On the southern side of the Omalos plateau, the Samaria National Park was established to protect the endemic flora and fauna of this fascinating region that encompasses Europe's longest gorge and a number of smaller gorges. It is one of the two remaining habitats to the Cretan wild goat or Kri-Kri that lives in secluded hollows on the mountainside. The Kri-Kri are usually seen in the afternoon but their shyness makes it unlikely to glimpse one.
The 18 km hike through the Samaria Gorge begins at Xyloskalo on the Omalos plateau 1200 m high. It is not an easy stroll. If you are not used in hiking and you don't have any serious health problems you will walk it successfully but be ready for sore legs for the next couple of days.
A well-maintained path drops down to the bottom of the gorge through a fragrant forest of pine and cypress trees. Along the way, there are many species of flora, some of which are endemic to Crete and found only in this gorge.
The narrowest point in the gorge is known as "Portes" or "The Gates," it is the most photographed part of the gorge because steep cliffs rise dramatically to a height of over 300m with a very narrow passage of only 3.5m. This is one of the areas where, in early spring, hikers may have to wade through the stream because the water level is higher from the melting snow.
The most tiring part of the hike are the last 3 km when you exit the national park; its noon or early afternoon (too hot) and there is no shadow.
However there is a great beach in Agia Roumeli where you can cool-off before you take the ferry to Loutro, Hora Sfakion or Sougia and Paleochora. You may even stay in Agia Roumeli, as there are plenty of rooms and restaurants.
Tips for Samaria hikers:
- Hiking the Samaria Gorge requires good walking shoes and a picnic lunch if you want to take the time to admire the scenery and the flowers.
- Bring binoculars to search the cliffs for the elusive Kri Kri.
- A hat is essential.
- There are numerous springs but a bottle of water is recommended.
- Walking the Samaria gorge is not recommended for people with heart conditions, knee problems or people suffering from diabetes.
- Take your time to admire the surrounding nature, the path is very irregular and steep and it is better to stand still to take photos rather than on the move
- Don't rush through the gorge. There are plenty of ferry boats at the end of the gorge! The hike takes about 5 - 6 hours.
- Officially the gorge is open from April 1st until October 31st, depending on the weather conditions. It is not rare for it to be closed until May. The river inside the gorge may prove really dangerous if there is a heavy rain in spring or autumn.