Each year, about 250,000 – 300,000 visitors cross the gorge of Samaria during its operation, from early May to mid October.
The hike in Samaria gorge starts at the southern edge of Omalos plateau, located about 40 km from the city of Chania, and ends, after six to eight hours of hiking, to the south shore of Crete, in the Libyan Sea.
The 16 km trail descends beside cliffs and through dense forests with rare flora and fauna. The path crosses several times the riverbed into the gorge or is matched to it. Passes by the abandoned village of Samaria, and after passes through the narrow and steep walls of the gorge, ends in the seaside village of Agia Roumeli.
One of the most impressive spots in the gorge is the narrowest point of the gorge, the so called “Portes” (which means “Gates”), where the vertical walls come close to each other to 3,5 meters.
View some representative photos of the Samaria Gorge.
National park of Samaria Gorge
The park is supervised by the Department of Forestry and is one of a dozen national parks in Greece. You need to pay an entrance fee of 5 Euro (free to children under 15).
- The path is maintained and is substantially better than “normal” mountain paths in Crete.
- There are wardens along the way (in radio contact with each other) who will help you in case of trouble or injury.
- There is also (in theory) a doctor stationed in the village of Samaria. This has not been the case in the last few years (2009-2014).
- There are well-maintained springs on the way so that you do not have to carry much water.
- There are toilets in several places and plenty of rubbish bins. You find surprisingly little litter, considering the amount of people passing through every day.
- You also get a set of rules aimed at protecting the park and making the experience safe and pleasant for everyone.
The gorge is open only during the day time and if you want to start walking in the afternoon you will only be allowed in up to a certain point. The guards want to make sure that everybody who walks in also gets out before nightfall. This is the reason why they ask you to present your ticket on the way out as it (supposedly) enables them to know if there is anyone still in the park at night.
When is the best time to walk through the gorge?
The problem with Samaria is that it can be really crowded. The gorge of Samaria has become one of the ‘musts’ if you go to Crete and there could be over 2000 visitors a day on a very busy day (see visitors statistics here). If you have the bad luck to pick one of those days, the atmosphere will be really spoilt.
Starting at dawn (before the tourist coaches arrive) will give you a bit of a head start. Spend the night in Omalos where you can easily find good and cheap accommodation and you will not have any traveling time in the morning. The first tourist buses arrive at around 7.30 am and from then on it is an uninterrupted stream of buses until about 10.30 or 11.00 am.
You can also start walking after 11.30 or 12.00, there won’t be many people but you will most probably need to spend the night in Agia Roumeli because the last boat out will have left when you get there.
As far as the times of the year are concerned, the best time is in the spring when the weather is still cool and the vegetation is at its best. The worst time is in the middle of the summer during a heat wave. Give it a miss and come again at a better time.
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What to take with you on this walk?
- A water bottle which you can refill on the way.
- Sun cream and a hat, especially for the last part of the walk which has very little shade.
- Good shoes. These don’t have to be hiking boots but you won’t be contributing to your enjoyment by wearing tennis shoes or sandals.
- Some food. There is no food available inside the National Park.
- Something warm to wear for the early morning: it can be cold at 1200m.
- A supply of plasters in case of blisters.
How long does it take and how fit do you need to be?
A walk of 16 km on flat ground should take just over 3 hours if you walk at a brisk pace. This is theoretically quite easy in the gorge of Samaria as you are going down most of the time but the path requires some care and attention and the walk will take you a minimum of 4 hours of walking time. Add to this time to rest, to stop and look at the scenery, take photographs and you can count about 6 or 7 hours to cover the entire distance.
The walk is long and can be arduous but it is not a difficult walk. Still, every day people get into trouble or end up having an experience which is far from pleasant.
The most common factors are:
- people who never do any exercise and suddenly want their body and legs to walk 16 uneven km without protesting.
- bad shoes creating blisters and / or foot-ache.
- problems with the heat (in summer).
- knee problems that develop during the steep descent at the beginning of the walk and have no time to get better once that original strain is over.
Most young children have no problems walking but will not hold the distance. You might end up having to carry them which is nobody’s idea of fun on such a long walk. It is better not to take children younger than 8 or 9 unless they are used to hiking. From that age onwards they generally have far less problems than their parents but they tend to walk a little too quickly, jump about …and fall. Make sure you have them in sight most of the time (or at least ensure that you know if they are in front of you or behind!) and try to get them to slow down when they get carried away.
Taking your dog for a walk
You may take your dog with you in the gorge provided it is on a leash at all times.
- Worth repeating: drink plenty
- Avoid stopping for a rest just below high cliffs: there is always a risk of stones falling, especially if it has rained recently or if it is windy. The risk of a stone falling on you is minimal (although it has happened before) but there is no point in increasing it.
- Do not shout or whistle loudly, it is unpleasant for others and increases the risk of stones falling.
- The village of Samaria, situated roughly at the halfway point is the place where most people will take a longer rest. Avoid resting for more than half an hour (especially if you are not used to this sort of walk) because your muscles will start to stiffen up and you will find it hard to get going again.
- Whilst in the village of Samaria take a quiet walk around it, you will probably catch a glimpse of the kri-kris (Cretan wild goats). The young ones get used to seeing people every day and are not that shy.
- Go slow during the first 2 km of the walk. The path is very steep, the stones worn smooth and slippery and this is where most accidents happen.
- Always look at where you are going. When you want to look around (and you will!) first stop and then look. It takes only a split second of inattention to trip on a stone, fall down and hurt yourself.