Crete Kayak Adventure: Matala Full Loop
8 Days, 7 Nights
Join us on our most popular trip: The Magical Minoan Mystery Tour!
The Crete Kayaking Adventure: Matala Full Loop itinerary is the ultimate kayak-lover’s trip on Crete. Many of our guests return year and after year to experience the adventure all over again. Find out for yourself what makes this award-winning trip so special!
Discover the unspoiled coast of Southern Crete as we paddle on the crystal blue waters of the Libyan Sea, visit secluded beaches, hike the dramatic Samarian Gorge, and explore the ruins of Venetian castles and Minoan palaces. At night we enjoy star-filled skies, dine on delicious fresh local cuisine at seaside tavernas, and share in the warm hospitality of intimate family-owned inns.
The Full Loop tour continues past the village of Loutro to the towns of Plakias and Agia Roumeli, with an open-water crossing back to Matala Bay on the final day. The last three days of this kayaking adventure include 40+ addition miles of kayaking, so you are sure to get your fill of the deep blue Libyan Sea.
If would like to kayak with us on Crete but prefer a less intense pace, please check out our Crete Kayak Adventure: Matala to Loutro itinerary.
Can’t decide which trip is right for you? This blog post provides more detail to help you make your decision-or call us in the office with your questions.
Day 1: Our trip officially begins 10:00am on the first day at the Heraklion Airport where The Northwest Passage staff will meet you at the airport. We will drive to Knossos, the Minoan era palace. We will then enjoy a scenic drive across Crete down to the beach town of Matala on the south coast. There will be a kayak outfitting session followed by welcome drinks while viewing the incredible sunset. Over our first delightful dinner together at an authentic Greek taverna, we will review the itinerary for the week and answer whatever questions you may have. D
Day 2: After breakfast, we will outfit everyone with paddle, PFD and sprayskirt, then head to the beach for our basic kayaking instruction session. The protected bay in Matala provides us with an ideal introductory location, surrounded by the famous caves - legendary homes to Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and others in the 1960s. Following our morning paddle session, we will paddle to two neighboring beaches, Red Beach and Kommos Beach. After enjoying lunch at Kommos Beach we return to Matala for cliff-jumping into the bay and our highly recommended Sunset Hike. The day ends with a great meal (as always) and a chance to experience the rousing night life of Matala. B,D
Day 3: We’ll get an early start today in order to stop and visit the breathtaking site of the Minoan Palace of Phaistos on our way to the trailhead for the Samaria Gorge. The Samaria Gorge is a “must see” for every visitor to Crete; this incredible national park draws thousands of visitors each day. We have designed our itinerary to be able to experience the Gorge after the vast majority of hikers have already headed down. While most visitors to the Gorge rush to catch the last ferry, we will spend the night in Agia Roumeli, a charming and traditional town where the Gorge ends. We’ll celebrate our accomplishments with a wonderful dinner on the seaside terrace of our hotel on the beach, and we will fall asleep to the soothing sound of the sea. In the morning, we'll awaken to the gentle dinging of goat bells from the herds on the hillside. B,D
Day 4: As the ascending sun brightens the cliffs along the bay, we will depart from Agia Roumeli in our kayaks, heading along the coastline to Agios Pavlos for our cappuccino stop. The small 10th Century Byzantine chapel built in honor of St. Paul is a remarkable site and a traditional photo opportunity. From Agios Pavlos, we’ll continue along the coastline to Marmara Beach, one of our tastiest lunch stops offering additional cliff-jumping opportunities from the wind-carved marble rocks. We then paddle to the water-access-only town of Loutro where we will spend two nights. Rounding the point to catch your first glimpse of this idyllic town has been a highlight of the trip for all past participants. We won’t ruin the moment by saying any more now- you’ll just have to see for yourself! B, D
Day 5: Today is a day with multiple options. From Loutro, we may continue up the coastline to Sweetwater Beach where the freshwater springs bubbling out of the sand provide a unique experience. After stretching our legs, enjoying a refreshing swim and a cup of cappuccino, we can paddle on to Hora Sfakia for our lunch stop before paddling back to Loutro. There is also the option of a challenging all-day hike up into the traditional villages in the hills and descending through the beautiful Aradena Gorge before walking back to Loutro through ancient olive groves. Then we join up for another Sunset Hike to the Turkish fortress overlooking the harbor followed by dinner at another of the excellent bayside tavernas. B,D
Day 6: You will have an option today to paddle to Hora Sfakia or to hike the trail which follows the coastline. We will then continue paddling or shuttle by van along the coast to the Venetian-era fortress at Frangokastello for a brief tour before continuing our journey along the coast to the town of Plakias. Plakias provides some upbeat nightlife and great shopping opportunities as well as the chance to visit one of our favorite bakeries on the island (the “Cretan Specialty” is another highlight of the trip!). Dinner is on your own tonight to give you a choice of the numerous restaurant possibilities in town as well as a chance to set your own schedule for the evening, including the chance to dance at local nightclubs. But remember it's an early paddling morning tomorrow! B
Day 7: Heading out from Plakias, our next stop is Palm Beach, where Cretan palms line a picturesque stream which joins the sea. An optional short paddle up the inland freshwater creek provides a glimpse of river turtles and local birds. After lunch, we will paddle on to the beach at Agios Pavlos. At this point, you can opt to shuttle the last section or paddle the final 7-mile stretch (making total mileage for the day 20+ miles!). In the evening, we will celebrate with a final dinner overlooking the harbor at Agia Galini. B, D
Day 8: Those wishing to complete the paddling circle may choose to launch early in the morning and paddle across the bay from Agia Galini into Matala (approximately 8 miles in an open water crossing). Others will sleep a little later and van to Matala where we will have a brief stop to pick up any luggage you may have chosen to leave at the hotel, unload boats, and do any last minute shopping. The van will depart for Heraklion between 11 a.m. and noon, giving time for a visit the renowned Heraklion Archaeological Museum before catching late afternoon flights back to Athens. **This itinerary is subject to change. As with all adventure travel, some activities are dependent on appropriate wind and water conditions. But fear not -we have many alternative activities available in case the weather is not cooperative. B
It’s Sunday morning and I am heading off on a two weeks of business travel but couldn’t resist taking a few moments to get an email off to you. I have an amazing “emotional tan” following my experience in Crete with you and the NWP team! Wow… what an absolutely terrific week. I truly enjoyed the experience.
What a week…
The camaraderie of the group and the knowledge, support and expertise of the NWP team, but the ability to have “your space” during the week. Perfect hotel choices for the type of event -they didn’t mind a little sand or dripping on the floor! Encouragement from the NWP team, but no pressure to do anything more or less than you wanted to all week Historic sites and Samaria Gorge, interesting and added to the experience of the week….otherwise we would have paddled 100 miles, “super full monty”
The local food was fabulous, including the yogurt! Ahhh, and the cappuccino breaks, not my Starbucks but oh so very enjoyable. The destinations during the week just seemed to get prettier… as we entered Loutro…I couldn’t help but share this observation with you
And about the NWP level of detail and logistics: mud glamour treatments, massage appointments pre-booked, Nicki’s pungent goat bell birthday gift, t-shirts, snacks and libations on the hikes, luggage in the room after a great day of paddling and my “full monty” certificate – so sweet
Closing farewell call from you as we were being driven back to the airport was such a nice touch!
My compliments to you and the team on an exceptional experience. Sorry I couldn’t stay for week #2. I will be back for another NWP trip or two if you can tolerate my enthusiasm.
Best regards and sincere thanks to all," - Deb S. Boston, MA
"If you want to sit on a beach all day and have a cabana boy bring you Rum Punch while you are on vacation, this might not be the trip for you. If, on the other hand, you want to literally immerse yourself in some of the most beautiful water in the world, experience life like a local and finish each day with that wonderful fatigue that comes from doing a vigorous but fun activity all day long (and makes that first cold beer taste like heaven) this is your adventure. My sincere thanks to Rick, Emily and all the Northwest Passage staff for truly making this the trip of a lifetime!! - Rob and Ann
Keville, East Lyme, CT
"I am grateful to have had this experience. Without such an expertly guided tour, I would have missed some lesser-known treasures of Crete. Thank you Eric and Andrew. You're the best!" -Susan Titterton, Morrisville, VT
"Beautiful, breathtaking, challenging, amazing, unforgetable adventure" -Henry P., Little Rock, Arkansas
THE HISTORY OF CRETE
Crete is the largest of the islands of Greece, and is the home of Europe’s earliest known civilization, the enigmatic Minoans. While the first permanent settlements on Crete seem to date to about 8000 years ago, new artifacts found in sea caves along the coast we will kayak indicate that the first mariners may have reached its shores as early as 150,000 years ago, rewriting the history of early seafaring.
THE STONE AGE- 6000-2600 B.C.
Crete’s first inhabitants appear to have been a blend of settlers from Anatolia, Africa, and the coastal regions of the Middle East. Neolithic tools include handaxes, stone drills, and other artifacts. The site of the Minoan-era palace of Knossos and Phaestos are built over neolithic remains, and at Phaestos, the stone base of a neolithic-era hut can still be seen.
MEETING THE MINOANS (BRONZE AGE) - 3000-1400 B.C.
From simple beginnings, the arts and crafts began to thrive on Crete. Early dark-fired pottery called "Kamares Ware" after the cave in which it was first found still dazzles modern viewers with its delicacy and strong sense of design. From the beginning, Minoan artists expressed a freedom and liveliness of line that is enchanting. Around 2000, the first so-called palaces rise up, seemingly coordinated, in a number of places on Crete. These structures cover large areas with multi-story buildings enjoying a natural ventilation system and running water - even fountains and flush toilets. Images of beautiful women with complex coiffures and clothing dominate the arts, leading many to believe that the earliest Minoan society was ruled by powerful queens and priestesses rather than a male king. But by the time of the development of writing, the myths tell of powerful kings such as Minos himself and his brother Radamanthys, a renowned seafarer and lawgiver. But despite their power over the Aegean seas, men are not usually depicted in positions of power in Minoan art. A fresco of male tribute-bearers which originally covered hundreds of feet along the walsl at the palace complex of Knossos appears to end in front of a female figure, preserved only by her feet and hem of her dress.
But apparent divisions on the island drove some Minoans to the Greek mainland, where they may have mingled with the local Greeks and become the Myceneans.
The Minoans established towns throughout the Aegean and beyond in what some have termed a "thalassocracy" - domination by seatrade. But in a sudden shift about 1638 BC, everything changed. The island of Thira - now known as Santorini - exploded in a devastating volcanic eruption which sent as tsunami roaring into Crete, less than 90 miles away. The height of this wave has been estimated as high as 200 feet, and it was accompanied by a volcanic cloud which dimmed the sun enough to affect agriculture around the Mediterranean. About the same time, Knossos was destroyed in an earthquake and fire. Some historians believe there was an opportunistic invasion of Crete by the Mycenaeans shortly after the eruption and tsunami. In any case, there is a shift in language and culture after this time. Though Knossos itself was rebuilt, the other palaces were not, and Knossos became the undisputed center of Cretan politics during the Mycenaean period. After about 500 years, around the close of the estimated time of the Trojan War, the Mycenaeans lost power to a new invader, the Dorians, tall blue-eyed Greeks who are the ancestors of the local Sfakians we will meet along our journey. Some of the changes that come with the Dorians are preserved in the stone steles found at Gortyna which make up the "Gortyna Code", a collection of laws. Corrections 'penciled in" on these stone tablets show the gradual diminishment of Cretan women's rights of inheritance and other changes.
Crete eventually comes under the control of the Ptolemies, the Greek rulers of Egypt who came to power after the death of Alexander the Great. Crete at one point belonged to Cleopatra, who is believed to have visited her holding after it was restored to her by Marc Antony. She would not be the first femme fatale to make a visit to the island - Helen of Troy is also rumored to have stopped along the south coast of Crete while traveling with her husband Menelaus.
Crete is mentioned in the Bible several times, mostly in connection with St. Paul who is said to have been shipwrecked at the Cretan port of Fair Havens on his way back to Rome to face charges. In any case, the south coast is fond of St. Paul and there are several spots named for him, including a chapel on the beach at Agios Pavlos which we will visit by kayak. "Pavlos" is also a very popular name in southern Crete. Slightly later, St. Titus came to the island to preach and there are the remains of an early cathedral at the ancient site of Gortyna. While not part of our usual itinerary, some may find the ruins of this vast Roman-era city worth a visit before or after the trip.
After the departure of the Romans, Crete was made part of the Byzantine Empire. In 824 A.D. an Arab Saracen force invaded the Island, meeting little resistance. They used Crete as a base for attacks on ships and were little more than pirates. For over a century Arabs had control of the Island. The Byzantine rulers did little to help their colony until 961 A.D., when they drove out the Arabs in a huge and bloody battle which decimated the Cretan population and wiped out the occupying Arabs. After the Crusades, the island of Crete fell into Venetian hands. While the native Cretans were second-class citizens, the Venetians were generally more or less benevolent or merely indifferent rulers, and as time went on, Venetians and Cretans intermarried. Some of the foods of Crete and other Greek islands still reflect this Italian influence - which is why a baked spaghetti with pork dish is a specialty at one of the tavernas we'll visit.
The Venetians maintained control over Crete until 1668, when the Ottoman Empire captured the island. Crete remained under Ottoman control until long after the liberation of the rest of Greece, gaining independence in 1897. It was its own nation for about 15 years, reuniting with Greece in 1912.
During World War II, Crete was the site of the "Battle of Crete", when Hitler dispatched 17,000 paratroopers to take over the island in a single night. However, over six thousand of them were killed by local Cretans. While the invasion succeeded, the loss of so many elite troops against ill-equipped opponents made Hitler resolve to never use that method of attack again, a decision which may have cost him dearly.
In modern times, Crete enjoys a robust agricultural and shipping economy augmented by a vibrant tourism sector. While it is suffering from the financial crisis throughout Greece, Crete is still a net contributor to the economy of Greece, sending far more in taxes to the Greek government than they receive back in services - or so our Cretan friends insist. Crete also made good use of EU funds in the early days of Greece joining the Euro union, with the result that many roads and other infrastructure projects were financed with EU money. It also has become a popular destination for many Northern Europeans seeking a holiday home in the sun. Throughout the rest of Greece, Crete is renowned for its excellent food, great climate, and generous hospitality, all of which we will enjoy on our journey through the land of the mystical Minoans.