Matala beach Crete has been one of the most famous destinations on the island for a long time. The unusual beach has been attracting visitors to explore its caves and admire its sunsets, on a hippie background. Below is my guide to help you plan your visit to Matala.
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Why visit Matala beach in Crete?
Why is Matala Crete one of the most famous beaches in Crete?
Well not because if offers fine sand and palm trees. We are far from the paradise-looking beach.
No it attracts because it is different for 2 main reasons et and a nearby attraction:
- it was a "hippie capital" in the 70s and it has retained some of that vibe
- the cliffs surrounding the beach have caves cut into the soft limestone (I will tell you more, further down)
- It is close to the Minoan palace of Phaistos
The mythology says that Zeus, taking the form or a white bull, seduced Europe and brought here to the beach of Matala.
Many more pictures after the practical tips.
Planning Tips - Matala Beach Crete
How to get to Matala beach - Location
- Located on the South Coast of Crete
- Heraklion to Matala = 1h15 drive
- Rethymno to Matala = 1h30
- a short easy drive from the main south Coast road - Renting a car? Check out the local company Rental Center Crete - great reviews and a zero-excess insurance policy (so you don't have to worry) - Get a quote
- If you don't want to drive, there are tour organized from the main North Coast town including Matala. Check out the options
- Matala (with its GPS coordinates) is included in my eBook:
- 5 easy-to-plan Maps
- 60+ Scenic locations for your itinerary
- 16+ extra photo stops and places to see
- Planning info to make the most of your time
- GPS coordinates for peace of mind
- 150+ original photos to help you select where to go
- Matala carpark: if you want to stay close to the beach there are 2 large carparks for a fee. The one by the beach is cheaper (2 to 3 euros), the other one more expensive (4 euros) because it has roof cover to protect the cars from the sun
- Matala is a town with all you need: supermarket, restaurants, accommodations
- Facilities near the beach
- There are sunbeds for rental on the beach
- The beach is fine gravel and facing West, so with big waves sometimes
- You can enjoy boat excursions from Matala or hire Kayaks to see more caves
- It is especially crowded in une during the Matala Festival
Where to stay in Matala Crete
There is a very large choice of accommodations in Matala, either in the town or in the valley behind if looking for cheaper options.
I will not be recommending where we stayed. It was the one I was the most excited about and it looked beautiful but it was not practical at all.
There are a few apartments with very good rating, but in general I have not found any hotels on Booking with an excellent rating (above 9) given by people staying there.
I think one of the apartments with the best vies would be Matala cave on the South side of the Bay. Check out pictures and availability
Otherwise, check out the best rated accommodations in Matala
The beach of Matala
Before I share about the caves and the hippie vibe, let's have a look at the beach itself.
The beach is located in a natural harbor of the Messara Bay.
It is 250m long and 45m wide so it can accommodate the Summer crowds.
The blue flag beach is organized with:
- lots of sunbeds for hire,
- toilets and showers
- Kayak for hire
It is surrounded by restaurants and bars.
And if you need shade, part of the beach in the back is covered with tamarisk trees.
The ground is made of fine gravel which is not bad under the feet.
The water is perfectly transparent.
However note that the beach is facing West, so there regularly are big waves.
When I visited, it was very quiet in the morning but not in the evening.
The Caves of Matala Beach
What are the caves of Matala?
One of the most famous features of Matala Beach are the caves carved in the north wall of the bay.
It is not known who started carving out caves (or when) but it is believed that they were later Romans or early Christians tombs.
The limestone of the cliff is tender and quite easy to carve. You can see many of them all the way to the top. Some are more recent than other.
Apparently there are more underwater but I have not checked.
Some of them have rooms and staircases, so it is also believe that they may have been used as houses at some point in history, maybe even in the neolithic.
Can you climb in the caves of Matala?
Yes you can climb inside the caves of Matala. The lower caves can be accessed.
The paths are not easy, with loose gravel but without handrail. So be really careful.
The archaeological site of the caves is open to visitors.
However note that it is forbidden to stay there overnight.
2 euros to access and visit all over the cliff.
The Hippie village of Matala Crete
In the 60s and 70s, the place was a quiet fishing village.
When the hippies discovered the caves, they made Matala a creative gathering place.
It attracted celebrities such as Joni Mitchel (and her song for Matala "Carey"), Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin.
However they were brutally pushed out by the church and the military.
In recent years, the region has developed rapidly for tourism playing on the hippie history.
You can see frescoes, sellers and art reminiscent of the hippies (such as the carved tree below), but it is not the freedom creative place it used to be.
Every year in June, the Matala festival attracts for 3 days those missing that period.
It is a very popular tourist spots, and in Summer all the bars and restaurants are full.
Sunset at Matala Beach
Since Matala beach Crete is facing West, it is perfect to appreciate the sunset, especially if you are there when it is setting exactly between the 2 walls of the bay.
Be sure to come early to see the color of the cliffs changing as the sun lowers.
This makes the caves even more fascinating.
Other things to do around Matala Beach
If staying on the beach is not your thing, note that there are quite a lot of things to do in the region.
First, you can enjoy some water excursions to see more of the cliffs and caves around the bay.
You can either rent a kayak or book a boat excursion.
If you want to have a better view of the beach, you can hike up the South cliff of the beach above the restaurants and admire the view.
The view s at the beginning of the "Red Beach" trail that starts at the South end of the beach.
Keep going to Matala Red Beach
If you keep hiking on the same trail you can reach the red beach.
Just don't be disappointed; This is a nice beach with darker sand but it is not red.
Some photos circulate on the Internet where it looks very red. But it is the red beach of Santorini (in a volcanic feature) not this one.
But it is still a very enjoyable walk - it takes 30min from the center of Matala.
Note that because of the isolation, you will find naturists.
Phaistos Palace Ruins
Just 10min away are the ruins of the Minoan Palace of Phaistos.
It is the largest one of the South Coast, and one of the most significant archaeological sites in Crete
This is where the the enigmatic Phaistos Disc was found.
Plan 1h30 to explore the ruins.
See more photos here
Gortynas Roman Ruins
Just a little bit further East, you can find the Roman Ruins of Gortynas.
It has been a city for a very long time but peaked with the Romans.
The main interest are the ruins of the Saint Titus Church, the theater, and mostly the code of law engraved in rocks. quite a fascinating discovery!
Sadly, there are not much explanations on the site.
Agiofaraggo Gorge (Agios Farango)
The wild gorge of Agiofaraggo is often a favorite for people staying in Matala.
It requires 20min of driving on a gravel roads that gets worse and worse and then a short hike in the gorge to reach a beautiful isolated beach with steep cliffs on each side.
Want to see more of CRETE?
Fascinating caves, aren't they?
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