Samaria Gorge, set in the White Mountains of western Crete, is a majestic must-visit destination for all those who visit the stunning Greek Island. Scenic, well-marked hiking trails guide visitors through pristine forest, dense with cypress and pine trees. Springtime at the Samaria Gorge is particularly picturesque when millions of colourful wildflowers are in bloom.
Hiking the Gorge
The Samaria national park, that houses Samaria Gorge, typically opens between May and October each year. However, during the first and last few weeks of that period, there is a chance of closure if there is a possibility of flash floods.
The walk begins at the Xyloskalo, at an altitude of 4035ft (1230m), and ends at Agia Roumeli on the southern coast. During spring, walking through shallow water is sometimes necessary, though in summer, the once water-covered rocks become stepping-stones.
Thought to be the most-walked footpath in the entirety of Greece, it is almost impossible to get lost along the way, as a steady stream of people follow the path. The walk takes between 4-8 hours, depending on your pace, with 6 hours being the average duration. There are numerous toilets and drinking water springs, so be sure to carry a refillable water bottle.
For the first 3.7mi (6km), the gorge is wide, until you reach the abandoned village of Samaria, whose inhabitants vacated when the gorge was designated national park status. At this point, the gorge narrows, becoming more dramatic and impressive before narrowing further until the gap between the walls shrinks to just 11.5ft (3.5m) at the 6.8mi (11km) mark. This portion of the gorge walk is known as the Iron Gates.
At 7.8mi (12.5km), the gorge ends at the almost abandoned Old Agia Roumeli. From here, the remaining 1.2mi (2km) walk is a little less interesting, but hikers can start looking forward to a well-deserved refreshing dip in the ocean at the seaside town of Agia Roumeli.
Top tips for your visit
The gorge can get very crowded, particularly during busy periods. For that reason, set out early before the tourist coaches arrive (7.30am) to get a head start.
Take a refillable water bottle.
Be sure to wear a hat and apply sun cream generously, especially for the last portion of the hike, which has very little shade.
Wear appropriate footwear. Whilst hiking boots are not a prerequisite, unsuitable footwear such as sandals or flip-flops will not lead to an enjoyable walk.
There is no food available within the national park, so bring some along if you are likely to get peckish.
Dogs are allowed in the gorge, but must be kept on their lead at all times.
The terrain is very stony and uneven, so be sure to pay attention to where you are walking.
Getting there and away
The Samaria Gorge is situated in the White Mountains of western Crete, the largest and most populous Greek Island. Crete has three airports; Heraklion, Chania and Sitia, the nearest of which is Chania (38mi/61km).
Most people visit Samaria Gorge as part of a larger organized tour. Tours start from most cities on the island, and can be booked from most hotels/resorts. You will be picked up and returned to your hotel on the same day, and will have the benefit of a tour guide who can educate you on the gorge and its history.
Alternatively, you can hire a car and drive to Omalos (near the starting point of the walk, Xyloskalo). However, if you do this, you will have to go all the way back to Omolos to retrieve your car. Therefore, public transport is perhaps the better option, with buses going to Omalos from the popular base of Chania.
Upon walking through the gorge, you will reach Agia Roumeli, a small seaside resort from which you can take a ferry to Hora Sfakion, Sougia or Paleochora, before taking an evening bus back to Chania.
When is the best time to visit?
The best time to visit Samaria Gorge is likely in May, early June, late September, or anytime in October. During these periods, there will be less visitors and therefore less crowding, and the weather will be ideal for walking – pleasant, but not too hot.
When are the wild flowers in full bloom?
I think April, May and June.