Walking the Samaria Gorge

Our walk starts with a phone call on our arrival at our hotel to ask us if we can do our Samaria Gorge walk a day early.  Apparently there are high winds forecast the following day and the gorge will be closed.  We say yes – it is after all why we have come to Crete.  The girl tells us the weather is great too as it is only !! 32 degrees with light winds forecast.  Having had high 30’s throughout our 2 weeks in the Greek Islands we are looking for a cooler day for the big walk.

This famous walk is essentially an 18km walk downhill through a gorge and along a river bed.

We were picked up early from our hotel and taken on an incredibly scenic drive over the mountains to the Samaria National Park which is the start of the walk.  At the entrance we found a very well stocked café and shop – we just had time for a quick coffee before our group headed off.  There are only about 8 of us in the group and our guide is a young French woman who has lived in Crete for years. She tells us she has walked the gorge 2-4 times every week, every summer, for about 18 years!   We are in good hands.

The first part of the walk is straight down quite a steep staircase and then along a rather narrow path with overhanging rocks – we are told no stopping and to walk quickly through the area (they are concerned about rockfalls).  It is so scenic it is very hard not to stop and take a few photos.  This is when we learn that rain and high winds will close the walk due to the possibility of falling rocks.

Greece Samaria Gorge1The walk widens out and we quite quickly reach our first rest stop – Ayios Nikolaos and discover a shady area with picnic tables, a fountain with fresh water and we get introduced to the ambulance – a donkey!  We find out that the only way out of the gorge if you sprain an ankle or worse is on a donkey – note to self, slow down and choose your footing!Greece Samaria Gorge2

We set off and enjoy the walk down the riverbed.  There are plenty of flowers and incredibly high cliffs to admire.  We are constantly on the lookout for the mountain goat that is only found in Crete and finally get to see it grazing beside the water fountain at our next rest stop.  A huge shady fig tree laden with fresh figs provides me and the goat with a delicious treat.

As we walk along the river bed the gorge narrows until it is only a few metres wide – it is pretty dramatic and you can only imagine what it is like when the river runs high through it.  The path (a phrase I use loosely) is rebuilt at the start of each summer.  The park rangers do a great job creating a path and bridges for the thousands of walkers that flock here in the summer months.

At the end we stroll out and catch the little local bus for the last 2-3 kilometres down to the taverna.  We feel like having everything on the menu but settle for a gorgeous pizza and a huge greek salad washed down with the local beer.  The taverna was just down the road from the beach, so we went for a swim, but whilst it was beautifully warm water the access with a swell building was pretty difficult – no sand, just boulders.  Then it was back to the tavern for a rinse off and we thought we should try the homemade ice cream – delicious!

Then everyone leaves the tavern to walk down to the marina to catch the ferry.  You get great views from the ferry along the coast and then it is off the ferry and back on the bus for the drive back to Chania.  A long but fabulous day!

Nitty Gritty Details – what you want to know:

  • This is not a walk for everyone.  It is steep, entirely downhill, very uneven terrain and relentlessly hard on your knees.  Some people turn back before the first rest stop.
  • You can only walk after May – closed before that due to water levels.
  • The walk will be closed if it is too hot or if there has been rain or too much wind (no ferry sailings)
  • You do need good shoes as the terrain is very rough and rocky.
  • Walking poles are fantastic and great for your balance and your knees. (Ask to borrow some from the guide)
  • You only need one water bottle as there is fresh water along the walk for refills.
  • You can buy any amount of fresh food, sandwiches, drinks, coffee at the shop at the start of the walk.
  • Sunhat and sunscreen are essential – there is no shade.
  • Take your togs and a little towel – you can swim at the end
  • A wet facecloth in a plastic bag – very refreshing at the rest stops to wipe yourself
  • Bathroom facilities are very, very basic – take some hand wipes & tissues
  • The only way out at the end is by ferry and there is only one sailing each day. Everyone gets on the ferry and gets taken to the buses for the return journey.
  • Taverna – the taverna at the bottom of the trail is fabulous – great food, lovely cold beers and wines. You will have plenty of time to enjoy a meal.