The complete guide to the gorge of Samaria - part 1

The famous "Gates" of Samaria

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 is often been possible to enter the gorge of Samaria 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). The gorge of Samaria closes to the public at the end of October.
In winter, high water makes the gorge of Samaria dangerous and impassable. It will also be closed on rainy days (when there is a danger of rock falls).

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.

 

When is the best time to walk through the gorge?

The problem with Samaria is that it can be really crowded. The gorge of Samaria has become one of the 'musts' if you go to Crete and there could be over 2000 visitors a day on a very busy day (see visitors statistics here). If you have the bad luck to pick one of those days, the atmosphere will be really spoilt.

Starting at dawn (before the tourist coaches arrive) will give you a bit of a head start. Spend the night in Omalos where you can easily find good and cheap accommodation and you will not have any traveling time in the morning
The first tourist buses arrive at around 7.30 am and from then on it is an uninterrupted stream of buses until about 10.30 or 11.00 am.

You can also start walking after 11.30 or 12.00, there won't be many people but you will most probably need to spend the night in Agia Roumeli because the last boat out will have left when you get there.

As far as the times of the year are concerned, the best time is in the spring when the weather is still cool and the vegetation is at its best. The worst time is in the middle of the summer during a heat wave. Give it a miss and come again at a better time.

Go to the Samaria gorge guide - Part 2

The Samaria Experience - back to the roots of Cretan traditions
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Crete photo of the day
Crete Photo of the Day