Sailing in Crete

Since we started planning to sail to Crete, the Samaria Gorge had been on our bucket list. We had searched in advance how to get there because we knew we would leave the yacht in Chania. Although there is an anchorage in Agia Roumeli, at the end of the gorge, it is very exposed and we would be very dependent on the weather if we decided to stay there. 

Generally, sightseeing in Crete from a yacht is not very convenient. The main ports are on the north coast, which is open to strong northerly winds. On the other hand, the south coast has no sheltered bays. We wrote about it here, in the Sailing guide to Chania.
So if you want to explore the island, you need to rent a car or use the extensive and well-functioning public transport.

What is Samaria Gorge? Where is it located?

But let’s get back to the Samaria Gorge. What is this place and why is it the most popular tourist attraction in Crete, next to the Knossos Palace?

The Samaria Gorge is located in the southwestern part of Crete. It is the longest dry gorge in Europe. It was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and due to its biodiversity – it is a World Biosphere Reserve. The Gorge stretches for 18 km, of which 16 km is open to tourists. The most spectacular point of the gorge are the vertical, 500-meter-high cliffs called the “Iron Gates”. This is also the narrowest point of the trail. The gorge is also famous for the wild Cretan “Kri-Kri” goats that inhabit it.

In the gorge we can see the ruins of old churches and the old village of Samaria, which currently serves as a base for park rangers and medical services.

Is the Samaria Gorge trail difficult?

The trail is definitely difficult due to its length and very long and steep downhills. However, this is not a technical trail, there are no ropes or ladders. It starts from the town of Omalos at 1,230 m above sea level and ends in Agia Roumeli at sea level. It is not suitable for people who are not used to long mountain hikes or have health issues. Long downhills are terrible for the knees. As the gorge is mainly open during the summer season, high temperatures must be taken into account. Here is the hike’s profile:

About halfway along the route there is the old, abandoned village of Samaria, which is an ideal place to rest in the shade. Additionally, along the way you will find many places to take a break and, occasionally, toilets! It takes about 5-6 hours to complete the trail.

When to visit the Samaria Gorge?

The Samaria Gorge is usually open from May 1 to October 31. However, you should check the Park’s website regularly because the Gorge may be closed in summer in the event of a fire hazard or heavy rainfall.

How to get to the Samaria Gorge?

Public transport

Chania – Samaria Gorge

Leaving Chania (or any other city in Crete), you need to take the KTEL bus to Omalos. The bus from Chania leaves in the morning and takes about 1 hour. The detailed schedule and frequency of this connection depend on the season, you can check it here. The ticket price to Omalos is 7.5€.

From our experience, we recommend being at the gorge entrance as early as possible (it opens at 8:00). The later, the more tourists arrive and it becomes unpleasantly crowded.

Samaria Gorge – Chania

Returning to Chania is more complicated. The Gorge trail ends in the village of Agia Roumeli, where there is no road access. From Agia Roumeli we take a ferry to one of two other villages: Hora Sfakion or Sougia. Ferries depart at a similar time (2024 – 5:30 p.m.), you can check the timetable here. Be prepared to wait 2-3 hours for the ferry, because most fit people finish the trail around 2-3 p.m. You can spend this time in one of several taverns or on the beach.

Regardless of which town you go to by ferry, from there you have to take the KTEL bus back to Chania. The route through Hora Sfakion is shorter because the bus does not return to the starting point of the route – Omalos. The entire tour ends in Chania late in the evening – after 9:00 p.m. Return ticket costs 8.30€.

The cost of a ferry ticket is 15€. You can buy tickets for all sections of the journey in advance in Chania at the station or online. The entrance ticket to the National Park is also available online and costs 5€. Be careful not to lose it along the way – it is checked at the exit to make sure no one has stayed overnight in the Gorge.

To sum up, going to the Samaria Gorge by public transport will cost 35.8€ per person.

Rental car

When renting a car, you can plan your arrival to Omalo exactly at the opening time of the Gorge. Thanks to this, you will avoid a wave of tourists pouring out of the bus, but you won’t be alone – many people have a similar idea!

The disadvantage of this solution is the need to take a bus to Omalos to pick up the car. In this situation you have to take a ferry to Sougia because the bus from Sougia to Chania goes via Omalos.

Organized trip

You can go to the Samaria Gorge as part of an organized tour. You will find offers everywhere in Chania and other towns in Crete and, of course, online. This is a good solution for those who do not want to worry about public transport and timetables during their holidays. Nevertheless, you will take the same ferry from Agia Roumeli. The cost of such trips is approximately 55€ per person.

How to prepare for hike in Samaria Gorge?

To go to the Samaria Gorge you need to dress as if you were going for a long trip to the mountains and match your clothes to the weather. Different conditions will prevail in July and different in October. Remember, that you start the hike at 1230 m altitude so it can be chilly in the morning. Good hiking shoes are essential as the ground is uneven and often slippery. Not sandals or flip-flops.

You need to take some provisions with you because there are no cafes, restaurants or vending machines in the gorge. But you don’t have to take water with you – you can refill it at one of many drinking water springs along the way.

Take care of sun protection – a hat, glasses and sunscreen are mandatory, especially in the summer months.

Additionally, you can take a swimsuit and a towel with you, as you can spend the time waiting for the ferry in Agia Roumeli on the beach.

Is Samaria Gorge worth it?

I regret to say that we returned from the Gorge a bit disappointed. But don’t worry – not because of the Gorge itself. The place is undoubtedly beautiful and worth seeing.

Unfortunately, just a few days after the opening, at the beginning of May, the number of tourists exceeded our expectations. Most of the time we were walking in a line, one behind the other. It was difficult to stop to take a photo or just admire nature. With so many people, there is no chance of seeing wild goats or other animals that the guide books promise.

Additionally, most of the trail leads through the forest. This is a big advantage during hot weather. Unfortunately, it is a disadvantage when we want to admire the views. The spectacular photos of the gorge that you can find in all the ads are taken on a fairly short section of the trail where you can actually see the impressive cliffs. The rest is just a nice trail through the forest, like many others. Yet very crowded.

The initial section of the trail, about 5 km, is a continuous, steep descent. This is definitely not a trip for people who have knee problems.

Additionally, I believe that the logistics of getting to and from the Gorge are not worth this trail. We spent a lot of time on buses and on the ferry, which is not an attraction for us and we would prefer to spend it in a different way.

Nevertheless, if you want to visit this greatest attraction of Crete and you are not afraid of crowds of tourists – it is worth it. If only to form your own opinion.

Alternative route through the Samaria Gorge

What would we do differently?

If you still want to see the gorge and at least slightly avoid the crowds, there is an alternative method of getting to the gorge. You can start the route at the end point of Agia Roumeli, after spending the night there or arriving by ferry from Sougia before noon. Then the wave of tourists that normally walks from Omalos does not reach the end of the route yet and it is relatively quiet there. Additionally, to see the most spectacular places in the Gorge, all you need is a 2-hour hike “against the flow” and you can come back 🙂 This way we will also avoid very long descents through the forest at the beginning of the trail.

Samaria Gorge trail – summary

In conclusion, I think there are plenty of other beautiful trails in Crete that are not as crowded. You can choose the level of difficulty and length to suit your level of fitness. With a car, you can get to quiet and peaceful places where there are no 500-meter cliffs, but also where the previous person’s backpack is not right in front of your nose. However, if you really want to see Samaria, we recommend you considering the alternative route described above.


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