Samaria Gorge information
Hiking Samaria Gorge is considered one of Crete's must-do experiences, which is why you'll almost never be without company. Nevertheless, there’s an undeniable raw beauty to Samaria, where vertical walls soar up to 500m and are just 3m apart at the narrowest point (150m at the broadest). The hike begins at 1230m at Xyloskalo just south of Omalos and ends in the coastal village of Agia Roumeli. It’s especially scenic in April and May when wildflowers brighten the trail.
In peak season, up to 3000 people a day tackle the stony 16km-long trail, and even in spring and autumn, it’s rarely fewer than 1000 hikers. The vast majority arrive on organised coach excursions from the big northern resorts. You’ll encounter a mix of serious trekkers as well as less experienced types attempting the trail in flip-flops.
Samaria is home to the kri-kri , a rarely seen endangered wild goat. The gorge was made a national park in 1962 to save the kri-kri from extinction. You are unlikely to see these shy animals, which show a marked aversion to hikers, but you might spot golden eagles overhead.
Hiking the Gorge
The trail begins at Xyloskalo , a steep and serpentine stone path that descends some 600m into the canyon to arrive at the simple cypress-framed Agios Nikolaos chapel. Beyond here the gorge is wide and open for the next 6km until you reach the abandoned settlement of Samaria whose inhabitants were relocated when the gorge became a national park. Just south of the village is a 14th-century chapel dedicated to St Maria of Egypt , after whom the gorge is named. Every 1 May, numerous locals attend the panigyri (saint’s day) of St Mary. This is the only night during which anyone can stay inside in the old village of Samaria – a few old houses are opened for the purpose, and camping is allowed. (For further details, check with the EOS in Hania).
Further on, the gorge narrows and becomes more dramatic until, at the 11km mark, the walls are only 3.5m apart. These are the famous Sideroportes (Iron Gates), where a rickety wooden pathway leads hikers the 20m or so across the water.
The gorge ends at the 12.5km mark just north of the almost abandoned village of Palea (Old) Agia Roumeli. From here it’s a further 2km hike to the seaside village of Agia Roumeli, whose fine pebble beach and sparkling water are a most welcome sight.
Few people miss taking a refreshing dip or at least bathing sore and aching feet. The entire trek takes from about four hours for the sprinters to six hours for the strollers.
Tips for Hiking Samaria Gorge
An early start (before 8am) helps to put you ahead of the crowd. Sleep over in Omalos to be first. During July and August even the early bus from Hania can be packed. Or start after noon, and plan to sleep over in Agia Roumeli.
Hikers starting after about 2pm are only allowed to walk a distance of 2km from either end. There’s no spending the night in the gorge — expect to be out by sunset.
There’s a 1200m elevation drop going north to south. Wear sturdy shoes and take sunscreen, sunglasses, some food, a hat and a water bottle, which you can refill from taps with potable water along the way. Drink plenty!
There are several rest stops with toilets, water, trash bins and benches along the trail.
Falling rocks occasionally lead to injuries but generally it’s the heat that’s a far bigger problem. Check ahead as park officials may close the gorge on rainy or exceptionally hot days (generally, over 40°C), and the gorge season can end early if the rains have started.
Early in the season it’s sometimes necessary to wade through the stream. Later, as the flow drops, the stream-bed rocks become stepping stones.
If the idea of a 16km-hike does not appeal, get a taste of Samaria by doing it ‘the Easy Way’, ie starting in Agia Roumeli and heading north for as long as you feel like before doubling back. The Sideroporta, for instance, can be reached in about an hour. Or consider some of the other gorges in the area, like Agia Irini or Imbros.