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Samaria Gorge: One of the best walking trails in Crete

The Samaria Gorge was geologically formed more than 2 million years ago when, under the influence of tectonic processes, the island of Crete acquired its shape. Since ancient times, people have lived in the gorge; it also served as a refuge from the Turkish yoke, German occupation, and civil war. In 1962, the Samaria Gorge received national park status; all Samaria village residents were resettled and opened to visitors.

“Those who have not visited the Omalos plateau and have not passed through the Samaria gorge do not know the Crete”, say the locals.

The Samaria gorge national park attracts trekkers and nature lovers from all around the world, for many, it is the main destination of their trip to Crete. The Samaria Gorge is considered to be one of the best walking trails in Crete.

Samaria Gorge

The Samaria Gorge Hike In A Nutshell

When is the Samaria gorge open and the best time of the year for the hike

Samaria National Park is open from 1st May until 31st October from 7:00 to 16:00. The gorge may be closed due to weather conditions (rain, strong wind). The best time to visit the Samaria Gorge is in May and the second half of September-October. Spring is the best time to arrive, the wildflowers are in bloom and temperatures are cooler than the midsummer months. In July-August, it is boiling hot and very crowded.

Samaria Gorge entrance fee

To enter the Gorge of Samaria there is an entrance fee that costs five (5) euros. Children under 15 years old have a free pass. The entrance fee is the same regardless you wish to enter the Gorge only for a few kilometres or for the entire route.

Note: It is important to keep your ticket to be checked at the exit. This is done for the safety of the visitors since the Park rangers will know how many people have entered and exited the Gorge.

You can find up-to-date information on the official website.

How hard is the Samaria gorge hike?

It’s mostly downhill, and it will put your knees to the test. The hardest part is at the beginning of the walk, on the first 6 km of the trail, with a couple of steep descents followed by two challenging hikes. Nothing is impossible, but take your time and remember that after 6 km, everything becomes easy and simple. Once you get to the bottom of the gorge, the trail is flat and very pleasant.

Steep stairs at the beginning of Samaria Gorge

How long is Samaria gorge

The length of the Samaria gorge route is about 16 km, of which 13 km pass through the National Park and the last 3 km from the exit of the park to the village of Agia Roumeli.

Elevation

The Samaria gorge hike starts at an altitude of about 1250m at the northern entrance in Xyloskalo (which means “wooden staircase”) and takes you all the way down to the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli.

The width of the Samaria gorge

The width of the Samaria gorge varies from several meters to hundreds or more. Perhaps, the most impressive section of the canyon, so-called the “Gate” or the “Iron Gate”, is located 1.3 km from the southern exit, where the cliffs converge at a distance of only 4 meters and rise to a height of 500 meters. It is hard to describe this place in words, if there is such an opportunity, it is better to see all this beauty with your own eyes. By the way, it is clear that there are no gates here! It’s just that from some angles, an illusion is created, as if the rocks, in some places with a rusty hue, will close and block the path.

The “Gate” or the “Iron Gate” of the Samaria Gorge, Crete

How long is the Samaria gorge walk?

Most people need somewhere between 4 to 7 hours to walk the gorge of Samaria. This depends on your walking speed and the number of stops you will do.

Lazy walk

The most exciting and spectacular places of the Samaria gorge hike are in the second part of the walk, closer to Agia Roumeli. Suppose you just want to take a leisurely stroll. In that case, you should start the hike from Agia Roumeli and walk back to The Gates, the Saint George Church and the Samaria Village. After you are tired, you can return to the beach.

Flora and fauna of the Samaria gorge

The gorge of Samaria contains a wide variety of trees, shrubs, flowers and other plants, some of which are unique to the area. The vegetation consists mainly of tall Cypresses, many of them many centuries old, Kermes oaks and Cretan maples in the upper reaches of the gorge. The best-known animal connected with the gorge of Samaria is the wild goat. The Cretan wild goat (Capra aegagrus creticus), also called kri-kri or agrimi, chestnut brown in colour, with a darker brown stripe running from its neck along the spine down to its tail.

Wild goat, also called kri-kri

Samaria Gorge Trail Map

Samaria Gorge Trail Map

How do you get to Samaria gorge?

Get to Samaria gorge on an organized tour

The easiest way to get to the gorge is to sign up for an organized tour from Chania or Rethymno to Samaria Gorge. This way, all the logistics will be taken care of, and you can just come and enjoy the hike.

A Samaria gorge tour bus picks you up from the hotel. On the way to Xyloskalo, the guide gives instructions on safety precautions and a detailed action plan. The guide will coordinate the group throughout the trip (you do not need to walk with the tour group), find out about your state of health, and share interesting facts about the gorge. In Agia Roumeli, you will be provided with a ticket for the ferry to Chora Sfakia (one hour), where the bus will meet you for the hour-and-a-half return to Chania. Everything is extremely simple; all you have to do is listen to the guide, comply with safety precautions and have fun.

The village of Agia Roumeli

From Chania to Samaria gorge by bus or by car

From Chania to Samaria gorge by bus: Chania-Omalos (Samaria Gorge) buses leave in the morning from Chania Central Bus Station: ticket € 7.50, ride about 90 minutes (bus timetable). Ferry Agia Roumeli-Chora Sfakion: leaves at 17:30, ticket € 11, ride 1 hour (Ferry timetable). Bus to Chania: Sfakia (Chora Sfakion) – Chania (the bus usually awaits the ferry’s arrival): ticket € 8.30, ride about 100 minutes.

From Chania to Samaria gorge by car: If you consider making the trip by car, the best option is to allocate two days for the journey. After all, we enter the gorge in one place and leave in a completely different one.

Option 1: You can arrive a day earlier and spend the night in the village of Omalos overlooking the White Mountains. Parking in front of the entrance to the national park is free. Return road: first, take the ferry Agia Roumeli-Sougia, then the bus Sougia-Chania, which goes through the plateau Omalos. Alternatively, you can take a taxi back to your car from Sougia (about 40 minutes drive). But you must pre-book a taxi as there are only two taxis that operate from Sougia.

Option 2: Arrive early in the morning at the mountain village of Omalos, park your car at the national park entrance (for free), and start the hike. Once you got to the seaside village of Agia Roumeli, book a room at one of the Hotels (better to do it in advance) and enjoy the rest of the day by the Libyan Sea beach. The next day, if you feel that you have a lot of power and your whole body is not sore from the last day, you can hike the Gorge again, but this time uphill, which will definitely be a challenge. Alternatively, just explore the surroundings before taking the ferry to Sougia, then the bus Sougia-Chania, which goes through the plateau Omalos, where you left your car parked.

Walled gardens in the village of Samaria

How to get to Samaria gorge from Heraklion

One of the easiest ways to get from Heraklion to Samaria gorge is to get a full-day excursion to Samaria Gorge which begins with the pickup in Heraklion and a drive to Omalos, in the heart of the White Mountains, where you can enjoy breakfast before you begin your hike. The trek will take you over rocks and stones, through a forest of thousand-year-old trees and along a river by fresh-water springs. Along the way, you’ll have spectacular views of Crete’s most beautiful mountain range, and you are also likely to see mountain goats roaming in the wild. You will be accompanied by a professional mountain escort who speaks English, German and Greek.

Useful Tips when visiting Samaria Gorge

  • A tour of the Samaria gorge is strictly prohibited for those who have problems with the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. With prudence, it is worth setting off for practically healthy older people and people with musculoskeletal system disorders: mountains do not forgive mistakes.
  • Children, for whom the entrance to the Samaria gorge is free, should be taken with you only if you are confident that they will be able to walk along the whole route.
  • On the road to the Samaria gorge, you will need to equip yourself accordingly. Shoes should be closed with sturdy soles – ideally, climbing boots, but sports shoes will do as well.
  • Before starting a hike to the gorge, be sure to use sun protection creams and wear a cap or kerchief. Rockfalls in the summer in clear weather in the canyon are rare, but some tourists also wear a helmet.
  • You may not want to eat on the road, but you will definitely want to drink. It is not worth taking a lot of water with you; almost every kilometre of the route has specially marked fountains with the purest water. Grab some fruits or nuts from food with you, but not much: every extra gram becomes a thousand times heavier in the mountains.
  • There is a doctor stationed in the village of Samaria.
  • There are toilets in several places and plenty of rubbish bins.
  • We recommend staying in Chania—the closest city to the trailhead—before hiking the gorge. The drive takes about 90 minutes; thus, you will get to the starting point before the tourists arriving from Heraklion or elsewhere.
Samaria Gorge

Samaria Gorge nearby Beaches

Agia Roumeli is a small secluded village, located 56km south of Chania city, on a wide bay shaped at the exit of the Samaria Gorge. The beaches of Agia Roumeli’s wider area are magnificent, spanning a length of 3km or more. The closer you are to the village, the more crowded and organized it is. The beach in front of the taverns, west of the harbour, called Gialos, is the most organized and provides a lot of amenities (restaurants, showers, umbrellas, pedal boats, etc.). This pebbly beach is the most crowded beach of all in the area.

Gialos is not the only beach in the area, is however the busiest. On the east side of the bay, beyond the river of Samaria gorge, there are beautiful rock formations and cavities at position Zeromouri, which have beautiful pebbly beaches in front of them. Supposedly, the west end of the bay of Agia Roumeli is called Mashali and there is a second dock for boats and a lonely tavern with rooms. Next to this dock, there are two beautiful beaches with fine pebbles. Lastly, if you swim or kayak beyond the western edge of the beach, you will meet three caves, in front of which “XS size” pebbly beaches are formed! They are known as Spilies sto Marmaro (i.e. Caves in Marble).

If you visit Crete and like hiking even a little bit, you must add Samaria Gorge to your travel itinerary. It is sure to highlight your world travels and is, without a doubt, an epic hike.

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