Lentas a little to the east, is reachable by bus from Heraklion, and is a peaceful place with a sizeable sandy beach 2 km from the rather tacky down on the other side of the headland. It is reached by a rough track, but one can also walk to it across the headland. There are some tavernas along the beach, which is frequented by nudists. Camping on the beach is an option. Rooms can fill up, though with luck one might find one at a beach taverna. The town has most of the facilities sought by tourists, including many places to eat and internet cafes, etc. (Peak sanctuary / watchtower right)
To the east are some lesser, though less peopled, beaches. There was an Asclepian temple (Asclepius was the god of healing) with not much in the way of remains on the hill above these beaches at ancient Lebena. The temple was built near some hot-springs (now diverted).
A paved road which took many years to build, crosses the Messara plain going east from Ayii Dheka to Ano Viannos, flanked by the Dhiktean mountains all the way along. This is a route not taken by bus, though a pleasant drive through nice farming country. A monastic community (Moni Koudouma) is one of the few 'sights', on the coast to the south of Pirgos. One can walk the 20km down from Pirgos (along the Prinias road which goes through the hamlet of Tris Ekklissies and then turns into dirt road). By car, the severe switchbacks that lead down are to be driven with extreme caution. The monastery sits in a pine forest in a cove, surrounded by pine trees. The remaining monks there might offer a mattress for the night, for which a donation to the monastery (rather than payment, which will be refused) is appropriate. It is a magic kind of place by the sea. Those who feel drawn to such places and think they might want to spend more than one night are encouraged to bring their own supplies.
Along the coast are Keratokambos and Arvi, but Ano Viannos (left), is larger and has some nice churches with some 14th century frescoes. They are Aghia Pelayia and Aghios Yiorgos and are up a narrow street with steps near the big plane tree on the east of the village. The place is on the cliffs of the Dhikti mountains, with cool mountain air even in the heat of summer and was a center for this part of the province until the resorts edged it aside.
From here one can go east to Ierapetra or continue on through Amiras. From there you can turn off to Arvi by a huge WW II memorial for Cretans who lost their lives in that war. The road is paved and comes out on the coast by a stream gorge. This is a town built on the site of the ancient Roman Arvis. There is little tourism here, both because of the heat ( as the place is hemmed in by cliffs which trap it) and because of the local wealth from fruit growing: pineapples, oranges, bananas. The beach is long but of the pebble variety. A monastery sits up above the village, populated by only a few monks. There are deserted beaches and tiny villages along the coast to the east with many opportunities for camping and walking.
Keratokambos is a small place by the sea with some rooms rented out by the tavernas, but they are of the most basic to be found. Kastri Keratokambos has better facilities. Camping along empty beaches along the coast in either direction is possible.