The Samaria Gorge, located on the island of Crete in Greece, is a stunning natural wonder and major tourist attraction. Designated as a National Park since 1962 and a World’s Biosphere Reserve, the gorge draws numerous visitors each year who come to marvel at its breathtaking beauty and unique ecosystem. Situated in southwest Crete in the regional unit of Chania, the Samaria Gorge is a must-see destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.
Spanning 16 kilometers in length, Samaria Gorge is the longest and one of the most impressive gorges in Greece. The gorge’s width varies, reaching up to 150 meters at its widest point and narrowing to just 3 meters at its tightest. The incredible hike through the gorge begins at Xyloskalo in the Omalos plateau, sitting at an altitude of 1,230 meters, and offers participants unforgettable views, diverse landscapes, and an opportunity to witness the area’s unique flora and fauna.
Hiking the Samaria Gorge is a thrilling experience, with the trail descending past soaring cliffs and magnificent rock walls. The adventure provides visitors with the chance to immerse themselves in the raw beauty of the canyon as they move through the 16-kilometer journey, ending near the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. For travelers visiting Crete, exploring the Samaria Gorge should undoubtedly be a top priority.
The Samaria Gorge is situated on the island of Crete in Greece, specifically in the southwest region within the Chania regional unit.
The gorge’s impressive length stretches for about 16 kilometers. Its width ranges from 150 meters at its widest point to just 3 meters at its narrowest, the so-called Gates (or “Iron Gates”). It begins at the southern part of the Omalos plateau, with its starting point being Xyloskalo at an altitude of 1,230 meters above sea level (VisitGreece). It then descends towards the village of Agia Roumeli by the sea.
The topography of the Samaria Gorge boasts a diverse range of altitudes, with elevations varying between 0 and 2,134 meters above sea level. Additionally, the area’s landscape is further enriched by 22 water springs, numerous torrents, and karstic caves, according to the UNESCO biosphere reserve description.
Geology and Landscape
The Samaria Gorge was formed during the Quaternary period. It was created by a small river running between the White Mountains (Lefká Óri) and Mt. Volakias (Wikipedia). The dolomite rock formations in the area were fractured by various factors, such as glacial action and karstic phenomena, which are especially evident in the Gingilos area and around the previously mentioned ‘Gates’.
As a World’s Biosphere Reserve and a National Park of Greece since 1962, the Samaria Gorge is home to various species of wildlife. Particularly notable among the endemic species is the Cretan wild goat known as “kri-kri,” which can only be found in the gorge and the surrounding area, as well as a few remote islands off the coast of Crete. Samaria Gorge also harbors a wide variety of bird species and serves as a sanctuary for numerous types of insects and reptiles.
The Samaria Gorge hosts a diverse range of plant species, some of which are endemic to Crete or the Mediterranean region. The gorge’s steep slopes and canyons provide the perfect environment for unique flora to grow. With its mountainous limestone terrain, the area houses a variety of plant species, such as pines, cypresses, and various types of Cretan flora.
History and Cultural Significance
The gorge of Samaria has been inhabited for thousands of years and has played an important role as a refuge from foreign invaders, particularly during times of oppression. The Samaria Gorge is recognized as a natural site and symbol of the island of Crete, holding a distinguished position in Cretan, Greek, and global cultural history (source).
First inhabited in the Byzantine era, the Samaria Gorge and its surrounding area remained populated until 1962, when the National Park was established and the old Samaria village was abandoned. Since then, the gorge has become renowned for its beauty, attracting hikers and nature lovers from around the world.
Apart from its historical role as a shelter during times of strife, Samaria Gorge is also culturally significant for its ancient olive groves (source). These groves are not only a testament to the region’s agriculture, but also serve as an important habitat for various species of flora and fauna, making the gorge a living monument of both cultural and natural heritage.
Hiking in Samaria Gorge
Samaria Gorge is a stunning 16-km hike that cuts through the White Mountains of Crete, to the shores of the Mediterranean. The hike starts at the Xyloskalo trailhead at an altitude of 1,250 meters within the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) and ends at the small village of Agia Roumeli.
The trail is rated 4.6 out of 5 by hikers on AllTrails, making it one of the most popular hikes in Crete.
What to Expect
Hiking Samaria Gorge takes you through rugged terrain, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and forests. While the trail can get crowded during peak summer season, the views and scenery are well worth the effort.
After completing the hike, you will arrive at the quaint Greek town of Agia Roumeli, where you can relax and enjoy the local cuisine before heading back. You can either choose to walk on or take a boat from the village
Here are some essential tips for a successful hike through Samaria Gorge:
Start early in the day to avoid the most intense heat and the worst of the crowds.
Wear sturdy hiking shoes and comfortable clothing, as the terrain can be rocky and uneven.
Bring plenty of water and snacks to stay hydrated and energized throughout the hike.
Take breaks when needed and pace yourself to ensure you have enough energy to complete the hike.
Respect the environment by staying on the designated trail and disposing of waste properly.
Operating Hours and Fees
The Samaria Gorge is usually open for visitors from May to mid-October and from dawn to dusk, though it may be closed sometimes due to the weather. Getting in for the hike is 5 Euros, while children under the age of 15 can enter for free. Be sure to double-check the official site for the most up-to-date information on fees and opening dates.
There are no accommodations within the Samaria National Park itself, so you must lodge in one of the nearby villages, such as Agia Roumeli or Chora Sfakion/Sfakia, or stay yet further in Chania or another of the island’s cities. You can find hotels, guesthouses, and rental apartments to suit various budgets and preferences.
There are several ways to reach the Samaria Gorge. A popular option is to take a public bus from Chania to the entrance in Xyloskalo. From there, visitors can begin their hike through the gorge. The journey takes around 1.5 hours, and buses typically run early in the morning to accommodate hikers. You can also consider joining a guided tour that includes transportation and other amenities for a more comprehensive experience.
Alternatively, you can rent a car and drive on your own. However, note that parking is limited at the Xyloskalo entrance, and it is not possible to park at the gorge’s exit. Therefore, you’ll need to arrange transportation back to your vehicle after completing the hike.
Finally, if you are already traversing the E4 path or staying in the surrounding area, there is always walking, although, given the 16-kilometer trek awaiting you, you are probably better off starting your day on some wheels.