The Bay of Balos and its lagoon at the northern tip of the peninsula of Gramvousa are quickly following in the footsteps of Elafonisi and Falasarna as places that you must visit when in Crete. No surprise when you see the idyllic photos of the turquoise sea fringed by white sand.
As in Elafonisi, its popularity is also bringing in its own problems: too many visitors spoil the place. If you mind, there are ways to avoid the crowds (see 'Best times to visit' below) and if you don't mind, then by all means, go and visit Balos, it's well worth it.
There are two ways to get to Balos: by road and by sea (unless you have your own boat it will have to be on a boat excursion from the town of Kissamos). Both are described separately below.
The Bay of Balos is simply stunning and is one of the iconic pictures of western Crete. If you get there by car you will have to walk about 10 minutes before getting your first glimpse of the bay and the peninsula of Tigani. Most people's first reaction is WOW!
Getting down to the beach takes about 20 to 30 minutes on an easy path from the car park.
The main attraction of Balos is the beautiful sandy beach, the clear turquoise water of the sea and the stunning natural surroundings. But the atmosphere will also be very depedent on how many other people had the same idea as you today. The beach is not huge and when the boats disgorge their passengers it gets very busy.
Walk to the peninsula of Tigani - You can either wade through a little bit of water (sometimes there is no need to cross water, this changes from season to season and from year to year) or follow a line of rocks on the south-western side of the lagoon to reach the peninsula of Tigani. Apart from a small chapel there is not much on it but you can walk to the flat top (head for the chapel and carry on upwards along the north-eastern slope) where you will get excellent views of the area. You will also escapes the crowds (if there are any).
The lagoon - Beautiful water and generally very warm (even early in the year) because it is very shallow. Unfortunately it can be smelly as organic material stays in the lagoon. It's all natural but not always very pleasant.
Amenities for visitors - During the tourist season (from April until the end of October) you will find a beach café, a few toilets as well as umbrellas and sunbeds. The rubbish also gets collected and the beach is generally kept reasonably clean.
To get to Balos you need to drive along the northern coastal road past the town of Kissamos, then past the port of Kissamos (located 2.5km to the West of the town). About 1.5km after you pass the port take a right turn on a small road with a sign to Kaliviani. Pass through the village then keep following the road heading towards the North. The road will soon turn into a dirt road but contrary to what many say it is perfectly drivable for normal cars if you go slowly and pay attention to stones and pot holes. But bear in mind that if you damage your tyres or the underside of the car this will probably not be covered by your car rental insurance.
Keep going on this very scenic dirt road for just under 8 km and you'll get to the end where you can park your car. This "car park" could be very full in summer and you might have to park some way away. From there follow the path to Balos, about 20 to 30 minutes easy walking down (it's less easy and much hotter coming back up).
Since 2013 (during the tourist season from April to October) there is a charge of 1 Euro per person levied by the municipality of Kissamos for the use of that road. This goes towards the maintenance and protection of the area.
This road can be busy because at times hundreds of vehicles might be going to Balos. So go slow and close your windows to avoid the dust.
There is currently (summer 2016) talk of banning cars and introducing a bus service between Kaliviani and Balos.
There is also a new (summer 2015) public bus service operating several times a day during the tourist season between Chania / Kissamos and Balos. Check the KTEL web site (or phone them) for details.
The main advantage of going by car is that you are independent of time-tables and that you could also go early in the morning to avoid the crowds (the main crowds will come via the boat excursions). Balos is far more pleasant when it is not crowded and even better in winter where it is totally empty of people. But of course you will not be able to visit the island of Imeri Gramvousa and its Venetian fortress unless you take a boat excursion.
The bulk of the visitors to Gramvousa and Balos will come by boat on a daily cruise trip. You can either drive to the port of Kissamos and take the boat there or book a tour from many locations in Crete. A bus will pick you up from your hotel, take you to the port and bring you back in the evening.
A visit by boat is very convenient and of course perfect if you like boat trips but bear in mind that you will generally be part of a big crowd (the largest boat can take up to 1200 passengers!) so you will not experience Balos at its best. But it's all a matter of taste and if mass tourism doesn't bother you it's a very good option.
Whilst it is possible to walk to Balos all the way from Kaliviani you will be walking over 8 km on a dirt road and unless you go in the winter months many cars will be passing you in a cloud of dust. Not a very nice experience.
An alternative could we to walk on a trail from Falasarna to Balos along the western side if the Gramvousa peninsula. This is a long (6-7 hours) and difficult walk.
You can also do a pleasant walk from the car park of Balos towards the northern tip of the peninsula, all the way to Cape Vouxa and the short channel of water that separates it from the island of Agria Gramvousa. The waymarked walk offers great views of Balos and the islands of Gramvousa and you will definitely escape the crowds.
If you are down by the beac h of Balos consider walking up to the flat top of the Tigani peninsula where you will get great views of the area.
The cruises only operate during the tourist season from April to October. Avoid stormy days where the boat journey could be pretty rough or also possibly cancelled.
The area is far more beautiful and atmospheric in the winter months where you could be the only person in the area. Failing this, if you want to enjoy some peace and quiet try to drive to Balos early in the morning. Once the boats arrive and disgorge many hundreds of day trippers on the beach you'll be fighting for space.
Bear in mind that the ascent back to the car park has no shade at all and can be extremely hot in the summer. It might be an option to wait until late afternoon to walk back up.
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