The small village of Agia Irini is located in a valley along the winding road that leads from Chania to Sougia in southwest Crete.
From the South end of the village of Agia Irini, at an altitude of around 560 m, the gorge of Agia Irini is a deep cut along the western edge of the White Mountains which will take you all the way down to the shores of the Libyan Sea at Sougia.
The gorge of Agia Irini is an excellent alternative to the gorge of Samaria:
And of course it is a wonderful place to come to if you have already visited the gorge of Samaria (and maybe the gorges of Imbros and Aradena) and want to see another one. Like people, every Cretan gorge has its own personality, looks and character so it will be a new experience.
From the entrance of the gorge of Agia Irini (just by the road below the village of Agia Irini) to the exit of the gorge at the Oasis Taverna the walk is 7.5 km long and the descent is around 500 m. It takes around two and half hours to walk on a well maintained path. Most of the gorge is in the shade with plenty of pine trees, plane trees and oleander bushes.
From the exit of the gorge to the village of Sougia the walk is on a (mostly traffic free) road with only little shade and the distance is around 7 km so if you want to go to Sougia on a hot day it is probably best to arrange for transport.
The gorge is open all year around but there is a small river running through it and after heavy rains it could make parts of the gorge impassable or at least unsafe.
During the tourist season (from April to October) a small fee of 2 Euro is taken at the entrance of the gorge (or exit if you are walking up the gorge). The fee is used to pay for maintenance of the path, rubbish collection and generally making sure that things are OK along the walk.
The path into the gorge of Agia Irini starts at the exit of the village of Agia Irini at an altitude of 590m. A short walk down a wide path which will go past a stone house where the entrance fee is collected (if the warden is busy elsewhere he might collect it later when he meets you along the way). The path narrows, crosses the river bed on a small wooden bridge and continues along the eastern side of the gorge.
After around 30 minutes from the beginning of the walk you will reach a large cistern and around 15 minutes later a shaded rest area with toilets, benches and water.
The path is always clear to follow and is shaded most of the time by plane and pine trees. There are a few ascents along the side of the gorge but the path always descends back into the bottom of the valley, crossing the river bed several times. There are a few other rest areas with water (but not always working so best to carry a small supply of water).
A little further down the gorge there are a couple of spots where you might need to use your hands to get over some boulders but on the whole the path is easy and after around 2 hours 30 minutes (7.5km) the gorge widens, you start seeing olive trees and terraces and a sign points out to the exit on the left hand side where you reach the road. There is a small taverna which should be open from April to October and serves drinks as well as good food.
From that point on if you have chosen to walk to Sougia it is best to stick to the road as the walk in the river bed is a little stony and uncomfortable.
In the spring the gorge is full of wildflowers but most of them dry out by late May and get replaced by flowering oleander bushes.
Of course you can also walk up the gorge. Because the height difference between start and finish is only 500m walking up is not much more effort than walking down. If you choose to leave your car at one end and return (therefore doubling the length of the walk) it will take you around 5 hours of walking time to cover 15km. This would be roughly the same as walking through the gorge of Samaria so really quite possible if you are reasonably fit.
No matter how you are going to walk through the gorge of Agia Irini, because it is not a circular walk, you will need to get yourself back to your starting point. This is unless you choose to walk through the gorge and return by the same route. That's quite a feasible option for a fit walker (15km, 5 hours walk, no more than walking through the gorge of Samaria) and is definitely not boring as you will have a different view of the walk going back.
If you decide not to do this here are a few options:
If you are coming from the North by car the best is to leave your car at the upper entrance of the gorge, walk down and get a transport back to your car from the exit of the gorge. The owners of the Oasis Taverna (at the exit of the gorge) can call a taxi or may be able to arrange another form of transport back to your car if none is available.
If you are coming from Sougia by car you could start at the bottom of the gorge, walk up to the northern exit and catch the bus that goes down to Sougia at around 15.30 (see the link to the KTEL public buses on the useful links section below for an up-to-date time-table). Get off at the junction to Livadha and Koustogerako and walk back to your car (around 4km). Alternatively, walk up the gorge and back down to your car.
If you are coming from Sougia without a car either get a taxi to the southern entrance, walk up and pick up the bus back to Sougia (at around 15.30 on week days) or take the early bus from Sougia (it generally leaves Sougia at 7.00) to the northern entrance, walk down the gorge and either carry on walking to Sougia (around 7km) or get the owners of Oasis Taverna to call for a taxi or arrange another transport.
If you are coming from the North without a car you can take the public bus from Chania to Sougia that gets to the northern entrance of the gorge at around 15.30, walk down and either carry on down to Sougia where you can spend the night or...take a taxi back because there is generally no public transport back to Chania in the evening.
Of course your whole trip can be done by taxi either from Sougia or from the North. It makes the logistics easier but costs more.
If you choose to walk from the exit of the gorge to Sougia it is best to stick to the road. There is very little traffic and the going is a lot easier than trying to stay in the river bed. The distance is 7km so it takes around 90 minutes. You may try to hitch-hike but there is so little traffic that you should not count on getting a lift.
Avoid walking in the mid-day heat in summer, there isn't much shade on the road.