Balos Beach by car and tour [parking, drive, food and more]
The drive to Balos Beach by car is absolutely a stunning experience, and once parking is done, the walk down to the lagoon is surely breathtaking.
The question is now how to get to balos beach by car, and, is it actually a good idea to drive there or is it better to book a tour instead?
In this guide, you will find all the practical information to organise your day trip to Balos Beach with a rented vehicle, including parking options, and what to expect from an organised tour
Everything you need to know about the boat, the road, the maps and so much more. I have added also a few photos at the end of the post.
But now let’s get into it and remember to leave a comment if you need more information
More information about Crete
- Top-rated places to visit in Crete [including some hidden gems]
- Where to stay in Crete (best areas and worst areas)
- Best itineraries of Crete, from 3 days to a 2 weeks stay (with maps and daily plans)
- The Samaria Gorge Hike – All you need to Know
- Spinalonga Tour – the island, the beach, the boat trip, a map and all you need to know for this trip
- Elafonisi Beach – The Practical Guide
Balos Beach by car – A spectacular drive
This is in my opinion the best way to experience the lagoon. This is a popular destination and arriving early with a rented car will allow you to enjoy it almost on your own till the tours arrive.
The drive to Balos Beach becomes challenging once you approach the unsealed road in the last 7-8km, as you enter the peninsula.
There are a few sections in cement, the typical old Greek way to build roads, but besides that expect a dirt road with rocks and potholes here and there. The road can be narrow in a few points but overall doable.
The drive on the gravel road lasts around 30-45 minutes and expect to drive at a speed of 10-20 km/h. You will end up most probably behind other vehicles as everyone drives very carefully.
The views that you get along the drive are stunning, except for the driver that will need to pay 100% of his attention on the route, which can be challenging on a few points.
If you drive to Balob Beach early in the morning you will be very unlikely to meet anyone coming back which makes things so much easier with the narrow road. Typically, you will see the first cars back around 1 pm, sometime earlier.
Driving there with kids is fine too, however, keep in mind the steep descent to the beach and the hike back to the parking area later in the day.
I usually hire my cars on the website DiscoverCars.com. This is a website that compares the best deals from local and global companies providing the cheapest prices available. They also have a ranking of the car rentals based on real customers’ feedback (a sort of AirBnb for cars) which gives me more confidence in the choice too.
Parking at Balos Beach
The drive to Balos Beach ends at the parking place on top of Balos Beach.
My biggest tip here is to make it early in the morning because although the parking area seems big, it gets very busy if not full by 10 am. In a few words, the sooner the better.
Once it gets full you will have to leave your car along the dirt road leading to the parking area.
To give you a better idea, if you arrive at 11:30-12 in July or even worst in August, expect to leave your vehicle 20-30 minutes from the parking area, which is a bit of a walk considering the summer temperatures and the fact that you have still to start your descent to the lagoon.
The parking cost is 3 Euro/car, doesn’t matter where you park your car, which means that even if you leave it along the unpaved road you will have to pay. Then, there is also an entrance fee of 1 Euro per person
There is a toilet on site which you can use for 1 Euro.
Balos Beach walk from the parking
It’s not a complicated walk, however, it is not an easy walk either.
The walk itself is around 2-2.5km and that is if you are able to leave your car in the official parking area and not along the dirt road.
It’s a steep way down and it takes around 20-25 minutes. It takes longer on the way up where you should plan a few breaks considering also the summer temperatures.
I highly recommend doing it at least with gym shoes as the steep descent with flip-flops may be challenging in a few points. Besides, if you break your flip-flops, well good luck with the walk.
Balos Beach restaurants
There are no restaurants in Balos Beach. There is a Beach Bar but the selection of food is very very limited in both quality and quantity.
The best is to bring your own. You can organise that as you leave your hotel or you can stop by the towns of Kissamos or Trachilos.
Another alternative is to have a break at the food truck right at the start of the dirt road. It’s called Canteen Balos.
If you make it early in the morning to the Balos Lagoon and leave at 1-2pm, then have a stop in Trachilos at the Gramboussa Restaurant for lunch, a great family-run spot providing amazing food.
Can you drive to Balos Beach?
The short answer is yes, but you should be aware of a few things.
First and most important, check the rental contract if you hire a vehicle. Usually, rented cars are not allowed to drive off-road and quite often the agencies write on the contract “(No Balos)”. Basically, you are on your own without any insurance.
You should talk with your rental agency and include also this drive to Balos Beach. It will cost a premium.
In any case, make sure to have full insurance, no excess. As I mentioned before, you will be very likely to follow other cars and you may dent your car, or even worst the windscreen, with a stone.
That is another reason I use DiscoverCars.com to rent my cars. I can add no-excess insurance for just 8 Euro/day, which is a live saver, besides giving me a no-worries experience.
The drive itself can be great fun as well as a tiring and stressful adventure, based on your experience and level of confidence in driving on unpaved narrow roads. If you do not feel ready for that, I highly suggest taking a tour (more on this later), a real no-worries trip.
Balos Beach by Tour
This is the no-worries experience ( keep reading for my full comparison between the two options), however, you will have to share it with many other people of course.
There are different tours that leave from the 2 major towns on this side of Crete, Chania and Rethymno. There is also the possibility to do it from Heraklion, however, be aware that it will be a long day.
All tours do not include the boat ticket that you can easily buy on the bus.
Every tour will take you by bus to the Kissamos Pier, around 3km from the small town of Kissamos where you will catch the ferry to Balos Beach. On board, you can find food and drinks at a reasonable price and quality too.
The boats can get quite full, especially in July and August, but it’s somehow expected considering the popularity of Balos Beach.
With the boat, you will visit also Gramvousa Island (2 hours stay) and the time in Balos is limited to usually 3 hours.
Gramvousa Island has a small beach with crystal clear water, absolutely gorgeous, however, access is a bit challenging over slippery rocks.
You have the option also to hike up to the fascinating Venetian fortress on top of the hill (access is 1 Euro). From there you have a 360 degrees view up to Balos Beach. If you are into snorkelling and you have your gear then you should check out the shipwreck off the beach
The boats depart three times a day, at around 10:20 am, 10:40 and 12:30. The bus usually is there at least 20-30 minutes earlier to buy the tickets (if you haven’t bought them already on the bus). They are back between 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm.
The entire bus+boat tour takes around 11-12 hours, much more from the Heraklion/Hersonissos area. The time on the boat is 45 minutes to Gramvousa Island, 20 minutes from there to Balos Beach and around one hour back to the Kissamos pier.
Balos Beach tour From Chania
The Platano Tour is a great option from Chania. The booking fee does not include the boat ticket, as in all tours, however, you can buy it on the bus and skip the queue at the pier.
You will take the first boat at 10:20 am and in 45 minutes you will be on Gramvousa Island for a couple of hours, swimming and sunbathing at the beach (or hiking up to the Venetian Castle).
The next stop (20 minutes) is the Balos Lagoon where you will have 3 hours of free time. Food and drinks are available on the boat (a better option than the Beach Bar in Balos Beach).
Balos Beach tour From Rethymno
The Rethymno Tour is very similar to the one from Chania, except it visits first Balos Beach and then Gramvousa Island.
Balos Beach tour From Heraklion
It is going to be a very long day with a very early start. Cretan Spirit is one of the most popular tours leaving from Heraklion and the Hersonissos area. The trip is very similar to the one from Chania.
If you are not too keen on the 4-5 hours drive from Hersonissos/Heraklion then you should consider the day trip to Chrissi Island, much closer and so amazing too.
Balos Beach by car or Tour
Here is a quick table that compares a visit to Balos Beach by car or with an organised tour.
|Aspect||Balos Beach by Car||Organized Tour to Balos Beach|
|Cost||Budget in the petrol cost and rental fees. If you are with two or more people, it will be a much cheaper experience.||Tour cost includes everything in the cost that is going to be higher if you are travelling in more than two people (similar in just 2)|
|Time||Flexible, depending on you. This is the biggest benefit. You can make it there in the early morning and enjoy it with just a few other people.||Fixed, set by the tour schedule. Usually, tours arrive at Balos Beach around 12:30-1 pm.|
|How Busy||Depends on the time of arrival, the earlier the better. Arriving after 10 am means that you will find much more people and possibly you will have to park along the dirt road.||It is usually busier due to the group size. You will not be able to rent any beach umbrella|
|Easy to Organise||Requires personal planning, although minimal. In these days you can just follow the Google Maps direction, so easy.||Simple, everything is pre-arranged|
|Transport Comfort||Depends on the car and a 4WD will immensely help with the comfort.||The tour includes a boat trip and if you easily get seasick, then this is probably not your best option. Check the wind conditions before embarking|
|Convenience||Flexible, can explore at leisure. The perfect plan is to be there by 8-8:30 am. Enjoy the place till 1-2 pm and make your way back to enjoy your lunch in the small town of Trachilos.||The tour is more convenient, especially if they pick you up from your accommodation, but it is less personal. Usually, you share the experience with a big group of people|
|Extra Stops||In any of the local beaches or restaurants before entering the peninsula (before starting the unpaved road)||Gramvousa Island, which is actually a lovely place to visit, besides a great destination for snorkelling|
|Biggest drawback||Parking can be a pain if you arrive there after 10 am||You will be part of a big group and you may feel a bit uncomfortable|
If driving the car on that dirt road is making you already nervous, then you should consider driving your rented car to the Kissamos Pier and catch the first boat at 10:20 am.
This is a much quicker option than the bus tour. I suggest however buying the boat tickets in advance, especially if you are travelling in the peak months of July and August. Parking is available at no extra charge.
Balos Beach Tips
The weather in Crete in summer is usually sunny, warm and beautiful. You can’t get it wrong if you travel there between June and September. It’s rare to see waves on the beachside, impossible in the lagoon.
There is however the wind that can spoil your day. It rarely becomes annoying, however, sometimes the westerly wind makes it through stronger than usual and suddenly you can feel the sandblast.
I would personally recommend having a check to this website 2-3 days prior to your trip. If the wind goes over 15-20 knots (~30-40 kmh) or there are wind gusts at 25-30 knots (~50-60 kmh) then I would probably cancel or postpone the trip (tour cancellation is usually free of charge up to 24hrs prior to the start of the experience).
Try instead to plan a day trip to another destination in Crete (see my post on the best places to visit in Crete, with a few hidden gems)
What to bring with you
It’s going to be sunny and possibly hot. I highly suggest sun cream, a hat, a lycra t-shirt for kids (and maybe for adults too) and water for the day, besides some food as the bar has only a few sandwiches that typically are sold out by 1:30-2 pm.
Wear some proper shoes (training shoes are ok) if you need to walk up to the parking. It can be steep and possibly dangerous with flip-flops.
By KTEL public bus from Chania
This is another option although much slower as the busses stop in most of the villages and towns along the route.
You can check the KTEL website for the timetable. Look for the destination Kampos Kissamos, a few hundred meters from the pier where the boat docks.
Once you arrive there, buy the ticket at the counter and go for the boat trip. You will avoid the cost of the organised tour.
Where should you stay to visit Balos Beach
The first option is to stay in Kissamos itself, a nice little town, still unspoilt from the mass tourism and so close to the pier where the boats depart for Balos beach, just 2.5km away.
There is a nice shallow beach called Mavros Molos, a few hotels and some restaurants and tavernas. It’s more about having a quiet time and experiencing the local life passing by.
The sunbeds and beach umbrellas are usually free of charge if you buy something from the bar/restaurant (like a frappe coffee for example, or just water).
Chania and Rethymno are other two great towns to stay in, much busier and with a lovely Historical Centre.
Suggested Hotels in Chania: Kasteli Studios & Apartments (low budget), Casa Delfino Hotel (mid-budget), Semeli Studios (next to the beach, families). Check out more places to stay in Chania with the best areas.
You can find more suggestions on where to stay in Crete here
Balos Beach map
Balos Beach is a small sand isthmus that connects the Crete mainland to Tigani Island. South of the beach is the shallow turquoise lagoon, on the north side, you have instead a lovely blue bay, still relatively shallow and ideal for small kids too.
There are a few organised sunbeds and beach umbrellas but they tend to be booked out by 10-10:30 am or even earlier.
The beach is around a 10-15 minutes walk from the jetty and 25 minutes from the parking on top of the mountain behind (see the map below for a better view).