for about €50 per day. Car rentals give you the freedom to roam the island and are also reasonably priced. However, use caution, driving in Crete is like playing a game of chicken. On our road trip to Chania, I closed my eyes and prayed for safe passage a few times. Another great way to travel between regions is Greece’s National Bus Service. The KTEL buses are air-conditioned, comfortable and have a variety of stops and frequent schedules. We ventured from Chania to Heraklion (Star Beach) one way for about €25.
There are several ferries and boat companies that connect the mainland and islands which allow you to island hop to stunning places like Chrissi and the trendy Santorini. During high season tickets sell out quickly, so it’s beneficial to get them in advance. Domestic flights are frequent and significantly cut down travel time. However, this is the priciest option.
Crete has all kinds of insects and they’re everywhere! I was bitten by a lovely critter while rock climbing at the beach and contracted a nasty parasite. I highly suggest applying some sort of DEET based bug repellant daily. Steph was smart enough to use the citronella spray like it was her daily perfume.
Tap water in Greece is mostly safe to drink except for some small villages and islands. However, when introducing new bacteria into your system, there is always the chance of vomiting and diarrhea. Bottled water is recommended outside of hotels and resorts to stay on the safer side of things.
If you have a complaint about hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, tourist shops, tour guides, waiters, taxi or bus drivers contact the Tourist Police (touristiki astynomía). Each office has at least one member who speaks English. If you need to report a theft, or loss of passport, they will issue the necessary documents and act as interpreters between you and the Hellenic Police (National Police Service of Greece).
Tourist Police Numbers in Crete
23, Irakliou Avenue 73134
Tel: +30 28210 25931
Rethymnon, Crete Office
Sofokli Venizelou Street 74100
Tel: +30 28310 28156
Crete - Heraklion
1, Agiou Artemiou Street Heraklio Police Building 71601,
Tel: +30 2810 274140
Agios Nikolaos, Lassithi, Crete
47, Erythrou Stavrou Street 72100
Tel: +30 28410 91409
If it goes down and you have an issue that requires contact with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate there is one located on the mainland in Athens.
U.S. Embassy Greece
91 Vasilisis Sophias Ave
10160 Athens, Greece
U.S. Consulate General Thessaloniki
43 Tsimiski, 7th Floor
546 23 Thessaloniki Greece
Phone: ++30 2310 242 905, +30 2310 376 300
Fax: +30 2310 242 927
From the Heraklion Archaeological Museum to island hopping day tours, there’s enough to see and do. Below are a few recommendations based on our itinerary.
Most of our stay was spent on Star Beach in Hersonissos, Europe’s first and most famous seaside fun park. I swear Steph was there every morning at the crack of dawn. Parents with children are welcome as there is an extensive family area equipped with a kiddie pool, playground, and slide park. There’s also a daily DJ and foam party (if you’re into that sort of thing), a restaurant, several pool bars and bungee jumping for the daring. No outside food or beverages are allowed, but entry and wifi are free. Beach chairs are €2 per day, €3 with an umbrella.
Minoan Palace of Knossos
This ancient Minoan Palace was first built 1900 BC, and abandoned in 1375 BC. Destroyed by earthquakes and invading Mycenaeans, the site was excavated and controversially reconstructed by English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. Full tickets are €15 and the reduced fare is €8. Parking is available.
Random Fact: The pipes in Greece are really narrow so the plumbing system can’t handle toilet paper. Toilet paper should always be thrown in the trash. This is curious to us because of the advancements in plumbing and sanitation of the Minoan people.
One of the only specific things on the agenda, aside from relaxing in the sun, was a visit to an iconic place in Greek mythology, the Diktaion Antron. A steep 800-meter hike to the cave entrance will bring you to where Zeus, the father of all Greek gods, was born. This sacred Minoan cave is located in the Lassithi region of eastern Crete. Tickets are €6. Parking is available.
Seitan Limania Beach
We decided to hitchhike to Chania with our new military friends, if you are vacationing in that region and have the opportunity, make sure to head down to Seitan Limania in Souda Bay. After a treacherous drive up a narrow winding road, the heavenly ‘Secret Beach’ is revealed, this breathtaking surprise was totally worth the rocky hike. Make sure to wear appropriate shoes, anything with traction should be fine. The beach is rather small so make sure to get there early to beat the crowd.
Til next time, travel light Travel bugs!