Vai Beach: The Tropical Paradise in East Crete

Exploring the Charming Bay With an Ancient Palm Forest

 If you're planning a holiday in the eastern half of the island of Crete, put Vai Beach on your list. It's a wonderful place to spend a day at the beach, with a magnificent natural setting and tropical ambiance. When you arrive, you'll feel like you've landed in paradise. You'll want to hang your hammock between two palm trees, open your favorite book, put your cocktail at your fingertips, and abandon yourself to nature without any worries or stress.

Paralia Vai, also known as Vai Beach (meaning "palm"), is situated 24 km east of Sitia and is among the top attractions in East Crete. This beach is considered one of the most famous places in the entire Mediterranean region, and it boasts a stunning east-facing bay with a small rock islet in the middle. However, what makes this place truly unique is the 2,000-year-old forest that covers an area of 250,000 sqm. The forest is home to approximately 5,000 specimens of endemic Cretan Date Palm (Phoenix Theophrastus), making it Europe's largest natural reserve of its kind.

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, 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. Vai was progressively 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 10-minute 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

 Upon your arrival, you will be immediately swept away by the exotic atmosphere of Vai Beach. The palm grove and cliffs bordering the beach create a picturesque and serene setting, while the crystal-clear sea invites you for a refreshing swim. The wide strip of whitish sand and fine gravel is partially covered with sunbeds and straw umbrellas, creating an ambiance reminiscent of a tropical lounge. In the background, a few rows of palm trees offer the perfect place to explore, take a peaceful nap, or snap some beautiful photos. The beach is immaculately clean and well-maintained. If the price of 10 € for a sunbed is not convenient, you can place your towel on the sand in the sun or among the shady palm trees.

 Vai Beach is a perfect destination for a day trip, rather than a brief stop. Despite it being a fairly secluded beach and a long way to go, it is crowded during peak season. The best time to arrive is in the morning when the bay has an eastern orientation, offering a magnificent view of the sunrise. You can enjoy the peace and charm of the place before other tourists show up. If you get hungry, there is a coffee bar and restaurant at the right end of the beach that tourists frequently leave positive reviews for, thanks to its good quality food at reasonable prices.

What to Do

 In Vai, you can enjoy sun therapy and refreshing baths until late afternoon. You can also relax or read a book in the shade of palm trees. Alternatively, you can indulge in your favorite water sport in the calm and transparent waters of the bay. The water sports center offers a variety of options, from jet skiing and towable inflatables to parasailing and boat trips. Snorkeling enthusiasts and amateur fishermen will enjoy the sea rocks and rocky sea bed.

 For those who love walking, Vai has plenty to offer. Parents with kids can explore the mysterious and tempting surroundings for hours. In early summer or in September, a small lake formed by rainwater can be found among the trees in the palm forest. To the left of the beach, overlooking the sea, there is a hill covered with vegetation, crossed by paths that you can climb if you have the right shoes. On the opposite side, 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.

 Some adventurous tourists perch on the cliffs to take pictures in acrobatic positions (not recommended for those who are not physically fit). From the pavilion, continuing the route to the top of the promontory and passing a metal gate, you will find a signpost indicating a steep path of 200 meters leading to the neighboring bay, Psili Ammos (literally meaning "fine sand"). This beach with blue-turquoise waters is less known to tourists who visit Vai, making it a paradise refuge for nudists.

How to Get to Vai Beach

Vai Beach is situated 24 km east of Sitia, at the eastern end of the island. If you're driving, it will take you about 3 hours from Heraklion, 4 hours from Rethymnon, and 5 hours from Chania to get here. When coming from the north coast, you can take the national road E90 to Agios Nikolaos and then take the old local road to Sitia. The road is in good condition and offers stunning scenery on its winding path. Once you reach Sitia, take the road to Toplou Monastery/Moni Toplou (make sure to take a break and visit this monastery if you have the time!) and from there, it's only 8 kilometers more to reach the palm forest.

There are no hotels or apartments for rent in Vai, and the drive to get here can be long and winding, which can be tiring on the way back. However, the views are breathtaking, and you'll be able to see a quiet and peaceful part of Crete when you reach your destination. You can stay in one of the hotels in Palaikastro, which is 10 km south of Vai, or in the picturesque town of Sitia. If you're lucky enough to find guest rooms available, you can even stay at the Toplou Monastery.

 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 deserves a visit!

 Find more of our stories and enjoy the beautiful photos and videos with beaches here

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