Hiking the Longest Gorge in Europe

At the start of the Samaria Gorge hike in OmalosOne bright morning in mid-September, in Crete, found us up and ready to catch a cab to Chania, where we would catch a bus at 7:45 AM to Omalos, the start of the Samaria Gorge hike.  Despite how early it was, we were all eager to get going and start this hike down the longest gorge in Europe.  It wasn’t hard for our cab driver to guess where we were going as we loaded our hiking bags into his trunk.  He offered to take us directly up to Omalos, for an additional €50.  With 4 people in the cab, this really wasn’t much more than the bus fare, per person, and certainly quicker, so we decided to take him up on the offer.  Not quite one and a half hours later, we were standing high in the Lefka Ori Mountains at Omalos.

The trail down the mountainsideThe trail down the mountainside, with a view of Mount GingalosAfter a quick restroom stop at the little gift shop/cafe at the parking lot, we went, paid our €5 entrance fee, got our ticket (hold on to this, they take it back at the end of the gorge, probably an accountability thing), and we started down the trail.  The starting point, Omalos, is at an elevation of about 1,227 meters, and this hike takes you 16 km (just over 10 miles) all the way down to the Libyan Sea on the south side of Crete.  The first section of trail leads you down the mountainside, on non-stop switchbacks, until you eventually reach the gorge, at an altitude of maybe 700 meters.

Inside a little church alongside the trail
At this point the trails meanders through boulders and loose rock, along a stream.  The water in the stream is so pristine, clear, and cool, keeping the air in this area of the gorge cool, a welcome respite from the hot summer day.

The stream flowing down the Samaria GorgeHiking the Samaria GorgeAs you go along the trail, throughout the gorge, there are trail markers, counting off kilometers as you cover them (12).  There’s also little stations along the way (10 or 11 of them).  Most of them had little water fountains for refilling your water along the way.  A lot of these stops also had water closets.  I had a 1.5L camelbak with me, along with a large water bottle.  I drank the bottle first, and the water stops were frequent enough that I didn’t end up touching my camelbak, but it was nice to know I had the extra water should I have needed it.  So, don’t load yourself down with too much water, just bring a large bottle and you should be fine.
The "rangers" throughout the gorge all seemed to have horses that they had ridden down into the gorgeThe Kri Kri, a wild goat that lives on CreteAlmost halfway along the trail, you reach the old Samaria settlement to stop and relax at.  Here you can refill your water, use the water closet, and relax in the shade amongst the old buildings, olive and fruit trees.  Watch out here, there are wild goats, the Kri Kri, here, and they are looking to steal your food.  It is a good chance to get a shot of these guys, though (my pic of the Kri Kri was from elsewhere on the trail), just watch them.  I’ve never seen these goats anywhere else on Crete, despite even doing a boat tour out around the Goat Island just outside the Chania Harbor.

Getting into the narrower part of the Samaria GorgeThe spot where we stopped to soak our feet... After the settlement, you eventually enter the narrow part of the gorge, with the area they call the Iron Gates.  The stream flows strongly through here, and it wasn’t a hard decision to take a break along it.  The boots came off and my feet were deep in the freezing cold waters, quickly numbing away the pains of beginning blisters.  We reclined against our bags and relaxed there for quite awhile, enjoying the cold water on our feet, the cool breeze blowing up the gorge, and the blue sky overhead, framed by the gorge walls.  Crete is full of little slices of heaven like this.

Soaking my feet in the freezing cold waters of the Samaria GorgeEventually we continued our trek down the gorge, crossing over more rickety, bouncy, wooden bridges.   The narrowest part of the gorge, the Iron Gates, was here.  The stream flows through this section, so to prevent you from wading down the stream, there’s a long section of rickety pathway against one side to walk on.  I hated these sections, I kept having large men immediately step onto the wooden bridges behind me.  With each step they’d take, the thing would bounce horribly, and I’d have to walk even slower to make sure each step landed on a log, rather than going through a large gap…  So if you go, please be considerate of others and not crowd those little bridges!

Passing through the Iron Gates of the Samaria GorgeAfter a bit, the gorge opened a bit, and after several more kilometers of following a stream that we were too high above to reach and relax in….   We eventually arrived at the “end” of the Samaria Gorge, 12.8km down the trail.  The path was fenced off and you funnel past a little building where they collect your entrance ticket, and then you exit the gorge.  Here there are several little food or drink stands.  We all got fresh orange juice (there is nothing like a Cretan orange, once you taste their orange juice nothing will ever compare) and relaxed for a while.  

Looking up at the top of the Samaria GorgeWhen we were ready, we resumed our trek, there was still a ways to go, another couple of kilometers, to reach the beach on the Libyan Sea in the tiny town of Agia Roumeli.  If you want to, rather than hike it, they had vans making runs down to the shore for a couple Euros a person.  We just walked it.

Looking back up at the Samaria Gorge as we draw near to Agia RoumeliWhen you get to the town, find the ticket office for the ferry ride out, get your tickets, then go crash on the beach and relax!!  There were changing rooms that the guys found somewhere to use.  I had worn my swimsuit underneath, so I just went straight for the beach.  We set up with some beach chairs, ordered drinks and food, and then went into the water.  I recommend you brink water shoes for this part.  The beach is dark colored, and very pebbly.  It hurt a fair amount to walk on!  But, floating in that cool water, after that hike, was so incredibly peaceful and relaxing.  I felt at peace with the world.

The Beach at Agia RoumeliEventually, catch the ferry out to whichever town you want.  The usual route is to catch the ferry that will take you to Hora Sfakia, stopping at Loutro on the way (this place is gorgeous and we overnighted here on a different day, I’ll post about that at some point…).  In Hora Sfakia, walk from the ferry uphill, following the masses of people.  You’ll eventually arrive in a parking lot with a lot of buses.  Find the individual selling the tickets (unless you bought the ticket when you took the bus up to Omalos from Chania), and then get on a bus.  It was a long ride, getting towards two hours, and a great chance to pass out from the long day…  I can not recommend this hike enough!  If you love to hike, add this one to your list!

Looking back at Agia Roumeli and the Samaria Gorge behind it from the ferryClick here to check out a site with more information about the hike, including a little trail map showing the distances between water stations, water closets, and what not.Loutro

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