Top things to do in Crete: Spinaloga
Spinalonga is an arid and barren rocky islet with an area of 8.5 hectares lying at the mouth of the natural port of Elounda in the Lasithi prefecture of Crete. Due to its strategic location, it was fortified and served a variety of roles and purposes over the centuries.
In spite of its long and turbulent history, today Spinalonga is mainly known as the Leper Island.
In 1903, a leper colony was established on Spinalonga, to isolate people suffering from Hansen’s disease from the healthy population.
Despite the difficulties they were facing, people fell in love and were married on Spinalonga. They had children, some of whom grew up with them without ever catching the disease. They looked after one another, did any work they could to improve their lives, ran their own kafeneion and barber shop, and had their own church of St Panteleimon, with a brave priest who, though not a leper himself, volunteered to spend his life among the exiles.
From 1948 onwards, when the cure for this dreadful disease was discovered, the number of lepers on Spinalonga fell.
The Leper Hospital remained operational until 1957, when the last 20 patients were moved to a leper hospital in Athens. Many others had recovered and gone home in the meantime. Afterwards Spinalonga was abandoned and looted, and many pieces of architecture from its houses now adorn the luxury hotels of Elounda.
In 1970 the island was declared as a protected archaeological site. The excavations started, the buildings were demolished and the maintenance works on the walls begun. Today, Spinalonga is the third most visited archaeological site in the country after Acropolis and Knossos, with thousands of visitors from around the world paying tribute to the greatness of the human soul.
When you reach Spinalonga Island, you enter the castle from the entrance with and you need about 1 hour to make the tour of the island on foot. You can wander the cobbled streets searching for the remains of the marvelous civilization that the inhabitants had developed through nothing. The ruins of the castle, the wall, the Ottoman market, the houses, the hospital and the school are indicative of how people lived at that time.
Do not hesitate to hire a guide as he will help you comprehend better the structure of the long gone community
To get to Spinalonga you must take the boat from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda or Plaka.
Boats depart from Agios Nikolaos in the morning. Apart from the trip to Spinalonga, they also offer lunch and the opportunity for a swim off the beaches behind the Kolokytha Peninsula, before returning to Agios Nikolaos in the afternoon.
From Elounda harbour, there is a boat to Spinalonga every 30 minutes throughout the summer. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the island, while the sea voyage sometimes includes a sail around the Kolokytha Peninsula.
There are also boats from the little village of Plaka just north of Elounda.
Entrance fee to Spinalonga: 8 euros
Opening hours: 09.00 – 19.00
Boat ticket: 8 euros (Plaka), 10 euros (Elounta), 25 euros (Ag. Nikolaos)