The Samaria Gorge is the longest trekking gorge in Europe and also the most famous of all. Thousands of tourists flock here daily in the summer season to walk from the top to the bottom. For many visitors, it?is the sole purpose of their visit to Crete. The length of the gorge, which belongs to the European E4 path, reaches 18km and takes almost 4-7 hours to hike from Omalos to Agia Roumeli, depending on trekking speed.
The gorge is locarted at the South of Chania Prefecture in the larger uninhabited area of Europe, where no roads even exist. It was created by a small river running between the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) and Mountain Volakias. There are many smaller gorges vertical to Samaria Gorge, most of which have never been crossed by humans and require canyoning equipment.
While the gorge is officially 18km long, this distance actually refers to the hiking distance between the settlement of Omalos on the northern side of the plateau and the village of Agia Roumeli. In fact, the gorge is 16 km long, starting at an altitude of 1,250m at the northern entrance, and ending at the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli. The walk through Samaria National Park is 13 km long, but you have to walk three more kilometers to Agia Roumeli from the park exit, making the hike totally 16km.
The most famous part of the gorge is the stretch known as the Iron Gates, where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only four meters and soar up to a height of 500 m. The gorge became a national park in 1962, particularly as a refuge for the rare kri-kri (Cretan wildgoat), which is largely restricted to the park and the island Thodorou just off the shore of Agia Marina. There are several other endemic species in the gorge and surrounding area, as well as many other species of flowers and birds.
The village of Samaria lies just inside the gorge, in the middle of nowhere. It was finally abandoned by the last remaining inhabitants in 1962 to make way for the park. The village and the gorge take their names from the village's ancient church, Osia Maria ("Saint Mary").
A "must" for visitors to Crete is to complete the walk down the gorge from the Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea, at which point tourists sail to the nearby village of Hora Sfakion and catch a coach back to Chania. The walk takes 4-7 hours and can be strenuous, especially at the height of summer.
When to come
The problem with Samaria is crowds. It has become one of the" musts" if you go to Crete and there are up to 3000 visitors a day on very busy days. If you have the bad luck to pick one of those days, the atmosphere will be really spoilt. Starting at dawn (before the tourist coaches arrive) will give you a bit of a head start. It is possible to find good and cheap accommodation in Omalos. You can also start walking after 12.00, there won't be many people but you will most probably need to spend the night in Agia Roumeli because the last boat out will have left when you get there. However, we encourage you to do that, since staying in Agia Roumeli is quite cheap and the beach is majestic. The first tourist buses arrive at around 7.30 am and from then on it is an uninterrupted stream of buses until about 11.00 am.
As far as the times of the year are concerned, the best time is in the spring: the weather is still cool and the vegetation is at its best. The worst time is in the middle of the summer during a heat wave. Give it a miss and come again at a better time.
Local tourist operators provide organized tours to the Gorge. These include bus transportation from your hotel to the entrance (near Omalos village), and the bus will be waiting for you to disembark the ferry in Chora Sfakion to take you back. If you are on your own, you can make a one-day round trip from Chania or from Sougia or Paleochora. Note that the morning buses from Sougia and Paleochora do not operate on Sunday, but still make sure that you know the timetables. The ferries leave Agia Roumeli to Chora Sfakion (East-bound) and to Sougia/Paleochora (West-bound) at afternoon.
There also exists a "lazy way" - from Agia Roumeli to the Iron Gates (more or less an hour of non-challenging terrain) and back.
The course from Xyloskalo
Descent in the canyon starts from the position Xyloskalo at Omalos Plateau, at an altitude of 1200m. The trail is forested, wide and very well discernible, while at the beginning descends abruptly. We meet drinking water and toilets very often. In about three hours we reach the old village of Samaria, at an altitude of about 300 meters, after crossing by the church of St. George.
In Samaria there are old houses, trees offering shade, water springs and if you are lucky you will meet the endangered Cretan wildgoat. From here onwards the landscape changes, becomes drier and the slope gets smooth. One hour later we meet a small river that follows us for some time. There are several small wooden bridges in several places, above the river.
After one more hour we meet the imposing Portes (Gates) which is a very narrow passage between two tall vertical 500m high cliffs. We soon reach the old village of Agia Roumeli that was abandoned in the mid 1900s due to a devastating flood and was moved to the seaside settlement of Agia Roumeli, which is about 30 minutes away.
Operates May 1 - October 31, opens daily at 7:00
(Sometimes, due to bad weather the gorge remains closed, so its a good idea to call +30 2821067179 before coming)