Hiking Samaria Gorge in Crete

Today I have a fun guest post all about hiking Samaria Gorge in Crete. Shweta has always been passionate about travel and immersing in new experiences. Having been to over 45 countries, she blogs at Zest In A Tote to bring family-friendly itineraries and tips, destinations, and luxury stays to her readers. Her belief in family travel needn’t be boring and one can do a mix of local culture & food, adventure activities and relaxation, all with family. Thank you for the first-hand account of your hike, Shweta!

Samaria Gorge: Epic hike in the second largest gorge of Europe

Samaria National Park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the White Mountains of Crete. Therein lies the second largest gorge in all of Europe. And the hike in Samaria Gorge is a must-do on any Crete itinerary, for the fit and adventurous. It certainly was one of the highlights on my trip to Greece.

Overview of Samaria Gorge hike

The hike begins at the trailhead and park entrance booth at an elevation of 4,035 feet, the starting point is located in the mountain town of Omalos. The trail ends by the shores of the Libyan Sea in the coastal village of Agia Roumeli. Between the two points are 10 miles of descending trail and rocky terrain.

The hike can be done the other way round as well, from Agia Roumeli to the national park exit (you buy tickets and enter from here) and then follow a gradually ascending trail all the way to Omalos. But this route is a bit more difficult.

Distance: 16 km or 10 miles
Difficulty: This is a challenging hike, the rocky terrain is relentless

Complicated logistics for the hike

I would highly recommend booking a day tour for this hike. The guided tour would ensure hotel pick-up from Chania / Reythmno or areas close by to the trail head located in the mountain town of Omalos. Else there is a public bus option that you need to figure out depending on where you are staying in the western region of Crete. It’s best to catch an early-morning bus, to afford enough time for the hike and a swim at Agia Roumeli before heading out.

The guided tour I had booked arranged for the ferry from Agia Roumeli, this is the only way to get out of this beach town. The 1 hour ferry route got us to Chora Sfakion, where our your bus was waiting to get us back to our hotels. The guide made sure he collected cash from us in the morning itself to buy ferry tickets in advance for the 530 PM ferry from Agia Roumeli,

Start of the hike

The drive from Chania to the mountain town of Omalos was quite scenic, via winding roads through the White mountains of Crete. There are 2 basic restaurants at Omalos that offer some breakfast options and coffee. After having a quick breakfast, I bought tickets at the park entrance booth and started the initial 4-km descend over a rocky terrain. The hike starts at a 1200m (3937ft) altitude here. It is best to not run downhill, the path is full of rocks and you don’t want to get your ankle twisted or worse to happen.

Midway at Samaria Village

The downhill trail is relentless and a killer on the knees! After the 4-km descent, thankfully, it gets a bit even but the forest cover dwindles away. The heat of the day starts to feel much more. The fresh water stream going across the route is a welcome respite. Do note that you cannot swim in the freshwater stream. In fact, this is drinking water, don’t even put your dirty feet in it.

Somewhere close to the mid-point lies the old, abandoned village of Samaria. This is a good stop to have a snack and rest for a while.

The Iron Gates

After the village lies the most beautiful part of the trek, we were inside the Samaria Gorge with up to 500 meters walls rising on both sides. In open areas, the sun was beating down relentlessly. But the rocky terrain is gorgeous, even more so with the pink oleander flowers and the steam flowing past.

There are wooden planks made over the stream to cross at certain points. For some, it could be a bit challenging, but mostly, it’s fun. Sitting on the cool rocks besides the water also provides a bit of respite from the warm day. Towards the end, there comes a point when the gorge gets narrower. Here, the gorge is only 13 feet wide and nearly 600 meters high. This point is known as the “the Iron Gates.”

Agia Roumeli Village

At last, I see the part exit booth and a signboard congratulating me on completing the hike. I went to a refreshment booth and had a large glass of fresh orange juice! Anyone feeling exhausted here can catch a minibus to the ferry dock in Agia Roumeli village from here. But our group was in no mood to take it easy! So we walked another 2 km to reach the beach town.

Agia Roumeli has many cafes and tavernas, and we all indulged in food and drinks and rest. Some folks in the group went for a swim in the cold water to freshen up.

When to go for the Samaria Gorge hike

You can only hike Samaria Gorge during late spring and summer, which coincides with peak tourist season. I visited Greece on a family trip in mid-May, first spending a week exploring the Greece mainland in 7 days and then off to the islands. The trail is normally open from May 1st through October 30th, depending on weather.

Tips for doing this challenging hike

1. Keep your day pack super-light – just some water and snacks. Packing lighter could reduce your chances of stumbling or falling.
2. If you are planning the hike by yourself, figure how to get to Omalos and book a ferry ahead of time from Agia Roumeli. There would be buses available from Chora Sfakion to reach Chania.
3. Hiking boots are needed for sure to do the Samaria Gorge hike.
4. You can fill water in the clear stream or the spigots at many places any number of times, so take just one water bottle with you at the start of the hike.
5. Pay constant attention to what’s underfoot—uneven stones and dense roots can trip you up.
6. You’ll want a hat and sunscreen, too. The temperature at the start of the hike can be cool in the early morning, so bring a lightweight jacket. Later in the day, you’ll be glad to be wearing shorts and a quick-dry T-shirt.
7. If you have hip or knee issues, trekking poles can help (you can rent them once there).
8. Bring toilet paper—there are basic rest stops along the trail.

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