“ Country: Greece / Island: Crete / World Region: Europe „
When on holiday I am not the sort of person that can lie by a pool or beach for very long - I like to be out exploring.
On a holiday to Crete we decided to take the Samaria Gorge walk after seeing it advertised in several small guide huts in a local town.
**WHAT IS THE SAMARIA GORGE**
The Samaria George (locals sometimes call it Farangas), is situated on the west side of Crete. Nearest popular holiday locations would be Chania I guess but there are many coaches from all over Crete that go there I think ours took a few hours from Malia.
Set in the white mountains the Samaria gorge is the longest in Europe starting at the village of Xyloskalo, running downhill to the coastal village of Agia Roumeli on the South of the island.
The gorge became a national park in 1962, primarily to help protect it and has since become one of the most popular sights of Crete.
Interestingly the gorge is also part of the world biosphere network reserves, which I had never heard of before. These areas are apparently acknowledged as being places that show a good relationship between man and nature (this is taken from Wikipedia) and provide a good ecological and sustainable area.. There are currently over 500 of these worldwide and are run under the umbrella of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation www.UNESCO.org
The gorge starts at a dizzy approximate 1250 metres above sea level.
The gorge is 16 kilometres long which also includes 3 kilometres out of the exit where you need to walk to the coastal village.
The iron gates are approximately 4 metres wide, yet a staggering 1100 metres high
Generally the walk takes about 6 - 7 hours
It should be noted there is a much shorter route starting at the exit and local guides can advise of this.
Many of the tourist areas have guided tours we paid about 45 euros a few years ago and entrance fee of about 5 euros plus the boat trips are extra. I can't remember how much the boat was now but it was very reasonable. The advantage of taking a guided tour is that you are shown where to go and get a coach to and from a local spot by your hotel. Our guide spoke a multitude of languages which was good as on our coach we were the only two English! Every one is updated on the acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour of the park (no fires, no camping, no rubbish) and you are counted to make sure you all get back on the coach at the end.
There are alternatively plenty of cheap buses to and from the area.
Opening times are from May to October from 0700 until 1500
Our coach trip started at a exceedingly early 0500 hours pick up, from where we travelled by coach for hours from Malia to the gorge. The coach was air conditioned but as some of the roads are quite small and uneven, it is not the most comfortable ride you will ever get.
On arrival I was quite surprised at how small the village area preceding the entrance was. I don't know why I guess I expected it to be more touristy, thankfully it was relatively small and still in most part in keeping with traditional Crete.
The actual entrance is very small and is basically just a small cabin area with viewing platforms and guides to the area, mixed with a small ticket booth and a tiny set of steps together with a wooden hand rail. Quickly though you soon realise why so many people travel to see the gorge - the scenery is spectacular. If you go on a nice day you can see the tops of the rocky gorge glisten in the morning dew set against a clear blue sky backdrop and edged with fantastic pine and cypress trees. I have actually enlarged some photos I took there to hang in my house. If you search for Samaria Gorge under images in your browser you will see how picturesque it is.
So off we set down the steps and I have to say I was quickly in for a surprise. This is very step! Especially to begin with and the trails are just that in some places so you must watch your footing and hold onto the hand rails when they are there. If they are there, they are there for a reason. Small stones and rocks litter the edges of the path so watching your step is a must.
As you gradually and slowly make your way down the hillside you got through these vast trees which tower above you and see if you keep your eyes peeled some birds. I have to say I was surprised at how little wildlife I did see, but as you are concentrating so much on where you are going you may sometimes forget to stop and look around.
As you gradually reach the bottom your knees are very thankful, but you soon forget as you look skywards and see the magnificent views above you of the side towering across the skyline. Dotted here and there are the tiniest of toilets, basically little huts. Now Crete is not best known in the sewage system department and in most places you can't put toilet paper down the toilets. Here it is a little more rustic shall we say - a hole in the ground, but hay when you have to go.....
Also around are small places to buy water and snacks but these are few and far between I strongly advise that you take a small backpack with carbohydrate and sugar snacks along with a couple of bottles of water each. In the summer this walk does get very hot and there is little shade once you come out from the trees. Again if you keep your eyes open you may spot the small local goats, and the pony's the officers use to transport food and drink down the gorge.
Walking along the bottom of the gorge is a little easier but there are some huge boulders. A little sign posted said beware of tumbling rocks - I think seeing the size of them (some as large a smart car) you wouldn't be able to do much if god forbid it landed on you.
Nearing towards the end you reach what they call the iron gates a very narrow part of the gorge which seems oddly strange in comparison to the rest of the walk. Finally you get to a toll booth again - here they check you tickets - this just enables the officers to make sure everyone leaves at night, and you make you way to a fantastically positioned bar at the end of the route - well if you ever deserved a pint it was after finishing that walk.
Slowly meandering with your pint you head towards the coastal village where you can dip in the sea, or grab something to eat from the locals before setting sail on the boat back to where you coach will pick you up.
The boat I have to say was a great trip in its self. Filled with not only walkers but locals finishing there shifts on the island, they treat you to dances and singing which is local and not pre organised which made it very special.
So what else can I say..........
You must wear suitable shoes i.e. trainers as most people don't take hiking boots on holiday.
Wear sensible clothes - shorts, trousers and a hat. It gets very hot and this is definatly no skirt and flip flop route.
Take a backpack with food and water.
Take a camera
Other than that please before you book make sure you are able to do the walk - it is very hard. I am fairly fit and it was hard work going down hill. The next day I literally struggled to get out of bed!!! And I am not joking.
Also if you have medical conditions you must seek advice before this is not somewhere you want to get stuck as medical help could be hard to come by.
A fantastic trip that if you can manage it physically, is well worth the effort.
Samaria National Park