Adventure Travel in Crete: hiking the Samaria Gorge...

by Graham Yates
(Crete, Greece)

Walking the Samaria Gorge

Walking the Samaria Gorge

Samaria Gorge is Europe's second longest gorge and staggers down sixteen kilometres, from the Omolos Plateau in Central Crete to the Libyan Sea at Agia Roumeli, on the south coast. Hiking this gorge is the best Adventure Travel experience in Crete.


Thirteen of these kilometres pick their way through steep stone steps, through cold clear streams, over rocks and boulders, past freshwater springs, and through mountain forests.

The last three kilometres are a gentle stroll on a paved path to the coast.

The landscape and views are spectacular, but there are more reasons to trek through Samaria.

Crete

Crete is a wonderful place if you love to combine nature with tourism. Some of the best beaches in the world can be found here, and there's the weather too. Glorious hot sunshine most of the year means that Crete is a top destination for north Europeans, North Americans, Russians, and even Italians, who flock here to avoid the high prices of their own resorts.

A big feature of Crete is its flora and fauna. There are more than 1,700 different species of plants in Crete and 10% are indigenous to this Island. Many are endemic too (only found here).

The Gorge is abundant in wild flowers and herbs, especially in the spring. Samaria is a large Greek National Park and the flora and fauna are protected. Picking flowers or hunting is prohibited.

Kri Kri, or Wild Cretan Goat

Which is just as well for, arguably, Crete's most famous inhabitant - the Wild Cretan Goat, or Kri Kri (Capra aegagrus creticus).

This is a small brown stocky animal with very distinctive curled horns. In the summer, you might find this goat coming down into the valley and it has been known to feed from hikers. At other times, you might not see them unless you stop and look upwards amongst the ledges and crevices on the gorge wall.

The Kri Kri is found here in Samaria, and one or two other locations in Crete. You won't find it anywhere else in the world.

Organized or not

Your best way to appreciate this hike is through an organised tour, bookable when you get to Crete. All the resorts have agents who can organise this for you. You can be independent and do it by taxi or bus if you wish, although coordinating ferry, bus and/or taxi at the end of the hike is difficult.

Hiring a car and making your own way is not possible, unless you walk back up the Gorge to collect your car where you must leave it, at Omolos. If you do manage to walk back up the Gorge (another 16K – uphill this time) you might not be in a fit condition to drive anyway!

Taking on the hike is not for the faint hearted. You'll need to be fit and quite agile. The terrain is sometimes steep and unforgiving, and there have been some casualties over the years. As recently as 2007 two Polish tourists inexplicable deviated from the main path and paid with their lives. The Gorge can be a dangerous place for those without the necessary experience and physical stamina!

Costs vary depending on where you go from. Coach and taxi transfers are about €30.00, admission to the Gorge is €5.00, and then you'll need a ferry trip to get back to civilisation after the end of the hike at around €8.00 We went from Kalyves near Chania and it costed €39.30.

You will be collected from, or near, your hotel, and taken to the Omolos Plateau where the hike starts. After your long walk, you'll be put on the ferry to Sougia, Paleohora, or Chora Sfakion, from where you'll be coached back to your hotel in the evening.

The hike takes between 4½ - 6 hours depending on your speed, fitness, and the number of times you stop.

The Hike

On arrival at the head of the Gorge, you will disembark for a coffee, snack and toilet visit at one of the restaurants there. Your guide will go and get the tickets and then you're off!

The start of the hike is a steep stepped section with slippery stones and loose pebbles, and it's easy to slip. This is not the place to look or stare around you. Keep an eye on where you are putting your feet.

Hikes are sometimes cancelled if the weather is bad, because this first section is treacherous when wet.

It will also be quite crowded here and as the pathway is narrow and there will be a lot of people with you. There are not many places to pass, so patience and care is needed for the first couple of kilometres, then things will get less hectic with space for passing and room to stop for pictures and a breather.

All along the way there are resting places, and your guide will give you the info on this, including his or her recommendations on after what time you should be arriving at each major rest place. One such place is the small church of Agios Nikolaos.

We thought we were allowed too little time to get to the first major resting place and too much time to get to the second one. This was perhaps a bit of psychology to get people moving through the Gorge at a reasonable pace, especially at first.

Best Tips for Hiking Samaria

You will be warned that this hike is hard on the knees, and this is certainly true. It's a downhill trek for the most part and this can jar the bones a little.

This is a long long walk over some difficult terrain. If you are not used to walking then don't attempt this hike. In particular, it's not recommended for children under 8 and people with knee problems or other health issues.

Here are some tips:

• Don't burden yourself with loads of water, you can refill your bottle in the Gorge
• Watch your step all the way! If you want to look at the view, take a picture, or search for Kri Kri - STOP FIRST, or you'll fall!
• Apply some Vaseline to your feet before putting on your good hiking socks and boots or quality training shoes - this will help avoid blisters.
• Don't leave the main path. It's mostly obvious where the path goes, but if ever you are not sure, stop and wait for someone to follow and show the way.
• Don't rest too long, or your legs may seize up! Plus, you don't want to finish late

Things to take with you

Don't take too much stuff with you – it's a long hike and you don't want a heavy load on your back. Things to take:

• A little water to get you to the first spring water fountain
• Fruit, nut and/or chocolate snacks to keep you going
• Lunch
• Sun cream
• Hat
• Camera
• Money for entrance fee, ferry ticket, and dinner at the end

Getting an early start is the key to a successful day. Organised trips start from all over Crete, so this will determine when you are able to start the hike. Starting near Chania in the west of the Island will give you a head start and will mean that you'll be one of the first groups down the steep steps at the start of the Gorge. This is a good thing, because the pathway can get very busy with up to 2,500 hikers a day vying for a foothold during the height of the summer season.

This early start also means that it's cool, which is good in the summer. In May it's quite cool so early. But don't worry – you'll warm up soon!

All in all, hiking the Samaria Gorge is a memorable experience, and as the aching legs and painful blisters subside, you'll soon be basking in the glory of a great achievement – a tough trek through one of Europe's biggest gorges!

Visit Completely Crete to learn more about this wonderful Greek Island - the home of the Samaria Gorge.

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