Balos is a bay with a lagoon located on the West coast of Crete. Along with Elafonissi and Samaria George, these three places have been naturally created this way.
Balos is one of the most visited beaches of the island, and it can get really crowded at times and especially during the weekends. There are a few reviewers who argue that visiting Balos is not worth it. I am going to give you all the facts and you can decide for yourselves.
Access by Excursion Boats
You can access Balos in two ways, by boat and car. You can take the excursion boats from Kissamos that leave usually around 11.00 in the summer and cost approximately 27 euros per person and go on a small cruise. The cruise will first take you to see the bay of Kissamos and then stop at Gramvousa for 2 hours. The abandoned shipwreck is a very interesting sight and you can even hike 20 minutes up to the castle of Gramvousa for some amazing views. If you plan on hiking, wear sneakers.
20 minutes away you will reach Balos. Depending on which cruise you book, the time you will have to spend in Balos varies. They usually allow you to stay for 1,5 hours or up to 3. You have to be back to the boats at least 10 minutes before departure. You will be back to Kissamos by 18.00, which means the main disadvantage of going by boat is that you need a whole day for visiting Balos.
Access by Car
Your other option is to go by car. We were informed that the road was bad and access not so easy, but we had no idea what we would face. After Kaliviani village, you enter a dirt road for about 30 minutes until you reach Balos´ parking lot. Imagine having a rough road with big stones, many cars in front of and behind you, in a narrow street with a 200-meter cliff with no barriers on your side. Pretty scary? Oh yes!! At some point, you will be stopped and asked to pay 1 Euro per person for the maintenance and protection of the area.
Of course, many people visit Balos and with the rough route, it may take more than 30 minutes to arrive. Unless you arrive by 08.00 or 09.00, then the parking will be full, which means you have to park alongside the mountain, one car behind the other. You arrive, you park and then the hiking begins. It takes about 10 minutes to go through the mountain (straight road, very easy to cross). After the mountain, you know you have 20 more minutes of hike. But then you get to a high point and you see Balos.
The way down is not very easy, but in all honesty, it could be worse. Thankfully, there are some stone stairs that make it more manageable. But once you arrive all you think about is the way up. We stayed for about 1 hour since we knew we had to go back before we became tired and hotter. The way up is not pleasant at all. People are coming down all the time, so you have to step aside and wait. The uphill is rougher and requires good sneakers, a lot of water, a hat (100%) and a lot of energy. The only thing that made it possible for me to go up was the perfect wind that was much needed.
When you arrive at the parking, it is impossible to do a U-turn on the spot, since it is way too narrow. So you pray no car is coming from the parking lot (because it is insanely difficult to go back when you are literally next to the cliff), and you go there so you can turn easily. I have to warn you that the way back with the car is as difficult as the way up to the mountain. The cars move like crazy and you can get super freaked out, as on the return you will be from the side of the cliff. But the advantages of going by car are the exquisite view and the fact that you will not spend your whole day there.
While hiking to arrive at Balos, you reach a high point. Your mouth will drop and the view will take your breath away. I have to admit that no picture will ever manage to capture this beauty. No wonder it is listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Everyone stops at that point and just look at the view. Once they stop being wowed, the photoshoots begin. Once you arrive at the bottom, you are hit with a strong breeze and with sand and small stones hitting you badly in all of your body.
A few years back, Balos did not have any umbrellas or recliners and no food cantine. Now, there are about 100 umbrellas with recliners that you, of course, have to pay, but they are not enough. About 1/4 of the Lagoon´s visitors will get lucky to get an umbrella (you can buy one from Jumbo for 5 euros and take it everywhere with you). The food cantine was like heaven-sent at reasonable prices, as you will need a lot of water for your hiking and your stay there.
Balos is divided into two parts. The lagoon, (the water looks like a blue pastel color from above) you can walk as long as you want and the water will never go above your ankle, so you might feel like you are actually walking on water. From the other side, the sea has 3 different shades of blue, with turquoise being more dominant. The water is not cold, and in normal depth, like any other sea.
The preservation of Balos´ natural beauty and unique ecosystem, is imposed through a strict national and European institutional protection system. Free camping, any kind of pollution, animal hunting, collection of fossils, stones and shells are strictly prohibited.
Is It Worth It?
Visiting Balos at least once in your lifetime is 100% worth it. It is a unique experience with a very special environment. However, I would not recommend visiting by car. Unless you are somewhat sporty and can handle the hiking and heat. If not, it is not worth the stress, but then again you will never see the breathtaking view from above. That´s what Balos is all about. So, I leave it up to you.