Samaria gorge – Chania – is the most famous gorge in Crete, almost 18 km long. This is the most visited gorge of Crete, located south of Chania region. In 60’s it was declared a National Park of Greece and residence of many endemic birds and different wild species. The most famous of the animals that find refuge in Samaria Gorge is the Cretan wild goat (Kri Kri), wild hare and eagles . There are also herbs and rare plants growing there, diktamnus and many others used as medicine.
Where is Samaria gorge?
The gorge of Samaria is situated in the National park of Samaria, in the White Mountains in West Crete. This amazing majestic gorge is considered to be one of the most important attractions of Crete. A visitor should realize it is a long (5 to 7 hours) walk on rough terrain and will need to have a certain degree of fitness and walking experience in order to enjoy it.
How is the landscape looking like in through Samaria gorge?
Landscape is understood as either a natural element or a symbolic entity.
It is an exceptionally complex and multi-leveled concept of major significance and social recognition, which acts as a bearer of multiple concepts, symbolism, emotional associations and history. Landscape has been defined in many ways, according to the various points of view. This is partly due to its diverse natural and symbolic/conceptual aspects, although it cannot be divided into characteristic features, but must be considered as a complex whole which is far greater than the sum of its parts (holism).
One particular feature of the landscape is that it constitutes a dynamic entity, the content of which is transformed in time and space, whilst each person can understand the landscape in a different way, according to their state of mind at different moments in time. Landscape’s natural, cultural/social and visual aspects do not only coexist and combine as though links in a chain, but are fully homogenized, creating an indivisible whole, which influences and is influenced, shapes and is shaped.
The broader area of Samaria constitutes a clearly established and spatially defined territory. Within this area one encounters a diversity of landscape features with particular characteristics of ecological and cultural value, some of which are:
- The Gorge
- The village in the center of the Gorge, with the old crops of the people.
- The chapels, which are often found on the same site as ancient temples.
- The castle above Samaria, and at the Gorge exit.
- The ruins of the ancient city of Tarra.
- The Gorge’s special biodiversity.
- The complex ecosystem.
Both the Gorge and the broader Samaria region are powerful symbols. The occasional passerby through the Samaria landscape can powerfully comprehend its wild forms. The visitor is consumed by a sense of freedom, feels awe in front of the coexistence of such an inhospitable landscape with the presence of humans, senses the dominance of nature over man, and comprehends his or her inability to control the forces of nature.
The local population feels a powerful sense of pride, strengthening the sense of the landscape which is deeply rooted within them, and constantly hammering out their character within the presence of such an imposing landscape.
Just as people’s characters are the result of social, cultural, intellectual, psychological, aesthetic and economic factors, and this synthesis provides a comprehensible image of their personalities, so the landscape of Samaria is the comprehensible sum of factors and values, which are attributed to it by people.
The most important characteristic, however, of the landscape of Samaria is the intense interaction between humans and nature. This relationship exists both in today’s presence of humans as observers/walkers and in the historical imprint that the inhabitants of Samaria have left on this space. The traditional habitations of village, oil press, vines, preserved chapels declare the powerful relationship that the inhabitants of Samaria had with this place and with what it provided them.
This relationship contains an understanding that may constitute an early expression of the much-discussed concept of sustainability: in contrast with today’s meaning, the inhabitants of Samaria built their lives around the core of “nature” thus shaping, organizing and satisfying their needs on the basis of that which the place offered. With respect for nature’s offerings, humans excluded any form of excessive exploitation, as they had early on realized that preserving the physiognomy of the landscape, either functionally or visually, was the key to their survival.
Walking through Samaria gorge
This amazing majestic gorge is considered to be one of the most important attractions of Crete. Realize it is a long (5 to 7 hours) walk on rough terrain so you will need to have a certain degree of fitness and walking experience in order to enjoy it. The entire path is very well marked and is the most walked path of Crete. The path to the gorge begins from Omalos mountain, at Ksyloskalo-Xyloskalo point, at an altitude of 1,230 m. It is a narrow path. From the very beginning you feel the exciting breathtaking views walking among the high mountains.The end of the route is more beautiful, as you face the Libyan Sea and the magnificent beach of Agia Roumeli.
How to get to Samaria gorge
Samaria gorge’s start point trailhead is from Omalos mountain. You have no other place to enter the gorge, except Agia Roumeli, which is usually the exit.
Drive by car, you can hire a car and drive from Chania direction to Omalos Samaria Gorge Trailhead, a 42km distance=1hour 10minutes driving. The route starts when you drive from Chania city to Vamvakopoulo and then follow the places to pass through Ayia village, Alikianos village, Fournes village, Lakkoi village and then follow the signs to Omalos-there you will see the sign for the Samaria gorge trailhead.
Another way visit the gorge is by bus. The distance is not too long and getting the bus, Ktel Chanion Rethimnis, is a very good choice. They own new urban bus with aircondition system equipped with all standards to make your trip easy. There is often bus driving to Omalos mountain, to the Samaria gorge trailhead.
The best way to drive to Omalos trailhead is by taxi. The distance is short and it will take 40minutes to reach the Samaria gorge trailhead. A professional driver will do the transfer easy and of course do not forget you will need to arrive early morning to the Samaria gorge trailhead if you want to be noon time at the exit!
If you are a well trained cyclist and want to ride the distance to Samaria trailhead and just take a quick look to the sight, hire one bicycle and ride up the mountain with your bike! Donot forget there are easier gorges to cross with your bike, such as Agia Irini gorge and Imbros gorge, all in the same area located, very close to where you plan to ride!
What is the Flora eco system of Samaria gorge?
In the wider region of the White Mountains, approximately 650 floral taxa have been recorded.
The floristic list, of the White Mountains, however, has not yet been completed, as this is confirmed by the description of a new species, Anthemis samariensis (Turland N.J.), a perennial chasmophyte, discovered in 2007, on a steep slope of the White Mountains, between the summits of Melidaou and Avlimanakos. In the White Mountains, 25 endemic species (species exclusive to the area in which they grow) and 97 endemic species of Crete are encountered. The half of the endemic species of Crete, are found in the region of the White Mountains.
Characteristic species are:
- Bupleurum kakiskalae, a perennial species that grows at the site of Kakia Skala of summit Linoseli, lives up to 12 years, flowers and produces fruits, only once and then it dies. (monocarpic)
- The orchid Cephalanthera cucullata, a perennial herbaceous plant with short creeping rhizome, found at altitudes of 700-1500 meters.
· Nepeta sphaciotica, a perennial aromatic shrub and endemic of the White Mountains, which grows only on the northern side of summit Svourichti, at altitudes of 2200-2300 meters, and nowhere else in the world.
In the region, aromatic, medicinal and edible species are also encountered:
- Malotera (mountain tea) Sideritis syriaca subsp. syriaca, an endemic species of Crete.
- Marjoram (Origanum microphyllum), a phrygana with a characteristic scent.
- Petrofilia (Petromarula pinnata), a very beautiful endemic plant that grows on rocky slopes.
- Dittany or erontas (Origanum dictamnus), an endemic species, which is considered a medicine for many diseases, since ancient times.
- Agrambeli of the White Mountains (Clematis elisabethae – carolae) that grows only in two locations on Amoutsera (1850 m), and on eroded limestone slopes.
- Hypericum aciferum, a chasmophytic shrub, endemic to the White Mountains, that grows on coastal rocks in the area of Sfakia, between Sougia and Ayia Roumeli (Fournoti beach)
- Ranunculus radinotrichus, an endemic species of the White Mountains, small perennial plant that grows only on Mts Trocharis, Amoutsera, Kakovoli and Svourichti, at altitudes of 1850-2300 m.
- Anthemis samariensis, an endemic species of Crete, that was recently discovered (2007), on a steep slope of the White Mountains, between Mts Melidaou and Avlimanakou.
- Myosotis solange, an endemic and rare species of the White Mountains, that grows only in one location on Mount Agio Pneuma.
- Helichrysum heldreichii, an endemic species of the White Mountains, threatened and protected by P.D. 67/1981.
- Thlaspi zaffranii, an endemic species of the region, which has been recorded in three sites (Gkigkilos, Volakias, and Anopoli of Sfakia).
- Centaurea lancifolia, an endemic species of Crete, which populations are traced in 3 sites of the White Mountains. It is a chasmophyte that grows at altitudes of 1780-1850 m.
- Centranthus sieberii, a rare and endemic species of the White Mountains that grows in rocky sites of the mountainous and alpine zones.
- Cuscuta atrans, a parasitic species that grows on thorn bushes, and endemic of the White Mountains.
- Cynoglossum sphacioticum that grows on rocky soils at high altitudes.
- Euphorbia rechingeri, dwarf endemic species of the White Mountains, that grows at high altitudes and on rocky soils and cracks.
- Onobrychis sphaciotica, a rare and endemic species of the White Mountains, that grows in rocky sites.
What is the Fauna eco system of Samaria gorge?
Samaria National Park plays host to a particularly rich fauna.
In the White Mountains, there have been identified 32 mammals, with the Cretan lesser white-toothed shrew to be the only endemic species, 3 amphibians, 11 reptiles, and approximately 200 bird species. The most characteristic are:
· Agrimi, the cretan wild goat (Capra aegagrus cretica), which is the largest mammal on the island of Crete, belongs to the order of Artiodactyla. It is the species-symbol of the Gorge of Samaria and of the White Mountains generally, for the protection of which, mainly, the region was declared a National Park.
It is a species found in mountainous areas. Its biotopes range from dry mountains and alpine areas, to rocky sites with brushwood, near coniferous forests. A characteristic of the species ecology is its preference in areas with slopes greater than 30%.
According to recent genetic analysis on tissues of agrimi-krikri, compared to sequences of wild and domestic caprines showed that the agrimi is not a subspecies of the wild goat of the Middle East, while it is closely related to the wild goats that were brought to the island by the first settlers, during the Neolithic period, Genetic evidence for the origin of the agrimi goat (Capra aegagrus cretica).
Today, the population of the kri-kri is restricted to the region of the White Mountains, while populations are preserved on the islands of Agioi Theodoroi, Moni, Siapenza, Agioi Pantes, and Atalandonisi.
· Cretan white-toothed shrew (Croccidura zimmermani), a rare and not well studied species that lives at altitudes greater than 1.150 meters, although it can be found at lower altitudes, as well. It is the only endemic mammal species of Crete.
· The Cretan wildcat (Felis sylvestris cretensis), is a species the name of which is surrounded by mystery. It is an animal that one cannot easily set eyes upon. It was considered to be an extinct species, until 1996, when scientists from the University of Perugia, working with the Natural History Museum of Crete, succeeded in capturing a live animal.
It bears distinctive dark coloured rings on its tail and is considerably larger in size than the common cat. It is protected by the Washington Convention (CITES) on International Trade of Endangered Species.
· The Crete Spiny Mouse (Acomys minοus), is a species whose european populations are concentrated in Crete.
· The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), is one of the rarest birds in Europe. It is a kind of vulture, with a wingspan reaching up to 2.80 meters. It bears a deep orange color on its breast and under parts, which is acquired by rubbing against calcareous rocks containing iron oxides. In areas with lack of rocks containing iron oxides, the breast and under parts of the bearded vulture are white. It is the only species in the world to feed almost entirely on bones, which it drops from a great height, in order to break them in smaller pieces, going after them in a spiraling descent.
It then swallows the small bones whole and its stomach, which contains powerful gastric fluids, digests them easily. It is a species that prefers areas of high altitudes. The female lays two eggs, and incubates them for 55-57 days. Today, the bearded vulture survives only in Crete, while the White Mountains are honoured to play host to 2 of the 3 breeding pairs of the greek population.
· The Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), is the most common type of vulture. It is a large and heavy bird of prey, with a wingspan of approximately 2.60 meters. It bears a bald head with a collar of short lanceolate feathers at the base of the neck. It flies in large slow circles, taking advantage of the warm updrafts. In Greece, it is estimated that live approximately 400 breeding pairs. The Griffon vulture feeds on dead animals (scavenger).
· The spider Macrothele cretica, is an endemic species of the region and one of the few global protected invertebrates by the IUCN.
History And Facts About the Samaria Gorge
Inhabited for thousands of years, the gorge of Samaria has a played an important role as a place to flee from the oppression of foreign invaders. Its geographical location, in the middle of the White Mountains as well as the ease with which it could be defended made it the ideal place for this purpose.
The ancient city of Tarra which stood on the site now occupied by Agia Roumeli is better documented: it was one of the ‘100 cities of Crete’ of which Omiros tells us.
Archaeological excavations indicate that Tarra existed as far back as the Late Minoan period (there is a stone column with a double-axe in the museum in Chania).
Tarra had formed an alliance with some other ancient cities of the South coast.
Tarra lay on the sea route from Rome to Egypt and the East and this contributed further to its prosperity.
Among the possible reasons for the decline of Tarra are the raiding and looting of the Arabs, a change in the sea routes and earthquakes.
Throughout the period of Venetian rule the gorge was a haunt for freedom fighters. After the failure of an uprising in 1570, Provedatore Marino Cavalli ordered the destruction of Sfakia.
In the early years of the struggle against the Turks, all the Turks efforts to capture the locals and partisans were in vain.
In the great revolt of 1866, Omalos, the Samaria gorge and Agia Roumeli were mustering points and places of refuge. Supplies were being send from the mainland of Greece. A provisional government was even formed in Agia Roumeli.
By 1869 all of Greece was back again in Turkish hands with the exception of the Samaria gorge.
The German occupation
During the WWII occupation of Crete by the Germans, the gorge of Samaria was also playing an important role in hiding partisans and allied undercover units who were dispatching information by radio to their Middle East Headquarters. They attempted to capture the radio equipment on numerous occasions without success.
Select an organized transfer and guided walk through Samaria gorge
There are many local travel agents who do day trips to walk the Samaria gorge in all major tourist areas and towns. The most of visitors select this way. It is safer, organized, there are groups with specific number of people and walking procedure is easier. You cannot risk walking alone.
Opening times of Samaria gorge – Best Time to Visit:
Dates and opening hours
The National Park opens on 1st May until 15th October each year, from 7 am until 4 pm, with entrances at Xyloskalo and Ayia Roumeli.
Guidelines for visitors
Visitors can walk along the length of the main footpath. All those who wish to walk beyond the main footpath require a special license.
The Samaria National Park has traditionally always opened to the public at the beginning of May. It has often been possible to enter the gorge of Samaria at some point in April from the bottom part but this depends on the weather and the amount of work needed to restore the path after the winter rains.
So the opening dates of the gorge vary: it could open a little before the 1st of May, on the 1st of May or later (if the weather is bad or repair work is late).
The gorge of Samaria closes to the public at the end of October, but may close earlier if autumn rains (not uncommon in October) damage the path or make some cliffs unstable.
The gorge will also be closed on rainy days (when there is a danger of rock falls).
In winter, high water makes the gorge of Samaria dangerous and impassable.
The park opens daily at daylight (so the exact time will vary depending on the time of the year) and closes in the evening. If you want to enter the park after around 14.00 you will not be allowed past the first quarter of the walk and will need to return to your starting point.
You have to pay an entrance fee of Euro 6.00 to enter the park (free to children under 15, half price to students).
What is prohibited to do in Samaria Gorge-according to Samaria National Park rules:
- Destroying or removing Park technical works and materials.
- Cutting trees and bushes, uprooting and collecting plants and seeds.
- Collecting and transporting plant soil and firewood.
- Lighting fires in general and smoking in all areas apart from the recreational areas.
- Camping in any form and staying the night within the Park.
- The free movement of any animals accompanying visitors.
- Displaying and erecting boards and signs.
- Selling food and other items as well as their display or distribution.
- Consumption of alcohol while hiking in Samaria gorge.
- Hunting of all animals in Samaria gorge.
- Removal or destruction of all nests, eggs and newborns and the general disturbance or destruction of wildlife.
- Swimming in the Park’s rivers and streams.
- Annoying other visitors in Samaria gorge.
- Dumping waste in areas other than the waste bins.
- Damage to the geological formations and cultural monuments.
- Photographing visitors for commercial purposes.
- Grazing of animals in Samaria gorge.
- Setting up beehives without a license from the Forestry Service.
How to sail with a ferry to Samaria gorge?
The port of Chora Sfakion is the closest port to sail to Agia Roumeli. The ferry departs and stops over to Loutro village and then to Agia Roumeli, one of the entrances of Samaria Gorge.
Hotels or accommodation to Stay Near Samaria Gorge
There are numerous of accommodation to stay while visiting south Crete. The most important is you make sure you booked an accommodation to Loutro village or to Chora Sfakion, the closest places to the gorge from Agia Roumeli.
Taverns to Eat Near Samaria Gorge
There is a well organized community in Agia Roumeli, where you have the chance to stay for a night or to enjoy your meal in a very beautiful tavern.