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Ever since I read the bestseller, ‘The Island’ by Victoria Hislop (aka one of the best books set in Greece), I knew I wanted to visit Crete and Spinalonga island. Though the characters were fictional, the story of an isolated community living on an island that’s become a leper colony was very much real. After booking my 4-day trip to Crete, it took me about a minute to also book a Spinalonga tour from Heraklion. So what’s exactly all the fuss about this tiny island?
*This post includes my honest opinion of a tour I had personally taken and paid for.
WHY VISIT SPINALONGA ISLAND
Spinalonga has a rather interesting history, even before it served as a leper colony. Its strategic position protecting the Elounda harbor was the reason why the Venetians decided to fortify it in the 16th century.
Later on, Spinalonga was also a refuge for the Christians when the Ottomans took over Crete and for the Ottomans when the Cretans raised against them. It was only in the 20th century when the island was used as a leper colony. The last inhabitant left the island in 1962.
This island is such an intriguing piece of history, and you cannot miss out on the opportunity to see the Venetian fortifications and the remains of the abandoned colony.
THE ADVANTAGES OF A GUIDED SPINALONGA TOUR FROM HERAKLION
NO WASTING TIME AND ENERGY ON GETTING THERE BY PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
I’m all for taking day trips on my own, but if I need to switch buses and the timetables are tricky, I much prefer finding an alternative, and this tour operated by Cretan Spirit was it. You can totally get to from Heraklion to Spinalonga on your own, but you’ll need to:
Option 1: Take a bus from Heraklion to Agios Nikolaos and another bus to Plaka (the closest village to the island from which you can take a short boat ride). The problem is that the bus to Plaka departs from Agios Nikolaos only every two hours.
Option 2: Take the bus from Heraklion to Agios Nikolaos and another bus to Elounda, where you can also take a boat ride to the island.
Option 3: Take a bus from Heraklion to Agios Nikolaos and take a cruise from there to Spinalonga (which is a lot longer than the boat ride from Plaka).
So it’s not impossible to take this day trip independently, but I must say that the tour has made it so much simpler, and I loved not having to worry about missing my bus. I got picked up and dropped off on the main road only a minute away from my hotel, and the bus was air-conditioned and clean.
THERE ARE A FEW EXTRA STOPS ALONG THE WAY
On the specific tour that I had taken, we got some free time to explore Agios Nikolaos, Plaka, and Elounda, and not just Spinalonga island. I must say that it didn’t feel rushed, and I did manage to enjoy and get a taste of each place. Since Crete is a big island and you have to prioritize when planning your itinerary, it was nice to see a bit more of it.
THE TOUR IS GUIDED, BUT YOU DON’T FOLLOW YOUR GUIDE ALL THE TIME
It depends on the destination and the tour itself, but most of the time, being a part of a big group following a guide like a herd is not really my cup of tea. I love taking small-group unique walking tours when I’m visiting a city, but when it becomes a giant group of people, I just can’t enjoy myself.
On this specific tour, the guide has explained everything while we were on the bus. So on each stop (including Spinalonga itself), we had only free time, as opposed to other tours where you follow your guide around and then get like 5 minutes to yourself. I know some people love having the guide around, but for me, this freedom was an advantage.
THE DISADVANTAGES OF A GUIDED SPINALONGA DAY TOUR
A minor thing I would have changed – instead of the free time we had in the town of Elounda, I would have loved to have an extra half an hour on Spinalonga island.
Another little issue is that you’re dependent on other people’s ability to get back on the bus on time. It obviously has nothing to do with the company organizing the tour, but it is something to consider.
THE TOUR ITSELF
You can read all the details about Cretan Spirit’s full-day tour to Spinalonga here. Note that the price does not include the boat ride ticket (5 Euros) and the admission to Spinalonga (8 Euros).
Also, you should bring a swimsuit and towels as the water around the island is extremely dreamy and there are a few spots where you can go swimming.
Important to know: Since the specific tour I took is not available to book all year round (which means you won’t always see it on the website), you can compare other Spinalonga excursions here.
FIRST STOP: AGIOS NIKOLAOS
The morning drive from Heraklion to Agios Nikolaos was super chilled. On the way, we also picked up people staying in smaller towns like Hersonissos and Malia. It was a great chance to see these places that I probably wouldn’t have visited without the tour.
Getting to Agios Nikolaos, it’s easy to understand why many people choose it as their holiday destination. This laid-back town offers the views of the marina on one side, the Voulismeni Lake on the other, and little alleys packed with cute souvenir shops, cafes, and taverns. Strolling around and having a cup of coffee in front of the marina was the best start to our day.
SECOND STOP: SPINALONGA
Our next stop was the village of Plaka, the closest point from which you can take the boat to Spinalonga. Within a few minutes, we were already on the island.
Apart from the Venetian fortifications, which you can already see from Plaka, you’ll mostly find the ruins of the old leper colony, as well as a small museum. Walking along the wall, you can also feast on fantastic scenic views of Crete’s coastline.
If you have enough time, the crystal-clear waters around the island are waiting just for you. You’ll find several spots to go down to the waterfront, so get your swimsuit ready.
THIRD STOP: PLAKA
Getting back to Plaka, there’s enough time to have a delicious Greek lunch. Delphini was an excellent restaurant choice, thanks to the traditional food and the magnificent location overlooking the island.
LAST STOP BEFORE GOING BACK TO HERAKLION: ELOUNDA
Though I didn’t find this stop necessary, I could still admit that Elounda had charm (and I couldn’t refuse an afternoon cup of coffee in front of a colorful port). This coastal town used to be a quiet fishing village, but today, it is yet another popular holiday destination in this part of Crete.