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Home / Where to go / Day Trips / West Crete / Gorge of Samaria
Gorge of Samaria

Anybody who feels up to it, has a good pair of legs and sturdy shoes should dedicate one day of his holidays to walking the Samaria gorge. This national park is situated in the Lefka Ori of south-west Crete, in the prefecture of Hania and covers a surface area of 5,100hectares. Its gorge of 18km. length is claimed to be the longest in Europe and is guaranteed to lead you through breathtaking scenery.

A real gem in the Cretan landscape, the Gorge of Samaria is covered with plane trees near the water, while on the surrounding slopes there are prickly oaks, Cretan pine trees and cypresses. Some of the rarest plants of Greece can be found here; so far 16 local, some 50 Cretan and 10 Mediterranean endemic species have been traced.

Birds of prey like the Bearded vulture or Lammergeyer, one of the rarest birds in Greece that feed on bones, can be spotted here. The Griffin vulture, the Golden eagle, the Bonelli’s eagle and the Eleanor’s falcon all call the gorge their home. In its rocks nest the fire crow, in the lower vegetation the chukar, whereas the twist beak has its nest in the pine trees. It furthermore hosts a wide range of mammals with first of all the Cretan wild goat kri–kri. Others include the marten, the badger, the weasel, the Cretan spiny mouse, the wood mouse and the wild cat.

Walking the gorge is an adventurous hike that brings you one step closer to Crete’s wildlife and its incredible flora, especially in springtime. The hike itself can be done individually, but generally recommended are the organized tours offered by travel agencies, where you can choose between the Hard Way or the Lazy Way.

The Hard Way – Sprint or Stroll?

The complete descent is 18km and takes you anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, depending on your fitness level and on how many times you stop to admire the scenery. Starting from the Omalos plateau, a steep path, Xyloskalo, gives access to the gorge and leads you to Ayia Roumeli on the south coast. During the first 5km, until the abandoned settlement of Samaria, the area is wide and open. From here it gets narrower, culminating in a width of only 3.5m at the famous Iron Gates. A wooden pathway leads you over the water stream to the other side after which you continue to the finishing line Ayia Roumeli.

Ascending the gorge all the way up from Ayia Roumeli to the Omalos plateau is not that much harder, but takes a little longer: 6 to 7 hours at a steady pace. Few people do this, which means the further up you go, the emptier the gorge gets. However, you will have to pass all the descending people, and there can be many.

The Lazy Way

This way does not get you as close to the stunning scenery situated further up the gorge, but takes you from Ayia Roumeli up until the Iron Gates, from where you head back to the coast. In Ayia Roumeli a boat takes you to Sfakia, from where your bus heads back to Malia.

Practical Tips

  • An organized trip is generally recommended, seats on boats and buses are assured and it saves you the long drive back to Malia yourself. A disadvantage is the early hour the bus picks you up and the many pick-up stops along the way.
  • An early start helps to avoid the crowds; this is only half true though, as everybody starts early. There is no spending the night in the gorge, so you have to complete the hike within the time allocated.
  • Travel light, wear sturdy walking shoes and layered clothing as temperatures fluctuate considerably; in the early morning at Omalos it can be freezing cold and in Ayia Roumeli at noon on the coast burning hot. Don’t forget to bring a hat and sunscreen; maybe binoculars to spot a bird or two?
  • Bring a bottle of water and energy snacks along; there are no opportunities to buy any in the gorge. Bottles can be refilled with water along the way.
  • Friday and Saturday are generally less crowded days. In high season be prepared to find yourself partly walking in single file with hordes of other people.
  • Opening hours: May 1 – October 31, daily between 6am and sunset. Season beginning and end depend on the weather conditions. Call for information tel. 28210-67179.