It was when I was sorting through some old photographs of former vacations to make room for the overflowing baskets of new images I’ve acquired from this year’s trips, that I came across those of the Samaria Gorge in Crete, a place I hadn’t thought about in years.
It was 1990 when I was there last if my memory serves me right, and I can still recall the icy-cold waters which we had to wade through. I remember I had to buy a pair of trainers because I didn’t have adequate footwear for the trek and you aren’t allowed to enter without full preparation for the walk.
I so enjoyed looking through my old photographs that I thought I’d write something about the Gorge and upload some of the photographs, taken on negative film on my trusty old Canon Camera. I’ve had to scan these in and because of their age the colour is not very good – a rather pinkish tinge seems to cloud them.
I know that the Samaria Gorge hasn’t changed since I did the trek as I stayed at the Mistral Hotel in Malame in Crete last year and spoke with visitors who had done the walk. They had to leave the hotel at 05.00 a.m to do this, came back exhausted but thrilled to have accomplished the walk (with boots, walking poles, mobiles, sat navs. etc.) We didn’t have those sort of things when we did it as you can see from the above photograph.
Samaria Gorge is situated in the National Park of Samaria, in the White Mountains in West Crete and is considered one of the main attractions of that lovely island. It is 16 Kilometres long but the walk from the exit of the National Park to Agia Roumeli adds another 3 km. to that. Even so, it is not the longest in Europe as it sometimes claimed: that honour belongs to the “gorges du Verdon” in Southern France which is a little over 20 km in length.
The Samaria Gorge starts at an altitude of 1230 metres and takes you down to the shore orf the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli, and the walk will take between 5 -7 hours to complete. The terrain is rough and difficult to negotiate at times due to the water rushing over stones which can cause you to stumble, so you need to have a certain degree of fitness and walking experience. I doubt if I could do it now, but in 1990 (it may even have been the eighties) I was younger, fitter, and up for anything!
Best way to arrive is by public buses (KTEL) from Chania to Omalos every morning when the gorge is open. Once you have walked through the gorge and are in Agia Roumeli there is a ferry boat to take you to Hora Sfakion for the return connecting bus to Chania.
Normally, the Gorge opens at the beginning of May and closes at the end of October, but if the weather is at all inclement, this can all change. The gorge will also close on rainy days when there is a danger of rock falls. Make enquiries before heading off to Crete if the Gorge is one of your main reasons for visiting the island.
The park opens at daylight and closes at dusk but I would suggest starting at dawn if possible, as the first tourist buses arrive about 7.30 or 8.00 o’clock and it can get a bit crowded then. You can start later, at say, 11.30 or noon when there are fewer people, but you will need to spend the night in Agia Roumeli because the last boat out will have left by the time you get there. Spring is the best time to walk the Samaria Gorge, avoid the summer at all costs when the heat is intense.
This is not a walk to do with children who could easily fall and injure themselves, although children accustomed to walking, say from the age of nine or so, should manage it. Bear in mind though, that once embarked on the walk there is no quick exit anywhere along the way. There are wardens in radio contact with each other along the way, who will help you in case of trouble or injury and the presence of well-maintained springs mean that you do not have to carry much water but there are no huts in which to rest. The walk is long but not especially difficult for the experienced walker – the word here being experienced. Every day some people manage to get into trouble, but they are usually those who have never attempted a long walk, or a walk over such rough terrain.
When I say rough terrain, I mean stony terrain. You will encounter stones in all shapes and sizes, from uneven stones at the start to pebbles in the river bed (tiring on the soles of the feet). You often have to cross the river bed by stepping on large stones which have been placed at strategic intervals and which require some sure-footedness.
The village of Samaria is situated roughly at the halfway point and most people take a rest here. You may care to take a quick walk around the village where you will probably catch glimpses of the kri-kris, the Cretan wild goats, but avoid approaching them if they are with their young.
And lastly, you can visit the gorge on an organised coach trip and the coach will usually pick you up at your hotel in the early morning. You don’t walk in a group, once there you can set your own pace but you have the advantage of knowing there are other people entering the Gorge at the same time. It can be a lonely walk if there are not many there on the day you choose to do the trek.
Essentials for the trip
You won’t need much water but you will need a water bottle which you can refill on the way.
The last part of the walk has very little shade so sun cream and a brimmed hat are essentials.
Sturdy shoes. Something that won’t cause you to slip on the stones.
There are no shops, no cafes and no restaurants inside the National Park so you must carry your own food if you are likely to be hungry.
It can be cold at dawn at 1230 metres so wear something warm .
Waterproof plaster in case of blisters. You never know and help is a long way away!