What I Did: I hiked Samaria Gorge a couple of years ago in July (and it was HOT!). I booked a package tour from Chania which was perfect because it included a bus pickup in the morning from my hotel and a ferry ride back in the evening. It also meant I was with a group of people to chat with along the way!
When people think of Greece they generally don’t think of hiking.
At least I didn’t, anyway.
But the Samaria Gorge hike is one of the best day hikes I’ve done.. ever!
(Okay, it’s a long list.. but this is definitely a must-do hike)
Not only is the Samaria Gorge one of the most popular and famous treks in Crete–attracting thousands of visitors every year–but it’s also a stunning walk that took me from the high mountains to the sea and through a narrow and spectacular canyon.
In this post, I’ll share with you my experience and tips for hiking the Samaria gorge.
Table of Contents
Samaria Gorge: The Second Largest Gorge In Europe
The Samaria gorge is a stunning natural wonder that attracts thousands of visitors every year. It’s the second-largest gorge in Europe–after the Verdon Gorge in France–and one of the most impressive in Greece. It’s located in the southwest of Crete–the regional unit of Chania–and it’s part of the White Mountains National Park. The gorge is a World’s Biosphere Reserve and a refuge for many endemic plant and animal species, including the rare kri-kri (Cretan goat).
About The Samaria Gorge Hike
The Samaria Gorge hike is a one-way trek that starts at the Omalos Plateau, at an altitude of 1,230 m and ends at the coastal village of Agia Roumeli, on the Libyan Sea. It’s about 16 km long, of which 13 km are inside the gorge and 3 kilometers are from the exit of the gorge to Agia Roumeli.
Though the path runs mostly downhill, there are some steep and rocky points, making the hike moderately difficult. But the intensity definitely depends on your physical condition and experience. I definitely recommend you train on uphill trails prior to the trip.
Speaking of strenuous, it does get extremely hot at the peak of summer, so make sure you’re well hydrated and wear comfortable loose clothing to make the trip more pleasurable.
Elevation and elevation gain
The total elevation gain is about 755m (as measured on Alltrails – I didn’t have a fancy watch when I did the hike). The trail is mostly downhill, starting from a maximum elevation of 1,230m and ending at sea level. You’ll encounter small sections of uphill along the way.
It usually takes between 4 to 8 hours to hike the gorge. This includes some breaks in between, taking photos, and enjoying the scenery. The average walking speed is about 3 kilometers per hour.
|Xyloskalo to Agios Nikolaos
|Agios Nikolaos to Samaria Village
|Samaria Village to Christos
|Christos to Iron Gates
|Iron Gates to Agia Roumeli
|Total Time (Approx)
How To Get to Samaria Gorge
There are two main ways to get to the Samaria Gorge: by bus or car.
Samaria Gorge from Chania by bus
The easiest and cheapest way to get to the Samaria Gorge is by bus. There are buses leaving from Chania central bus station at around 6:15 a.m. on a daily basis and arriving at Xyloskalo– the entrance of the gorge–at 7:45 a.m. From Xyloskalo, you can buy an entrance ticket and start your hike. At the end of your hike, you’ll reach Agia Roumeli, where you can take a boat to either Sougia or Hora Sfakion. The last bus leaves at 6:30 pm from Sougia or 6:45 pm from Hora Sfakion.
Samaria Gorge by car
If you have rented a car in Crete, you can drive to Xyloskalo and park there for free. But, this option has some drawbacks:
- You’ll have to get back to Xyloskalo after your hike. This means you’ll take 2 boats and 2 buses instead of one, which increases your cost.
- Less time to enjoy Agia Roumeli and the beach.
- You’ll drive on winding mountain roads in the dark if you leave late.
- You’ll be exhausted and might not have the energy to drive back.
I don’t recommend this option unless you have a specific reason to do so.
A Word Of Warning About The Ferry
Whether you take the package tours offered or decide to walk it independently, this hike generally only goes one way:
From the top, Xyloskalo, to the bottom, Agia Roumelli.
From Agia Roumelli the only viable option back to the start, or to Chania (the nearest city) is by ferry.
The last ferry of the day leaves at 530 p.m. (weather permitting).
That means you’ll need to work everything backward from this (or an earlier) ferry departure.
For example, if you want to swim at Agia Roumelli (allow 1hr), enjoy a late lunch (another 1hr) and are a conservatively slow walker (7hr) you’ll want to hit the trail no later than 9am.
Don’t get caught out and miss the last boat back!
My Experience Hiking The Samaria Gorge (What To Expect)
An Early Start From Chania
I got picked up from my hotel around 6am in a minivan. This wasn’t THE bus, but a collector bus for the main bus which was much larger, a coach. The Greeks are efficient and before i knew it we were being sheparded off the minivans into the coach and away off towards the hills.
The driver didn’t speak any english but on the bus was our guide who was friendly and us some information and tips about the hike and the return journey. The entire ride took about an hour and a half.
Upon arrival, we were given tickets, filled my water bottle, and by 8 a.m we were ready to start the hike.
The first part of the hike was the most challenging, as it involved a steep descent on a rocky path with many steps. The path was well-marked and maintained, but I had to be careful not to slip or twist my ankle. I also had to watch out for injured hikers. After an hour of walking, I reached Agios Nikolaos, the first resting point. I was surrounded by a small chapel, a fountain, and some benches. After a short break, I proceeded with my hike. The path became less steep and more scenic as I entered a forest of pine and cypress trees.
After about two hours, I reached Samaria. I saw some abandoned stone houses and there was a large wooden shelter, a fountain, and a ranger station. Once I felt rested, I stamped my ticket at the ranger station and continued my path through the forest and riverbed, winding up at the Iron Gate.
This has to be the most spectacular part of the hike! It was also the shortest, as it only took about an hour to complete. It’s also the narrowest point of the gorge, where the walls are only 3 meters apart. I seriously felt dwarfed by the towering cliffs that rose above me on both sides.
The Black Sand Beach
Although this was the longest part of the hike, it was also the easiest and most relaxing. It was here that I left the gorge and walked towards Agia Roumeli, on a flat and wide dirt road. The scenery changed dramatically, as I went from mountains to sea, and was welcomed by the blue water of the Libyan Sea sparkling in front of me, inviting me to take a dip. And after 6 hours of hiking, I thought, why not? I followed the sign pointing to a black sand beach and swam for about half an hour, enjoying every moment of it.
Agia Roumeli Village
After my swim, I headed to Agia Roumeli village. It’s a small but charming place, with a few taverns, cafes, and shops. I devoured a tasty, traditional Cretan dish at one of the taverns, and after a well-deserved meal and rest, I proceeded to the port to buy a boat ticket to Hora Sfakion. With the boat scheduled to leave at 4 p.m., I had some time to kill. So I explored the village a bit more and bought some souvenirs.
The Boat Ride Back
The boat ride to Hora Sfakion took about an hour. It was pleasant and relaxing and I arrived at Hora Sfakion around 5 p.m. I boarded the bus and made my way back to Chania, which took about 2 hours. It was dark by then, so I couldn’t see much outside.
What to Wear And Bring
If you’re planning to do the Samaria Gorge hike, you should be well prepared for it. Here are some things you should wear and bring.
- Comfortable hiking shoes or boots – The trail is dry, dusty, and there are sections of walking over loose rocks and river stones.
- Walking Poles – If you’re not too sure-footed, especially over rocks, a walking pole is a good idea. I don’t recommend two poles as they can cause more of a hazard than a help, but one will help you navigate the rocks a lot easier.
- Breathable hiking clothes
- A hat or a cap
- Water bottle (Or two!)
- Lunch + Snacks – Some tour operators will provide you with a packed lunch, so it pays to check the details. You’ll be out hiking for a minimum of 4.5 hours (possibly 8) so some nourishing hiking food is a must. I’d recommend muesli bars, nuts, chocolate, and a hearty sandwich for lunch.
- Light jacket – Even in summer the wind can become incredibly chilly so a warm layer that doubles as a windbreak is a must.
- Swimwear and a towel – For the black sand beach at the end, or the cold river water along the way.
- Passport or ID
- Power bank
What NOT To Bring
- Any large or heavy items that can slow you down or hurt your back
Wildlife, Native Plants, and Sights Along the Trail
One of the best things about hiking the Samaria Gorge is that I got to see and encounter various wildlife and flora.
Though I didn’t spot any, you can hope to see quails, turtle doves, and partridges.There’s also the famous but very rare kri-kri goat.
But I did see gorgeous endemic plants like the Cretan ebony, pink rockrose, and plum-purple Dragon arum.
Other sights along the way include; Ruined castles, deserted farmhouses, disused windmills, and religious monuments in hard to get to places!
The Best Samaria Gorge Hike Tour Companies
Using a Samaria gorge hike tour company can make your visit to Samaria more convenient and enjoyable. You can benefit from their transportation and guides. Here are 5 of the best tour operators that offer a full-day tour.
Viator has two options for Samaria Gorge tours: a small-group hiking day trip from Chania and a tour from Heraklion.
Civitatis offers a hike in Samaria Gorge from Chania or Rethymno for around $34 per person.
GetYourGuide has three options for Samaria Gorge tours: a trek excursion from Chania, a hike from Chania or Rethymno, and a hiking tour from Crete.
Musement offers a tour from Heraklion for $31 per person.
5. Project Expedition
Project Expedition offers an adventure from Chania for $438 per person and offers the longest tour.
My Final Recommendations
I 100% recommend doing the Samaria Gorge if you’re in Crete for any length of time. It’s incredibly beautiful, surprisingly challenging, and ends in a fun black sand beach and ferry ride home.
The hike can be done on your own agenda if you are confident enough and want to figure out the logistics. You’ll save some money and have more flexibility and freedom to explore the gorge at your own pace.
But, I’d personally recommend you book the packaged tour with one of the companies mentioned in this post. This gives you more convenience and safety, and some social interaction with other hikers. It also takes all the hassle out of worrying about bus times and ferry departures.
I was doing the walk by myself, but quickly made friends with others on the tour – including a polish girl with a drone!
Either way, you’re in for an epic day of exploring nature and nature and creatian history.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you need a ticket to visit the Samaria Gorge?
You need a ticket to enter the gorge. The ticket costs around 5 euros per person and can be bought at Xyloskalo or Agia Roumeli.
How long does it take to walk the Samaria Gorge?
It usually takes between 4 to 8 hours to walk the Samaria Gorge.
Is the Samaria Gorge hike hard?
The Samaria Gorge hike is moderately difficult. It’s mostly downhill but there are some uphill sections and many rocky parts. You should be in good physical condition and have some hiking experience before attempting it.
Can you hike the Samaria Gorge without a guide?
You can hike the Samaria Gorge without a guide. The path is well-marked and maintained and there are many signs and information boards along the way.
When can you hike Samaria Gorge?
You can hike Samaria Gorge from May to October when it’s open to the public. The gorge is permanently shut in the winter months due to bad weather and low tourist numbers.
During summer, the gorge is open from 7 am till 1 pm. They won’t let you start after 1 p.m. because there’s no chance you’ll make the last ferry back at 530 p.m.
Can you hike Samaria Gorge in trainers?
I don’t recommend you hike Samaria Gorge in trainers. They do not provide enough grip and support for the rugged terrain. Rather wear comfortable and sturdy hiking shoes.
What level of fitness is Samaria Gorge?
Samaria Gorge is a long and challenging hike that requires a good level of fitness and endurance. You should be able to walk for 6 hours or more on uneven and rocky ground, with some steep sections. You should also be able to carry your own backpack with your essentials.
Is the Samaria Gorge hike worth it?
The Samaria Gorge hike is definitely worth it if you enjoy hiking and nature. It’s a beautiful experience that will reward you with stunning views, diverse flora and fauna, and a sense of accomplishment. It’s also a great way to explore Crete’s culture and history because you’ll see some ancient ruins, traditional villages, and local products along the way.
Kumano Kodo Travel Planning Cheatsheet
🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Japan?
100% YES! — Japan has “free” healthcare but it’s only for citizens! Tourists need travel insurance in case anything happens on your visit. Also be aware many policies won't cover hiking as it's a high risk activity! (that's right, check the t&c's on your complimentary credit card insurance)
I highly recommend World Nomads as you can get specific add-ons for the crazy activities you're doing – and starts at just $7 a day!
🏩 What’s the best way to book my Kumano Kodo accommodation?
Your only realy two options here are Kumano Travel and Booking.com. Its a complicated process so I wrote this guide here on the best kumano kodo accomodation options
If you don't want to figure it all out (it's meant to be a holiday after all) you can book a package tour. Here are my recommendations for both guided and self-guided.
💸How do you pay for things in Japan?
Japan may have flying robots.. but they also still use cash! So you'll want to get some folding tender out from an ATM when you land. EFTPOS / Debit / Credit Card and Paywave (contactless payments) is common at bigger businesses but small bars, and street vendors want cash.
I personally use a Wise debit card for all my international money needs as they only convert the funds when you make payment, plus they offer a much better spread (margin on the true exhange rate) than the banks do. They work in all Japanese ATMs I tried.
🚙 Do you need to rent a car in Japan?
I wouldn't reccommend it — Transport in Japan is expensive whatever mode you chose, but fortunalty the publc transport system is out of this world in terms of both freqency and coverage.
🚆 What about the JR Rail Pass?
We didn't - but it depends on the length and itenirary of your trip. The JR Pass is expensive (and just went up in price again!) and if you're walking the Kumano Kodo you wont need it for probably 6 days straight anyway.
Do the math, but in most cases buying the train fares you need, when you need it will work out more afforably overall - and give you more flexibility (as the JR Pass doesn't cover all lines)
📲 How do I get internet/data/wifi in Japan and on the trail?
This one needs a whole nother article, but the short version is local SIM cards are cheaper but generally require a fixed term contract. Tourist 'short stay' SIMs are a bit more expensive but will give you plenty of data while your visiting and are best for solo travelllers. If you're travelling as 2 or more people, renting a pocket WIFI unit from the airport is the most economical option.
✈️ What’s the best site to buy flights to Japan?
For finding cheap flights, I recommend Skyscanner. Once you find the flight you're looking for, I'd then suggest booking directly with the carrier (even if it costs a few $$ more than with one of the agreggators/agencies).
💧Can you drink the water on the Kumano Kodo?
Yes — Japan is very clean. In all townships you'll pass through and stay along the Kumano Kodo the tap water is drinkable. If you want to drink water from the rivers and streams you generally can but should do so at your own risk. ALWAYS follow best practice and drink from fast flowing water as far up stream as possible. I drank the water and was fine.. but i'd generally recommend a Brita Water Bottle for rehydrating on the trail safely.
🎫 Do I need a visa for Japan?
Likely Not — Japan now recognises 70 countries as 'visa exempt' for short term stay. So if you're a US, UK, NZ, AU and EU passport holder you don’t need a Japansese visas. However, some other countries do (check here!). And if you plan to stay for more than 90 days (an average tourist visa length), you will need to look into the Japanese working holiday visa scheme, or the new Digital Nomad visa scheme.