Samaria Gorge

Samaria Gorge

Samaria or the Samaria Gorge is one of the main sights of Crete. Every tourist who visits Crete will have heard of this beautiful gorge or soon will. The locals call it the “Farangas” or “Great Gorge”, both in admiration at its beauty and to differentiate it from the many other, smaller gorges of Crete.

The Samaria Gorge is in west Crete, in the White Mountains. It is the longest gorge in Europe, with a length of 18 kilometres. The gorge starts at Xyloskalo (1227 m. above sea level) on the Omalos Plateau and runs down to the seaside village of Agia Roumeli on the south coast of Crete. The Samaria National Park is exceptionally rich in plant and animal life. In the gorge you will find unique species protected under international law. It is said that there are 450 plant species in the gorge, and not a single flower may be removed from Samaria, by law. Don’t see this as a pointlessly strict rule, but as the only way to protect the delicate ecosystem of Samaria so that thousands of visitors can continue to enjoy it each year. In Samaria you can admire the forests of huge pine and cypress trees, a picture from Crete’s past, when the island was covered by forests famous for their timber, ideal for building strong ships. Inside the gorge you may even meet its famous inhabitants, the wild goats of Crete, which the locals call “agrimia” and tourists call “kri-kri”. The Cretan wild goat is endemic to Crete and you will probably see some in the village of Samaria, as they often approach the houses at the edge of the village.

Samaria is not a simple stroll for those unused to walking. Anyone can go down the gorge, as long as they have no serious medical problems, but you must be prepared for very stiff legs the next day. A good pair of hiking shoes is a must, as well as sunblock and a hat. The most tiring part of the walk is the last 3 km before the exit from the National Park. Here there is often another ticket control to make sure no-one is left in the gorge overnight, either because they have had an accident or because they want to. The landscape at the exit from the gorge is dry and arid with no shade. If you have started your walk in the early morning, you will reach this point in the early afternoon, when the heat of the day is more obvious. Be patient, because just another hour’s walk away is Agia Roumeli with its inviting beach.

The walk through the Samaria Gorge takes 4-8 hours depending on your pace. Six hours is the normal time, especially if you stop to take pictures and enjoy the amazing natural landscape. However, if you don’t feel up to the whole route, there is also the “lazy way” as the tour agents call it. This is a much shorter route from Agia Roumeli up to the “Iron Gates” (Sideroportes), the narrowest point of the gorge. At the Iron Gates, the gorge is so narrow that you can almost touch both sides as they rise up sheer 350 metres above your head. The short route is certainly an easy way to experience some, though not all, of the magic of the Samaria Gorge.

There is a cheap ticket to enter the gorge, which is open from mid-April to the end of October.

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