Hiking Samaria gorge (Φαράγγι Σαμαριάς) in western Crete, south of Chania, is a great activity if you want to experience the island’s raw nature. The hike through the largest gorge in Greece is very popular so you will be enjoying some of the most stunning Greek landscapes in the company of many, but you will remember it as a highlight of your holiday.
Know Before You Go
The Samaria gorge hike is 16 km (about 10 miles) long and in the summer you will be feeling the power of the sun’s rays with very little in the way of shade. The hike itself is doable if you are of reasonable fitness.
It can take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours to complete the hike, depending on your speed and how many stops you make.
In the summer months it would be a good idea to start early so you will be done during the hottest part of the day. Being at the gorge entrance at 6:30 is a worthwhile goal.
If you are not an experienced hiker, or if you don’t want to spend the time planning, you will find plenty of travel guides in Chania that offer group tours of Samaria gorge.
These tours provide transportation to the gorge (a 25-mile bus ride) and an experienced guide. Crucially, they provide a bus ride back to Chania after you exit the gorge at the southern coast of Crete.
If you go without a tour, you should know that you enter the gorge at Xyloskalo, and exit at the isolated village of Agia Roumeli in the Lybian sea.
From there, you need to take a 40-minute ferry ride to Sougia before catching a bus back to your hotel.
Overall, it’s a fairly organized hiking trail with well laid-out and marked paths.
Wardens are stationed along the path with radio contact to provide help if needed. They also ensure that no one stays in the gorge overnight.
You will also find rest stops with drinking water and toilets (Turkish-style) every few miles.
The fist descent from the entrance at Xylokastro is through a zig-zagging cobblestone path that drops dramatically 5000 feet. You will be under the cover of trees for the most part.
After that, the ground levels off and you will be moving through pleasant forest undercover next to a small stream. You may rest in the small rest stop called Riza Sikias.
The first rest stop is Agios Nikolaos that is home to the warden post. It takes its name form the small church of Ag. Nikolaos which is next to the ruins of an ancient temple of Apollo.
After that, tree coverage becomes scarce and the walls of the gorge loom taller. There is a long stretch before the next rest stop called Samaria. Once you reach it, you will be half way through your hike.
Samaria rest stop is about half way through the gorge hike, and there you will find drinking water, toilets and first aid. Here you will most likely encounter the friendly “kri-kri”, a species of Cretan feral goat that only exists around Samaria gorge.
Beyond Samaria rest stop you will be walking mostly in the dry river bed through large boulders with spectacular walls around as the gorge narrows.
Next stop, Christos, is small and crowded. It too has toilets and water.
A few minutes after that you will hike through the narrowest, and most dramatic part of the gorge. The “Gates“ as they are known, are an impressive sight.
At the Gates, the gorge walls are only 4 meters (13 feet) apart and rise vertically for about 300 meters (980 feet), with a small stream passing through its floor.
The Gates are probably the most photographed feature of Samaria gorge.
The last few kilometers are easier as you will be walking on level ground that eventually for the last 3 km turns into a dirt road that ends in the small village of Agia Roumeli.
Agia Roumeli is land-locked, and the only connection to the outside world is either through Samaria gorge, or via ferry to Sougia or Chora Sfakion.
It has a wide beach right next to the ferry harbor, and swimming after the long hike will be a welcoming exclamation point to your overall experience.
There is a fresh water shower on the beach.
Don’t miss the last ferry (open kind) to Sougia at 5:30 or 6:00 pm because there is no other way out of the town.
The ferry takes about 40 minutes to reach Sougia, where busses meet each ferry’s arrival. It’s a 2-hour bus ride to Chania.
Samaria gorge is open from May through October.
Not surprisingly, the busiest months in terms of visitors are August and September. You will encounter smaller crowds in October.
You will be walking through some rough terrain for hours, so wear athletic shoes or hiking shoes. Hiking boots would be okay, but in the summer they might be too hot.
Bring along some food to replenish the calories lost, and just enough water to reach the first rest stop. After that you can refill your bottle every 6 km (3 miles) or so.
Agia Roumeli has several restaurants and a few tourist shops, so you can have a proper meal and do some shopping after the hike.
Don’t forget to bring along swim-ware, so you can relax in the town’s beach as you wait for the next ferry to Sougia.
Click here to see Samaria gorge on the map and to get directions in a new window.