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


You might like these other Crete pages...

  • Chania, in Western Crete

    Chania is the main city in Western Crete with a lovely setting and a beautiful harbour as well as several museums.

  • Art Courses on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets visits Visual Arts Crete who offer accommodation and run art courses at their home and studio in the village of Kastellos near Rethymnon.

  • Crete

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

  • Crete Olive Oil Tour

    For a Crete olive oil tour Greece Travel Secrets visits Biolea, one of the few olive oil factories on Crete that you can visit.

  • Crete Festivals and Events

    Crete festivals and events include Carnival Easter, Whitsun, Christmas, many other religious feast days and public holidays.

  • Cretan Writers and Artists

    The most famous Cretan writers and artists include the painter El Greco and the author of Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis.

  • Best Things to Do on Crete

    The best things to do on Crete and top things to see include the Samaria Gorge, the Minoan Palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, the towns of Chania and Rethymnon.

  • Best Crete Hotels

    The best Crete hotels include 5-star luxury hotels, historic and romantic Venetian palaces, and several hotels in Hania and Iraklion.

  • Best Beaches on Crete

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

  • Battle of Crete

    The Battle of Crete during World War 2 inspired several books and took place with an airborne invasion over Maleme on the north coast of the island.

  • Arkadi Monastery

    Visiting the Arkadi Monastery near Rethymnon is one of the best things to do on Crete.

  • 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.

  • Agios Nikolaos

    Agios Nikolaos is a pretty and popular town on the north coast of Crete and this page on Greece Travel Secrets covers its history, museums and beaches.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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. Greek Recovery Funds to Go into Acropolis Upgrade Works

    Twelve projects including upgrade works on the Acropolis have been cleared for funding out of “Greece 2.0” – the country’s recovery plan approved earlier this month. Alternate Finance Minister Theodor…

    Read More

  2. US Keeps Covid-19 Travel Restrictions Due to Delta Variant

    The United States will keep all existing Covid-19 travel restrictions in place due to concerns over the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announce…

    Read More

  3. Chania, in Western Crete

    Chania is the main city in Western Crete with a lovely setting and a beautiful harbour as well as several museums.

    Read More

  4. Cyprus Obliges Travelers from Greece to Undergo Testing Before Arrival

    Greece has been placed on the Covid-19 orange list of Cyprus’ colour-coded country categorization travel system, based on a new epidemiological risk assessment of countries. The new changes come into…

    Read More

  5. Greece’s Indoor Restaurants, Venues Only for the Vaccinated

    Starting Friday, July 16, indoor venues such as restaurants, bars, and theaters will only be accepting vaccinated and seated-only customers until August 31, Development and Investments Minister Adonis…

    Read More

  6. AEGEAN Begins Operation of Seasonal Base on Mykonos

    Greek carrier AEGEAN has started the operation of its seasonal base on Mykonos, aiming to enhance its flagship quality services and improve the connection of the popular Cycladic island with major int…

    Read More

  7. UK Revises Advisory for Greece, Paves Way for Travel

    The UK’s FCDO revised its travel advisory for Greece after announcing on Thursday that as of July 19 travelers from amber-listed countries would not be required to self-isolate upon return.

    Read More

  8. Greece to Launch ‘Covid Pass’ App that Checks Customer ‘Safe’ Status

    Greece said this week that starting July 15, restaurant and F&B business owners would be able to download an application that will check whether the health/vaccination status information provided by c…

    Read More

  9. Authorities Recommend Self-test for Land Travel in Greece

    Travel by road domestically in Greece will not require a negative rapid test but the presentation of a negative self-test is highly recommended, said Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias d…

    Read More

  10. Covid-19: Greece Extends Rules for Domestic Flights to the Islands

    The Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority (HCAA) has extended the travel rules for passengers of domestic flights traveling from the mainland to the islands, until 6am, on Thursday, July 15.

    Read More