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Samaria Gorge is a national park on the island of Crete. The gorge became a national park in 1962, particularly as a refuge for the rare kri-kri (Cretan goat), which is largely restricted to the park and an island just off the shore of Agia Marina. There are several other endemic species in the gorge and surrounding area, as well as many other species of flowers and birds.

The gorge of Samaria is the second most popular tourist attraction in Crete (after the Minoan palace of Knossos) and by far the most popular walk. More than a quarter million people walk through the gorge every year from the beginning of May to the end of October. In the winter the gorge is closed to visitors because of the danger posed by water and falling stones.

The reason for the popularity of Samaria may be that it is an area of stunning natural beauty. The path which crosses the gorge passes through forests of ancient cypresses and pines and then between vertical cliffs through the mountains to emerge at Agia Roumeli by the Libyan sea in the South of Crete.

Do not be misled by the fact that so many people walk through the Samaria gorge and think that it is just an easy stroll: the gorge is 16 km long and the path, although it is maintained and in good condition by Cretan standards, is always stony and also steep at times. The walk through the gorge from Xyloskala (near Omalos) at an altitude of 1250 meters down to Agia Roumeli will take you anything from 3 to 5 hours of walking time (excluding the breaks).

Finally, if you are attracted by the idea of walking through this beautiful gorge but put off by the crowds there is a way around it: 99% of the people walking through the gorge of Samaria do so in the morning. If you start in the middle of the day and, walking at a leisurely pace get to Agia Roumeli in the evening you will meet only a handful of people. You can spend the night in Agia Roumeli and if you wish, return to your "base" the following day. In the summer months this will also help you avoid walking the last two kilometres which are without shade in the blazing sun.

What to take with you on this walk?

  • A water bottle which you can refill on the way.
  • Sun cream and a hat, especially for the last part of the walk which has very little shade.
  • Good shoes. These don't have to be hiking boots but you won't be contributing to your enjoyment by wearing tennis shoes or sandals.
  • Some food. There is no food available inside the National Park.
  • A jumper for the early morning: it can be cold at 1200m.
  • A supply of plasters in case of blisters.

Because cars can't enter the gorge, there are emergency donkeys walking around. If you get injured the park keepers will transport you with a donkey, so do not worry, you can still leave the park! The village of Samaria lies just inside the gorge. It was finally abandoned by the last remaining inhabitants in 1962 to make way for the park. The old houses still exist and they serve as houses for the guards. The village and the gorge took their names from the village's ancient church, Ossia Maria.

The very narrow passage near the end of the gorge is often called the 'Iron Gates'. None of the former inhabitants of Samaria knows why the place got this name. They were always known as 'Portes' which means 'doors' or 'gates'.The most tiring part of the walk is the last 3 km before the exit from the National Park. The landscape is dry and arid with no shade. Agia Roumeli, a village which lies on the coast of the Libyan Sea is one more hour walk away from ‘Portes’. At the exit they will ask you to return your tickets, to make sure no-one is left in the gorge overnight, so it is important to keep your entrance ticket.

Agia Roumeli is not accessible by car. So, to return to your accommodation place again you have to travel by boat to Chora Sfakion and take the bus to the north coast.

To visit the national park in the right direction a set of rules is made which the visitors will be required to apply. Park keepers keep that monitored. The rules are as follows:

It is strictly prohibited to:
  • light fires
  • camp or stay overnight
  • pick flowers
  • uproot, damage or destroy plants
  • remove or damage nests, eggs or nestlings
  • destroy or damage the geological formations, the signs and other park facilities, the monuments and other cultural elements
  • posses arms or traps
  • hunt
  • fish
  • swim in the gorge's streams
  • dogs are not allowed in the park

Visitors are not allowed to:

  • play radio
  • throw stones
  • make loud noises
  • dispose litter elsewhere than indicated
  • to smoke in places other than the rest-sites provided
  • consume alcohol