The Samaria Gorge in western Crete’s White Mountains is Europe’s longest gorge and one of Greece’s most cherished and well-trodden hiking spots. It’s likely to feature on the itinerary of many active travellers on Crete holidays, and for some it’s the main attraction that draws them to the island.
What to expect
A hike through the Samaria Gorge takes you through spectacular scenery, down gently sloping pine and cypress forest paths, across rivers and creeks and past deserted farm buildings, eventually reaching the black sand beach of Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea.
The gorge is also known as the Samaria National Park, home to over 450 species of plants, while birds and animals include bearded vultures and the wild ‘Agrimia’ (or Kri-Kri) goats who are native to Crete and tend to cluster around the abandoned Samaria Village to graze.
Planning your trip
Expect to pay a 5 Euro admission fee,which goes towards the park’s conservation. The gorge is only open during the summer months for the majority of those on holidays to Crete – usually from early May until the end of October.
Samaria attracts around 2,000 walkers per day, so it’s worth planning your hike to avoid the crowds. The 16km hike is very well signposted throughout, it’s mostly downhill and should not greatly trouble experienced hikers, but an early start is best in the height of summer before the afternoon heat kicks in.
Arriving at dawn also means you’ll get a head start on the majority of walkers arriving on the tourist buses that pitch up from 7.30am onwards. Alternatively, you could start around midday and stay overnight in Agia Roumeli. It’s not possible to stay in the park after dark, so staff will turn away anyone who arrives after 2pm.
Your best bet to access the gorge is by using public transport. Many buses from Chania will drop you off at ‘the Wooden Steps’, the car park at Omalos where the route begins. You can get back to Chania from Agia Roumeli by catching two ferries and there are plenty of tour operators who will gladly organise your connections for you.
Tips for the Samaria route
Don’t underestimate the punishing effects of hiking a long, rocky track in temperatures up to 40 degrees. Make sure you bring a sunhat, sunscreen, plenty of water, a picnic (there are few watering holes and no cafes along the route) some plasters and of course a decent pair of hiking boots.
Most walkers complete it in around six hours and there is even a ‘short cut’ for those who want to do it ‘the easy way.’ This goes from Agia Roumeli to ‘the Iron Gates’, about half way along, the narrowest part of the gorge where you can touch both sides of the rock wall which towers several hundred metres above you. The final three kilometres is the most challenging stretch since there’s little shade, but if you can keep going you’ll be rewarded by reaching the beautifully serene resort of Agia Roumeli at the end of it!
Samaria is located in the wild rural regions of south-west Crete but is perfectly accessible from north coast towns like Chania (around an hour’s drive), as well as smaller destinations like fishing village Georgioupolis.