Samaria Gorge is the second most visited tourist attraction on Crete (following the Minoan palace of Knossos) and by far the most popular walk. More than a quarter million people walk through the gorge every year from May to October. In winter the gorge is closed to visitors due to danger posed by water and falling stones.
It is the longest one in Europe. It is an area of stunning natural beauty. Rare flora and fauna have survived in this area and are protected. The mountains that have formed it are wild, high and steep. One will pass through forests of ancient cypresses and pines and descend between vertical cliffs. The path starts from Xyloskalo (near Omalos) in the White Mountains at an altitude of 1230 meters and comes to an end at the village of Agia Roumeli at the Libyan sea. Walking through the gorge usually takes anything from 3 to 5 hours (excluding the breaks).
What to see
If you would like to avoid the crowds, you could choose to start your walk towards the middle of the day. This way you could reach Agia Roumeli in the evening, having enjoyed the gorge all to yourself. You could spend the night in Agia Roumeli and then have a wonderful day at the beach before you leave.
Nevertheless beware: the Samaria gorge is not just an easy stroll. The path is 16km long and although it is maintained and in good condition, it is quite stony and also steep at times. If you are not used to this type of exercise you may find it pretty heavy going and will certainly feel your legs for days afterwards.
The terrain is stony most of the time but it varies. At the beginning the path is paved with uneven stones, then at times it is more like a forest path with some earth. Once you reach the river bed you walk mainly on pebbles (which is tiring on the sole of the feet). You also have to cross the river at least a dozen times, sometimes on small wooden bridges but more often by stepping on rocks. These have been placed at strategic intervals but still require some sure-footedness. The only easy path is once you leave the southern end of the National Park: it is flat and there are no stones, no shade either so that the last 3 km can be really really hot in summer.
How long does it take and how fit do you need to be?
A walk of 16 km on flat ground should take just over 3 hours if you walk at a brisk pace. This is theoretically quite easy in the gorge of Samaria as you are going down most of the time but the path requires some care and attention and the walk will take you a minimum of 4 hours of walking time. Add to this time to rest, to stop and look at the scenery, take photographs and you can count about 6 or 7 hours to cover the entire distance.
The walk is long and can be arduous but it is not a difficult walk. Still, every day people get into trouble or end up having an experience which is far from pleasant. The most common factors are:
- people who never do any exercise and suddenly want their body and legs to walk 16 uneven km without protesting
- bad shoes creating blisters and / or foot-ache
- problems with the heat (in summer)
- knee problems that develop during the steep descent at the beginning of the walk and have no time to get better once that original strain is over
Despite the amazing routes for hiking, there is also another activity that can improve your experience in the gorge: Canyoning! What you need to take with you:
- A water bottle which you can refill on the way.
- Sun cream and a hat, especially for the last part of the walk which has very little shade.
- Good shoes. These don’t have to be hiking boots but you won’t be contributing to your enjoyment by wearing tennis shoes or sandals.
- Some food. There is no food available inside the National Park.
- Something warm to wear for the early morning: it can be cold at 1200m.
- A supply of plasters in case of blisters.
Also be aware that some points require special knowledge so the best is to have an official guider with you. You never know what you will face and you always have to be prepared for everything!