Spinalonga Tour – the island, the beach, the boat trip, maps and all you need to know for this trip
The Spinalonga Tour is one of the most interesting and unique trips you can do in Crete.
This island has a long history that started with the building of a fortress under the Venetian occupation.
It was then used as a leper colony, and now, restored with even a museum, Spinalonga is one of the most famous attractions in Crete.
It’s an easy day trip from Agios Nikolaos, Heraklion and any town and village between the two cities.
But let’s get into it with all you need to know to organise your day trip
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The Spinalonga Tour – In a nutshell
Spinalonga leper colony (the history): Spinalonga was converted into a leper colony in 1913 just after the Turks were evicted from Crete. Although treatment for leprosy was already implemented since 1940, Spinalonga kept working as a leper colony till 1957. It closed down only after it was brought to the international attention by a British expert visiting the site. In those hard years, the Greeks that were found with leper symptoms were sent straight to Spinalonga. But not only that. They would confiscate their properties and belongings, besides citizenship, basically erasing the person from the Greek country. After 1957, the Greek government tried to erase the memory of the Spinalonga leper colony, burning all the documents. However, starting from 1980 tourists started arriving, eager to understand more and the island was transformed into a tourist attraction. For more information on the history, I found this interesting article on the BBC website.
Spinalonga Beach: the Spinalonga Beach is essentially the extension of the small island pier. The water is amazingly transparent but the sharp rocks make it dangerous to have a swim, besides having boats coming and going. In a few words, it’s not a great spot. Most of the tours, however, will take you to the sandy Elounda Beach, which is absolutely beautiful. If you are travelling on your own I suggest visiting also the laid back Plaka Beach (pebble stones) with the fantastic food at the local beach taverna. Kolokytha Beach is another beauty in the area, visited also by a few tours.
The fortress: the Spinalong Fortress has been added in 2014 in the tentative World Heritage List. The fortification of the island started over 400 years ago, in 1578 and it was erected to protect the salt mines in the area of Olous. 35 cannons were used to protect the entrance to the Elounda bay and Spinalonga became one of the most important strategical strongholds in Crete, impenetrable. Spinalonga became part of the Ottoman Empire only in 1715, over 100 years after its fortress construction. The Turkish military left Spinalonga in 1898.
The boat trip: there are boats to the island leaving from Agios Nikolaos and from Plaka, a small village facing Spinalonga. If you drive your own car it makes more sense to take the boat in Plaka. There is no need to buy a ticket in advance, it costs a few euros and it can be bought at the little pier. There is a tiny boat that keeps running between Spinalonga and Plaka, quite handy. The tours starting from Agios Nikolaos have a bigger boat and they stop also at one or more beaches for a swim. Kolokytha Beach is a popular one, with incredible blue clear water. It’s a great day trip that goes beyond the visit to Spinalonga.
The museum: the island has also a small museum located in a few old refurbished houses with yellow and blue blinds. You can read and learn more about the complex history of this island. It is free of charge and worth the stop by. You can find also a collection of memories of the leper colony days.
Can you get lost: the island is tiny. In fact, one of the best things to do is to walk around it, through the easy path along the steep cliff. You will see the remembrance of the old cannons and you will have a stunning view of the entrance of the Elounda Bay.
How long is going to take: the whole tour from Agios Nikolaos takes around 6 hours, with the stop at the beach for a swim. From Heraklion, Hersonissos or any town nearby you should budget 8 to 10 hours. If you are driving there yourself to Plaka, then 20 minutes for the boat trip and plan 1.5-2 hours for a visit of the island, including the fabulous walk around it.
Best time of the day: early in the morning works best. The afternoon can be really warm as stones get hot under the summer sun. All of the tours start in the early morning, between 8 and 10am.
Do you need hike shoes: training shoes are ok. I did it even with flip flops and it was slippery and in a few point painful due to the sharp stones, not suggested but overall doable.
Spinalonga Tour from Agios Nikolaos: For a full experience you should try the Nostos Tour that will take you to the Spinalonga Island and than to Kolokytha Beach where you will have a swim and a BBQ included in the price. Awesome. Another possibility is to take the Spinalonga and Elounda Beach Tour and have your lunch in a local taverna (not included).
Trip from Heraklion & Hersonissos: A good tour is organised by Cretan Spirit. The bus starts in Heraklion and can pick you up also from other towns around Hersonissos like Malia and a few others (see the full list here). It’s a great tour because it will allow you to visit not only Spinalonga but also the beautiful town of Agios Nikolaos and the VIP village of Elounda.
Trip from Elounda: Elounda is only 5km to the Plaka pier where you get the small boat to Spinalonga Island. You can rent a bike and ride there or you can grab a taxi, very easy going.
Can you do the trip yourself: Yes, you would have however to rent a car. I usually hire my vehicles with the best prices on the website DiscoverCars.com. You can then drive to Plaka to get the small boat to Spinalonga. Take the opportunity also to stop by for lunch and a swim in Elounda Beach