24 hours in Chania: A loop trip through the Samaria Gorge

I have visited Chania several times and the Samaria Gorge had always been in my bucket list. However, I had never got around to doing it, as I was either distracted by the Old Venetic Harbor and the wonderful beaches of Falasarna, Balos, Elafonisi, Palaiochora, or I could not convince anybody to join me.

Last year I visited Crete again for a wedding and a reunion and I thought that this time I would manage to drag somebody…anybody..along! I failed again and I should have expected it. Most Greeks take their car to cover a 200m distance in their neighborhood and then spend 20 min, driving around to find parking space, 1km from where they want to go… Convincing them to hike 13km in the wild and in the heat was an illusion. But I was so determined that not only did I go all alone, but I also did it after an exhausting 6-day exploration of the rest of Crete.

I arrived after midnight at my hotel in Chania with the last bus from Rethymno and in less than 24 hours I would depart for Athens. I needed time to shower..unpack..then pack again to be ready for check-out, I was hyper and hungry… I ended up getting just 3 hours of sleep, in order to be at 06:00 at the station, to catch the first bus to Omalos.

I have no clue whether the trip to Omalos was any scenic (it must have been), as I fell immediately asleep in the bus. We arrived before 07:30 and I had breakfast in the only cafe there, as even in Greece, even at the beginning of August, at an altitude of 1220-1250m can be quite chilly in the early morning.

At the entrance at Xiloskalo, together with the ticket (which costs only 5 Euros) they gave as a map with the rest stops and the distances from one to the other, the facilities in the Park and other useful info. There are also informative signs and marks along the trail, so you have any time an idea of where you are. You can find many more high resolution photos from Xiloskalo to Agia Roumeli in my album.

The first part of the trail, from Xiliskalo to Neroutsiko (1.7km) is considered as the most difficult one, as it is a major downhill, with slippery stones. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it a lot, perhaps because it was shaded, the air was cool and I was still in good shape.

At Neroutsiko there are benches, WC and crystal, mountain water running from the gorge’s springs. Mineral water from Lefka Ori is the world’s second best bottled water, by the way. The path to the next rest stop, Riza Sykias, is 1.1km long, still steep (although not as steep as the first part), with stones. It is, however, still early and I am so amazed with what I have seen so far, that I do not mind at all..

At Riza Sykias, you will find mountain water and WC, and here comes my first disappointment (and the only negative impression), as the toilets are too disgusting to be used, although we were among the first ones to get there and although there is personnel in the Park. Fortunately, the weather is still pleasant, the hike shaded and all the stunning views in the next 900m till Agios Nikolaos, as well as the Kri-kris distract my attention.

In the area of Agios Nikolaos, where an Apollo’s temple used to stand, there is now a chapel. There are also benches, awful toilets and springs, but although I was quite dehydrated, I just filled my bottle 🙂

I had read before that the hike takes 4-8 hours. I have been here for more than 2 hours and I have covered less than 1/4 of the distance…I am one of the slow ones.

Next rest stop is Vrysi, 900m from Agios Nikolaos. From here on you will come across the river plenty of times.

Neither here, nor at Prinari (1.3 km away) are there any toilets and my feet have started hurting me..but all this sense of freedom and fulfillment that I have in here, are compensating me.

Samaria40

While hiking the next 1.2km towards the settlement of Samaria, I was at one with nature and super happy.

The scenery was unbelievable and the Kri-kris, which are endemic to Crete (and live only here in the gorge and on the White Mountains), as well as 3 tiny islands just offshore, were doing very well with the tourists and our cameras.

The village of Samaria (which gave its name to the gorge) is right on the left of the bridge you see above, in the middle of the trail from Xiloskalo to Agia Roumeli. It was deserted when the area was declared National Park in 1962 and nowadays its only residents are the park wardens. It is the main and biggest resting point, with benches and tables in the shade of plane trees, spring water, WC and a first aid station. I stopped here for some time, stretched a bit, ate a snack, refueled, met nice people and begged one of the guards to clean the WC.

The rest of the trail, to Perdika (1.1km away, only water) and Christo (2.2km, water and WC) is I believe the most beautiful part. You really get the feeling you are actually in a gorge, the main drawbacks being that it is getting dry, you are exposed to the sun, there is less green and you have to step much on stones.

I do not know whether it was simply the exhaustion, the hunger, the heat, which had started to be unbearable really, or a feeling of saturation from what I had seen so far… but the remaining 2.8km to the exit did not fascinate me I have to say. I was walking pretty fast and I started thinking of a British former colleague of mine, who had a heart attack here and was rescued by a helicopter.

In this part, you will come across Gates (Portes) or Iron Gates (Sideroportes), the narrowest (3-4m) and better known spot in the gorge.

Worn out and thirsted to death, I reached the exit, where I had the most well-deserved hamburger of my life and was positively surprised to find out that there was a mini-van driving you the last 2km to Agia Roumeli.

I bought the ferry ticket and relaxed in one of the beach beds in front of the water. I do not usually do it, as I am against cafeterias and restaurants occupying the coast, but this time I made an exception, since I had not brought a beach towel with me and because they allow their customers to use their shower and changing room.

The village is cute and the beach quite beautiful, but nothing compared to what I had expected from photos I had seen from the time when the area was wilder, with no cafes and bars.

After swimming in crystal cleat water of the Libyan sea, I showered with samples I had taken from the hotel and took a nap till 17:30, departure time of the last ferry to Sfakia. Scenic boat ride along the wild south coastline of Crete.

I took the bus to Chania…arrival time after 08:30..I ran to my hotel to take my backpack, ran back to the station, grabbed some food and caught the 21:30 bus to the airport. The bus took ages to reach the airport, as it made a strange detour but fortunately my flight was to depart at 23:20.  There was also a flight delay and I thought I would collapse…However, I could not take out of my mind all this striking and imposing beauty of nature, which I will never forget.  I recalled one of the short films of Conservation International, the Julia Roberts is Mother Nature

More high resolution photos photos of this trip you can find in my album.

I will soon post here a mini guide about the Samaria Gorge. A short summary about it, as well as tips on when to go, which route to take (some visitors take the opposite route, from Agia Roumeli to Xiloskalo, or hike only the first or last 2-3 km), where to stay, how to get there by public transport etc.

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