Tips for Hiking the Samaria Gorge in Greece

Upper part of Samaria Gorge in Crete
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The Samaria Gorge is a favorite trail for hikers on Greece's Island of Crete, which can be completed in 6-8 hours. In ancient times, the Gorge was home to a famous oracle site which attracted pilgrims from as far away as Libya and the giant gray mountain at the beginning of the Gorge, Giglio, or Sapimenos, was thought to be the throne of Zeus on Crete and also the location he used to conduct horse races.

The hike isn't too difficult, but it's a long one, so prepare yourself with some tips before you head out.

Take Precautions

While tens of thousands of people trek down the Samaria Gorge each season, it is not danger-free and fatalities have occurred in the past. Potential hazards include flash floods and hot weather. Park authorities might even close the park if it is too hot outside. At the top of the gorge, temperatures will be more mild because of the altitude, but at the bottom, especially on a hot day, the heat can be unbearable.

If you have concerns about the weather, call on the day of your Samaria Gorge hike, especially if you're doing it yourself and not as part of a bussed group. It may close for bad weather, hot weather, or the occasional strike by workers.

The hike is all downhill, so if you need to turn back for any reason, your best bet is to keep going until you reach the ranger or medical station at the otherwise-abandoned village of Samaria and ask to be taken out by donkey.

Dress and Pack Appropriately

It will be much cooler at the top of the Samaria Gorge than at the bottom, so dress in layers so you can adjust to the temperature.

Hiking boots are not necessary for most people walking the Samaria Gorge. Much of the lower trail is on rounded river rock, and good hiking shoes seem to handle these better than boots. If you have a choice, a well-ventilated hiking shoe may be useful to you, especially if it's hot. If possible, wear well-broken-in shoes and test them first by going down a steep hill and see where any unexpected pinch spots seem to be.

If you have a known hotspot for blisters, use moleskin on it before starting the hike. Some people also put petroleum jelly between their toes or wear double socks, which can also help. It's a good idea to bring some bandages along with you also and use a walking stick if you think you will need help to climb over the rocks.

You can bring your own snacks or buy a sandwich from the lunchroom at the top of the Samaria Gorge. Since it's a long hike, you will want to have some food with you to keep your energy up. You will not have to carry more than a liter bottle of water, which you will refill at the springs along the way. The water here is fresh and safe to drink.

Trail Conditions

The steepest, most accident-prone section of the Samaria Gorge is right at the beginning, at the so-called "Xyloscalo" or "wooden staircase", which is actually a series of shallow terraced steps. Walk carefully and don't lean too much on the guard rail.

This trail is not difficult, but it is very long. There are few tricky sections and one short uphill section, but for the most part it is very manageable, especially when you're prepared for a long hike. Be aware of the donkeys on the trail and make way for them as they pass by pressing yourself against the wall. If you are traveling in the spring, take notice of the smelly, dramatic Dragon Lillies, huge deep-red spikes rising up from fringy leaves and spotted stems. Their corpse-like scent attracts flies who fertilize the flowers like bees.

If you are not up for the hike, but still want to see the famous Iron Gate, where the pathway enters an opening only about nine feet wide, many tour companies offer the option of bussing to Skafia and taking the ferry to Agia Roumeli. From there, you can walk up to the gorge and reach the Iron Gates in about thirty minutes.

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