In the 15th century, the Venetians built a castle or a huge fort on Spinalonga. In 1669 the Turks conquered Crete. However, the Venetians still held the fortress Spinalonga for nearly 50 more years despite many Turkish attacks. A fort with such thick walls was practically impregnable at this time. Until the Turks finally left Crete around 1900, the mighty castle served as a residential area for Turkish settlers.
After this, the famous time of Spinalonga began: The leper colony, All the inhabitants of Crete, who were suffering from leprosy, were banished to Spinalonga.
At this time (about 1900-1950), leprosy was a dangerous and incurable disease. Nobody could be cured - so the lepers of Spinalonga expected a lifelong stay. There were up to a 1,000 patients on the island, which is separated from Crete by only a few hundred meters. Around 1953 the first effective therapies were found. About eight years later the Leprastation Spinalonga was closed. Many of the inhabitants were able to leave the "leprosy island" cured.
Visit of Spinalonga
The houses, the hospital, the church, etc. of the leper colony still exist and can be visited. You arrive by boat in the south of the island Spinalonga. The circular route around the island is about 1.5 km long. After a few meters you reach the residential settlements. Some of the houses have been restored. There is a interesting photo exhibition and an information office.
The small church was renovated a few years ago. Interesting is the disinfection room. Some people could visit their sick relatives on Spinalonga. They were disinfected with an acid when they left the island. You should also visit the hospital and the cemetery.
For many visitors the ascent to the big venetian fort is the highlight. Be careful, the path can be slippery. From the top you have a great view. You can see Plaka, Elounda and the entire area.
At the end of the tour is a snack bar. Yu can buy water, coke, chips, etc. The prices are ok.
Admisson Fee Spinalonga
Adults pay in 2017 an entrance fee of €8 to Spinalonga. People over 65 pay the reduced admisson charge of €4. Most university students can visit Spinalonga for free (you need a student card). Children under 18 year can get to Spinanlonga, as far as we know, also for free (with a valid ID or passpord).
Access to Spinalonga
From Agios Nikolaos by ship: There are proximately 10 ships in summer daily. These big ferries bring many tourists to Spinalonga. There are offers with lunch and without - as well as with guide and without. A guide, in a language you understand, is useful. Many offer guided tours in English. A tours costs 8 to 20 euros without food, with a guide in the upper area of this price range. The whole excursions including the boat trip takes about 4-5 hours. Some tours also visit the sunken city of Olous.
From Elounda: Fishing boats run during saison every 30 minutes. The crossing costs about 10 euros return. Advantage: You can stay on Spinalonga as long as you want. If you want to leave the island, just take the next boat. Disadvantage: No guide. The boats to Spinalonga leave in Elounda next to the bus stop in the center (easy to find). Travel time is about 30 min one way.
From Plaka: Plaka is a small village not far from Spinalonga. It is located 5 km north of Elounda. It is a few euros cheaper than from Elounda and only about 15 minutes crossing. In April 2017 a ticket from Plaka to Spinalonga costs 8 euros (round trip). From Plaka there are during saison at least two crossings to the leper island Spinalonga per hour. If you use a navigation device, you should know that there are several places in Greece and Crete with the name Plaka.
If you do not have a rental car and do like an organized tour, just take from the bus station of Agios Nikolaos one of the frequent buses to Elounda. It is the easiest to take a fishing boat to Spinalonga from here.
With the rental car it is best to go to Plaka. Some readers have told us that parking in the high season can be a problem in Elounda and in Plaka. The sooner you arrive in the morning, the easier you can park your car. Most tourist come after 10 am.
The author: My name is Jorgy. I am German and I have been living in Crete for more than 10 years. I translated this article from German into English. I am not a native English speaker. When I find a proofreader, the quality of the article will improve. If you know somebody who wants to help me, please write me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org