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

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


Where to Stay on Crete



Some other Crete pages

  • Crete

    Crete (Kriti) is the largest Greek island and its main attractions include the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the Samarian Gorge, Chania and Rethymnon.

  • 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.

  • 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,

  • 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

    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.

  • Margarites

    Margarites is known on Crete for its pottery, with ceramics shops and workshops lining the streets of this charming small town not far from Rethymnon.

  • 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.

  • Irakleio

    Crete's capital and largest city is Irakleio, also called Iraklion or Heraklion, a large and busy place with good restaurants, museums and historical buildings.

  • How to Make Petimezi

    How to make Petimezi, the sweet Cretan syrup made from wine must, is explained to Greece Travel Secrets.

  • 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.

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Latest Posts

  1. Nobel Foundation Returns Mycenaean Gold Ring to Greece

    An ancient gold ring dating back to Mycenaean times was recently returned to Greece by Sweden’s Nobel Foundation, according to an announcement of the Greek Culture Ministry. The Mycenaean signet ring…

    Read More

  2. Greece’s Kastellorizo to Host 1st Rock Solid Trail Race in June

    Kastellorizo, one of Greece’s smallest islands located in the Dodecanese, is getting ready to host the 1st Rock Solid island trail race, scheduled to take place during June 11-12.

    Read More

  3. EU: Greece Among Winners of Natura 2000 Awards for Nature Protection

    Greece is among the six winners of the 2022 edition of the Natura 2000 Awards, an event that recognises conservation success stories across the EU and raises awareness on the Natura 2000 protected are…

    Read More

  4. Greece Takes First Step to Create Museum of Underwater Antiquities in Piraeus

    The Piraeus Port Authority (PPA) has handed over under a concession deal a 1934 silo on the port of Piraeus and the surrounding space to the Greek Culture Ministry so that it may be converted into a M…

    Read More

  5. Hydra Travel Writing Classic

    Peel Me a Lotus by Charmian Clift is a Hydra travel writing classic, describing her family’s life on this tiny Greek island near Athens in the 1950s.

    Read More

  6. The Churches of Thessaloniki

    The churches of Thessaloniki are remarkable and include UNESCO World Heritage Monuments, Byzantine masterpieces, and a church dating from the 5th century.

    Read More

  7. Blue Flag: Greece 2nd in the World for its Clean Beaches

    Greece’s beaches are among the world’s cleanest with the region of Halkidiki and the island of Rhodes in the lead this year, according to the 2022 Blue Flag quality award list for beaches, marinas and…

    Read More

  8. Lipsi Municipality Says No to Sunbeds on Island’s Beaches

    The Municipality of Lipsi is saying “no” to sunbeds on the island’s beaches and is encouraging travelers to enjoy eco-conscious summer holidays this year in order to live authentic experiences. “We ar…

    Read More

  9. Ioannina to Launch Food Council to Define its Gastronomic Identity

    The Municipality of Ioannina, the capital of the Region of Epirus, northwestern Greece, has launched action to associate the city’s gastronomy with the destination’s brand-name and identity. “Adding t…

    Read More

  10. Athens National Garden Refurbishment is Underway

    The Athens Municipality recently completed the first phase of a 4.2-million-euro refurbishment project aiming to upgrade the National Garden, one of the Greek capital’s landmark sites. The refurbished…

    Read More