Samaria or the Samaria Gorge is one of the main sights of Crete. Every tourist who visits Crete will have heard of this beautiful gorge or soon will. The locals call it the “Farangas” or “Great Gorge”, both in admiration at its beauty and to differentiate it from the many other, smaller gorges of Crete.
The Samaria Gorge is in west Crete, in the White Mountains. It is the longest gorge in Europe, with a length of 18 kilometres.
The gorge starts at Xyloskalo (1227 m. above sea level) on the Omalos Plateau and runs down to the seaside village of Agia Roumeli on the south coast of Crete.
Samaria Gorge, Flora and Fauna
The Samaria National Park is exceptionally rich in plant and animal life. In the gorge you will find unique species protected under international law.
It is said that there are 450 plant species in the gorge, and not a single flower may be removed from Samaria, by law. Don’t see this as a pointlessly strict rule, but as the only way to protect the delicate ecosystem of Samaria so that thousands of visitors can continue to enjoy it each year.
In Samaria you can admire the forests of huge pine and cypress trees, a picture from Crete’s past, when the island was covered by forests famous for their timber, ideal for building strong ships.
Inside the gorge you may even meet its famous inhabitants, the wild goats of Crete, which the locals call “agrimia” and tourists call “kri-kri”.
The Cretan wild goat is endemic to Crete and you will probably see some in the village of Samaria, as they often approach the houses at the edge of the village.
The Samaria village
Samaria is an old village whose inhabitants were relocated in 1962 when the gorge was declared a national park.
The old houses still exist and they serve as houses for the guards. The village is a good opportunity to see the traditional architecture and rest for a while.
When you get to this point you are almost halfway and the time is perfect for a sandwich (if you are carrying any with you).
A little further down from the village is the 14th-century church of Osia Maria (Holy Mary), from which the name “Samaria” is derived.
Samaria gorge hiking, tips and equipment
Τhe Samaria footpath is very well signposted all along its length and is thought to be the most-walked footpath in the whole of Greece (the second is the Mount Olympus path).
It is impossible to get lost, as you are always moving in a stream of people. There are drinking water springs and toilets at various points.
A brief visit to the Samaria Gorge
The walk through the Samaria Gorge takes 4-8 hours depending on your pace. Six hours is the normal time, especially if you stop to take pictures and enjoy the amazing natural landscape.
However, if you don’t feel up to the whole route, there is also the “lazy way” as the tour agents call it.
This is a much shorter route from Agia Roumeli up to the “Iron Gates” (Sideroportes), the narrowest point of the gorge.
At the Iron Gates, the gorge is so narrow that you can almost touch both sides as they rise up sheer 350 metres above your head.
The short route is certainly an easy way to experience some, though not all, of the magic of the Samaria Gorge.
Samaria visiting season
There is a cheap ticket to enter the gorge, which is open from mid-April to the end of October. When the gorge opens to visitors depends on the weather.
A downpour may force the people in charge to forbid entry to the gorge, to avoid accidents due to rockfalls or flooding of the stream running through the bottom of the gorge.
You should also be aware that when there is a strong wind blowing, the little boats to and from Agia Roumeli may not be allowed to sail, so you’ll have to wait until conditions improve. This usually happens in the autumn.