Hiking the Samaria Gorge on the island of Crete will go down as one of the crazier things I have asked my children to do on our homeschooling adventures. Until further notice, it will also be one of the most physically challenging things I have ever accomplished aside from childbirth. But what I learned is that when you push past your comfort zone, and the comfort zone of your family, you can take your adventures to the next level.
Preparation is Key
The Samaria Gorge is one of the more challenging Gorge hikes in all of Europe for many reasons, including the length of the Gorge, which is 10.3 miles. The accessibility of the Gorge and the weather also play into the hiking experience. The route to get to the Gorge itself may also be a factor, as it is closed frequently due to weather.
We didn’t take too many extra precautions as my children and I had been walking everywhere for over two months. We were well conditioned in that sense, but we had done no “formal” hiking training. Because the kids and I had been living in Greece, a natural adaptation to your environment occurs.
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Greece is rough terrain all the way around, which means nothing about Greece is easily accessible. Because of that reason alone, millennia’s worth of Greeks have built their homes, temples, churches, and villages into the rocks and mountains. We had experienced this for a couple of months before the Gorge hike, so we were used to it.
Hindsight is twenty-twenty, right? Learn from the mistakes we made hiking Samaria Gorge, and make these preparations.
- Ankle supporting hiking boots – The only shoes that we had at the time were Keen brand sandals that did not support our ankles at all. That is by far the part of me that hurt the worst in the days after.
- Pack Food – There are almost zero resources within the Samaria Gorge National Park. There is no food or drink until the very end, once you’ve actually left the Gorge and you begin the 2km walk to the closest town.
- Time Management – Plan on the hike taking you 7 to 9 hours to complete. This is especially important if you are planning on catching the evening ferry leaving Agia Roumeli.
Logistics of the Hike
After having experienced it first hand, the getting there and back aspect of the hike is the most challenging part. The Samaria Gorge National Park begins in the tiny village of Omalos which is most easily accessed by public bus. The bus leaves the Chania bus station at 7 am and that is the only bus heading to Omalos daily. With this restrictive schedule, the absolute earliest you could begin your hike is at 9 am.
Because the Samaria Gorge is nestled deep in the White Mountain Range it creates its own weather. It rains there a lot. Many tourists attempt to hike the Samaria Gorge and make it to the entrance to find that it has been closed for the day due to weather. This is how we began our hike.
We were lucky, in that the park only delayed its opening that day. We were able to begin hiking shortly before 10 am. Because I was hiking with small children the delayed start posed other concerns. The Samaria Gorge ends in a very small village called Agia Roumeli. Agia Roumeli is only accessible via the gorge and by boat. There are no feasible roads leading to it. Therefore, if you cannot complete the hike by 5 pm you will miss your one and only chance to leave Agia Roumeli for the night. Which is on the 5:30 pm ferry.
There are numerous hotels that you can book if you book early in the hiking season (May 1 to October). You pay quite a bit for these hotels as they are well aware that you have no other options.
Finishing the Hike
When you complete the Gorge – or get rescued by donkey – you make your way to the ferry. The ferry is packed with people, like standing room only. That ferry takes you to a parking lot where you catch the 6 P.M. bus that takes you back to Chania. I highly recommend staying the night in Agia Roumeli. Enjoy the small population of people (200) that live there year-round. The beautiful, but cold, Libyan Sea – where gorge ends – is an amazing added bonus.
Hiking Samaria Gorge, So Worth It
I tend to live by the mentality that there are few things in life when done with conviction, that are not worth it. Hiking Samaria Gorge was worth it. It was AMAZING. My children surpassed my expectations entirely. They didn’t just surpass them, they astounded me. On at least three occasions someone fell and bled, there was an obvious need to constantly push everyone to eat quickly, and to take a fast break, so as not to require rescued by donkey, when the park closed.
The moment that we walked out of the Gorge into the Libyan Sea will be remembered forever. My four-year-old became the youngest person to ever complete the Samaria Gorge hike. I did it with an 18-month-old strapped to my back. It was so worth it!
Within 24 hours of our hiking Samaria Gorge, our four-year-old asked to do it again. There are no plans to do it any time soon. Someday I would like to do it again and do it even better. Get out there, your children will surprise you and best of all, you will surprise yourself.
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Photo Credits: Lydia Bradbury and Unsplash