Samaria Gorge is the most famous and longest gorge hike on Crete and contains extensive towering slot narrows and beautiful White Mountains forest scenery. Difficulties encountered on the hike include figuring out transportation to and from the canyon, hiking down a very steep beginning portion at the top of the gorge, and enduring the long distance in potential high heat. A Google Earth map of the hiking route (turned to the northeast for better viewing) can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates for the top of the gorge are 35° 18.475'N, 23° 55.101'E. GPS coordinates for Samaria rest area are 35° 17.481'N, 23° 57.509'E. GPS coordinates for the bridge crossing at the bottom of the gorge are 35° 14.913'N, 23° 58.060'E.
A trip to the island of Crete would not be complete without a hike through Samaria Gorge. A quick look through any list showing the Top Ten sightseeing destinations on Crete reveals that Samaria Gorge is always very close to the top and on every single list. During the time of year in which we hiked Samaria Gorge, there are an average of over 1,000 people per day hiking it. Samaria Gorge is famous for many reasons -- it is one of the longest canyons in Europe (nearly rivaling Verdon Gorge in France), the presence of the Kri-kri Cretan wild goats within the gorge, it has spectacular mountain and canyon scenery, there are several kilometers of towering slot narrows rising 1,000 feet above the canyon floor, and the one-way hike which includes bus and ferry rides is a very unique and unforgettable experience. Thus, you can see why everyone who comes to Crete makes an effort to hike Samaria Gorge if they are physically able to do so. We were really looking forward to carrying out this hike which passes through Samaria National Park in the White Mountains. The hike through the gorge is a little over 8 miles long and there is an additional walk of nearly 2 miles to reach the village of Agia Roumeli. The hike begins at an elevation of 4,100 feet and ends at sea level. With the exception of a few short stretches, the entire hike is downhill and sometimes very steep (especially at the beginning). In the hot summer sun, it can be quite challenging. Thankfully for us, we went on a day in early September which had some cloud cover and the heat was not unbearable.
Our Samaria Gorge experience began by catching a bus at 7:00am in Sougia. After over an hour of travel which included one transfer (which we almost missed), we were dropped off near the village of Omalos at the starting point for the Samaria Gorge hike. After stopping by the snack bar, we noticed a couple busloads of hikers pulling up, so we quickly paid the entry fee and headed into the gorge. The initial drop from the canyon rim down to the canyon floor is very steep. As we headed down switchbacks of stone steps while holding onto wooden railings, we enjoyed dramatic views overlooking the gorge with the surrounding mountains covered by trees. During this beginning portion of the hike, we passed through a part of the trail which was enclosed by a wire fence above our heads to protect us from rockfall. There was also a nice scenic lookout point. And we had our first experience running into the Kri-kri, which I initially mistook for deer because of their large size and light brown color. But it turns out there are no deer on Crete (the ancient dwarf deer went extinct shortly after humans arrived on the island). After a few minutes, I figured out that I wasn't looking at Cretan deer, but rather Cretan Kri-kri goats. The Kri-kri finally stood still enough for me to get some nice pictures, so we moved on in our hike. We continued down the endless switchbacks along with what seemed like hundreds of other hikers. I must say, being around so many other people took a lot of enjoyment out of the hike. It made picture taking difficult and influenced the pace of our hike, as we tried to avoid passing too many people and being passed by other large slow groups. Just like in Agia Irini Gorge, the abundance of trees was outstanding. I was most impressed with the Calabrian pine and the Samarian cypress. Throughout the first half of the hike, we passed by many small rest areas with water flowing out of old-fashioned fountains. One of the things I noticed during the day was that not one single person was filtering their water when drinking from the fountains or filling up water bottles. Keep in mind that the fountains basically just contain unfiltered and untreated stream water. Fortunately, both Gary and I had plenty of water with us for the entire hike. A majority of the first half of the hike takes places in a wide-open deep valley with outstanding views all around. We took our lunch break once we arrived at the Samaria rest area, which contains the ruins of a settlement abandoned in 1962 when the national park was created. We had been hiking for about 3 hours to cover the first 6 km, but not rushing things at all. As we left Samaria rest area (also called Samaria settlement or village), we continued hiking down canyon and soon arrived at the highlight of Samaria Gorge -- the narrows. The narrows are quite lengthy and take up a majority of the rest of the hike through the gorge. I can definitely say that I was extremely impressed with the towering slot narrows of Samaria Gorge. The Samaria narrows rivaled places like the famous Zion Narrows back home. During some parts of the narrows, we were walking through a dry wash filled with small boulders and rocks. During other parts, a stream flowed next to us along the trail. The narrows reach their grand finale when the canyon walls tighten up to only 10 feet in width and pass through an area known as the Iron Gates. As much as I loved the Samaria narrows, the biggest problem I had was getting good photographs while passing through them without including tons of people in each shot. I tried my best, but no matter how long I waited for groups to pass by, other groups would never stop showing up. People seem to particularly enjoy congregating around the Iron Gates, probably because the spot is so well known and pictures of the Iron Gates are everywhere online and in visitor brochures. Once we passed through the Iron Gates, we soon arrived at the gorge exit and stopped by a cafe located there which was serving fresh-squeezed orange juice. It was neat how much of a burst of energy the orange juice gave us. From there (5 1/4 hours into the hike), we walked the final 3 km until we reached the village of Agia Roumeli. We spent the rest of the afternoon waiting for our 5:30pm ferry by relaxing on the beach, swimming in the Libyan Sea (Gary in full clothing), and eating at a local taverna. The ferry ride from Agia Roumeli to Sougia was also incredible with amazing views of the sea cliffs, other canyons draining into the sea, and various shades of beautiful blue water. The ferry ride truly was a wonderful way to end an outstanding day spent in Samaria Gorge. Our hike took place on September 3, 2014.
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