|Posted by Alexandra S on February 1, 2018 at 6:25 PM|
The alarm clock went off at 6am and I leapt out of bed, wide-eyed and with the biggest colgate smile from ear to ear. The long-awaited day had finally arrived! One more adventure would soon be crossed off my bucket-list: crossing one of the longest gorges in Europe and the longest in Greece, the Samaria Gorge.
The bus left Chania Central Station and drove through some amazing landscape till we reached Omalos an hour and half later.
Tip: For those with a restless stomach... I would recommend taking one of those pills for sea-sickness since the road, although a good one, does have some winding turns along the way.
The Samaria Gorge hike starts at the Xyloskalo trailhead at an altitude of 1,250 meters in the midst of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori). The length of the passage to the limits of the national park is 12,8 km and the distance to the coast of Agia Roumeli is then another 3,2 km.
There is a security point that checks all tickets both at the starting point of the gorge and one other point close to the end of the trail making sure that no one is left behind overnight. So, hold onto your ticket all the way through!
I stood for a few minutes taking it all in before descending the trail. The view, the moment, the fresh mountain air at the top...and in one word: Breathtaking.
The descent offered an exhilerating feeling every step of the way. However, what I realised rather fast was that most of the people entering the gorge and walking either behind me or ahead of me, seemed to rush through the trail; something I was not intending to do, so I just let some of them walk right by me. The surroundings were far too magical to just rush through. I was going to savour every second of the way.
To my surprise, the hikers' ages ranged from 1-85 years old, honestly! There were families with children as young as 5 and some of those parents were even appropriately equipped and succeeded in carrying along their almost new-born babies! That was definitely an unforgettable and precious sight in my eyes. There were couples of all ages and there were solo hikers like myself just enjoying the hike at a more normal (non-rushed) pace.
The gorge of Samaria is the biggest, most imposing and beautiful gorge in Chania and in Europe, and that is why it is internationally renowned and the most visited, since more than 300.000 people have the opportunity to cross it each year.
Crossing the Samaria Gorge takes an average of between 4 to 6 hours depending on your chosen pace. One of the blessings of this trail is the fountains and springs you find along the way, so all you need is one of those 500ml bottles of water that you can refill along the way... and let me tell you, that water is HEAVENLY. I think I must have drunk about 8 litres till I reached the end.
The main fauna species is the world-famous Cretan Chamois (wild goat) (CAPRA AEGAGRUS CRETICA) or "kri-kri" as it is more commonly known, an extremely beautiful and dashing animal that has been preserved and is now living freely in the gorge of Samaria and in the three gorges parallel to it.
Among the well-known flora species, you find the perennial gigantic cypresses once used in shipbuilding and in the construction of the pillars of the Palace of Knossos by the Minoans, etc.
There is a total of 450 species of Cretan flora in the gorge, of which 70 are endemic, i.e. they grow in the gorge only.
Shoes: you will need a good pair of steady sport shoes or hiking boots. Do not even think about wearing sandals or anything with toes exposed or even thin-soled shoes...! The terrain is rocky and you'll hopefully wish to keep your toes upon leaving Crete... :-)
Sunscreen: Absolutely!!! (Face and Body sunscreen with a minimum of 15 SPF and of course higher if your skin is fair or sensitive. Mine was 30SPF and I did need to add some every 1.5-2hours as it was August when I went.
A Hat/cap: YES! There were some draughts that would blow my cap away, so keep that in mind when choosing the hat.
Backpack: YES! A light backpack is of course needed to keep your sunscreen, water, a couple of snack bars/power bars or a snack to give you a bit of a boost when you need it.
Although you will obviously want to enjoy the beauty around you, remember to keep your eyes on the trail as the terrain is quite rugged.
The gorge can usually be visited from the beginning of May till the end of October, unless there are bad weather conditions.
There are guardhouses of the State’s Service of the Park (Forest Inspection Service) at the beginning of the gorge (in the village of Samaria) and at its end.
A doctor is also available to serve the visitors of the gorge, as well as a helicopter airport in Agia Roumeli.
The gorge has a lot of narrow passes that are called “gates” but the narrowest pass, “the Iron Gate”, is 3 m wide and 300 to 700 m high from both sides. There are a lot of spots where you can walk over the river of the gorge on small wooden bridges.
5 hours later, I reached Agia Roumeli: the picturesque little village at the other end of the gorge, on the southern side of Crete, touching the Libyan Sea. Although not as exhausted as I had thought I might have been, the view I encountered was definitely a sight I had been longing for especially in that final hour of my hike :-)
The scheduled ferry was due to leave at 16.00 so I had the chance to take a swim, eat something and relax until it was time to leave. The ferry would take the crowd to Chora Sfakion from where the regional buses would be waiting to pick people up and then head to various directions: Chania, Heraklio, Rethymno, etc.
(Photo of the beach at Agia Roumeli from www.agiaroumeli.com)
Would I cross the Samaria Gorge again?
Most definitely YES!!! :-) Over and over again...