Hiking The Samaria Gorge

We did it! We made it down, down, down the sixteen-kilometer rocky slope of the Samaria Gorge. It was stunning, it was long, and our calves resented us for the next three days. But it was entirely worth it.

Samaria Gorge is a point-to-point hike, and most people (ourselves included) start at the top in Xyloskalo.

At the top, you’re given clear instructions not to do any of the following: kill goats, put your feet in streams, take hammers to rock walls, or chop down trees.

The hike begins in a tall evergreen forest, and there are wooden railings to keep you safe from the rocks that slip and slide beneath your feet.

Rocks are a constant theme on this hike. There are wishing rocks …

… rocks that look like they may fall at any moment …

… rocks in trees …

… rocks that appear to balance unassisted …

… an ancient temple made out of rocks …

Agios Nikolaos — now a church — first built hundreds of years ago for Apollo

… and many signs that warn of the impending doom posed by rocks:

The rocks make for challenging walking, especially in the steeper top sections. This is definitely a watch-your-step trail, and they have donkeys (with wooden saddles!) for people who get injured or who just can’t make it out.

The path gets a bit easier after the first several kilometers, when you reach an area where the pines begin to thin and you start to walk along a stream bed.

Soon thereafter, the stream bed fills with water, and the hike begins to wind alongside and over it.

There is beautiful pink oleander all along the way.

The trail next opens up into a wide valley …

… where you can begin to see the ruins of Samaria, a village whose inhabitants were displaced when this area became a national park.

This is the best place to spot a kri-kri, a Cretan wild goat.

The halfway point isn’t far down from here …

… and you really start to get a sense of the drama of the gorge.

The rock walls here are amazing!

Stream crossings now begin in earnest, some over rickety wooden bridges …

… and some around rocks that jut right into the water.

The gorge narrows further after this point, eventually closing to just three meters on either side at a spot called “The Gates.”

We were irritated by the large black irrigation hoses that follow the river (you can see them above), because they really mar the beauty of the park. But there are lovely places where they seem to disappear and you can just appreciate the natural scenery.

It’s a shame that you can’t swim, because there are some spectacular pools along the way.

The trail stays very gorge-like for a while …

… and then it opens out as the hike begins to near the finish.

Once you reach the “End of National Park Congratulations” sign …

… there’s still at least a kilometer of walking to be done on a cobblestone road.

This road leads to the small village of Agia Roumeli, where you can enthusiastically throw yourself into the water at the beach!

I would also recommend taking time for a terrific lunch at Calypso Taverna.

All told, the hike is likely to take you between four and seven hours (this depends entirely on your hiking speed, how much advantage you take of the rest stops along the way, and whether you stop for an absolutely perfect orange juice along the river just after the park exit). You’ll need a water bottle, but not more than one, because there are multiple spots to refill your water from springs along the way.

To get back to the start, you need to take a ferry from Agia Roumeli along the wild southwestern Cretan coast …

… to the village of Sougia.

From here, if you left a car at the top of the hike, you can either take a bus or a taxi back up to Xyloskalo (we’d recommend the taxi — it’s faster and cost only 10 Euros).

What a day! Completely exhausting and entirely wonderful.

One response to “Hiking The Samaria Gorge

  1. Pingback: Staying in Omalos | Traveler Tina·

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