Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Hiking the Samaria Gorge in Crete

Crete is not only about beaches: in the interior of the island there are in facts mountains that, even though they might not be the Himalayas, offer some good opportunities for hiking trips. They say that one of the experiences not to be missed in Crete is to hike the Samaria Gorge, which is the longest in Europe. Could I miss this opportunity? Certainly not, so I decided to do my first real hike, as my plane landed in Chania, the perfect base for the excursion.

Mountains in Crete
Mountains in Crete

Travel agencies offer excursions to the Samaria Gorge from virtually everywhere in Western Crete and beyond, but they all involve waking up at ungodly hours and pick up every participant along the way at his hotel or bed & breakfast. Being rather good at organizing trips by myself, I decided to take the bus and do it my own way. There is nothing better than your own satisfaction after having completed the trip knowing that you have saved quite a few euros, and managed to do everything at your own pace.
This do-it-yourself trip to Samaria Gorge was an excellent decision because, as I soon discovered, the organized tours leave you at the exact same spot than the public bus does, at the entrance of the gorge, and pick you up at the end of the hike and after you have taken a ferry, again in the same place as the public bus that leads you back to Chania. 
I woke up at 8, as opposed to some of the tours that force you to wake up at around 5.30. As of summer 2013, there is a bus leaving Chania bus station at 7.45 and another at 8.45 (€6.90 one way). I grabbed a coffee and a croissant at the bus station, and boarded the bus, where I was greeted by a bus driver who was listening to Cretan traditional music. The drive to Omalos, the village at the entrance of the gorge, is 45 minutes of hairpin turns, and I was a bit nauseous, but I finally reached it. I bought a sandwich and a banana for the hike, plus a bottle of water. You might want to take your lunch from home, as there aren't any food stalls or bars inside the park, and that sandwich purchased in the only bar of Omalos didn't look too good.
Once you have paid the entrance fee to the Samaria Gorge National Park  (€5) you have 5 to 8 hours of easy trekking ahead. Don't worry: if you're tired there are donkeys that can help you finish the hike, and there are fountains to refill your bottle, plus benches to sit down for breaks. The first hour or so is a bit boring, but then you start passing small streams and pools of water, crossing wooden bridges and admiring trees with pink flowers along the way. Every now and then you encounter the occasional goat grazing the grass. 
Greek idea of a birdge, Samaria Gorge, Crete
Greek idea of a bridge

Flowers during the Samaria Gorge hiking trip
Beautiful pink flowers in the Samaria Gorge 
Goat, Samaria Gorge
A goat

The real gorge begins after at least two or three hours: you are walking between these huge walls of stone for hours and hours, and when you look up you start thinking how surreal it would be if somebody leaned over from the top of the gorge to say hello. You have to be very careful about where you put your feet though, as during the whole hike you are walking on big stones, so hiking shoes are a good idea. It took me a little bit more than 6 hours to complete the hike, but it was worth it! When I was there (end of May), it wasn't too crowded, and sometimes I had the whole gorge for myself. It was a bit creepy, knowing that the only way out was finishing the trek and arrive at this secluded beach on the southern coast of Crete.

Samaria Gorge
The gorge

Samaria Gorge, looking up
Samaria Gorge, looking up

Yes, because after you have admired the rock formations for hours, you finally reach the enchanting little seaside village of Agia Roumeli, where there are no other roads except the one leading you back to the gorge! Here there are plenty of tavernas, and it's the place where you have to take the ferry boat that leads you to Hora Sfakion, from where you can take your bus back to Chania. The last ferry is at 17.30 (summer 2013), so make sure to arrive on time, else you'll have to spend the night in one of the many guesthouses in the village.

Taverna in Agia Roumeli, Crete
Taverna in Agia Roumeli

When I arrived in Agia Roumeli it was very windy, but the sea was one the bluest things I had ever seen. Because of the wind and the rough sea, the waves were splashing the sailor who was helping the people get on the ferry boat, and everybody was laughing. Poor guy, you could see that he was very pissed off! 

Flag looking out at the Lybian sea in Crete
Greek flag looking out at the Libyan sea

During the ferry ride (10€) you stop at Loutro, where the sea is very bright, but you also have the possibility to admire the majesty of the southern coast of Crete. 
This boat looks almost suspended on the water, Loutro, Crete
This boat looks almost suspended on the water. Taken in Loutro from the ferry boat.


scogliere modificate
View of the coast of Crete from the ferry boat
When you get off the ferry boat in Hora Sfakion the public bus awaits for your boat, so you shouldn't worry about it. By the way, on the way back to Chania I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to snap a good picture, as I was on the wrong side of the bus.

I really enjoyed organizing this trip, and it wasn't as difficult as someone had told me. What about you, have you ever organized a trip by yourself when everybody was telling you to join a tour? 


  1. Although I love to organize my own tours, I think it's so brave of you to have hiked this gorge by yourself! The scenery is absolutely gorgeous and it looks like it's well worth the several hours of hiking.

    1. The hike wasn't difficult, but it definitely needs some organization skills. At one point I looked at the map and realized that I had to go faster, if I wanted to take that boat. With a tour guide it would have been easier maybe, but I loved how I could stop and appreciate the nature all by myself.

  2. I usually prefer doing things my own way while traveling as opposed to a tour! Loved reading about your hiking adventure. The pictures are so gorgeous, I especially love the last one.

    Happy travels :)

    1. Laren, I love that picture too. I managed to get a nice result with a little editing, but it was a bit hazy at start...


01 09 10