A Nature Lover’s Dream: Exploring the Blue & the Green in Crete

Whether your visit to Crete is for relaxation, education or exploration, the island is full of hidden treasures. Tourists will not be disappointed by the diversity of the landscape and its accompanying nature and wildlife. From the rugged mountains to the breathtaking canyons, Crete offers much to be discovered. Below are just a few of the options that the “Cradle of European Civilization” has to give.

The Blue


On the Rugged Terrain of Crete, Rivers Meet Large Faults and Steep Descents during their Course through the Canyons, Forming Hundreds of Waterfalls

Even locals are unaware of the existence of several waterfalls, as most of them are invisible and hidden throughout the impassable gorges on the island. The vast majority have water flowing from them from the first months of the year until the end of spring.

The most famous waterfalls with water flowing all year round are the falls of Kourtaliotis by Plakias, Richtis near Sitia and Mylonas near Ierapetra. Impressive waterfalls are formed during the winter along the large fault of the Asterousia Range, with the most famous ones being the fall of Lichnistis at Maridaki and the impressive waterfall of Ambas by Paranymfi. A large number of winter waterfalls can also be found at Mount Kedros, with the most famous ones being Selinara, Gre Dafni and Rechtara.

Crossing the gorges of Crete with high waterfalls is possible only by using technical equipment. Appropriate training in canyoneering techniques are offered by specialist companies on the island. The most popular technical canyons of Crete include the imposing gorge of Ha, Tsoutsouras, Kalami, the gorge of Arvi (which turns into a dark underground river after an 80m high fall).

Tip: The Mastoras waterfall at the side of the gorge of Ha is 215m high and it is the highest fall in greece.


Crete has Limited Water Resources, Due to its Geographical Location and Weather Conditions

Dams and artificial reservoirs have been built at several sites on the island in order to meet the increasing needs for water supply. After their construction, all of them were soon transformed into very important wetlands, enriching the biodiversity of the island.

The largest natural lake in Crete is located at Kournas by Georgioupolis, where visitors can watch birds from the local watchtower. Small but important year-round natural ponds are also located at Tersanas near Chania, as well as at Mohos and Thrapsano, while seasonal ponds can be found by Orne, Parakalouri, Ziros, Omalos by Viannos, Achendrias and Stroumboulas. Artificial lakes where one can observe birds are located at Ayia by Chania, at Votomos by Zaros, at the large dams of Bramiana, Aposelemis, Faneromeni, Potami and at numerous small dams in the hinterland of Heraklion.

Rivers and wetlands that are home to large populations of wading birds are also found in numerous sites of the island. The most famous include the estuaries of the rivers Aposelemis, Anapodaris, Almiros by Gazi, Preveli, Platys, Almiros by Agios Nikolaos, Kyliaris and the four rivers of Georgioupolis. Other extremely important locations are the saltpans of Xerokambos, Gavdos, Chrissi and the marshes of Malia, Katalyki and Falassarna.

Tip: Bird watching at the wetlands of Crete is a great activity, especially during the bird migration seasons: autumn and spring.

The Green


The Most Characteristic Plants of the Island are the Aromatic Herbs that Thrive there

To get an idea of how rich the biodiversity of Crete is, just consider that Crete has almost as many species and subspecies of plants (about 1750) as all of Britain combined (1450) – even though it is 35 times smaller. This diversity is not only reflected in the total number of species but also in the number of endemic species, which grow only in Crete and nowhere else in the world. In Crete, there are about 160 endemic species and subspecies, which means that 9% of the plant species of Crete do not exist anywhere else in the world.

The Cretan flora has adapted itself so as to resist human interventions and especially the free grazing, which has been a traditional practice in Crete for thousands of years. The plants have developed ways to resist grazing, like thorns or bad taste. There are no large forest areas in Crete. This is partly because of the grazing and the climatic conditions. However, Crete has some of the rarest biotopes in Europe – for example, palm trees (Phoenix theophrasti).

There are some biotopes, which, despite being very small – like the seasonal lake of Omalos – have amazing biodiversity. The forest species that prevail on the island are the pine tree (Pinus spp) and the cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), which are coniferous species with large adaptability to extreme conditions, and the evergreen maple-trees (Acer sempervirens). There are also other species, like the Zelkova abeliceae, which is one of the rarest trees in the world and grows almost exclusively in the White Mountains in small populations.

The Cretan flora includes the Cretan ebony (Ebenus cretica), an impressive bush that is found only in Crete, the crocus of the Cretan mountains (Crocus oreocreticus), the ladania (Cistus creticus), the bush from which the rockrose is collected, the Cretan bell (Campanula cretica), a rare and very beautiful plant that is found only in the prefecture of Chania, the oleander (Nerium oleander), a very beautiful and impressive bush that often grows on street sides, many species of orchids and a lot more.

The most characteristic plants of the island are the aromatic herbs that thrive there. Because of the essential oils that they contain, they are used as ingredients in cooking, in the preparation of teas and as medicines. Thyme (Corridothymus capitatus), sage (Salvia futicosa), mountain tea (Sideritis syriaca spp. syriaca), wild marjoram (Origanum microphyllum), dittany (Origanum dictamnus) are only some of the herbs that one can see and smell on the island.


The Cretan Fauna also includes Thousands of Species.

It has been estimated that the endemic animal species in Crete totals around 1,000 – most of which are invertebrates. A typical example is spiders, the endemism of which is more than 40% on the island, which means that almost half of the spider species on Crete exist only on Crete and nowhere else in the world.

There are also about 130 different species of snails, half of which are endemic, while the Cretan shrew (Crocidura zimmermanni), a small insect-eating mammal that is similar to a mouse, is the only endemic mammal of Greece and lives only in the White mountains, Psiloritis and Dikti.

In Crete there are three species of frogs, the green toad (Bufo viridis), the tree frog (Hyla arborea) and the Cretan lake frog (Pelophylax cretensis), which is an endemic species. There are also eleven species of serpents, and one turtle species, the striped water turtle (Mauremys rivulata). There are also three species of slow-worms, four species of lizards, one of which is endemic, and four species of snakes, none of which is dangerous for humans.

There are also 17 species of bats, like the dwarf bat of Hanak (Pipistrellus hanaki), which is abundant in the gorge of Samaria and is one of the smallest mammals of the planet, 7 species of mice, 2 rabbit species (the hare of Crete and the wild rabbit) and 5 carnivorous species, the most famous of which is the wild cat of Crete (Felis sylvestris cretensis), a species with very small populations that was believed to have been extinct, until onel was found in 1997.

Forested Areas

Crete was Once Covered with Dense Forests, thus its Mountains were Called "Idea," i.e., Wooded

Unfortunately these forests have almost disappeared due to logging, overgrazing and fires. Even so, the few remaining forests are some of the most beautiful landscapes in Crete and a typical sample of the Mediterranean vegetation that once covered the entire island.

Each area of Crete has its own characteristic trees. The provinces Apokoronas and Sfakia are covered with cypresses, Thrypti has mainly pines, the lowlands of central Crete host arbutus, the humid areas of Kissamos are covered with chestnuts, while the Diktaean and the White Mountains are home to oaks.

The most important cypress woods are found at the National Reserve of the White Mountains, Kroustas, the lowlands of Apokoronas and the mountainous province of Kydonia. The greatest oak wood is located at Rouvas at Psiloritis and it is home to rare animals and plants, including the endemic Cretan wildcat and the orchid Cephalanthera cuculata. Extensive pine woods are formed at the mountain of Thripti, at eastern Dikti, Sfakia, Asterousia Range and southern Psiloritis. More specifically, the pine woods of Selakano, Vorizia and Kato Symi are the largest beekeeping areas in Crete.

Woods of special tree species are also formed in various parts of the island, such as at the famous groves of the Cretan Date Palm at Vai and at Preveli beach. Also, Azilakodasos near Malia is the largest forest of holm oaks in Crete, while the area of Tris Ekklisies hosts the largest native forest of carob trees in Europe.

Living Monuments

Either Due to their Enormous Size or Following Legends, some Trees on Crete have been Declared Natural Monuments

Among the most famous of them are the evergreen plane-tree of Ancient Gortys. Greek mythology tells us that  it was under this tree that Zeus and Europe mated and, as a result, Minos was born.

Many of the monumental trees have been officially designated as monuments of nature by the Greek state. One of them is the oversized hawthorn of Ancient Zominthos. Some other trees have been associated with the struggles of the Cretans for liberation, such as the huge tree of Mandalenis at Korfes, the plane tree of the Pente Parthenes at Ancient Lappa and the oak tree of Ismael at Mathia. Monumental ancient plane trees are found in Krassi, Vlatos and within the monasteries of Saint George Gorgolainis, Saint John at Gionas and Holy Fathers at Azogyres.

In Crete there are many ancient olive trees that have been declared monumental by the Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities. The oldest olive trees in the world are located near Azorias by Kavoussi and at Ano Vouves by Chania. The crowns for the winners of the Women’s and Men’s marathons at the Olympic Games held in Athens in 2004 were cut from these trees. At Anissaraki by Kandanos there is an entire park of monumental olive trees. There are similar parks in Palea Roumata, Asomati, Ancient Eleftherna, Genna, Lastros, Panassos, etc.

Tip: the ancient myrtle at the Monastery of Paliani is considered sacred and is celebrated on the day of the Virgin Myrtidiotissa. This myrtle is considered surviving “residue” from the worship of trees in the Minoan religion.


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