If you are on holiday in Crete, you can't miss the famous Samaria Gorge! As one of the longest gorges in Europe, it meets all the requirements for a spectacular hiking adventure.
The Samaria Gorge is located in the White Mountains in the southwest of Crete. It is one of the most visited sights in Crete, along with the famous ruins of Knossos and the spectacular Archaeological Museum in the capital Heraklion. The impressive gorge also features on our list of the Top 10 Sights of Crete and the Top 10 Sights of Greece.
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Pictures: Hiking through the Samaria Gorge
Photo gallery: Samaria Gorge on Crete
With its length of 13 kilometres, the Samaria Gorge, which is around 2 million years old, is often called the longest gorge in Europe. In fact, however, it is surpassed by the 20-kilometre-long Verdon Gorge in France and the Tara Gorge in Montenegro. The latter is an incredible 78 kilometres long, but can only be explored along the river itself. The Samaria Gorge is particularly famous because it can be walked from the centre of the island of Crete to the Libyan Sea.
Tip: The Aradena Gorge on the south coast of Crete is also spectacular, not as crowded and therefore not as well developed for tourists, but its passage is a sporting challenge.
Best time to hike the Samaria Gorge
The "Grand Canyon of Europe" is open from 1 May to 31 October, in winter the gorge is completely flooded. Hikers are allowed into the gorge between 6:00 and 15:00 for an entrance fee and are registered so that no one gets lost (entrance ticket must also be shown when leaving the gorge). During heavy rainfall, the gorge may be closed at short notice if the path is too dangerous and needs to be stabilised again.
In summer, the Samaria Gorge is in high season - up to 4,000 tourists a day are then on their way between the steep walls. From 7:30 a.m. to about 11:00 a.m. the coaches arrive, and the evening wait for the ferry in Agia Roumeli is like a crowd.
If you want to avoid the crowds, either start very early in the morning (there is cheap accommodation in Omalos) or take your Crete holiday out of season. At the beginning of May and in October, the weather is also still good and the temperatures pleasant. Bus tourists start arriving in Crete as early as mid-May.
If you don't start until 12 o'clock, you won't be in the mass flow, but you won't catch the last ferry from Agia Roumeli - also a possibility to spend the night directly at the Libyan Sea!
Hike through the Samaria Gorge
The hike starts in Xyloskalo or Omalos at the upper end of the gorge. The car can also be parked here (which, however, has to be picked up again afterwards via the bus from Sougia ). The ideal way to reach the Samaria Gorge is therefore by bus or taxi (directly from the hotel or from the bus station in Chania). The first few kilometres start very comfortably through the forest, after about an hour the stony riverbed is reached.
After 2-3 hours, the remains of the logging settlement of Samaria emerge. Its few inhabitants were expropriated and resettled after the Samaria Gorge was declared a national park in 1962. Ideal for a break!
Highlight of the Samaria Gorge: The "Iron Gate
About half an hour later, the most spectacular part of the gorge follows. The steep walls rise up to 600 metres to the left and right of the hikers. The bottom of the gorge becomes narrower and narrower until it is only 3 metres wide at the famous "Iron Gate" ("Sideroportes").
After the Iron Gate, the journey continues to the sea. The ferry to Sougia or Chora Sfakion lands in the small harbour town of Agia Roumeli, from where the bus continues to Chania.
Attention: Not for half-shoe tourists!
Hiking through the Samaria Gorge on a holiday in Crete should not be underestimated. Good physical condition, hiking experience, surefootedness and sturdy shoes (ideally also waterproof) are prerequisites. It is even officially forbidden to enter the Samaria Gorge in high heels. The 16km-long hiking trail partly leads over impassable passages with rocks and boulders and steadily climbs 1200 metres in altitude downhill!
The hike through the Samaria Gorge takes 4-5 hours, 6-7 hours with breaks for photography and rest. There is no mobile phone reception or food throughout the hike and little shade.
Sun protection, food and, above all, enough drinking water must be brought along. Water bottles can be filled up in the mountain stream or at various drinking fountains. There are plenty of toilets (without flushing) and rubbish bins at the rest stops.
At Samaria is the helipad and the only telephone line in Samaria Gorge. If someone gets injured, park rangers with rescue mules are always on the road.
Tip: If the hike through the entire gorge is too strenuous for you, you can also start at the harbour in Agia Roumeli and hike the 4km to the Iron Gate against the current.