Κυριακή 5 Αυγούστου 2018

Samaria Gorge Travel

The gorge of Samaria is situated in the National park of Samaria, in the White Mountains in West Crete. This majestuous gorge is considered one of the great attractions of Crete and many tourists want to visit it. But you must realise that it is a long (5 to 7 hours) walk on rough terrain so you will need to have a certain degree of fitness and walking experience in order to enjoy it.

Opening times of the gorge of Samaria

The Samaria National Park has traditionally always opened to the public at the beginning of May. It has often been possible to enter the gorge of Samaria at some point in April from the bottom part but this depends on the weather and the amount of work needed to restore the path after the winter rains.

So the opening dates of the gorge vary: it could open a little before the 1st of May, on the 1st of May or later (if the weather is bad or repair work is late).
In 2018 the gorge of Samaria will open on the 1st of May

The gorge of Samaria closes to the public at the end of October. but may close earlier if autumn rains (not uncommon in October) damage the path or make some cliffs unstable.

The gorge will also be closed on rainy days (when there is a danger of rock falls).
In winter, high water makes the gorge of Samaria dangerous and impassable.

The park opens daily at daylight (so the exact time will vary depending on the time of the year) and closes in the evening. If you want to enter the park after around 14.00 you will not be allowed past the first quarter of the walk and will need to return to your starting point.

You have to pay an entrance fee of Euro 5.00 to enter the park (free to children under 15, half price to students).

If you need to know for sure if the gorge is open on a specific day phone +30 28210 67179

Dispelling a few myths about Samaria

It seems that most of what has been written about the gorge of Samaria was plagiarized from the same original source. This means that the same errors have been repeated almost everywhere.
Let's put a few things right:
  • The gorge of Samaria is not 18 km long (the 18 km refers to the distance between the settlement of Omalos on the northern side of the plateau and the village of Agia Roumeli) but is 16 km long, starting at an altitude of 1230m and taking you all the way down to the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli.
    The walk through the National Park of Samaria is 13 km but you will have to walk the extra 3 km to Agia Roumeli from the exit of the National Park making it a total of 16 km.
  •  The very narrow passage near the end of the gorge is often called the "Iron Gates". None of the former inhabitants of Samaria know why the place suddenly got this name. They were always known by the locals as "Portes" which means "doors" or "gates", but certainly no "Iron" anywhere!
  • Samaria is said to be the longest gorge in Europe. Good marketing but not quite the truth: the "gorges du Verdon" in South France are a little over 20 km in length.
  • Samaria is not always crowded. There may be up to 2000 or more people a day walking through the gorge of Samaria but on many days there are only a few hundreds. Keeping in mind that these people do not start at the same time and most of them walk in only in one direction (down) the number of people you will encounter is much lower and it is quite possible to have the gorge more or less to yourself if you choose your time well (see below 'When is the best time to walk through the gorge?' ).

The infrastructure of the National park of Samaria

The park is supervised by the Department of Forestry and is one of a dozen national parks in Greece. You need to pay an entrance fee of 5 Euro (free to children under 15).
  • The path is maintained and is substantially better than "normal" mountain paths in Crete.
  • There are wardens along the way (in radio contact with each other) who will help you in case of trouble or injury.
  • There is also (in theory) a doctor stationed in the village of Samaria. This has not been the case in the last few years (2009-2014).
  • There are well-maintained springs on the way so that you do not have to carry much water.
  • There are toilets in several places and plenty of rubbish bins. You find surprisingly little litter, considering the amount of people passing through every day.
  • You also get a set of rules aimed at protecting the park and making the experience safe and pleasant for everyone.
The gorge is open only during the day time and if you want to start walking in the afternoon you will only be allowed in up to a certain point.

The guards want to make sure that everybody who walks in also gets out before nightfall. This is the reason why they ask you to present your ticket on the way out as it (supposedly) enables them to know if there is anyone still in the park at night.


Getting there

If you go to Omalos with your own car in order to walk through the gorge of Samaria you will be forced to get back to Omalos to retrieve your car and it is not always such a good solution.

Alternatively there are public buses (KTEL) going to Omalos from Chania every morning (only when the gorge is open). Once you have walked through the gorge and are in Agia Roumeli you take a ferry boat returning to Hora Sfakion (or Sougia and Paleochora if you prefer but there may not be a connecting bus to Chania) and take an evening KTEL bus back to Chania.

If you are not alone, why not share a taxi to Omalos? The cost from Chania to the entrance of the gorge is Euro 75 (2017 prices) for up to 4 persons.

The most common way to "do" the gorge is to book an organized tour. This can be done from most places on the north coast (some come from as far as Agios Nikolaos or Ierapetra, which I wouldn't recommend because it entails an almost 24 hour round trip!). 

You will be picked up from and returned to your hotel. The buses are air-conditioned and you have the benefit of a guide. This does not mean that you need to walk in a group: everyone walks at their own pace and meets at a prearranged time and place in Agia Roumeli. 
These tours are not very expensive and can be booked locally, often directly at the hotel where you are staying.

With your own car

If you must, it is also possible to drive to Omalos with your own car, park it there , walk through the gorge, take the ferry back to Sougia and then take a taxi back to your car from Sougia (about 40 minutes drive). 
But you must pre-book a taxi as there are only two taxis that operate from Sougia.

The public bus service KTEL has also been running buses from Sougia back to Chania via Omalos for the last couple of years to connect with the ferry arriving from Agia Roumeli so this could be an option as well. The buses may not run at all times (especiially early in the seaon) so best to check with the bus company.

What to take with you on this walk?

  •   A water bottle which you can refill on the way.
  •   Sun cream and a hat, especially for the last part of the walk which has very little shade.
  •   Good shoes. These don't have to be hiking boots but you won't be contributing to your enjoyment by wearing tennis shoes or sandals.
  •   Some food. There is no food available inside the National Park.
  •  Something warm to wear for the early morning: it can be cold at 1200m.
  •   A supply of plasters in case of blisters.

What sort of terrain will you encounter?

Stones , stones and more stones! The terrain is stony most of the time but it varies. At the beginning the path is paved with uneven stones, then at times it is more like a forest path with some earth.

Once you reach the river bed you walk mainly on pebbles (which is tiring on the sole of the feet). You also have to cross the river at least a dozen times, sometimes on small wooden bridges but more often by stepping on rocks.

These have been placed at strategic intervals but still require some sure-footedness. The only easy path is once you leave the southern end of the National Park: it is flat and there are no stones, no shade either so that the last 3 km can be really really hot in summer.

How long does it take and how fit do you need to be?

A walk of 16 km on flat ground should take just over 3 hours if you walk at a brisk pace. This is theoretically quite easy in the gorge of Samaria as you are going down most of the time but the path requires some care and attention and the walk will take you a minimum of 4 hours of walking time.

Add to this time to rest, to stop and look at the scenery, take photographs and you can count about 6 or 7 hours to cover the entire distance.

The walk is long and can be arduous but it is not a difficult walk. Still, every day people get into trouble or end up having an experience which is far from pleasant. The most common factors are:
  •  people who never do any exercise and suddenly want their body and legs to walk 16 uneven km without protesting.
  •  bad shoes creating blisters and / or foot-ache.
  •  problems with the heat (in summer).
  •  knee problems that develop during the steep descent at the beginning of the walk and have no time to get better once that original strain is over. (source:west-crete)

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