Updated: Jul 29
Spinalonga, the island of mysteries and ghosts, of sickness and war. Located in the Bay of Elounda, in northeastern Crete, this now deserted island has been under the control of Venetians, Turks, and Greeks. Its history has inspired books, movies, and television shows. It rises majestically out of the sparking aquamarine sea, visual but not accessible.
During the 16th century, the Venetians ruled Crete. They built a fortress on Spinalogha to protect their interests in the area. After enduring centuries was outside rule, Greece became an independent nation in 1903. At this point Spinalonga became a Leper Colony. It remained a leper colony until 1957 when a cure was widely available. The last inhabitant left Spinalonga in 1962. Today Spinalonga is open for visitors daily from April 1 till Oct. 31. They are in the process of being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site
How to Get to Spinalonga
Spinalonga is only accessible by boat. There are three places where you can get a boat to the Island. Plaka, Elounda and Agios Nikolaos. Plaka is the shortest ride, only 10 minutes. However the town has very limited parking. The cost from Plaka is 10 euro. There are boats that leave from Elounda. The ride is 30 minutes long and cost 12 euro. Both the boats from Plaka and the boats from Elounda are part of a collective, so you can stay on the island for as long as you like and take the next available boat back to the port where you started. Larger ferry boats sail from Agios Nikolaos, these boats stop at Spinalonga for a defined period of time, usually about 90 minutes. They will make another stop for swimming or a beach barbecue at Kolokitha Bay. These tours last for 4-5 hours and cost between 15-30 euros. No matter where you leave from, when you get to Spinalonga, there is a 8 euro per person entrance fee paid on the isla
Early History of Spinalonga
During the rule of the Venetians, salt was harvested from the shallow areas called salt pans, surrounding the island. A town sprung on the coast to support the salt production. Later the Venetians added a commercial port to transport the salt throughout their empire. In 1578, in response to the threats of piracy including the infamous Pirate Barbarosa and the Ottoman Empire, the Venetians built a fortress on Spinalonga to protect their interests in the area. In 1715, the Ottomans defeated the Venetians and took over control of Crete and Spinalonga. By 1903, the Cretans had won their independence from the Ottomans and Greece was united.
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Spinalonga as a Leper Colony
After Crete won their independence the Ottoman Empire, Spinalonga became a Leper Colony. The early years were difficult for the inhabitants with no electricity or running water. In 1936, a young law student afflicted with leprosy was exiled to the island. He formed the Brotherhood of the Sick on Spinalonga. They petitioned the Greek government for better living conditions and medical care. They were able to get a generator for the island to light the streets at night and power modern connivances like a movie theatre. Spinalonga's Leper Colony has inspired the imaginations of many writers including the best selling book, "The Island" and the television show "Lost."
You can wander around the remains of the town area, which included stores, a coffee shop and a barber shop. Inhabitants had gardens, raised chickens and goats and made their own wine. They received social security payments and the Greek Government allowed them to purchase other items, like clothing, cigarettes and alcohol.
At the highest point in population, there were over 400 inhabitants on the island. Many lived most of their lives here, marrying, having children and being buried here. For a number of years, they were able to attend church due to a brave priest that lived on the island but was not inflicted with leprosy.
Where to Eat & Stay near Spinalonga
Once you have explored the island, you will be ready for a cold drink and a meal. Two of my favorite places in Elounda are within walking distance of the ferry pier. You can get a delicious meal at The Ferryman or Rakamelo. In Agios Nikolaos, don't miss dining on the beautiful patio of Pelagos.
If you are staying in Agios Nikolaos, Ikaros Art Hotel makes a budget friendly nice home base. The rooftop Breakfast area has panoramic views of Elounda Bay and the city. If you are staying in Elounda, the Elounda Heights Hotel with it's beautiful pool area is a good also budget friendly place to stay.
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