Fantasy Islands: Crete, Greece

Ready for adventure? We’ve roamed the world’s oceans and lakes to compile this look at eight of our favorite island escapes, from lounging in the palm trees of the South Pacific to paddling with whales in the Bay of Fundy and gazing at grizzlies in Alaska. We’ve also included one escapade that’s so daring, it may never be repeated.  

On postcards beckoning visitors to Greece, the neon-blue waters of the eastern Mediterranean appear suspiciously enhanced. Not until sitting inside a kayak inches from the warm, alkaline water does it become apparent: that electric hue is not a trick of Photoshop. Greece’s largest island, Crete, is renowned for its varied and ethereal landscape, from the snow-capped White Mountains to surf-washed cobble beaches and scrublands peppered with pastures and orange groves. Crete’s role in Greek mythology is equally diverse—the island is celebrated as the birthplace of Zeus and dwelling place of the monstrous Minotaur.

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Palaiochora, at the island’s western end, is a favorite launch point for overnight trips east to Hóra Sfakíon and beyond. The sun-bleached cliffs of Crete’s southern coastline dwarf paddlers, while herds of goats traverse the impossibly vertical faces. Rock gardens and sea caves abound between the pretty coastal villages of Sougia, Agia Roumeli and Loutro. Agia Roumeli is perched at the southern entrance of the famed Samariá Gorge National Park. Plan a layover day here to hike the 16-kilometer trail up this ruggedly scenic, 1,500-foot-deep defile. While summer brings tour groups, arriving in April almost guarantees solitude on the water. The weather can change rapidly on this exposed coast, turning a calm day into a tempest of rain and boiling seas. Have a backup plan to hike or be prepared to wait out the wind. Luckily, every taverna will welcome you with plenty of rakı—a traditional apéritif not for the faint of heart. —Addie Asbridge

IF YOU GO: Ferrying back from Hóra Sfakíon saves time but there’s no set schedule—be prepared to hop aboard when the whistle blows. Enjoy Crete ( offers kayak rentals, day trips and four or eight-day guided tours.

This article was originally published in Adventure Kayak, Volume 16 • Issue 3.

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