While there are seemingly endless beaches in Crete, this huge island is also home to a number of other natural features including gorges, caves, and mountains. One of the most well known is Samariá Gorge. The gorge is most often done as a 10 mile one-way hike descending about 5000 feet from the mountains and ending in the coastal village of Agia Roumeli. However, there is a less-publicized option that local tour operators call “The Lazy Way”. Don’t let the name, or the scoff from the tour agency operators fool or dissuade you; this route is a great option for families with smaller children or those who question their ability to hike the full length of the gorge. It is an out and back hike, so you can decide how far into the gorge you go. Because so few people do the route in this direction, another benefit to the route is that you have the trail almost completely to yourselves for the first several hours of the day.
The day trip starts with an early morning bus pickup for everyone doing either version of the hike. The sunrise over the mountains and small villages is a remarkable reward to having to rise so early on vacation. After driving for one to two hours, the majority of the passengers leave with the guide to start their hike in Xylóskalo. You’ll continue with the driver about another hour to Sougia, where you take a scenic ferry ride along the southern coast to Agia Roumeli. Upon arrival in town, you will find signs pointing you towards Samaria Gorge National Park.
The entrance to the park, where you will have to pay a small admission fee, is about 1.25 miles inland. This part of the path is semi-paved and wanders through existing and abandoned village buildings. Kids will enjoy the easy walk as they pass small farms with goats, chickens, and other animals. After passing through the gate to the park, you’ll do a very gradual climb following the river bed for almost 2 more miles before reaching the famed Iron Gates. This is the narrowest part of the gorge, with only 9 feet between the two sides. This area is shady even at noon in the summer, so it’s a nice place to stop and have a snack and enjoy the scenery before heading back to Agia Roumeli.
Once in Agia Roumeli, there is plenty of time for a leisurely lunch followed by a swim at the pebbly beach with crystal clear waters of the Libyan Sea. There are beach bars that rent their umbrella-shaded beach chairs at very affordable prices to make for a more relaxing afternoon. By late afternoon, it’s time to meet your guide and board the ferry to Sougia where your bus awaits you to take you back to your hotel.
Things to know about Samariá Gorge hike:
- The Samariá Gorge is generally open for hiking from April to October, depending on rainfall and river conditions.
- The so-called “Lazy Way” is not available every day. Different tour operators operate this route on different days. We went with IO Tours and were very happy with our guide and the service. You can do this route independently, but it requires a lot more research, planning, and timing. Especially since you won’t be in the crowds at the top, doing it with a tour company is a wonderful option with much less stress.
- The best town to do the tour from is Chania, as it is closer to the gorge and allows you to arrive earlier than the buses coming from further away.
- During the peak heat of summer, it can reach 100 degrees or more at the hottest places in the gorge. Be sure you have enough water, sunscreen, and sun protection such as hats to make the walk more enjoyable. The best times to do the hike are until mid-June and after mid-September. However, we did the hike with our 5 year old on a hot day in July and found it to be manageable.
- You won’t need hiking boots for this part of the trail. Tennis shoes, or even sport sandals are absolutely fine.
- Bring water shoes or flip flops for the beach swim after the hike. The pebbles are very hot, and managing the beach in tennis shoes or hiking boots is just no fun.