The Mediterranean island of Crete is a water lover’s paradise, and along with pristine beaches and coves, it proves to be the ideal family vacation destination, perfect for water sports like kayaking, fishing, wind surfing, sailing and snorkeling.  

Mediterranean Europe is dotted with coastal villages of sparse and arid charm, and the island of Crete is no exception. A paradise for vacationers, sunny days and gentle sea breezes bath the island all year long.  And over 600 miles of Cretan coastline provide many opportunities for the whole family to share that common source of fun: the water.  The EU Commission on water quality has listed the island as a premier destination for water activities. From wind surfing to sea kayaking, from fishing to paddle boarding, from sailing to the simple joy of swimming in the sea, Crete seems to be created by the gods as a water baby paradise.

 

The beaches

While children invariably get excited around the sea, amenities can often be important for families: extras like safe swimming areas, light currents, nearby eating facilities and showers. Even gradual slopes into the sea can provide essential peace of mind for parents as their children explore the beach, build sand castles, jump in the waves and make friends with other children beachgoers.  With at least 86 phenomenal beaches on Crete, the family options are abundant.

A short walk from Crete’s bygone capital, Chania, lies Golden Beach, which is actually a group of inviting, sandy beaches. Some areas are shallow and free of currents, perfect for the little ones, and there is even a play area meant for children amongst the lifeguards, neatly organized sun umbrellas and beach chairs. For a slightly more tranquil environment, take a stroll over the hill to Aptera Beach, which usually holds fewer beach claimers.

Nearby Kalyves Beach, skirted by Souda Bay, also boasts a gradual sea floor and shallow areas that are great for children and families that like to swim together. The village of Kalyves is filled with mosaics and walls packed with stones in the shapes of fish and snakes.  After a stroll though the town, take the family on a scavenger hunt and try to find Kyani Akti, a beach hidden behind the bamboo trees.

Stretching over 20 kilometers, Rethymno Town Beach has it all.  The popular beach is well provided with amenities like sun umbrellas, beach chairs, and a kilometers-long promenade features some of the best hotels in Crete, with opportunities for eating and drinking.  The beach provides weather flags that respond to the current weather, ensuring the safety of all the swimmers.  Look for a close-by beach known for its clean, clear waters, called Episkopi Beach. In the old Venetian town of Rethymno, pop into a Souvlaki bar and eat like a Greek. After a hard day’s swimming, the kids will love devouring a scoop of vanilla ice cream with crispy loukomades, lathered in chocolate sauce.

On Agia Galini Beach, on the south side of the island, the family has a wide range of choices. Proud of their laid-back vacation attitude, the friendly locals in the village welcome visitors of all kinds to their beaches and waterfronts.  Apart from impeccable beaches, some families head out on a rustic boat excursion to explore nearby Paximadia Island.

Looking for a bit of the exotic? Let the children build their sand castles on Elafonisi Beach, where the sand is not only soft and a perfect seafloor of kid-friendly shallows, it’s pink!  Here, children are often busy playing volleyball or racquets where the mackerel sand meets the turquoise water.

Fishing

Staying in Agia Galini, perhaps the family would enjoy the excitement of a fishing expedition. Leaving for day trips from the harbor, one excursion wraps up with a barbeque on the Prasonisi Beach using the fresh catch of the day’s fishing. Of course, we are always talking about traditional sustainable fisning methods which respect the ecosystems.

In Mirabello Bay, fishing charters leave daily for jigging, trolling and for exciting angling that lights up the eyes of every kid.  Heraklion and Rethymno are also great areas to scout for fishing charters, and they are popular ports of call for fishing charters. Prefer the stability of the land? Fishing from shore is popular with children around the beaches and breakwaters of Rethymno.

 

Snorkeling

In the waters of Crete, the constant marine temperatures and lack of currents make for the ideal conditions for snorkeling in the shallows. In general, look for beaches with a few rocks or an uneven seabed; these are the habitats most preferred by sea life. Snorkeling tours of Crete with a private guide, which are available in the northern or southern coasts, provide great wildlife viewing, including several species of fish and crustaceans, as well as turtles and urchins. In Elounda, near the village of Olous, the ruins of an ancient city lie just under the water’s surface.  On a calm day the old streets and alleys can be seen, even from shore, but the best idea is to take to the crystal-clear water on a family snorkeling exploration dive and see the ruins first-hand. 

Some like to combine the sport of snorkeling with the adventure of a boat trip.  From the port of Lerapetra, boats depart daily to the island of Chrissi, where a free diver’s paradise awaits. Snorkeling tours also depart from Heraklion to the island of Dia, another famous spot to don your mask.

A local’s tips: snorkel early in the day or in the evening with the water is calmest and animals come out to play. And wrap up the day of snorkeling exploration with a family dinner in a local tavern.