So many people will tell you that a trip to Crete should take advantage of the fantastic hiking opportunities on the island and the place they all mention is Samaria Gorge. It certainly looks amazing but the walk from Chania in southwest Crete to the village of Agia Roumeli at the shore of the Libyan Sea means 13 kilometres trekking through the Samaria National Park, plus 2-3 km more from the edge of the park to Agia Roumeli.
Many tour operators provide organised tours through the gorge and it seems like they all do the same route: bus to entrance of Park at Omalos village, you walk for up to 8 hours (!), catch a ferry at Agia Roumeli at the far end of the route, then the bus meets you in Sfakia to take you back to your hotel. Now that does not sound like a holiday to me but more like an endurance test.
But if you would dearly love to see the Samaria Gorge what are you to do? The good news is I know about the “lazy way” or at least that’s what the tour operators call it. The part of the Gorge you really must see is known as the ‘Iron Gates’ which is the narrowest part of the gorge where the sides of the gorge are only a few metres apart yet they soar up to 350m high. Doesn’t that sound fantastic? So here’s how to see this and not lose a day to exhaustion on your holiday.
Firstly, get independent. Crete is not huge, only 260 km (160 miles) long and 56 km (35 miles) at its widest point, so book your car hire. Heraklion Airport, known as ‘Zorba the Greek’ airport to the locals, offers car hire collection.
The roads are variable but there are motorways which are well-maintained and the coastal routes give some amazing views. I suggest you drive along the north coast and either choose a lovely place to stop for a night or continue right on to Agia Roumeli and base yourself there. While most people only pass through, following their long walk through the Gorge and onto waiting ferries, the area is actually a really peaceful coastal village and, once the ferries leave, you won’t be harassed by locals trying to get you to visit their taverna as they are only really pushy when the tourist masses are there.
Once you’ve got settled at your apartment and have enjoyed a local meal, take a walk to the ruined Turkish Fortress high above Agia Roumeli for a wonderful view. It’s not a strenuous route, there is a path, and it should take under an hour to get there.
Now, back to the “lazy way” to see Samaria Gorge and the Iron Gates. Starting from Agia Roumeli, it is only about a 1 hour hike to the Iron Gates and the terrain is pretty easy going. That means you can still see this wonder of nature, admire the rare Cretan goat (kri-kri) that live in the Samaria National Park and return in an hour to watch the tired hikers arriving later in the day while you sip a cool drink.
The coach parties start their day ridiculously early – this is a holiday! – so I’d recommend starting your walk around midday when you won’t have to contend with the crowds. Why not go swimming at the beach in the morning as most people will be dashing to start their mammoth trek? Again, the beach is quiet in the morning so you can enjoy this stunning area if you plan your day well. Enjoy!