The island of Spinalonga, officially known as Kalydon, is located in the Gulf of Elounda in north-eastern Crete next to the town of Plaka. It is near the Spinalonga peninsula ("large Spinalonga") – which often causes confusion as the same name is used for both.
Originally, Spinalonga was not an island, it was part of the island of Crete. During Venetian occupation the island was carved out of the coast for defense purposes and fortifications were built there.
In 1715, the Ottoman Turks captured Spinalonga taking over the last remaining Venetian fortress and removing the last trace of Venetian military presence from the island of Crete.
The island was subsequently used as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957. It is notable for being one of the last active leper colonies in Europe.
There were two entrances to Spinalonga, one being the lepers' entrance, a tunnel known as "Dante's Gate". This was so named because the patients did not know what was going to happen to them once they arrived. However, once on the island they received food, water, medical attention and social security payments. Previously, such amenities had been unavailable to Crete's leprosy patients and they mostly lived in the area's caves, away from civilization.
Today, the uninhabited island is a popular tourist attraction in Crete. In addition to the abandoned leper colony and the fortress, Spinalonga is known for its small pebble beaches and shallow waters. The island can easily be accessed from Plaka, Elounda and Agios Nikolaos. Tourist boats depart from all three towns on a daily basis (every 30 minutes from Elounda).
There is no accommodation on Spinalonga, meaning all tours last only a few hours.
Boat trips from Elounda take approximately 25 minutes while trips departing Agios Nikolaos can take almost an hour. Round trip fare from Plaka is 8 Euro, from Elounda 10 Euro. Entrance to the island (which is a designated archaeological site) costs 8 Euro (2019).