The Cave of Zeus Crete (also known as Psychro Cave or Dikteon Cave) is the most visited on the island because of the myth that says it is the birthplace of Zeus. But it is not easiest cave to access. So below is guide to help you plan your visit to the cave: drive, hike difficulty, stairs, things to see and tips.
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Why visit the Zeus Cave Crete ?
The cave of Zeus is one of the best caves in Crete, and definitively the most famous. It is considered one of the top things to do on the island.
It was not my favorite, but it is very understandable why it attracts so many visitors:
- It is located above the Lassithi plateau and at the entrance level, you get fantastic views of this flat land surrounded my mountains (photos later in this article)
- It is a large chamber with a high density of stalagmites and stalactites
- It is a Minoan sacred site
- It is surrounded by the myth that this is the birthplace of Zeus
Here is a first photo to give you an idea:
Before you keep going let's talk about the name of the cave. It is referred to as:
- Cave of Zeus, because of the myth
- Psychro cave, because it is located above the modern village of Psychro
- Dikteon (or Dictean) cave, because the mountain range where the cave stands are known as Dite
- Is it also Ideon Andron cave? You will see some websites calling this cave the Ideon Andron cave. It is not. This other cave is located on Mount Ida in the plateau of Nida. But there is a dispute about which one of those 2 caves is the birthplace of Zeus...
Planning tips - Cave of Zeus Crete
How to get to the Cave of Zeus location
- Located on the Lassithi Plateau, East region of Crete, South of Malia
- It is up in the mountains, the drive has some sinuous turns where you can cross path with coaches
- Heraklion to Cave of Zeus (Psychro) = 1h30 drive
- Rethymno to Cave of Zeus (Psychro = 2h30 drive
- Agios Nikolaos to Cave of Zeus (Psychro)= 1h15 drive
- If you don't want to drive, a few day trips include the Lassithi plateau and the cave - Check out programs and book
- The last kilometer is a very sinuous narrow drive up to the carpark which is a bit of a mess. You will see carpark attendant to which you have to pay a small fee (around 2€50)
Psychro cave (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
Tips for visiting the Zeus Cave Crete
- Psychro cave price = 6 euros
- Psychro cave opening hours = Summer: 8am to 6pm / Winter: 8am to 3pm
- Around the carpark you can find many restaurants. Some of them have great views of the Lassithi plateau
- I will talk about the difficulty to access it in details in the next section, but know that you have to be relatively able and fit (steep slopes + 200 stairs)
- There is a little café at the top of the hike near the entrance
- The ticket counter is also at the top of the hike near the entrance
Where to stay near the Psychro cave?
There is limited accommodation on the plateau itself. You can mostly find simple rooms for rent. Lassithi is more of a day trip excursions.
- You can stay near the coast by the beaches of Malia (to combine with the Minoan ruins) - Check out the best rated accommodations in Malia
- Or to the East around Agios Nikolaos and Elounda (for a visit to Spinalonga island) - Check out the best rated accommodations in Elounda
How difficult is it to walk up to the Psychro cave - Hike
I have not seen many information that tells you that accessing this cave is not the easiest.
True it is not a crazy hike, but people should be warned that the walk up is very steep before heading in that direction.
So let me described the access path.
From the carpark, you have to walk up the mountain to the entrance of the cave.
Most of the path is paved so it is not technically difficult to climb.
However it is quite steep. And if you are not fit, you might have difficulty breathing.
The carpark is at an altitude of 872m / 2861 ft; the entrance is at 993m / 3258ft.
It is only 121m drop in elevation but it is in a short distance (250m long path).
(note: these are the elevations I have found using an online tool. However some websites indicate that the cave opens at 1025m...)
If you have children, they can enjoy the ride on the back of a donkey for a fee.
However the last 50 meters to the entrance booth are not paved.
Your calves are tired by the climb and this is not easy to walk. So be careful with your ankles.
I have seen people of a certain age having a very difficult time.
Once there, you are happy, you made it!!! You buy your ticket, approach the entrance and don't see the bottom of the staircase!!!!
Getting down inside the Zeus cave - staircase
You approach the entrance and this is what you see...
There is a staircase all the way to the bottom of the cave... you don't see the ending and keep thinking that you will have to get back up.
The bad news is that I counted around 200 steps.
The good news is that climbing up what not as difficult as I thought it would be. I did not feel them at all. They are very regular and easy to climb.
However if you have knee problems, this might not be a good idea.
The top portion of the staircase is common for people going up and down. But about one third down, it separates.
You go downs towards the left, and you will walk back up on the other side. This is very practical considering the high number of tourists.
Formations in the Zeus cave's chamber - Geology
Because of its geological composition and the centuries of seismic activity, the island of Crete is estimated to have around 3,500 caves.
The Diktaeon Andron cave is cut into limestone formations.
The entrance is 18m wide and 14m high.
You can only visit the main chamber which is covered with stalactites and stalagmites. They are of Jurassic until Eocene age.
The Chamber height ranges from 4 to 6.5m where you walk.
The floor is covered with a clay layer.
Below are a few pictures to give you an idea. But because of the low lighting, it was not easy to get good pictures without a tripod):
History & Myth of the Cretan Cave of Zeus - Archeology
Mythology surrounding the Cave of Zeus Crete
The Dictaean cave is associated with the famous in Greek myth of the birth of Zeus.
It goes as follows:
Rhea fled the god Kronos (who used to devour his offsprings) to give birth to Zeus.
It is said that Amalthea (who was either a goat or a nymph), nurtured the infant Zeus with her goat's milk.
Secret had to be kept around the raising of Zeus. And it is said that the Kouretes made noise with weapons and dancing to cover the cries of the infant.
Archeology of the Dikteon Cave Crete
The cave was first excavated in 1886 by Joseph Hatzidakis.
10 years later, Sir Arthur Evans (who discovered the palace of Knossos) investigated the site and later, the British School of Athens kept digging.
Lots of pieces have been found attesting that the cave had been a location of cult for thousands of years. Findings include potteries, double-axe knife, needles, Bronze objects, ceramic cups... But they also found human figurines -which is quite rare in sacred caves.
You can find some of those artefacts in the Heraklion archaeological museum.
Views of the Lassithi Plateau
Another advantage of climbing to the cave of Zeus, is that you get a better view of the Lassithi plateau.
I did not have a perfect visibility, but you can still see on the picture below, the very large piece of flat land surrounded by mountains.
The plateau lays at an average altitude of 840M (2760ft). It is 11km long (6.8mi) and 6m wide (3.7mi).
It has been made famous for the 1000 small windmills used to irrigate the land (but most of them have been abandoned).
The whole area is used for agriculture, taking advantage of the fertile soil as the water table is close to the surface and it receive waters from the melting snow.
Things to do near the Dikteon cave
Near the Dikteon cave, you can drive all around the Lassithi plateau, searching for the small traditional windmills.
Around you will find churches and small monasteries you can visit. The monks are often good craftsmen and you may see workshops.
At the North entrance of the monastery, don't forget to stop to learn more about the large fixed windmills preserved here.
You can find historical and technical explanations.
Along the road to access the plateau, you can stop at the small monastery of Panayia Kera. The church is really charming.
And even further down the mountains as you get close to the sea, you can find the ruins of the Minoan palace of Malia, with the orange ground and huge ceramics. See the guide
Alternative to Psychro Cave (a.k.a. Dikteon) - Melidoni cave
As I said at the beginning of the article, the Zeus cave was not my favorite.
It is too full of tourists for my taste.
Whereas when I visited the Melidoni cave, we were alone inside!
The formations are not as numerous but they are more delicate and the size of the chamber is quite impressive.
Learn more on my Melidoni cave article.
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