Samaria Gorge, is one of the most popular destinations in Crete. The hike itself is not very difficult, especially once you leave behind the stretch of steep descent at the beginning of the trail, but the path is long (the second in Europe, 16km) and crowded (up to 1500 people per day), which makes it quite tiring. But there is also an alternative for the lazy ones…
We chose Sougia as a starting point because, after some research on the spot and having considered all the options, it seemed like the easiest and cheaper solution. The plan is to leave the camper van safely parked at the Bay of Pigs where we feel at home already, take the bus to Omalos / Xiloskalo at 7.00am (cost € 4.80), arrive at the entrance of the canyon at 8.30am (5.00 € per entry), walk leisurely the 16 kilometers to go down to Agia Roumeli, from there take the ferry to return to Sougia at 17.30 (€ 9.00) where we will disembark at 18.15. Total cost € 18.80 per person.
It is better to buy your bus tickets the day before. The point of sale is at the croissanterie. The bus leaves at seven sharp in the morning and although it is directed to Chania, most of the passengers are tourists heading to the gorge. Just over an hour later it arrives at Omalos, where you will find waiting for you the bus that will take you to Xiloskalo (wooden staircase). Xiloskalo is the entrance of the National Park of Samaria, at 1250 meters above sea level. It’s chilly, but as soon as you’ll start walking down you will forget about it. There is a small queue at the ticket office. Meanwhile tourist buses arrive one after another. As they will inform you, the ticket must be kept, because it will be checked at the exit of the gorge. Overnight camping within the park is strictly forbidden.
The trail is quite steep right away and it will remain so for the next two-three kilometers. As it is obvious you will need hiking boots, a hat and a bottle of water, which can be filled from the many drinking fountains along the way. The descent is a bit strenuous on the knees, mainly because it is difficult to keep your own pace, with all the people you have walking in front and behind you.
Almost every two kilometers there are rest areas, some of them with toilet, where you can rest and refill your bottle. Along the trail here and there are guards patrolling, some of them with their donkeys, that have the role of ambulance in case of need. From what they told us, most accidents are due to falls or twisted ankles and often sunstrokes and dehydration. Bear it in mind!
In the pictures above you see the abandoned village of Samaria, about half of the route. From here the trail becomes less and less steep and more scenic.
At the exit of the park, where we arrived after seven hours, once passed the ticket control there are a couple of bars with tempting cold drinks and orange juices. There is also a private shuttle bus that, for a euro and a half per head, brings you to the port, saving you from the last 1400 meters to be walked on a paved road under the sun… hard to resist!
Once arrived in Agia Roumeli try not to jump immediately into the sea. Better go first to buy the tickets for the ferry to avoid the risk of remaining ashore. On the beach you will find what is probably the most hot sand on which you have ever walked on, although the effect is probably due to the soles of your feet sore from walking.
The alternative for the lazy ones is to take the ferry in the morning from Sougia to Agia Roumeli (at 9.00 am every day and also at 7.30 Fri / Sat / Sun), climb up the gorge until you feel like it and then go back and spend the rest of the day at the beach, waiting for the ferry to return.
This way, apart from walking less kilometers, you pretty much hike on flat ground, seeing anyway the most impressive section of the canyon, enjoying it in peace, since there is a good chance that you will get there before the crowds of tourists who started from the north… not a bad idea at all!