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Spinalonga

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The island of Spinalonga (Σπιναλόγκα, officially Kalydon) was once part of the main island of Crete before being separated by the Venetians, who built an important fortress on its rocky hill in 1579. The fortress was used by the Ottomans before falling into disrepair, and in the 20th century, the island was also home to a leper colony. Take a guided tour to the island to discover its secrets and enjoy its beaches and shallow waters.
Miriam DewamBy Miriam Dewam
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Day Tours and Excursions

Book guided day tours to Spinalonga including boat trip in advance.
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From Rethymno: Knossos, Agios Nikolaos, and Spinaloga Tour
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getyourguide.com
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Agios Nikolaos - Elounda - Spinalonga - Day tour
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Ag Nikolaus - Elounda Bay - Old Traditional Villages Private Tour.
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Luxuries of Mirabello with Spinalonga Island & Agios Nikolaos from Heraklion
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5 Tips for Visiting the Spinalonga

Boat at the pier of Agios Nikolaos | Photo: Unsplash, Egor Myznik - CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0
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Plan in advanceSince Spinalonga is one of the most visited places in Crete, the trip to the small island should be well planned - you should book a guided tour with boat transfer in advance. Note that the entrance fee to the island is usually not included so tickets must be purchased on site. You should take the boat to the island early if you want to get the most out of your trip. Inform yourself about the departure times!
Drone view over bay of Elounda | Photo: Unsplash, Evangelos Mpikakis - CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0
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Choose the place of departureDepending on the place of departure, trips time may vary. The longest distance is covered by ferry from Agios Nikolaos and takes about an hour. From Elounda and Plaka you can reach the island only with a wooden fishing boat. The trip from Elounda takes about 20 minutes and from Plaka only 10 minutes.
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Stay flexibleAlthough the trip by ferry probably offers the highest comfort it is usually terminable to 4.5 hours. The round trip of two hours is already included, which means that there are only two and a half hours left to explore the island. Small fishing boats from Elounda or Plaka are more flexible in terms of departure time which will give you more time to explore the island.
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Combine the highlightsOrganized day trips often include several highlights of Eastern Crete: Next to Spinalonga, there is the picturesque village of Agios Nikolaos and the Gulf of Elounda. Tours usually start from Rethymno, Iraklio, Plaka or Agios Nikolaos and are carried out by competent guides. Due to the high number of visitors, booking in advance is essential.
View on Spinalonga | Photo: Unsplash, Nadine Marfurt - CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0
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Food and DrinksOn the island only small overpriced snacks are offered, we therefore recommend that you bring your own drinks and food to Spinalonga, or eat on the main island in one of the countless taverns before or after your visit to Spinalago. Make sure to pack enough water too!
The island Spinalonga | Photo: Unsplash, op23 - CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

A small island with turbulent history

Spinalonga is one of Crete's key sights with historical importance. It is the second most visited archaeological site in Crete after the Minoan palace of Knossos - during high season 5000 visitors arrive to the island daily. The island received its name from the Venetian rulers, but since 1954 it is officially called Kalydon again, nevertheless Spinalonga remains more common.
The fortress of Spinalonga | Photo: Unsplash, Juli Kosolapova - CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Emergence of the fortress

Archaeological discoveries from ancient times show that the island served as a protection of the port of Olous until the Arab domination from the 9th century. In the 16th century, from 1579 to 1586, the powerful Venetians expanded the existing foundation walls into a fortress. A double line of walls and towers was built, equipped with 35 cannons to secure the evacuation of valuable salt (saltworks of Elounda) from the Ottomans.
The ruins of the fortress Spinalonga | Photo: Unsplash, Egor Myznik - CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Take-over of Ottomans

Finally, in 1715, the fortress fell into the hands of the Ottoman Empire. In the 19th century, the port of Spinalonga received a license for export trade and got therefore rearmed. Until the end of the 19th century Muslim soldiers and families lived here. In 1881 the island had 1112 inhabitants.
Spinalonga from above | Photo: Unsplash, op23 - CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Leper Colony Spinalonga

As the island got detached from the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century it got turned into a leprosy colony it led to a migrate of the last Muslim inhabitants in 1903. After the Cretan state decided to relocate all leprosy diseased from Crete the first 251 people who contracted it arrived on Spinalonga in October 1904. After the unification of Crete with Greece in 1913, all Greeks suffering from leprosy were brought here.
Streets of Spinalonga | Photo: Unsplash, op23 - CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

The last leper colony in Europe

Spinalonga became an island without mirrors - with inhabitants who did not want to see their faces. As an uninhabited island, it provided refuge for up to 400 leprosy-infected people since 1904. Today, only the exhibition rooms on Spinalonga filled with photographs and everyday objects from the past remind us of the suffering the disinfection room has also been preserved.

The forgotten ones

Since there was no cure for the disease at that time, it was believed that the segregated would die after a very short time. Not only because of this assumption, there was no well-functioning care on Spinalonga on the part of the government. Infected persons were considered “civilly dead” - property and money were confiscated and most were also erased from official registers. Patients received only a small monthly allowance did not cover the cost of medicines nor food. Since they were not allowed to leave the island, they were cut off from the rest of the world and had to rely on their relatives to provide them with food and other goods. The situation on Spinalonga improved only after some initiatives in the 1930s.

Life on Spinalonga

Little by little, life returned to the island and the infected learned to live with their disease. New residents were assigned apartments or houses, most of which were in poor condition, and had to live together in cramped quarters. Many of the patients were eventually able to practice their professions, marry and start families. On the island there was a school, hospital, cinema and theater, as well as taverns and some small stores. Later, relatives were allowed to visit the sick on Spinalonga, when leaving the island they had to go through the disinfection room, where they were disinfected with acid. Nevertheless, the disease remained present: more islanders died on Spinalonga than were able to be buried in the cemetery, as a consequence many graves remained nameless.

Containment of the disease

At that time, the fear of transmission was high worldwide resulting in the avoidance of those suffering from leprosy. Symptomatic persons were segregated directly, regardless of age, children were even torn away from their parents and families were broken up. Epidemic hospitals, called Lazarus (lazaretto), were established outside the cities to be able to isolate leper. Leprosy became curable with the discovery of penicillin in 1928, but the leper colony on Spinalonga was not closed until 1957, being the last leper colony in Europe. In 1962 the last inhabitant, a priest, left the island.

The disease

Leprosy is an infectious disease with conspicuous skin lesions and a long incubation period of up to 20 years. With this disease nerves gradually die off causing the loss of sensation (cold, warmth and pain). Affected people contract wounds more easily because of this, which can ultimately lead to amputation. Today, leprosy is still present in developing countries as it is associated with poor hygiene, malnutrition and a weak immune system.
Renovated streets on Spinalonga | Photo: Unsplash, Nabih El Boustani - CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

UNESCO World Heritage Site in future?

In 1970 the Greek government began with the restoration of the former island - from houses, fortress walls to roads. Spinalonga was to be transformed into a tourist destination. Nevertheless, large parts of the island remained untouched giving the feeling of being taken back in time. In 2019 the Greek government submitted the unique island as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its approval is still pending.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the island barrier-free accessible?

The loop road on Spinalonga is wheelchair accessible. Read more.

Are there any dining options on the island?

On Spinalonga there is a café and a snack bar that also sells souvenirs. However, small snacks and drinks are offered here at expensive prices, therefore it is recommended to pack enough provisions on the mainland already . Read more.

Is it allowed to swim on Spinalonga?

On Spinalonga swimming is only possible near the mooring. The coast near the fortress is very rocky, all other coastal areas are inaccessible due to the remains of the defensive wall Read more.

Can I get to Spinalonga by car?

No cars are allowed on the island. Spinalonga is only 20 acre in size, so you can easily explore the entire island by foot. Read more.

Do I need to consider anything when choosing my clothes?

Since the paths to the fortress can be slippery, it is recommended to wear sturdy shoes. Read more.

Is it allowed to take photos and videos on Spinalonga?

You can take photos and videos on the island without any restrictions. Read more.

General Information

Opening Hours

The island is accessible from April 1st to October 31st, from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm during fair weather conditions. In winter, the facility opens only on request for groups. The archaeological site is closed on January 1st, March 25th, May 1st, Easter Sunday, December 25th and December 26th.

Tickets

Tickets to the former leper colony and fortress can be purchased on site at a price of 8 € per person. Seniors over 65 years of age receive a reduced entrance fee of 4 €. Admission is free on the following days: April 18th, May 18th, the last week of September and October 28th.

Discounts

Children under the age of 5 can visit the island free of charge. The entrance for EU citizens aged under 25 years is also free. By showing the disabled ID card, holders and their accompanying person get free admission.

COVID-19 measures

To visit the island, it is no longer necessary to show the green pass nor is it mandatory to wear a mask. Note that these COVID-measures may vary for the boat trips.

Address

Spinalonga (Prefecture of Lasithi)
Greece

How to get there

In summer there are regularly scheduled boat trips to the island from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda, or Plaka. In winter there are no scheduled boat trips, but you may be able to find a local boat owner to take you across to the island.
Miriam Dewam
Written byMiriam DewamMiriam is keen on traveling and has a passion for photography, which she can enhance through her cross-media studies. She uses her knowledge as well as first hand experience from diverse travels to help other travellers as a content creator at TicketLens.
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