Hiking the Samaria Gorge is at the top of many people's Crete "must do" list. It is a 16km hike through pine scented forests, rocky riverbeds and soaring cliffs. The hike starts at 1250m above sea level in the White Mountains at the settlement of Omalos. It winds down to an end at the village of Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea. The entire gorge is a National Park and a World's Biosphere Reserve. The hike takes five to seven hours to complete and is the longest gorge in Europe that can be completed in one day. All Trails rates the trail as moderate, other rating systems say the trail is strenuous, especially in the peak of the summer. After some debate, CaptK and I decided make the hike. The entire hike is downhill which was a major selling point for me.
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We decided to do the Samaria Gorge Small Group Tour, mainly because they provided all the transportation. We were picked up at our Apartment at 7:00 am and along with one other family, dropped off at the start of the Gorge with our guide. She has walking sticks and helmets for everyone. If we would have taken the less expensive tour, on the motor coach, we would have been picked at 5:30 am making multiple stops before arriving at the gorge. One of the major benefits of small group tours is that your transit time is greatly reduced. Either way, you hike down to the Gorge and through the rocky riverbed trail to the village of Agia Roumeli, at your own pace. Here you can have lunch and swim from a black sand beach in the Libyan Sea. at 5:30 pm, you ride a ferry to the town of Sfakia where you are picked up by your tour bus or van.
At the trailhead, there is a small snack bar and gift shop, along with restrooms. You can get a Samaria Gorge Tee Shirt, a cup of coffee, or an energy bar for the trail.
At the beginning of the gorge, you are in a pine forrest. The trail is narrow and steep. There is a wooden hand rail on this part of the trail.
Ninety-five percent of the people hiking the trail were half our age. It is very possible we were the oldest people hiking that day. Because of the large numbers of people who hike this trail in the summer months, the first part of the trail was very congested. I am a slow hiker, so I stopped to let several groups through. I completed the hike in 6.5 hours and had plenty of time to have lunch and a swim before the ferry left for Sfakia.
The scenery is spectacular, especially at the beginning of the trail. There is an option to see the gorge the"easy way." The transportation vehicle takes you to Sfakia where you board a ferry for Agia Roumeli. You walk into the gorge from the village. The unfortunate thing is that you miss all this beautiful forested scenery when you walk into the gorge from Agia Roumeli. The "easy way" does give you the opportunity to see the gorge at its narrowest part. You also walk along the beautiful spring fed river. It you are nervous about the length of the hike or have knee or hip problems, this maybe the best option for you.
Once you get to the bottom and begin hiking through the gorge there is very little shade. Suncreen, sunhat and water is a must. There are rest stops every 40 or so minutes with spring fed water fountains to refill your water supply.
About halfway through the gorge you come to the ancient village of Samaria. The village is now a large rest stop with picnic tables, restrooms and water fountains. The village of Samaria has been abandoned since 1962 when the area became a national park. It does have a long history. Crete has been occupied by the Romans, Turks and during World War II the Germans. The gorge was a place to hideout from invaders and stage resistance raids on occupiers, Samaria was at the hub of those activities.
As you can see from the picture above, the gorge walls are sheer rock faces. There is only one entrance at each end of the gorge. This makes it easy to keep the occupants of the gorge safe from invaders.
At the southern end of the gorge, it narrows to 3 meters wide. This is called the Iron Gates. It is a popular place to take photographs.
After the Iron Gates, the trail follows a spring fed river that is very shallow in the summer months. This river is the fresh water source for Agia Roumeli.
Once you exit the National Park, it is another 3km to Agia Roumeli. The trail takes you through the ruins of a Byzantium Village that dates back to 1000 BCE.
In the Village of Agia Roumeli, there is a delightful taverna, Rousios. Their fresh squeezed lemonaide and grilled chicken souvlakis are some of the best I have ever eaten. It is a welcome respite after hiking the gorge. The service is quick, giving you plenty of time for a swim before getting on the ferry.
The beach at Agia Roumeli is black pebbles. On a hot summer afternoon those pebbles are really hot. We packed lightweight water shoes and lightweight Turkish towels in our backpacks and wore our bathing suits under our clothes so we were able to enjoy a refreshing swim before getting on the ferry.
These large ferries bring you to the Village of Sfakia, where you meet your transportation back to your hotel. There are no roads to Agia Roumeli, you must come by boat or through the gorge.
Agia Roumeli is on the south side of Crete. This side of Crete is less developed becaue these villages are less accessible due to the mountains ranges in the center of the Island. The ferry stops at the lovely white washed Village of Sougia.
The final stop is is the port of Sfakia. You are met by your transportation and head back to your Hotel.
The drive back has some beautiful vistas.