Hiking the Samaria Gorge was on our list of must-dos on our recent holiday to Crete. It’s Europe’s longest and deepest gorge, formed by a river running through the White Mountains to the Libyan Sea.
Getting to the Samaria Gorge from Chania
It’s possible to take a public bus to the Samaria Gorge, but we opted for an organised excursion with ioTours to simplify the logistics of the day. We were picked up from our hotel at 5.55am and taken to the trailhead at Xyloskalo on the Omalos Plateau, 1230m above sea level. The drive takes around an hour from Chania.
Hiking the Samaria Gorge
The entire hike is downhill, but the steepest section is at the beginning where it drops 1000m in the first 2km. The trail takes a zig-zag path through the pine and cypress forests on the Xyloscalo or ‘wooden staircase’. It’s quite busy with walkers for the first few kilometres before the crowds begin to thin out.
After the descent, the trail continues along the path of the riverbed. During summer, the river is just a small stream following between the rocks. The water is so fresh, clean and cool we were desperate to dip our feet in, but it’s strictly against the National Park rules!
The passage of the gorge becomes narrower and the rocky walls become higher until you pass through the most famous point of the gorge- the Sideroportes or ‘Iron Gates’. The distance between the gates is just 3 metres while their vertical height reaches up to 300 metres.
The Samaria Gorge is the most visited trail in Crete and so is very well maintained and signposted. It’s almost impossible to get lost. The gorge was designated a National Park in 1962 to preserve the rare and endangered flora and fauna. Along the way, there are signs with information about the plants, birds, animals and rocks you see around you. Rest stops are every few kilometres with water to refill your bottles, toilets and benches.
As well as natural beauty, there are also signs of the previous residents. The gorge was inhabited since the beginning of time- there are remnants of Venetian churches and Turkish forts scattered along the trail. Around half-way, you come across the abandoned village of Samaria with its derelict cottages- the residents were relocated in 1962 when the area was designated a national park. It’s the perfect place to stop for a quick lunch break
The walk itself it’s fairly challenging- the hardest part is navigating the loose rocks and slippery stones underfoot. You will need a decent pair of hiking boots (like the Quechua MH500 Hiking Shoes ) with a good grip to avoid slipping on the scree. The guideline seems to be 5-7 hours to complete the hike, but Glen and I walked quite quickly and finished in just over 4 hours.
At the end of the Samaria Gorge, there is the option to walk the extra 3km to the coastal village of Agia Roumeli or take a minibus. Arriving in Agia Roumeli was one of the highlights of the hike for me. The sea is crystal clear and calm- it’s perfect for swimming so we were glad we’d packed our swimwear and flipflops! Glen and I were among the first to arrive at the finish so we had the tavernas and beach to ourselves as the village gradually filled up with hikers.
Returning from the Samaria Gorge
The only way out of Agia Roumeli is by ferry which departs at 5.30pm daily for Sougia, the next village along the coast. From Sougia, we were collected by coach and taken back to our hotel for 9pm. Be prepared for a very long day if you are planning to hike the Samaria Gorge!
There is also a ‘lazy way’ to do the Samaria Gorge, which is to take the ferry to Agia Roumeli and hike in from the opposite direction up to the Iron Gates. This option is just 4km, but I feel that you’d miss out on the full experience.
We paid 35€ for our trip, which was 20€ for the coach transfer, 5€ for entry to gorge and 10€ for the ferry. The gorge is open from 1st May to 15th October from 6am to 4pm from each of the entrances.
Have you ever hiked the Samaria Gorge?