Samaria gorge(updated July 14, 2007)
- The gorge
- Pieces of information
- When to go
- Public Transport
- The rules in the nature reserve
For many people a walk through the Samaria gorge is a big challenge. Most people who come to Crete have already heard about this gorge. The gorge was created by a river between mount Psiristra (1766 m.) and mount Volakias (2115 m.). Through the ages it made its way through the rocks. It created a gorge which is approximately 16 kilometer long.
The trip through the gorge starts in Xyloskalo. You will walk along a wooden staircase. At the beginning the stairs are very steep. During the first two kilometers of the trip you will drop about 700 meters. After this steep part of the trip you arrive at the chapel of Agios Nikolaos. From there the route is less steep.
After walking for about 6 kilometers you will pass the village of Samaria. The residents have been obliged to leave this village in 1962, at the time the gorge became a national park. The village is no longer inhabited. After Samaria you will pass the church of St. Mary of Egypt. Through a corruption of the name of this saint, the name Samaria arose.
After Samaria the walk will continue on the riverbed. You have to cross the river on several occasions (when the riverbed isn't uncovered). The rock formations on the sides of the gorge are always spectacular. They are also growing closer to each other. At its narrowest point, the two sides of the gorge are only three and a half meters apart from each other. That while the rocks on both sides are a few hundred meters high.
After this spectacular part you will arrive in the old village of Agia Roumeli. It is not worthwhile to stay there. Food and drinks are for sale, but extortionate prices are asked. From the old village of Agia Roumeli it is a 1 kilometer walk to the new Agia Roumeli which lies on the coast of the Libyan Sea. Agia Roumeli is not accessible by road. So, you have to travel by boat to a different place which is accessible by road.
It is important to keep your entrance ticket from the park. You must return it at the exit. So, the staff is certain no one is remaining in the gorge after closing time.
Pieces of information
The Iron Gate
The gorge is opened from May to mid-October. This is somewhat dependent on the amount of water in the gorge. In 2004, the park opened on April 10th. The entrance costs € 5, - (children under 15 years free, students half price). The entrance is open from 6 am until 3 o'clock in the afternoon. During heavy rain, the gorge closed. This is related to the risk of falling rocks.
Near the entrance to the gorge is a small museum. Here, you can see some things about the ecology and the flora and fauna in the region. The museum is open from March to November, 9 am to 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Access costs 60 cents. The museum is not really special. A visit is not really worthwhile.
It is often said that the gap is the longest in Europe. This is not correct. The French 'Gorges du Verdon', with their 21 kilometers are a little bit longer. The narrow exit at the end of the Samaria gorge is often called the Iron Gate. This name is not correct. The local people called the passage the 'doors'. Why it's now called the Iron Gate is a mystery.
Because cars can't enter the gorge, there are emergency donkeys walking around. When you get injured the park keepers will transport you with a donkey, so you can still leave the park. In the first 2 kilometers of the trip you can also find donkeys. They can bring you back to the starting point, where you get in trouble already at the beginning of the walk.
The trip through the gorge is fairly heavy, but generally, most people can make the trip. If you do suffer from injuries, asthma or other things that can hinder walking it is not recommended to make the trip. The trip is also not suitable for children under 9 years of age. The walk takes about 4 hours. But if you want to rest or enjoy the scenery it will take approximately 6 hours. Experienced hikers can do the trip in 2 hours, while some people need 10 hours to finish the hike.
It is important to wear good shoes to wear during the walk. Make sure your shoes fit well and have good profile. Mountaineering is not necessary. Sport shoes for outdoor use are good enough for most people. Wearing flip-flops, sneakers or sandals is not recommended.
Food is not sold alongside the route. It is therefore advisable to bring food yourself. Be sure to eat well before you start walking. Drinking water is necessary especially when it's hot. Along the route, you can find several water sources where water can be tapped. This water is clean and you can drink it without problems. Do not drink water from the river. This water is of a lesser quality than the water from the sources.
When you think you can not opt for the 16 kilometer hike you can choose for another gorge. Apart from the Samaria gorge there are a number of other gorges which can be visited. The Imbros gorge is the most popular after the Samaria gorge. The trip through the Imbros gorge is only 7 kilometers long.
When to go
Because of the big crowds and heat it is recommended not to visit the gorge in July and August. The flora and fauna are also not at their best during this period. In the spring and autumn, it's all much better and much calmer than in the high season. During these periods the visit to the gorge is much more worthwhile. During spring it's the water level in the gorge can be high. Sometimes you need to wade through the river. Therefore it's advisable to bring some dry clothes with you.
In July and August the gorge attracts at least 3,000 visitors a day. It is therefore very busy. At the beginning of the trip you really walk in a row and you will see little more than the back of your predecessor. It is also very hot during this period. Therefore it's advisable to break occasionally. So you see at least something and you become less rapidly exhausted.
You can arrange a group excursion to the Samaria gorge. There are plenty of places where you can book these visits. For example, whit you travel guide, at the reception of your hotel or at tourist shops in the place where you stay. In terms of price it will not make much difference. At the tourist shops they often will try to palm off more on excursions than you asked for. If you are planning to do other excursions you can make a favorable price. Haggling is certainly possible.
There are two different excursions bookable. Samaria Gorge Long Way and Samaria Gorge Easy Way. The Long Way tour is a walk through the entire gorge, as we have described above. The Easy Way excursion takes you through Hora Sfakion by boat to Agia Roumeli (the end of the hike through the gorge). From there you can walk to the Iron Gate. Later you can use the ferry back to Hora Sfakion where you will be picked up by the bus. The trip is much lighter than the complete walk through the gorge. You will miss the beautiful beginning of the trip.
For example: The tour (Long Way) departs at approximately half 6 in the morning from Malia. The return at the hotel is at approximately 11 o'clock in the evening.
It is also possible to visit the Samaria gorge using public transport. This is somewhat cheaper, but not easier. It will take quite some time to find out how it all works. Since the trip through the gorge will take some time you probably will have time too short. The buses to the beginning of the gorge are packed with tourists in high season. If you want to use the public transport than you may first want to go to Chania, from there the trip takes about an hour. The buses to the beginning of the gorge (Xyloskalo) depart at 6:15, 7:30, 8:30 and 13:45. The bus from 8:30 is the latest you can get to make it to the gorge in time. If you stay away from Chania, like in Heraklion, it is impossible to reach Chania before departure of this bus. The trip from Chania to Xyloskalo costs about 5 euro. You can also take a bus from from Rethymno to Xyloskalo. At 6:15 the buses to de gorge will depart. The trip from Rethymno takes about two and half hours.
You can also come to the gorge a day early. You can stay at Omalos which lies about 4 kilometers from the park entrance. You can stay overnight and go to the gorge the next morning. To get to Omalos you can take the bus which departs from Chania at 13:45. On the day before the hike through the gorge you can also make a walk on the Omalos plateau, which is certainly worthwhile. It is very peaceful and especially in the summer a little cooler than the rest of Crete. The next day you can start the hike through the gorge before the big crowds arrive. That way you can see a lot more of the gorge than others who walk between the major groups.
Another option is to take a taxi from Chania which costs about 40 euro for up to 4 people.
On the way back, it is important that you take the boat to Hora Sfakion from Agia Roumeli. Don't go to the other destinations (Sougia and Paleochora). Hora Sfakion is the only place where a bus back to Chania is. From Chania you can take a bus to return to the place where you stay during your vacation.
The rules in the nature reserve
To visit the national park in the right direction a set of rules is made which the visitors will be required to apply. Park keepers keep that monitored. The rules are as follows:
It is strictly prohibited to:
- light fires;
- camp or stay overnight;
- pick flowers;
- uproot, damage or destroy plants;
- remove or damage nests, eggs or nestlings;
- destroy or damage the geological formations, the signs and other park facilities, the monuments ad other cultural elements;
- posses arms or traps;
- swim in the gorge's streams;
- dogs are not allowed in the park *;
- play radio;
- throw stones;
- make loud noises;
- dispose litter elsewhere than indicated;
- to smoke in places other than the rest-sites provided;
- consume alcohol;
* = Officially, dogs are not allowed to enter the park. Many guidebooks announce that it is permitted, provided that at any time the dog is leashed. Personally, we never came against dogs in the reserve. We are not sure about what is correct.