Hike through the spectacular Samaria Gorge on the island of Crete

Samaria Gorge
Trekking in Samaria Gorge is an amazing experience to experience while traveling in Crete. Credit: Lapplaender / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 de

The breathtaking Samaria Gorge in Crete is extremely popular with hikers and non-hikers alike, and it’s very easy to see why.

The 15-kilometer (10-mile) promenade takes you through a magnificent UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and some of the most unique landscapes in all of Greece.

The second largest gorge in Europe

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The Samaria Gorge is near the town of Chania on the island of Crete, and visitors can get there simply by taking a pleasant hour-long bus ride. Private cars are not at all practical for this trip as the hike is long and ends very far from the starting point.

The gorge was formed by a small river flowing between the White Mountains and Mount Volakias. Although there are many gorges in Crete, the Samaria Gorge is by far the largest and is known to be the second largest gorge in Europe.

The village of Samaria was once located inside the gorge, but was finally abandoned by the last inhabitants in 1962 to make way for the Samaria Gorge Park. The village and the gorge take their name from the old village church, Óssia María.

A notable feature of the Cretan Gorge is that it is home to a number of endemic species, including the Cretan Kri-kri goat. Almost all of the Kri-Kri goats that live outside of captivity have made their home in the Samaria Gorge, which makes the area special for conservationists.

Kri-kri was so endangered in 1960 that there was a total population of less than 200 at the time. This low number of individuals may have been due to the fact that this was the only meat available to mountain guerrilla fighters during German occupation in World War II. The status of kri-kri was one of the reasons that Samaria Gorge became a national park in 1962.

Unfortunately, kri-kri is still under threat today, with a total population of only around 2,000 individuals. However, you may be able to spot one of the incredibly rare goats on your hike in Samaria!

Samaria Gorge hike

The head of the gorge is in Xyloskalo, a small village that offers a few options for food and drink before brave walkers embark on the long and exhausting day ahead. There is an entrance fee to the gorges of € 5 ($ 6), and from then on, hikers have their day to do.

The gorge is only open for hiking during the warmer months of spring and summer. This is partly because it becomes dangerous and difficult to navigate when it rains, so it is important for visitors to keep an eye on the weather forecast when planning a hike.

The walking trail ends in a picturesque village named Agia Roumeli, nestled between the gorges and the Libyan Sea. After such a long excursion, people will often choose to spend a night in Agia Roumeli itself or even in one of the villages of Sougia or Hora Sfakion, which are only a few minutes away by boat. Alternatively, hikers can return to Chania by coach.

Samaria Gorge Crete
The “gates” of the Samaria Gorge. Credit: Dkoukoul / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the most magical parts of the Samaria Gorge hike is a section of the trail called “the gates”. This aptly named part of the awesome hike denotes a slightly claustrophobic but impressive area where the sides of the gorge close together, leaving a gap of just four meters (13 feet) for hikers to squeeze through. This creates a lasting effect on those who sail it, especially since the walls of the gorge also reach 300 meters (980 feet) along this stretch.

The hike will often take people five to seven hours, unless they choose to do it “lazy”; a modified and shorter hike from the village of Agia Roumeli to the gates and back.

Local tourist operators offer organized tours of the Gorges. These include bus transportation from popular hotels to the gorge entrance and a bus connection that will be waiting for hikers after disembarking from the ferry in the nearby villages of Sougia or Hora Sfakion.

These organized tours are often hailed as the best way to experience Samaria Gorge in Crete, as they allow visitors to sit down and plan the technical details of their trek with just one click. Tour guides will also help ensure the safety of all who trek through the gorges, following the last hikers on the trail to ensure everyone makes it to Agia Roumeli.

Whichever way you decide to get to Samaria Gorge it is a once in a lifetime experience.

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