Hiking the Samaria Gorge

As we drive higher and higher into the White Mountains of Crete, leaving behind our hotel in the busy resort of Paleohora, I start to realise the immensity of what we're about to do: walking the Samaria Gorge.

All Photos by Mike Gerrard, (c) www.Greece-Travel-Secrets.com

Samaria is often incorrectly called the longest gorge in Europe. It can't hold a candle to the Tara River Gorge in Montenegro, for example, which is 51 miles (82 km) long, but nevertheless at almost ten miles (16 km) it still offers a daunting challenge for a day's hike. Although it is early October, the temperature in southern Crete has been in the 80-90F (26-32C) range for several days now.  

Sweat has poured and legs have ached as we scrambled over rocks and up steep paths in the glare of the sun. Today may start chilly, requiring extra sweaters for the early start that's needed, but it won't stay that way for long. But it will turn out to be the best day of the entire week of walking.

I've been to Crete many times and written guides to the island, but I'd never hiked the Samaria Gorge. As we get closer to the drop-off point at the entrance, which is about 4,100 feet (1,250 metres) high, I start to get a little nervous. Will it be too tough a challenge? Will it even be a disappointment?

We buy our inexpensive tickets at the entrance, and are reminded to keep them as they're collected at the bottom of the gorge to make sure everyone gets out safely. Visitors have occasionally got lost and died, even though it is mostly a well-trodden path, and in May 2015 70 hikers had to be rescued from the gorge when sudden bad weather made it impossible for them to get out.

All such negative thoughts are banished, though, as soon as we get to the first overview and gaze in wonder at the majesty of the gorge falling away in front of us. Steps zig-zag down for an initial short, steep descent and mountain slopes filled with pine trees seem to loom over us in every direction.

At first the path is filled with irritating chatter in numerous languages, somewhat spoiling the immensity and serenity of the mountains. In summer as many as 2,000 people will hike the gorge in one day, and even now in October it will still be several hundred. But the chatter slowly disperses as we deliberately walk slowly, and stop constantly to take photos, gaze around and simply enjoy being there.

Ayios Nikolaos Church

For the first hour or so the path descends, sometimes steeply and sometimes gently, and the scenery evolves like a constantly changing movie. I'd expected one long hike, but there's plenty of variety – chapels, rest areas with WCs (some better than others), information boards, warning signs and, perfectly located about halfway along for a picnic lunch stop, the deserted village of Samaria. 

A Kri-kri in the Abandoned Samaria Village

Samaria was abandoned in 1962 when the whole area was turned into a National Park, and the mind boggles at the kind of existence people must have had here, facing a few hours hike in either direction to get anywhere at all. As we enjoy the cheese and spinach pies we'd bought fresh that morning at the bakery in Paleohora, we also enjoy the rare sight of the Cretan wild goat, the kri-kri. There are only about 2,000 left in the wild, all of them on Crete and its offshore islands. Here in Samaria they obviously thrive by hoovering up the hikers' left-overs.

Sadly for the goats our pies are far too delicious to leave even a crumb behind, and so fortified once more we hike on, cross dried-up streams, climb through woodland, climb down again, cross more stream beds, then pause to let two men leading horses pass by, looking like something out of a cowboy western.

Nearing the end we reach one of the gorge's most dramatic features, known as the Iron Gates. The sides of the gorge squeeze in so that they're only about 13 feet (4 metres) apart, yet you strain your neck to look up while the sheer rocky faces rise to 980 feet (300 metres) above you.

If passing through the Iron Gates is one of those experiences when nature simply dwarfs you, hiking the Samaria Gorge turns out to be both a humbling and an exhilarating hike. The muscles may grow weary but the spirits soar at the thought that there are still wild places like this in the world, there for anyone to enjoy.

On the boat back to Paleohora from Ayia Roumeli, the little port near the end of the gorge, we make an unscheduled stop in a deserted spot by a rocky beach. A herd of goats comes running down, bells tinkling, to greet the boat. The car ramp goes down and an elderly shepherd gets off and walks among them. What's all that about?

'Oh, he is now 80-years-old,' one of the crew says. 'He can no longer row his own boat to tend to his goats, so we give him a lift and someone else will take him back. We think it's important to keep up the old ways.'

It reminds us of why we love Crete so much, this island of toughness, kindness and wild, wild places.

More Information
Greece Travel Secrets hiked on Crete’s Southwest coast with Ramblers Walking Holidays in the UK (www.ramblersholidays.co.uk). The one-week holiday price includes flights, half-board accommodation with dinners at local tavernas, the services of a dedicated leader and all local transport.

See also: Walking on Crete's Southwest Coast.

Other Ramblers walking holidays in Greece include:
Cretan Trails and Tavernas
Wild Crete
Western Crete
(This combines the first two one-week holidays into a two-week trip)

Don't miss our YouTube video of our hike along the Samaria Gorge


You might like these other Crete pages...

  • Best Beaches on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets chooses ten of the best beaches on Crete including the beautiful beaches at Vai and Elafonisi.

  • Hiking in Southwest Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets goes hiking in southwest Crete with Ramblers Walking Holidays based in Paleohora and hiking the E4 footpath and to Anidri and Azogires.

  • Eco-Tourism Accommodation on Crete

    The Dalabelos Estate offers luxury eco-tourism accommodation on Crete in the hills near Rethymnon with its own farm, vineyard and olive groves.

  • Goules Taverna Crete

    The Goules Taverna in Goulediana, south of Rethymnon, has been called one of the best tavernas on Crete and Greece Travel Secrets recently visited them.

  • Rethymnon in Western Crete

    Rethymnon is the third-largest city in Crete and has a Venetian fortress, Archaeological Museum, Old Town area and Venetian harbour,

  • Airbnb near Chania

    This Airbnb in the quiet village of Malaxa, a 30-minute drive into the hills above Chania, is a peaceful retreat with a delightful and thoughtful artist owner, with wonderful views and amenities.

  • Zacharioudakis Winery

    Greece Travel Secrets visits the Zacharioudakis Winery near Ancient Gortina in southern Crete, and does a vineyard tour arranged by our guide from Go Crete.

  • Touring the Lyrarakis Winery on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets tours the Lyrarakis Winery on Crete and learns about Crete grape varieties such as plyto, dafni, vidiano, vilana, mandilari and kotsifali.

  • The Icon Painter

    Icon painting is a centuries-old tradition in Crete and the rest of Greece, and Greece Travel Secrets meets a modern-day icon painter in Elounda on Crete.

  • The Herb Man of Kouses

    Greece Travel Secrets visits the Cretan Botano herbs and spices shop near Matala in southern Crete in search of the herb man of Kouses.

  • The Cretan Diet

    Studies have shown the Cretan Diet as one of the healthiest in the world, involving lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, fresh fish, and moderate amounts of wine.

  • Stilianou Winery near Knossos

    The Stilianou Winery near Knossos on Crete uses only Cretan grape varieties, with every bottle numbered, and aims for quality rather than quantity.

  • The Snails House on Crete

    The Snails House in Plouti near Phaistos in southern Crete serves the Cretan delicacy of snails, cooked in several different ways.

  • Sir Arthur Evans, archaeologist at Knossos on Crete

    Sir Arthur Evans is the archaeologist famous for the excavations he made at the royal palace of Knossos on Crete.

  • Samaria Gorge

    The Samaria Gorge is one the longest gorges in Europe and doing the hike is one of the best and most popular things to do on Crete.

  • Phaistos Minoan Palace on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets page on Phaistos or Faistos, the site of one of the finest Minoan palaces on Crete and is where the mysterious Phaistos Disc was found.

  • Paleohora and the South-West Coast

    The area east from Paleohora along the south-west coast of Crete includes resorts like Agia Galini, gorges like the Imbros Gorge and quieter towns like Sfakia.

  • Our Hire Car in Crete

    The travel tale Our Hire Car in Crete describes what it’s like when you go driving in Greece and get off the beaten track, resulting in kindnesses.

  • Matala Beach Crete

    Matala Beach on Crete is a guest blog for Greece Travel Secrets from the We Love Crete website, inviting you to Awaken Your Inner Hippy in Matala, Crete.

  • Manousakis Wine Tasting

    We visit and tour the Manousakis Winery on Crete with a wine-tasting and a chance to buy their tsikoudia, sea salt, olive oil and other goodies.

  • Malia and its Minoan Palace on Crete

    Malia on the north coast of Crete is renowned for its nightlife and beaches but also has the Minoan Palace of Malia, one of Crete's many archaeological sites.

  • Maleme and the German War Cemetery on Crete

    Maleme near Chania is where the people who died during the battle of Crete are buried, in the German War Cemetery with the Commonwealth War Cemetery nearby.

  • Making Rakomelo on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets visits Crete and learns about making rakomelo from Jorgos Kourmoulis in Agouseliana.

  • Lonely Planet Crete

    Lonely Planet Crete is an excellent and thorough guide of almost 300 pages to the largest of the Greek islands.

  • Knossos

    Visiting Knossos near Iraklion is one of the best things to do on Crete, and this page has a history of the site with visitor information.

Latest Posts

  1. Covid-19: PM Mitsotakis Appeals to Greeks to Follow Rules to Help Avoid Lockdown

    Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called on the Greeks to be vigilant and respect the current health and safety measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19), as confirmed cases cont…

    Read More

  2. Athens to Celebrate European Day of Languages 2020 with Digital Treasure Hunt

    The Municipality of Athens on Saturday, September 26, will join the celebrations for the European Day of Languages ​​2020 with an online treasure hunt. Organized in collaboration with the EU National…

    Read More

  3. Greece Revises Law on Vouchers for Canceled Travel Due to Covid-19

    The Greek government has revised regulations to the law on refund claims regarding bookings of airlines, ferries, yachts, hotels and travel packages that were canceled due to the coronavirus (Covid-19…

    Read More

  4. Czech Republic Passengers Need Negative Covid-19 Test to Enter Greece

    All travelers entering Greece from the Czech Republic from Monday, September 28, will be obliged to present a negative molecular test result (PCR) for coronavirus (Covid-19) upon arrival to the countr…

    Read More

  5. Greece to Launch Online Map with Latest Covid-19 Restrictions Per Area

    Greek Civil Protection Deputy Minister Nikos Hardalias on Tuesday announced that the government is preparing to introduce a platform to provide citizens with the latest coronavirus (Covid-19) restrict…

    Read More

  6. Ministry’s Tourist Guide Schools Attract 2,880 Applications

    Greece’s five tourist guide schools this year have accepted a total of 2,880 applications, which shows the increasing demand for tourism education in the country, the Greek Tourism Ministry said in an…

    Read More

  7. Covid-19 Hits Greek Accommodation & Food Services in Q2

    Greece’s accommodation and food services activities in July suffered the biggest blow to turnover, down by 71.4 percent as a result of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, according to the latest data…

    Read More

  8. 24-hour Ferry Strike at Piraeus Port on Thursday

    Five seamen’s unions have announced a 24-hour strike on Thursday, September 24, at the Piraeus Port, which is expected to cause disruption to ferry transport in Greece.

    Read More

  9. Cruise Companies Submit Plan for Healthy Sailing in Covid-19 Era

    In efforts to ensure safe journeys at sea in the Covid-19 era, cruise companies have tabled a comprehensive plan that includes heightened health protocols aimed at safeguarding crew, passengers, and c…

    Read More

  10. Greece Suspends Outdoor Theatrical Performances Due to Covid-19

    Greek Civil Protection Deputy Minister Nikos Hardalias on Tuesday said that all outdoor theatrical performances in Greece will be suspended as of Thursday, September 24. The measure has been added to…

    Read More