Samaria Gorge In Crete – One Of Europes ‘Must Do’ Walks
In October 1998, while on holiday, my wife and I decided to walk the famous Samaria Gorge in Crete. The Samaria Gorge is one of Europes ‘must do’ walks. It lies in the south west of Crete in the prefecture of Chania. The gorge is said to be the longest in Europe and became a National Park in 1962.
The Samaria Gorge is a major tourist attraction, so much so that an estimated quarter of a million people walk through it every year. Visitors are allowed to walk the Samaria Gorge from 1st May until 15th October, so we just about qualified time wise. The Samaria Gorge is closed in winter because of the danger from flash floods and the general high water levels make it impassable.
Not wanting to be part of the mass invasion by coach tourists, we decided to drive the 200 miles from our base in north eastern Crete and stay overnight at the village of Omalos. Omalos is near to the Samaria Gorge entrance. The idea was to walk the gorge early before the crowds arrived. We would stay overnight at Agia Roumeli, which is at the end of the walk at the Libyan sea. We would then walk back up the gorge the following day.
When we arrived at our accommodation it was in a downpour with the narrow tarmac road resembling a river. The lady who greeted us informed us that the gorge may be closed the following day because of flooding. Apparently in 1993 several hikers were killed when a flash flood carried them down the gorge and out to sea.
The following morning the lady informed us that the gorge was open. After a long drive this was great news and after a quick breakfast we headed off on a hot sunny day.
The gorge was created by a small river running between Lefká Óri (the White Mountains) and Mt. Volakias. There are several other gorges in the White Mountains but the Samaria is the best known and most popular. The Samaria Gorge is just over 8 miles long, starting at an altitude of 1,250 m/4,101 ft at the northern entrance.
Including the walk from the end of the gorge to the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli, the total distance is 10 miles long. We completed the walk in 3½ hours.
The village of Samariá lies just inside the gorge. It was finally abandoned by the last remaining inhabitants in 1962 to make way for the park. The most famous part of the gorge is the narrow passage near the end of the gorge known as the ‘Iron Gates’. This is where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only four metres and soar up to a height of almost 1,000 feet. This part of the gorge is known by the locals as ‘Portes’, which means ‘doors’ or ‘gates’, nobody knows where the ‘iron’ came from.
After staying overnight in Agia Roumeli we again had an early breakfast and headed back up the gorge to Omalos where we had left the car. Surprisingly the walk upwards took exactly the same time as the walk down. Thankfully it was only in the final hour that we came across the tourists on their way down, until then we had the gorge to ourselves.
If you happen to be in Crete then walking the Samaria Gorge is highly recommended, especially if you avoid the herds of tourists.