Experience has taught us that free camping in Crete or in any other area in Greece doesn’t have any negative affects on the natural environment, as long as there is support from the local authorities and residents.
If all municipalities in Crete take care of garbage collection, and offer basic facilities, such as public toilets and showers, free camping can be an additional attraction in particular areas in Crete and increase the locals’ income, because each camper will visit a tavern for his dinner, will have a coffee or drink in some bar and will buy the necessary goods from local stores.
Free camping in Sougia
Sougia and its large beach is a good example; many campers gather there each summer. If you pass by Sougia, you will not see any garbage on the beach, or anything else proving that free camping has caused problems in the area.
The reason is that the village is close to the camping site; it’s easy for the campers to throw their garbage away and use the restrooms at the nearby taverns.
It is also important that the locals do not have any hostile attitude towards the campers; on the contrary they embrace them and help them, offering free showers at the beach for some years now.
Free camping in Kedrodassos
Opposite to that, at the Kedrodassos (Cedar Forest) beach south from Elafonissi, the big problem is the accumulation of garbage left by the campers in an old threshing circle (aloni), or the pieces of toilet paper underneath the cedar trees. How can someone have a nice time when he sets his tent up close to a tree used as a toilet?
The result is an ugly spectacle noticed by anyone who comes to the kedrodassos beach, which is by the way one of the most beautiful in Crete.
Responsible for this fact are both the authorities that do not collect the garbage at least once per week and the campers who could take it with them when leaving and throwing it to the first garbage can available. The problem is ongoing, because the municipality rejects its responsibility, claiming that the Cedar Forest is under the authority of the port authorities in Paleochora.
Moreover, a second big problem in the Cedar Forest refers to the cutting of branches from the trees to light fires at night. The trees are few, so there are not enough dried branches for the campers, who cut the living ones and hurt the trees, preventing their further growth. The problem lies to the lack of information, which could be solved, though, by the authorities placing a few informative signs in the area. They should also control the area to locate the violators.
Is free camping good for Crete?
Is free camping good for the island of Crete? Is it damaging to nature or does it help people enjoy it more? The question is hard to answer because it depends on several factors.
The most important factor is the campers themselves, their culture and their environmental consciousness. For example, I remember a young man visiting Chrissi (Gaidouronissi) island in Ierapetra, saying that the sea is so powerful, that in winter it makes all garbage and plastic bottles disappear. This man, with his naive mind, believed that garbage dissolves in the water and the next summer the island of Chrissi is perfectly clean and ready to welcome the new summer guests. However, the plastics and other garbage do not disappear or dissolve in the water, but pollute the deep of the sea and threaten the lives of sea animals.
Unfortunately this young man is not an only case, and not even the worst one. The combination of ignorance and lack of environmental sensitivity is the most destructive and is characteristic of the campers, whose only reason for free camping are the cheap long term vacation.
There are also those who camp on the beach along with their household, who will set their tent and a couple more empty ones in order to prevent other campers from coming close by and ruin the fun, who will be screaming day and night, listen to loud music and harass the poor ones who will be relatively close to them.
Free camping in popular areas
The second most important factor is the popularity of a particular beach. The more campers on a beach, the harder it is to keep it clean, especially when the third factor is missing: the available facilities from the authorities. Garbage cans and toilets are absolutely necessary in any beach where free camping is popular and common.
Free camping in remote beaches
On the contrary, the isolated beaches, which are harder to access, are in better condition because only those who really love nature will visit them. These people are more aware of the need to protect nature and try to minimize the consequences of their stay. The environmental sensitivity of the campers along with the small number of those who visit the isolated beaches, is what makes the difference here and maintains them in better condition than the rest and more popular ones.
Should free camping be allowed in Crete and Greece?
Have we reached a safe conclusion? Should free camping be allowed in Crete and Greece? My opinion is that yes it should, but under certain preconditions, such as the support of local municipalities offering the suitable facilities and informing the campers.
Free camping in Crete or other Greek islands is synonymous to enjoying nature; but if we want to keep enjoying it, nature should be protected from the human activities, which, unfortunately, is not always the case.