Samaria Gorge Φαράγγι Σαμαριάς is in the Chania region in the west of Crete, in the mountains known as Lefka Ori. The entrance to the gorge is 70 km from the town of Chania to the south of the fertile Omalos Plateau.
This gorge really is one of the paradise areas of Crete, and deserving of all the attention it gets. We love the rugged mountains and their gorges, as tough and independent as the Cretan character. The views are uplifting – mageftiki – magical! If you don't want to be amongst all the crowds, visit in spring or autumn or visit Agia Irini Gorge, or perhaps take the option of walking the gorge 'in reverse' - see below.
Surrounded by the Samaria National Park, this area has a beautiful and unique ecology due to its isolated mountainous terrain. The park was declared in 1962, to protect many endangered species and their sustaining ecosystems, especially the Kri-Kri (Capra aegagrus cretica) or Cretan mountain goat. These goats do now survive in the mountains, jumping and climbing high on very steep and treacherous rocky cliff tops.
There are a number of smaller gorges within the mountains, including the beautiful Agia Irini Gorge. The national park and ecology of Crete is shown in more detail in our nature pages.
There are many local buses and day tours each day to the Samaria Gorge, as it is one of the most popular attractions for tourists in Crete. Depending what time of the year you walk there, it can be very crowded.
Samaria gorge is one of the longest in Europe,
it is 16 km long, begins at 1230 meters above sea level at Xiloskalo
near the village of Omalos, and ends at sea level near the pretty
coastal village of Agia Roumeli. The walk can take anywhere between 4 and 6 hours to complete, depending on your approach and fitness levels.
At the beginning of the walk is a steep descent down a rocky footpath with a wooden railing. This is called Xiloskalo which literally means wooden stairs, in the old days there was only a wooden ladder, before the steps were carved. The dramatic scenery looks across to Mount Gigilos (pictured).
As well as people-watching, there is plenty to see in Samaria gorge, of course the beautiful scenery. The descent is surrounded by pine and cyprus forest, it is very steep and takes about 2 km to reach the floor of the gorge.
Once you reach the gorge floor, at Agios Nikolaos is a site of an ancient temple to Apollo, with huge old cyprus pines. Sage, marjoram, thyme, wild orchids and lillies and the healing herb Dictamo are all found here. Oleander flowers burst bright pink along the trails.
The empty village of Samaria is about halfway along the gorge, the villagers were relocated for the national park. The village and the gorge get their name from the church Ossia Maria from the 14th Century. The village has been restored, and is a good opportunity to see traditional Cretan architecture, and makes a lovely picnic spot.
After 12 km, the sides of the gorge form an impressive feature named Portes or 'Gates', where the sides are only 4 metres apart and the cliffs 500m high. Here is a wooden boardwalk to navigate over the river.
Bring your binoculars to spot birds and the Kri-Kri on the rock faces. Various birds live here such as the owl, kestrel and raven as well as the rare Bearded Vulture (pictured), Griffon Vulture and Bonelli’s Eagle. Smaller birds include swallow, quail, woodcock, hoopoe and thrush.
At the end of the gorge are the kiosks at Old Agia Roumeli, where you can find welcome refreshments and the Samaria thyme honey, made from the herbs growing wild here.
The last 3 km after the national park, to get down to the beach, are very hot and sunny as there is no shade. Here is the whitewashed church of Agia Roumeli (pictured).
Agia Roumeli (left) is a small village with a lovely beach, which is very welcome after the long hot walk, has a few rooms, domatia and tavernas.
To return, take the ferry east to Loutro & Sfakia or west to Sougia &Paleohora and take a local bus back to Chania or Rethymnon, or relax and stay a while in the relaxed south coast of Crete.
Samaria gorge is open from late April until the end of October, and can be closed during those months due to weather conditions as a safety precaution. The river can rush through the gorge after heavy rain and become very dangerous.
Day tours to Walk the Gorge are offered from all capital cities of Crete, which makes a very full day, or take the local bus and you may catch the boat out of Agia Roumeli, stay in either Chora Sfakion, Sougia or Paleohora or take the bus back to the capital.
We hope you will enjoy this true paradise in the heart of Crete.
Do you have a story to share of walking the Samaria Gorge? Any tips for your fellow travellers?
If so please go to our Samaria Walk Stories page and tell us! You can even upload your photos to share with future walkers...
A more relaxing way to walk the gorge is to arrive on the ferry into Agia Roumeli, perhaps stay the night, then start early the next morning and walk up the gorge from south to north. In this way you will actually have a lot of peace and quiet, because the majority of trekkers are coming from the north. You can reach the 'Portes', the narrowest part of the gorge, quite quickly as they are closer to the village, about 4 km in...just turn around after you have walked for as long as you like, and enjoy your walk back down to the sea...
Mark has just finished walking the gorge 'in reverse'. Mark says "This area is wonderful and the people of Agia Roumeli are great. The magic is to do Samaria Gorge and stay a few days there. Another tip I can give is to stay in Roumeli and do Samaria Canyon in the opposite direction. Enter the end of the canyon at 7.00am and walk up for 1.5 to 2 hours. Bring a sandwich and some fruit and enjoy the silence and nature. Turn round and back to the village for a frappe. The perfect morning!
Stay cool, stay wild! "
Here are some beautiful images of the gorge below.