I know you’re probably asking the what? The who? The Samarawhat?
The Samaria Gorge is one of the longest gorges in Europe and it’s located on the island of Crete (don’t forget to check out my post dedicated to Crete if you’re headed there). You might not have heard of it until now, so you might be a little confused as to why exactly it should be on your bucket list.
Well, read on friend, and open that Pinterest board or secret word doc that you’re keeping your list on, because hiking the Samaria Gorge totally deserves a place on your bucket list.
Put hiking the Samaria Gorge on your bucket list if…
…you’re pretty active or pretty crazy. Okay, I’m kidding a little bit, but you should be at least moderately fit to attempt this hike. It’s about 6-8 hours of hiking and though it’s mostly downhill, it’s hard. Especially for me, not-very-active-girl. I had just moved away from New York and my mindset was something like “I walked a lot in New York, this will be like that.” Um… not so much.
That said, it’s an awesome trail. It takes you essentially down the side of a mountain, through a riverbed and past amazing vistas and crazy cliff faces. The views were truly awe-inspiring. So let’s stop talking struggle and start talking stunning, right?
How To Get There
If you’re staying in Chania, there are buses that go to Xyloskalo in the morning. You’ll start there and end up at the seaside town of Agia Roumeli, which is only accessible by boat or foot. From there you’ll take a 1-hour boat trip to Sfakia, where you can get a bus back to Chania. If this all sounds a bit complicated, you can book a tour that will get you there and back with a guide that will follow the slowest people in your group through the gorge. This is what we did. We booked our guide through cretetravel.com and we liked her a lot.
What to Bring
The trail is well-traveled, so it is slippery in places, especially on the stone parts of the path. I was so grateful for my hiking shoes and walking stick, because I was slipping a lot. Also bring a water bottle, though there are places to refill (with the best, most refreshing water you’ve ever had) along the way, so don’t bring water for the whole day. Wear a hat and bring sunscreen, because the middle part of the trail is all out in the open under the blazing sun. You’ll be grateful to have sandals at the end so you can kick off your shoes and you should bring snacks to eat at the rest stops. You might want a swim suit and towel if you go to take a dip in the sea at the end, but try to keep your pack light, because it starts to weigh on you, even if it feels light at the beginning.
The absolute indisputable highlight of the hike comes towards the end, when you come to the Iron Gates. It’s like a split in the cliffs that you walk right through and the vista makes you feel like an ant.
You can actually get here “the lazy way” if you go straight to the town, Agia Roumeli (accessible by boat) at the end and go “backwards” on the trail. If you have bad knees or just don’t think you’re fit enough, you could do this option. Some companies offer tours “the lazy way,” and it’s something to look into if you’re headed to Crete and don’t feel confident in your abilities before you attempt the trail.
But to say that the Iron Gates section is the climax is not to say that you should keep your eyes closed the rest of the way. You start on an amazing mountainside with trees and views and walk through a riverbed, so there are stunning spots throughout.
Though the treats are largely natural, some are manmade. There are little chapels along the way, which acknowledge a long history of Greek and Minoan culture feeling a sacred or transcendent energy in the gorge. They are Greek Orthodox now, so you will see Greek Orthodox-style paintings of saints in the chapels (think lots of gold).
Other man-made phenomena come from the hikers along the trail, like when you see stacks of carefully balanced rocks, which might represent a wish someone made, or might just be a community-built rock pile. They clear them away in the winter, so the rock stacks you see are just from this year.
It’s a great feeling if you’re struggling along, to see a kind of message from someone who went before you. It felt like the previous hikers were cheering us on with their little stones. Another communal experiment is the sticks leaned up against stones, which make it look like the sticks are holding up the massive boulders.
Of course, the final highlight was finishing the hike. There is a little stand that sells fresh squeezed orange juice right at the end of the hike and it was one of the best tasting things ever. (It’s also good to get some sugar and vitamins in your body.)
Mostly, though, it was the feeling that we really could do it that made the end such a highlight. I felt an overwhelming sense of pride in what my body could do and also in my mental strength to keep going even when I was tired or my toes hurt (the downhill trek pushes your feet forward in your shoes, so make sure you have wiggle room).
You can go for a dip in the sea when you finish if you want, which would have been so refreshing, but we didn’t want to deal with changing and then being wet and having to get dressed again. Mostly eating and drinking water were our priorities at the end, as well as getting a nap in on the boat back.
Let me know in the comments what’s on your travel bucket list–and if it now includes the Samaria Gorge!