Crete has a lot of gorgeous gorges, but Samaria Gorge is the most popular one to hike. Hiking Samaria Gorge is a great alternative to a beach day. The start of the hike offers vistas of surrounding mountains and is very steep. It is beautifully scenic, but that also makes it a common tourist attraction (even in the shoulder seasons). The hike starts up in the White Mountains (at about 1200m or so) and leads down to a small, clear river, from which point the Libyan Sea is almost visible. Because the hike is so popular, it’s a good idea to plan for a very early start to avoid the crowds, especially if you’re heading to the gorge from Chania.
We decided not to join a tour group and just try to do the hike through Samaria Gorge ourselves. We had done a little research about hiking Samaria Gorge and we hadn’t booked anything in advance, but it seemed possible to find our way there and back on our own with public transport (tours seem to cost about €30 per person). I think it might have ended up just slightly cheaper organising everything ourselves and once we knew what to do it, was pretty straightforward.
Booking Public Transport to and from Samaria Gorge
The first thing you need to do if you plan to hike Samaria Gorge is to understand your options and the itinerary. The hike can be done both ways (it’s not a loop walk), but only if you’re comfortable hiking 24km on the day. I recommend just doing the 12km one-way (almost totally downhill) hike because the terrain is quite tough. The path is filled with stones all the way and it’s very steep at parts. Even if you’re used to hiking, you’ll definitely almost twist your ankle a few times and have stiff calf muscles the next day (or next few days!). Don’t let this deter you though.
To do the one-way hike you’ll need to get to the gorge first. The hike starts at Olamas. You can take the coach from the bus station in Chania. Buy a ticket online or at the ticket office at the station (€7,50 per person return). It is a good idea to get tickets the day before to make sure they aren’t sold out.
After the hike, you will need to take a ferry and then a coach back to Chania. The Samaria Gorge hike ends at a town called Aglia Roumeli. The town didn’t really have any roads out, so you’ll have to get ferry tickets to Chora Sfakia for the departure at 17:30 / half-past five (€12,00). The ferry ticket office is down a little alleyway in between two restaurants near the ferry port. It’s best to buy the tickets as soon as you arrive in the town, just to be safe.
To get back to Chania, you can book the coach from Chora Sfakia to Chania that leaves at 18:30. Again, you can book online or at the bus station ticket office. The coach takes about an hour each way. You’ll be treated to scenic views from the bus and the rugged mountain views from the ferry are beautiful too. The ferry trip also takes about an hour, so it takes roughly 2 hours to get back to Chania.
What to Pack
Almost all of the hike is downhill, but the path is rocky. You’ll definitely need protective shoes, sunglasses, water, suncream and a cap. I read that it’s a good idea to bring a rain jacket or something warm, but it definitely wasn’t required on the day that I hiked. There is some shade but parts of the hike are quite exposed to the sun. I didn’t wear hiking boots (just comfy Vans) and both my big toes turned black after a few days because of the downhill steepness if the hike. I had no idea that could happen!
There is a shop in Olamas with a little canteen where you can get essentials if required before the hike. Bring your swimming costume and towel for a swim before you get on to the ferry (it’ll be one of the best swims ever!).
There are bathrooms every few kilometres on the hike, but no places to stop for food. So, you’ll need to bring your own snacks or lunch too. You’ll be able to get food from a little restaurant at the end of the hike or at Aglia Roumeli as well (I highly recommend the fresh orange juice).
What to Expect
The hike takes about 6 hours to complete the 12km (at a brisk pace including a lunch break). You might spend another half hour walking to Aglia Roumeli from the end of the trail. It took us 5 hours to hike to the town, but we kind of rushed it. This was because the path was extremely busy and also because I thought the hike was actually longer! It’s a good idea to leave about an hour in for enjoying a relaxing packed lunch along the way. The only thing is that you’ll need to aim to be at the ferry port an hour before departure (16:30) although you won’t be left behind unless you’re late for the ferry (leaving at 17:30). If you start the hike at 10:00, that means you’ll be able to get to the ferry port on time.
While you’re hiking, stop at a few of the clear water streams to fill your water bottle. You’ll also want to stop at the ancient ruins of Samaria and the little church along the way.
Instead of lunch on the hike, we motored through and enjoyed Greek salad and Greek yogurt with honey at one of the restaurants in Aglia Roumeli. We also had time for a swim and to dry off before hopping on the ferry. The water was very warm and crystal clear, making it a very memorable swim. Be careful of the pebble beach area with bare feet though, because the black rocks get very hot – even in September! Another great spot for a swim is Elafonisi.
Travel tip: Staying overnight in Aglia Roumeli is an option and one that I would definitely go for if I was to go back (to have a chance to do more swimming!). It probably best to make a reservation in advance.