Samaria – Famous Cretan Gorge, a Nature Paradise for Hikers
The Samaría Gorge in Chania is famous among nature lovers. Samaría Gorge is a National Park on the island of Crete – and a World’s Biosphere Reserve. The gorge is situated on the southern side of Chania region, and it is an amazing landscape for hikers. Visitors from all over the world come to hike in Samaría Gorge.
Where is Samaría Gorge in Crete?
The gorge is situated in the regional unit of Chania in southwest Crete. It was created by a river running between the White Mountains (Lefká Óri) and Mount Volakias. There are a number of other gorges in the White Mountains. While some say that the gorge is 18 km long, this distance refers to the distance between the settlement of Omalos on the northern side of the plateau and the village of Agia Roumeli. In fact, the gorge is 16 km long, starting at an altitude of 1,250 m at the northern entrance, and ending at the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli. The walk through Samaría National Park is 13 km long, but you have to walk another 3 km to Agia Roumeli from the park exit, making the hike 16 km. The most famous part of the gorge is the stretch known as the Iron Gates, where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only 4 metres and soar up to a height of 1,100m (3,610 feet).
Map of Chania region
STARTING FROM CHANIA TOWN
When is Samaría Gorge open?
Chania Forest Protection Service informs: Visits to the National park are allowed from May 1. to October 15. Park visiting hours are 07:00 to 15:00 daily. From 15:00 to sunset, visitors are allowed to walk a distance of only two km within the park, either from Xyloskalo or from Agia Roumeli. Within the park it is strictly prohibited to camp, stay overnight, light fires, or swim in the streams of the gorge.
Samaría – a refuge for the rare Kri-kri
The gorge became a national park in 1962, particularly as a refuge for the rare kri-kri (Cretan goat), which is largely restricted to the park and an island just off the shore of Agia Marina. There are several other endemic species in the gorge and surrounding area, as well as many other species of flowers and birds.
The village of Samaría lies just inside the gorge. It was finally abandoned by the last remaining inhabitants in 1962 to make way for the park. The village and the gorge take their names from the village’s ancient church, Óssia María “the Bones of Mary”.
Samaría Gorge – starting point for the hike
Many visitors to Crete find it a “must” to complete the walk down the gorge from the Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea, at which point tourists sail to the nearby village of Hora Sfakion and catch a coach back to Chania. The walk takes 4–7 hours and can be strenuous, especially at the height of summer.
How long is Samaria Gorge?
The hike starts at Xyloskalo, which is the steep stone pathway bordered with wooden rails. This is the point where the bus leaves you to access the gorge. The gorge is wide and spacious for the first 6 km, until you reach the deserted village of Samaria. After this point, the gorge is narrowing down and reaching the 11 km mark the gorge is only 4 meters wide. This place is named the Iron Gates. The gorge itself ends at the 13 km mark, but you still need to hike for another 3 km to the seaside village of Agia Roumeli. Here there are several local ferries waiting to bring hikers to the village Hora Sfakion. From there, you can take the bus back to Chania town.
How to visit Samaría Gorge?
Both tour operators and guides organize trips from Chania town and Rethymno town to Samaría gorge, but you can also choose to embark one of the public urban buses from Chania town to Omalos. There also exists a “lazy way” – from Agia Roumeli to the Iron Gates (more or less an hour of non-challenging terrain) and back.
Samaria the Lazy Way
STARTING FROM RETHYMNO TOWN
Samaría Gorge – How to get back?
In Agia Roumeli the last boat leaves for Hora Sfakion at 17:30 and the bus from Hora Sfakion leaves for Chania town at 18:30. The bus driver always wait for the boat from Agia Roumeli to arrive before departing for Chania.
When to visit Samaría Gorge?
Spring is the best time of year to visit Samaría gorge. The weather is still cool, nature is lush and green, and visitors are just a few compared to the summer season.
How difficult is Samaría Gorge?
If you already within the first hour realize that the journey is to tough for you, you should stop and let one of the forest guards with their donkeys take you back from where you started the hike. The guards have radio contact to one another, and you will find them all the way down in case someone gets injured. In the abandoned village there is a tiny medical centre with one doctor. At frequent points you will find toilets and bins for rubbish.
Organized tours to Samaría Gorge
Local tourist operators provide organized tours to Samaría Gorge. These include bus transportation from your hotel to the entrance (near Omalos village), and the bus will be waiting for you to disembark the ferry in Sfakia (Hora Sfakeon) to take you back. If you are on your own, you can make a one-day round trip from Chania or from Sougia or Paleochora. Note that the morning buses from Sougia and Paleochora do not operate on Sundays. The ferries leave Agia Roumeli to Chora Sfakeon (East-bound) and to Sougia/Paleochora (West-bound) at 18:00.