Vai Beach, the tropical paradise in East Crete

Exploring the Charming Bay with an Ancient Palm Forest

 If you choose to spend your holiday in the eastern half of the island of Crete, it is worth visiting Vai Beach, to enjoy a day at the beach in a magnificent natural setting with a tropical ambiance. It is the place where, after you have convinced yourself that you have arrived in paradise, you feel like hanging your hammock between two palm trees, opening your favorite book, putting your cocktail at your fingertips, and abandoning yourself to nature, without worries and stress.

 Located 24 km east of Sitia, Paralia Vai / Vai Beach (Vai = palm) is one of the greatest attractions of East Crete and one of the most famous places in the whole Mediterranean. There is an east-facing superb bay with a little rock islet in the middle and an exotic beach formed near the shore, but particularly what makes this place unique is the 2.000 years old forest with approximately 5.000 specimens of endemic Cretan Date Palm (Phoenix Theophrastus). Covering an area of 250.000 sqm, this natural reserve is considered the largest of its kind in Europe.


The Place 

 The heavenly palm grove is formed in a wide fertile valley watered by a small river that flows into the sea, at the left end of the beach. Because it is atypical vegetation for the dry east extreme of Crete, the palm forest is a curiosity of nature. One of the hypotheses of its formation is that of 20 centuries ago, from the date kernels thrown by the Phoenician sailors who colonized this part of the island, the first palm trees appeared, which later spread naturally.  But scientists have proven that the Vai's palm trees are an endemic species and there have been palm trees in Crete since ancient times, as historical sources attest.


 The region is owned by the imposing 15th-century old Toplou Monastery, which is the largest landowner in eastern Crete. In the 1970s, Vai Beach with its magnificent palm trees was assaulted by hippie sympathizers, who turned this wild and unknown corner of the island into one of their favorite bohemian vacation destinations. As time went on, Vai was invaded by backpackers, becoming a kind of unattractive chaotic campsite. Therefore, the spectacular palm tree has been declared a conservation area, which you can currently see fenced off behind the beach. The beach is open to the public only during the day, absorbing thousands of visitors each year.

 Vai is a major tourist attraction of the island, thanks to the beautiful natural setting and the well-arranged beach, suitable for both couples and families with children. If you come by car, you have two options - one free parking, about 10 minutes walk, or one with payment (2.5 € / day), right by the beach but smaller. Here are showers, toilets, changing cabins, a small shop, some stalls with local goods for sale, and a kiosk with snacks and drinks.


The Beach

 As soon you arrive, the exotic vibe conquers you: the palm grove and the cliffs bordering the beach create a nice picturesque setting, the crystal clear sea invites you for a cooling dip, the wide strip of whitish sand and fine gravel is partially covered with sunbeds and straw umbrellas giving the ambiance of a tropical lounge. In the background, a few rows of palm trees are the perfect place to explore, enjoy a nap in peace or just do some nice photos. The beach is very clean and very well maintained, and if you don't find the price of 10 € for a sunbed convenient, you have the option to place your towel on the sand in the sun or among the shady palm trees.

 Vai Beach it's worth a day out, not just a brief stop. Despite the fact is a fairly secluded beach and a long way to go, it is crowded during the day, mainly in the peak season. The best time to arrive is in the morning. The bay has an eastern orientation which offers a magnificent view of the sunrise and you will enjoy the peace and charm of the place before the other tourists show up. And if you are getting hungry, at the right end of the beach there is a coffee-bar and restaurant about which tourists use to leave good reviews for the good quality of food and reasonable prices.


What to Do

 In Vai, you can enjoy the sun therapy and the refreshing baths until late afternoon, you can laze or read a book quietly, in the shade of palm trees, or you can practice your favorite water sport, in the calm and transparent waters of the bay. The water sports center offers plenty of options, from jet skiing and various towable inflatables that you can ride to parasailing and boat trips. The sea rocks and rocky sea bed attract snorkeling enthusiasts and amateur fishermen.

 Walking lovers and parents with kids can explore for hours the mysterious and tempting surroundings. If you happen to be in early summer or in September and decide to go for a walk in the palm forest, you might see a small lake formed by rainwater among the trees. To the left of the beach, overlooking the sea, there is a hill covered with vegetation, crossed by paths, which you can climb if you have the right shoes. On the opposite side, starting from the foot of the cliff wall where the restaurant terrace is, you can climb the wooden steps to a pavilion with benches, which is also an observation point, offering a beautiful panoramic view of the entire area.

 Exalted by the view, some brave tourists perch on the cliffs to take pictures in acrobatic positions (not recommended for those with balance problems or poor physical condition!). From the pavilion, continuing the route to the top of the promontory and passing a metal gate, you find a signpost indicating a steep path of 100 meters to the nudist beach, a private place in the beautiful view of a neighboring northern small cove.


How to Get Here

Located 24 km east of Sitia, at the eastern end of the island, a drive to Vai Beach means about 3 hours from Heraklion, 4 hours from Rethymnon, and 5 hours from Chania, by car. Coming from the north coast, the national road E90 will take you to Agios Nicolaos, after which you will enter the old local road to Sitia. The road is very good and offers spectacular sceneries on its serpentines. From Sitia, you will take the road to Toplou Monastery / Moni Toplou (don't miss a visiting break if you’re not in a hurry!) from which there are still 8 kilometers to drive, to the palm forest. 

 There are no hotels or apartments to rent in Vai and the drive to get here can be long and winding, and even tiring on the way back. But the views are wonderful and you will be able to see a really quiet part of Crete at the end of the trip. You can, however, stay in one of the hotels in Palaikastro, 10 km south of Vai, or in picturesque town Sitia, or you can even get hosted at the Toplou Monastery if you are lucky enough to find some guest rooms available on the spot.


 If you like to collect nice memories of your holiday in Crete, have Vai Beach on your mind! It is one of the top 10 beaches in Crete that surely deserve a visit!

 You can find more of our stories about beaches and enjoy the beautiful photos and videos here


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