Spinalonga Islet

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Spinalonga Islet

Spinalonga Island lies at the Gulf of Elounda, right in front the seaside resort of Plaka on the northeastern coast of Crete. Despite being a small island, it carries a long history and preserves its beauty notwithstanding its dark past. Known in the past as the ‘island of the living dead’, it covers an area of 8,500 square meters and is most famous for housing one of the last leper colonies in Europe. This tragic aspect of its history started in 1903 and lasted till 1957. The number of patients on the island started to decrease in 1948, due to the first drug against Lepracy being discovered, and the last inhabitant left the island in 1962.

After the leper colony was dissolved, Spinalonga was abandoned and became desolate. In 1976 Spinalonga was designated an archaeological site and started to see tourists becoming one of Crete’s most popular tourist attractions. In addition to the abandoned colony and the fortress, it has some nice pebble beaches and shallow water. The island’s tragic past and rich history fascinate everyone who visits. It has also been the subject of several books and novels as well as a famous Greek TV series. 

Origin of the name

According to Venetian documents, the name of the island originated from the Latin words "spina" (thorn) and "lunga" (long), an expression that was also maintained by the locals. The Venetians were inspired for this expression by the name of an island near Venice, called by the same name and which is known today as the island of Giudecca. According to another story, the name of the island originated in the Greek expression “στην Ελούντα” – “stin Elounda” - (meaning "to Elounda").


The official name of the island is actually Kalydon and its history dates back to the Minoan and Hellenistic times. Due of its strategic position at the mouth of the natural port of Elounda, the island was fortified from the earliest years in order to safeguard the port of ancient Olous. The ancient city and the wider region were depopulated at the middle of the 7th century because of the raids of Arab pirates in the Mediterranean. It remained deserted until the mid-15th century when the Venetians built one of the most powerful sea fortresses of its time. Spinalonga along with Gramvousa and Souda remained under Venetian rule even after the rest of Crete fell to the Ottomans in the Cretan War (1665-1669) and until 1715 when they fell to the Ottomans. By 1881, Spinalonga was home to more than 1,000 Turks who formed their own community. Eventually, in 1903 the Turks left the island and it became once again a part of Greece.

Day Trip to Spianlonga Island

Today the small islet of Spinalong is the second most visited archaeological site of Crete after Knossos, receiving a high quantity of visitors from all over the world, especially during the peak summer season. Getting to Spinalonga is easy. You can travel by boat from Agios Nikolaos, Plaka (7 mins) and Elounda (20 mins). The first boats of the day depart from Plaka at around 9:00 am and from Elounda between 09:30 to 10:00 in the morning. Because it is close to the coast, the crossing is not long and does not include sea sickness. You can also find day trips from several of the main towns in Crete. They include the bus and the boat, and often a tour guide on the island. If visiting off-season, you won’t find any tourist boats running but should be able to get a ride over with a fisherman.

There is an entry fee to enter the archaeological site which is paid on the island and has no relation with the boat ticket, unless otherwise specified. Adult entrance fee for Spinalonga is 8 euros and reduced fee is 4 euros. The site is open from April 1st until October 31st, 8:30 am – 16:30 pm, daily and remains closed between November 1st and March 31st, though it opens only on request for groups. There are guided tours around the island or you can explore the island on your own. Before leaving, do not miss to visit the beach for a refreshing swim.