Located on the East coast of the island, Zakros Crete is a unique place combining a beach, a gorge and a Minoan site. An all in 3 offer. LOL. Unspoilt by mass tourism, the area with orange mountains dropping into the sea is worth the detour. Below is my guide to help you plan your visit.
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Why visit Zakros in Crete?
Zakros has a unique situation in Crete. It is the ultimate combination:
- A beach with turquoise water
- Beautiful bare mountains dropping into the sea
- A deep gorge with towering cliffs where you can hike
- The ruins of a Minoan town
- A scenic drive to get there
- It is off the beaten path and not taken over by mass tourism
What more would you want?
Planning Tips - Kato Zakros Crete
Kato Zakros location
- Kato Zakros is the lower village of the Zakros area, by the beach
- Located on the Middle of the East coast
- 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
- Sitia to Zakros = 1h
- Agios Nikolaos to Zakros = 2h15
- Ierapetra to Zakros = 1h45
- Heraklion to Zakros = 3h
- Zakros, with its GPS coordinates (of beach and gorge walk start) 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
Visiting Kato Zakros
- The drive down to the village is sinuous but the road is in good condition
- The departure of the walk through the gorge is a short detour from the upper village (Ano Zakros) and the arrival is at the lower village (Kato Zakros)
- There are accommodations in Kato Zakros, mostly small rentals. No big resort - Check out accommodation options
- You have several taverns along the beach - many of them have good reviews. We tested Amnesia and the tapas were delicious
- The ruins are just a few hundred meters from the beach
- Zakros entry price = 6 euros
- Zakros opening hours = 8am to 8pm (Summer) - 8am to 3pm (Winter)
Drive down to Kato Zakros Village
As you approach the village, the drive is very scenic with bare landscapes and the Libyan sea in the background.
At one point, you even have the impression that the road is leading you into the water 🙂
The village of Zakros is located in a bay protected by mountains on both sides. I love it when it drops directly into the water.
As you can see in the picture below, the landscape is really bare with only low type of vegetation.
The mountains are a variation of orange and brown, contrasting with the deep blue of the sea.
Stop by the side of the road to see the rock formations by the sea and the different colors.
The Village of Kato Zakros
By the beach, you can find the small village of Kato Zakros. There is really not much but you have the basic amenities.
Building is limited.
You can find some taverns, a minimarket, houses for archaeologists as well as locals producing olive oil or fishing. Plus a few rental properties.
The reason for the high number of taverns is that people start the hike down the gorge in the morning and arrive to rest at Zakros beach for lunch 🙂
As I wrote earlier, I had lunch at Amnesia and the tapas were really tasty.
Most of the locals are not by the sea but further inland, closer to the bottom of the gorge where they have land for the olive trees.
A dirt road leads you there under the towering cliffs.
The Beach of Zakros
In terms of sand, Zakros is not one the most beautiful beaches in Crete (see my list).
But there is no mass tourism, so you can enjoy a quiet peaceful place with beautiful views of the mountains.
It is within a large semi-protected bay with a mix of sand and small rocks.
You can find sunbeds for hire.
There are 2 smaller beaches to the North of the long one. They don't have any sand though.
The Minoan Palace of Zakros - Ruins
After the beach, the second main attraction of Zakros are the ruins of the Minoan palace. One of the best archaeological sites in Crete (see my list).
It was the fourth largest palace after Knossos, Phaistos and Malia.
However compared to the other sites, you might be almost alone visiting the ruins as it is off the main touristic path.
What I love the most about it, is its location against the cliffs.
The combination of antique ruins with bare rock formations is exactly what I love 🙂 How about you?
At the entrance you can pay for your ticket and use the toilets.
Below is the map of the site. You can find it with many other well-done information boards throughout the ruins.
This was the last palace to be discovered.
The first excavation by the British School of archeology unearthed houses in the town around the palace. However the palace was unearthed only when the excavation resumed in 1961.
Like the other palaces, there had been a first one built around 1900BC. It was destroyed and rebuilt around 1600 BC and destroyed permanently in 1450BC.
As you can partially see in the picture below, the settlement developed on the two hills around the palace. After the destruction of the palace, the South west hill was reoccupied for a short period.
According to the information displays: the remains of the Zakros palace which are visible today were constructed during the the Neopalatial period. The structure was laid out in four wings around a rectangular central court like the other palaces. The functions of the various wings follow the arrangement of the Knossos palace.
Most of the great objects found on this site (well preserved thanks to modern excavation tools) are in the Heraklion museum of Archeology. However you can still see one of the most interesting features of the ruins: the lustral basin area in the east wing where you can see traces of the frescoes.
Don't miss the turtles. According the the online reviews of the site, many people think it was the highlight of their visit...
The Gorge of Zakros - Valley of the Dead Crete
The 3rd point of interest of Zakros is the famous Gorge of Zakros also called Valley of the Dead.
The reason for its name is the presence of many Minoan graves in the caverns on both sides of the gorge.
In the picture below you can see the bottom of the gorge arriving at the village of Zakros.
At the top of the gorge there is a carpark. You can hike down in the morning, enjoy lunch and rest at the beach before walking back up in the afternoon.
It is part of the E4 trail.
It takes around 2h to walk down with just a few boulders to climb around. But no shade!!!!
Apparently there is a bus that can take you back to Ano Zakros if you don't want to walk back up but I don't more information and it might not be everyday.
If you don't want to walk down the gorge, you can also stop at the carpark and walk along the old road for views of the gorge from above (1.6km to a viewpoint).
Things to do in and around Zakros
What else could you do around Zakros?
Well, at Zakros itself you can do another walk: to the Cave of Peletika. The entrance is 5km North of Kato Zakros, you will find a sign in the village. It takes 1h and goes uphill. Bring a flashlight.
The cave is one of the largest in Crete with a length over 300m.
You can drive 20min South to reach the wonderful sandy beaches of Xerokampos. Even more off the beaten path, the location is as peaceful. And it also has 2 gorges if you want more hiking opportunities. Check out my article.
Or you can drive 50min North and reach Vai beach for something completely different. Here, the bare landscapes disappear with hundreds of Palm trees. The paradise looking beach attracts a lot of tourism and you can say goodbye to the peaceful environment of Zakros.
Want to see more of CRETE?
Stunning area, isn't it?
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