The geography of Crete is beautiful and diverse, as well as unique, making it a truly stunning place to visit and explore. With 260km in length and an area of 8,336 sq km, this island is the largest and most populated in Greece, and its landscapes are characterised by mountains, caves, gorges, rivers and lakes. Crete’s geographical location in the south part of the Aegean Sea is where the continents of Europe, Africa and Asia meet, which has allowed the history of the island to be majorly influenced by these civilizations. If you wish to explore the rich nature, culture and history of the island, there are many villas in Crete which you can stay in and use as a base for exploring.
Fauna and Flora IWhen exploring the island, you’ll be able to find species of plants and animals that are indigenous to Crete. This extraordinary biodiversity is partly due to the relative isolation of the island, which created rich fauna and flora specific to the area and impossible to find anywhere else. Crete doesn’t have animals that are harmful to humans, which the ancient Greeks attributed to Hercules and his mission to remove all dangerous animals from the island, the birthplace of his father Zeus. Cretan animals include the kri kri (mountain goat), the bearded vulture and the Cretan wildcat As for the Cretan flora, the unique climate and geography of the island gave birth to an outstanding number of endemic species: 302, out of the 2,108 plants that grow on Crete are indigenous to the island, such as the Cretan dittany and the scilla nana, a blue flower that grows in mountain ranges.
No matter which time of year you choose to visit Crete, you’ll be able to hike and explore the island. There are several mountainous areas in Crete, which includes the highest point, Mt Ida, or Psiloritis, at 2,456m, an exceptional and challenging hike. You can also explore the White Mountains, or Lefka Ori, which got their name from the perpetual white, or off white, colour of their more than fifty peaks (although you may hear that the range is named after their snow-capped appearance – the high altitude means that snow generally covers the peaks between November and May). Hiking in this imposing range requires great levels of fitness and experience, but it’s worth it just for a chance of exploring such an extraordinary geological formation – unique to the northern hemisphere. Adding to the striking beauty of the dramatic mountainous scenery is the multitude of caves and gorges that make their home in the mountains.
Caves Crete’s underground is just as rich as its surface. There are more than 3,000 caves in the island, most of which are of high ecological and speleological importance. They’re also connected to Greek mythology, as is the case with one of the most famous caves in Crete, the Dikteon Cave According to legend, this cave is where Zeus was born, and has also been used for the worship of other gods over time.
Gorges In the White Mountains in west Crete lies the Samariá gorge, it’s the most famous gorge in Crete and also the longest in Europe with a length of 16km. The stunning natural beauty makes this long hike well worth the effort. You may also be lucky enough to spot a kri kri, the wild goats of Crete which are a protected species. Samaria is certainly not the only gorge on the island, however. The nearby Imbros Gorge is around 7km long and perfect for family walks. A little further east, near Plakias, is the Kourtaliotiko Gorge, where the wind is funnelled through the caves of the gorge and create a ‘clapping’ sound heard only in a specific location in the canyon. The Ha Gorge in eastern Crete is about 1.5km long and 1km deep and, due to its inaccessibility, there are many endemic species of flora and fauna there, but this gorge is only suitable for experienced rope climbers.
Islands There are many small islands surrounding Crete, most of which can be visited by tourists – others only by archaeologists and researchers, such as biologists. Some of these islands are even environmentally protected, meaning the government restrains activities that can cause environmental degradation. This protection intends to benefit both the environment and the inhabitants of Crete.
Crete has a rich ecosystem and a diverse landscape unmatched by any other, which makes this island a true gem in the Mediterranean Sea. Its strong cultural and historic heritage, as well as its stunning locations and endemic species of animals, flowers and plants, make it a one-of-a-kind destination for nature lovers!