Just an hour’s drive south sits one of Crete’s most well-known attractions, and well-known it may be but overrun it is not. While we’re sure we could sway you into doing this hike by telling you it’s almost entirely downhill – it is also rather beautiful. At 16 kilometres long, Samaria is either the longest or second-longest gorge in Europe, depending on who you ask, and is located in Crete’s only national park.
How to get there:
The easiest place to make your way to is Omalos, the closest township to the start of the gorge. If you’re driving, put this in the GPS and follow the road until you get to the carpark for the gorge – it’s fairly well signposted. There’s also public buses that go there every hour or so, the timetable can be found on the KTEL site http://www.e-ktel.com/en/.
Hike length: 16 km
Time to complete: Widespread information says four to five hours is an achievable goal, but we’d like to see that ironman who coined that idea. While we weren’t exactly blitzing it down the track, we weren’t of the opinion that we were dawdling, and it still managed to take us about seven hours. Walking downhill at length may lull you into a false sense of security, but believe us when we say its still a decent hack.
Amenities: There are toilets along the track, but there are no shops or places to buy things along the way. However, there is a ludicrously expensive shack at the end where you can buy a 5 euro orange juice (admittedly, it is freshly-squeezed and just the ticket after 6 hours ingesting dirt and dust). When you make it to the village at the end of the hike, quaint tavernas and beachside cafes abound – as does an extremely inviting swimming beach.
Getting outta there: Once you finish the hike, you’ll end up at Agia Roumeli – where you can either jump on a ferry to Sougia or Hora Sfakion. It is, unfortunately, the only way out. A ferry costs 11 euro and takes about an hour. From Hora Skafion you can either get a public bus back to Chania, or get a taxi or bus back to Omalos – but the buses are extremely infrequent.
Taxi: There are only two taxis who operate this area, and they actually kinda double as tour guides too. Our pick is Giorgos, a slightly zany – though, he could just be Greek – and lovely older man who lives in Sougia (the finish line of the hike) and is born and bred Cretan mettle. Giorgos is an independent taxi driver working mainly between Chania, Chania airport and Sougia and Omalos. If you need to book him, all you have to do is just give him a call. (+30) 69723 70480 or (+30) 28230 51485. He speaks English, German, Dutch and Greek. Giorgos also knows everything about the area, so you’ll get a history, cultural and foodie talk while you’re transported.
Transport from Sougia to Omalos: Fixed rate of 50 euro.
The walk itself:
First, you have to go in to the park office to buy your ticket. It will cost you 5 euro apiece to enter Samaria Gorge, and you’ll pass over your ticket as you enter.
From an altitude of 1,250m you’ll begin a rather steep decline, which is a rather abnormal way to start a hike. The next hour or so is a rapid descent to the bottom of the gorge, whereby you’ll be hairpinning it down some precariously slippery rocks.
Over the next 16 kilometres you’ll be passing through woodland and over swift-moving creeks and generally just bearing witness to some pretty incredible scenery. It’s not an overly arduous walk, but as we alluded to – it’s going to creep up on you. Sixteen kilometres downhill it may be, but it’s a darned hard 16 kilometres.