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I have heard a lot about the famous Samaria Gorge in Crete and of how beautiful it is, but in my mind it wasn’t something I thought of doing any time soon.
All that until last year, at my grandmother’s funeral. My grandmother was from the beautiful island of Crete. Every summer since I was little we used to go there and stay at her sister’s house for about a month. I have the best memories of those days. So when I mentioned to one of our relatives who are also from Crete that we were visiting the area for the summer, he mentioned to us the Samaria Gorge and how rewarding it was to hike it. My husband and I immediately decided to do it.
At the beginning I was reluctant if I could manage to walk it, my boyfriend was very confident since he is in much better shape than I am but in the end, I said I would go for it.
Samaria Gorge Hike Guide
Located in Southwest Crete in the regional unit of Chania, Samaria Gorge National Park covers an area of 5,100 hectares and sees up to 3,000 people hike the gorge daily in the peak month of August.
It is the most famous gorge in Crete and is the longest gorge not only in Greece but the whole of Europe, forming part of the E4 long distance hiking trail that starts in Andalusia, Spain and finishes in Cyprus, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In this complete guide to hike the Samaria Gorge in Crete, you will find all the information needed to walk Samaria as easily as possible along with some information on its history and the flora and fauna that exists here.
Basic information about the Samaria Gorge Crete
The gorge is situated in the Samaria National park, within the White Mountains in West Crete. It is a World’s Biosphere Reserve, home to over 450 species of plants and animal, many of them can only be seen in Crete. It is 16 km long and its width is 150 m at its widest point and 3 m at its narrowest. It starts from Xyloskalo area with an altitude of 1200 m and continues down until the sea level in the village of Agia Roumeli and the Libyan sea.
Before you start the hike at Xyloskalo, I recommend a quick visit to the Museum of Natural History of Samaria Gorge as here, you’ll learn a lot about the gorge and the wider surrounding area.
Museum Opening Times: Mon-Sun (May-Oct) 8am-4pm
There are guards stationed along the hike and a doctor’s office in case you should feel unwell or injure yourself. Though you should not attempt the walk if you feel that you are not fit enough, you can be carried out of the gorge by donkey if you are hurt/unwell and cannot complete the journey on foot.
Swimming in the streams is prohibited as is camping, lighting fires, hunting, collecting plants/seeds, and staying overnight. Smoking is only allowed in the designated recreational areas to prevent forest fires.
Opening times at the Samaria Gorge Crete
The Samaria Gorge usually operates from 1st of May until the 15th of October depending on the weather, from 6am till 4pm though on wet days as well as extremely hot days, the gorge is usually shut due to visitor safety. You can either access the gorge from Xyloskalo or Agia Roumeli. (It is better from Xyloskalo because you descent most of the time). To be certain of the actual times of opening it is advisable to contact this number + 30 2821045570. The best time to cross the gorge is in May and September-October when it is not very hot.
The last admission is at 4 pm and if entering at this time, you are only allowed to walk 2km either from the top of the gorge and back or the bottom of the gorge and back, this is so that nobody stays in the park overnight.
Visit the Samaria Gorge on an organized tour or by public transport
We chose to go on an organized tour. The cost of the tour to Samaria gorge is around 30 euro per person but you get picked up and dropped off from your hotel. Also we stayed very far from Chania town so it wasn’t easy for us to take the public bus. Moreover at the end of the day you are too tired to do anything complicated. If you choose to go with a tour you don’t have to walk in a group you just enter the gorge together and have an appointment in Agia Roumeli in the afternoon to go back.
Alternatively, you can take the public bus from Chania (KTEL CHANION) that goes to Omalos in the morning. The journey time is approximately 1 hour with 1 departure in the morning out of peak season and several morning departures during August. Ask at the bus station to ensure accurate information as times change each year. There is also 1 morning bus Monday-Saturday from Sougia and Paleochora.
It is not feasible to take your hire car to the gorge if you plan to walk the entire length as to get back, you would have to make the return 16km hike or get a taxi from Chora Sfakion > Omalos costing over 130.00.
When you have crossed the gorge you will take the ferry from Agia Roumeli to either Chora Sfakia, Sougia or Palaiochora and from there take the public bus to Chania. The ferry apart from the towns mentioned can also take you to the seafront village of Loutro or to the island of Gavdos.
The last boat departs to Chora Sfakia at 17.30 or 18.00 depending on the time of year. From Sfakia to Chania the public bus waits until the boat arrives, usually departing at or after 18.30. Imagine that you will need more than 2 hours to get back to Chania from Agia Roumeli. If I were you I would choose to go to Chora Sfakia because the road has less turns. The road from Sougia is full of them.
Alternatively, you can choose to walk part of the route and come out from the same point. Usually, people chose to do this from Agia Roumeli as there is no afternoon bus service from Omalos to return you to Chania.
The entrance fee to the gorge of Samaria is 5 euro. You must keep the ticket because they check it on your way out. (To make sure no one was left inside).
You might also be interested in: The best things to do in Chania, Crete.
List of things to take with you to the Samaria Gorge
- You should wear light clothes but carry with you a jacket for the early morning
- Good walking shoes
- A small bottle of water, you will be able to refill it along the way from the springs
- A hat and sun cream
- A light snack like nuts to keep your energy levels high
- Plasters for your blisters
- Swimsuit and a towel (this is optional but a dive in the sea at the end of the walk is the most refreshing thing ever)
Information about the route in the Samaria National Park
Starting from Xyloskalo, the first part of your route 3km is the most difficult one because the terrain is full of stones and it is downhill. In some parts, there is a wooden fence to help you walk. After the first 1.7 km you will meet the 1st resting stop (Neroutsiko) where you will find drinking water and toilet.
The 2nd resting stop (Riza Sikias) is 1.1 km away and also has water and toilet.
Before the 3rd stop (Agios Nikolaos) 0.9 km you will see a lot of stones one on the top of the other. It is said that if you put the stones like this and make a wish it will come true. At this resting stop, you can visit the small church of Agios Nikolaos. You will also find drinking water and toilet. From now on the road is not so downhill but it has a lot of big rocks.
At the 4th stop (Vrysi) 0.9 km you will find only drinking water.
At the 5th resting stop (Prinari) 1.3 km you will find again only drinking water.
The 6th stop 1.2 km is in the abandoned village of Samaria. It is the biggest resting stop and it lies in the middle of the route. Here you will find drinking water, toilets and a first aid station. There you will also see Cretan wild goats (Kri Kri).
After 1.1 km you will arrive at the 7th resting point called Perdika where you will find drinking water.
At the last stop (Christo) 2.2 km away you will find water and toilets.
On the last part of your journey 2.8 km you will pass through the most famous point of the gorge, the famous “Sideroportes” (iron gates) or “Portes” (doors) the narrowest part of the gorge only 3 meters wide.
At the exit of the gorge of Samaria, you will have walked 13km. You need to walk 3 more in order to get to Agia Roumeli village. Head straight to the beach and have a refreshing swim in the Libyan sea.
Most people need somewhere between 4 to 8 hours to walk the gorge of Samaria. We made it in 4 but we were walking fast. It is recommended to do it at your own pace.
I don’t want to discourage you but the next day I couldn’t walk. My boyfriend on the other hand, was fine. It was a wonderful experience and I would do it again.
The Flora and Fauna of Samaria Gorge
Samaria Gorge is a haven for biodiversity with more than 300 species and subspecies of flora and 900 species of fauna, many endemic to the Samaria Gorge, which creates 21 types of habitat within the gorge.
Wildlife includes the Cretan wildcat (Felis silvestris cretensis), the Cretan badger (Arkalon), the Creten marten (Zourida), the Cretan weasel (Kaloyannou), the Blasius’ Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus blasii). and the beloved Cretan wild goat (Capra aegagrus cretica) also known as the Kri Kri, Agrimi Goat, and Cretan Ibex.
Birds include the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), buzzard, and the rare Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), along with many smaller bird species whilst the Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) can be found in the sea caves on the south coast of the National Park.
Endemic plants include the Cretan zelkova tree (Zelkova abelicea) and the flowering plant Bupleurum kakiskalae with the Samaria Gorge containing one-third of the known 1,800 species and subspecies of Cretan flora. New species are still being discovered and recorded, the endemic perennial chasmophyte plant (Anthemis samariensis) only discovered in 2007.
The History of Samaria Gorge
Thought to have formed 14 million years ago, the gorge has a rich history.
The now deserted village of Samaria, which is the main stopping point on the hike, was inhabited as far back as the Byzantine period with the Agios Nikolaos chapel seen today originally a sanctuary of Apollon, archaeologists finding votive offerings and terracotta fragments nearby.
Legend has it that in the 14th century, the Skordilis family (descendants of 1 of the 12 aristocratic Byzantine families) moved to the village of Samaria from Hora Sfakia after avenging a commander of the Venetian guard who had tried to kiss a beautiful young girl called Chryssomaloussa (think of a Greek Goldilocks!). She had resisted the assault and the guard cut off a lock of her hair with his sword. The men of the Skordilis family avenged the insult by wiping out the whole of the Venetian garrison including their commander.
The men fled to Samaria with more Venetians trying to enter the gorge to punish the Skordilis family for their act but without success. Eventually, an uneasy truce was made between the family and the Venetians with Chryssomaloussa becoming a nun in the convent of the Blessed Mary of Egypt (Ossia Maria) that was built in Samaria in 1379 by the Venetians.
The modern village of Agia Roumeli was once one of the 100 cities of Crete. Known as Tarra then, Homer documented that the small yet independent city had its own coins during the 3rd and 2nd Century B.C. Featuring a Cretan goat and a prominent wood exporting business which ensured its close ties with the cities of Knossos, Troy, and Mycenae who used the wood for shipbuilding and the construction of palaces.
Numerous battles were fought between the Greeks and the Ottoman Turks in the Samaria Gorge. 4,000 women and children took refuge in the gorge in 1770 during an uprising led by Daskalogiannis of Anopolis. The Turks were forced to retreat due to the stout resistance of Giannis Bonatos and his 200 men who held the Gates keeping the women and children safe.
In 1821 all of Greece rose in revolt against the Ottoman Empire but it was unsuccessful in Crete with the defeated revolutionaries forced to retreat back to Samaria Gorge where the Turks, despite their many attempts, could not capture them.
Samaria featured center stage in the Great Revolt of 1866 when the gorge and the village of Agia Roumeli were mustering points, supplies being sent from the mainland with supply warehouses on the shore at Agia Roumeli which were later destroyed when 3 warships were sent by Mustafa Pasha to bomb them, 4,000 Ottoman troops landing on the island in 1867 with the Greeks forced to barricade themselves in Samaria Gorge.
The troops failed to gain entry to the gorge so set fire to Agia Roumeli instead. In 1896, all of Greece apart from the Samaria Gorge had fallen under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
In WWII, the gorge again became a hiding place and an escape route for the retreating Allied troops who were able to dispatch information by radio from the gorge to the Middle East. It was also an escape route for the Greek royal family, who had fled to Crete for safety, they were led through Samaria Gorge and evacuated safely to Egypt.
Samaria Gorge became a national park in December 1962 to protect the Cretan Ibex, the inhabitants of the small village of Samaria having to be relocated. Notice the ruins, olive trees, as well as the restored village houses as you pass through this part of the gorge as it’s where history comes to life – The old olive mill is now an information center with art exhibits and old photographs of the village, other buildings of the old village now used as the Dr’s office and guard’s post.
Where to eat after hiking the Samaria Gorge
I totally recommend that you have lunch at the village of Agia Roumeli in a taverna called Rousios. It is not on the seafront but is a wonderful traditional tavern with incredible food. If they have fresh fish try it. They go fishing every day and serve whatever they catch.
You might also be interested in: Where to stay in Crete.
Where to stay before and/or after hiking the Samaria Gorge:
If you decide not to do the organized tour you can give yourself more time to complete the hike either by staying near the mountain village of Omalos the night before or by spending the night at the seaside village of Agia Roumeli after the hike. The Hotel Neos Omalos is located 2km from the Samaria Gorge entrance whilst the Agriorodo Omalos Holiday Accommodation and the Samaria Village Hotel are just 1km away from the gorge entrance.
At the bottom of the gorge, before you catch the boat, accommodation is more plentiful with B&B’s, rooms, and hotels to choose from. Most people opt to stay the night after the hike rather than before due to easier transport options plus more amenities not to mention being able to hobble over to the beach the next day and rest on a sunbed!
I hope you find my guide on how to hike the Samaria Gorge in Crete useful.
Have you ever hiked the Samaria Gorge in Crete? How did you find it?
Have you walked another Gorge? I would love to hear your experience!