The summit of Gingilos (1980 m) is the most popular mountain walk in western Crete. The reasons for this are clear:
So don't be surprised if you meet a few people as well as some groups of walkers on the way. This does not mean that it is crowded: on a busy day there might be 50 people walking there but rarely more than that.
The walk can roughly be divided into three parts, the return is by the same route and the total walking time is approximately 5 to 6 hours.
The summit is at an altitude of 1980m and not at 2080m (even though the official signs at the start of the walk mention 2080m they are mistaken). The total ascent from the start at Xyloskala (which is at 1230m) is a little over 800m (as a descent during the traverse to the spring adds to the total ascent).
The walk starts right next to the café located above
the entrance of the Samaria gorge and you first climb steadily
on a clear zig-zag path for about 30 minutes until the path levels
off with good views of the plateau of Omalos. After a final switch back the path is more or less flat then descends a little
for the next 15 minutes, first passing through ancient
cypresses then a large arch, then below some tall rock spires before climbing up again until you get to the
spring of Linoseli. The spring water is always very cold. It is
the only water on the way.
Now you are above the tree line and enter a world of stones and rocks. The path takes you to a saddle, at an altitude of 1700 m in about 30 to 45 minutes. It used to be a good zig-zag path but a heavy rainfall cut a gully right through the middle of it some years ago (November 2009). A new route was created over time by people picking a route through the rubble but it requires some attention on the way down as it is a little loose in parts.
When you arrive at the saddle, you are at the northern entrance of the imposing gorge of Tripiti and have great views of the Libyan Sea and the island of Gavdos as well as some views of the North coast. On some days it can be very windy from that point onward (the first two parts of the walk are generally well protected from the wind).
The route from the saddle to the summit is steeper and it is not really a path but a marked route (older red spots and some cairns as well as some more recent yellow markings). Many people choose not to go to the summit because the last part takes more walking experience than the walk to the saddle. But it looks more difficult than it is. Often, people walking up think that they are going to have great difficulties coming back down again but the rock (which looks a little like granite but is limestone) is very solid and stable underfoot. You will have to use your hands in a few places though.
Keep following the red (or yellow) spots (sometimes
there are several routes marked but don't worry, they all
lead to the summit).
The way to the summit takes approximately 45 to 60 minutes from the saddle. On a clear day the views from the summit are superb: Chania and the Aegean Sea to the North, the Libyan Sea and the island of Gavdos to the South. To the East, across the gorge of Samaria you see Pachnes (2453m) and the central White Mountains.
From the summit (1976m) you will notice that there is a second summit (1980m so it is the true summit) a little further on. The scramble to the second summit takes 10 to 15 minutes each way. The views are no better from the second summit so there is no special need to go there (unless you want to be at the true summit).
Towards the South you will see the higher summit of Volakies (2116m). It is possible to go there by going straight down and up to the summit but the walk is tiring in very rocky terrain (it takes one to two hours). From the summit of Volakies you can return to the saddle by passing below the summit of Gingilos (i.e. you head in the general direction of the saddle without going back up to the summit of Gingilos).
The return is by the same route. There is no easy alternative route.
When you get back to the road it is worth stopping at the café located right by the start of the path. It has a great terrace on the first floor with stunning views of the mountains and the gorge of Samaria where you can enjoy a drink whilst looking at where you have just been.
Apart from the superb views the walk to Gingilos offers many other fascinating sights:
Birds - You will almost certainly see huge griffon vultures - the largest bird in Europe - soaring above you. On rarer occasions you could also encounter a bearded vulture or golden eagle. Smaller birds you're likely to see include choughs, ravens, alpine swifts, alpine accentors and wheatears.
Trees - The main trees on the walk are the evergreen Kermes oaks, Cretan maples which grows all the way to the tree line and Cypresses. The cypresses are particularly spectacular and very ancient (some of them are well over 1000 years old).
Flowers - The walk is spread over the sub-alpine and alpine climate zones and offers a huge variety of mountain flowers which flower from early spring (Crocus sieberi, Scilla nana) to the middle of summer where the extremely rare Bupleurum kakiskalae can be seen in the cliffs of Kakiskala (just after you have passed under the arch).
Gingilos is one of the first mountains to the West of the White Mountains and weather changes can happen very suddenly (bad weather generally comes from the West). Whilst the walk to the saddle presents no problem in bad weather and poor visibility, high winds and fog from then on are dangerous. In case of bad weather return immediately and as quickly as possible to the saddle. Do not attempt to walk to the summit if there is snow, even in good weather unless you are experienced and know the route well. The walk to the saddle in early spring can also be snowed in in parts and could be dangerous because there are some passages with steep drops where you cannot afford to slide down.
On the walk down, people often get tired legs and knees (it is a long descent) and have to pay special attention not to stumble in the last part of the walk. Although the path is well marked it is very stony.
Additionally the section between the spring of Linoseli and the saddle used to have a good zig-zag path but heavy rain cut a gully right through the middle of it some years ago. A new route was created (over time by people picking a route through the rubble) but it requires some attention on the way down as it is a little loose in parts.
You do not need much water as there is a spring located about half way along the walk to the summit.
Remember that you are in the mountains and the weather can change quickly and get cold so it's best to take extra clothes with you just in case.
There is a good mobile phone signal at all times.
By car - The easiest way is to get there by car. The road to the entrance of the gorge of Samaria is very good and connects you to the North coast roads in about 45 minutes.
Bus - There are public buses from Chania to the entrance of the gorge of Samaria in the morning from May to October but there is often no return bus in the afternoon except possibly in the summer. You will need to check the current time-table to know for sure.
Stay in Omalos - Walking to Gingilos is of course easiest if you stay at one of the hotels in Omalos. No long drive, no bus to catch and you could combine it with a walk through the gorge of Samaria the following day.
From Xyloskala to the spring of Linoseli
From Linoseli to the summit of Gingilos