Samariá Gorge

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The Samariá Gorge (Greek: Φαράγγι Σαμαριάς or just Φάραγγας) is a national park on the island of Crete, and a major tourist attraction of the island.

The gorge is in the prefecture of Chania in southwest Crete. It was created by a small river running between the White Mountains (Lefká Óri) and Mt. Volakias. There are a number of other gorges in the White Mountains. While some say that the gorge is 18 km long, this distance refers to the distance between the settlement of Omalos on the northern side of the plateau and the village of Agia Roumeli. In fact, the gorge is 16 km long, starting at an altitude of 1,250 m at the northern entrance, and ending at the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli. The walk through Samaria National Park is 13 km long, but you have to walk another three km to Agia Roumeli from the park exit, making the hike 16 km. The most famous part of the gorge is the stretch known as the Iron Gates, where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only four meters and soar up to a height of 1,100m (3,610feet)

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 village of Samariá lies just inside the gorge. It was finally abandoned by the last remaining inhabitants in 1962 to make way for the park. The village and the gorge take their names from the village's ancient church, Óssia María ["Saint Mary"].

A "must" for visitors to Crete is to complete the walk down the gorge from the Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea, at which point tourists sail to the nearby village of Hora Sfakion and catch a coach back to Chania. The walk takes 4–7 hours and can be strenuous, especially at the height of summer.

Local tourist operators provide organized tours to the Gorge. These include bus transportation from your hotel to the entrance (near Omalos village), and the bus will be waiting for you to disembark the ferry in Sfakia (Hora Sfakeon) to take you back. If you are on your own, you can make a one-day round trip from Chania (see below) or from Sougia or Paleochora. Note that the morning buses from Sougia and Paleochora do not operate on Sunday. The ferries leave Agia Roumeli to Chora Sfakeon (East-bound) and to Sougia/Paleochora (West-bound) at 18:00.

There also exists a "lazy way" - from Agia Roumeli to the Iron Gates (more or less an hour of non-challenging terrain) and back.

Contents

Information provided by the Chania Forest Protection Service[

  • Visits to the National park are allowed from May 1 to October 15.
  • Park visiting hours are 07:00 to 15:00 daily. From 15:00 to sunset, visitors are allowed to walk a distance of only two km within the park, either from Xyloskalo or from Agia Roumeli.
  • Within the park it is strictly prohibited to camp, stay overnight, light fires, or swim in the streams of the gorge.

How to visit from Chania

  • There are daily buses starting from Chania to the head of the gorge, called Xyloskalo. The buses, marked "OMALOS", depart Chania Central Bus Station at 06:15, 07:30 and 08:30; the fare is €6.20
  • The morning buses take one hour. The gorge is 12.8 km (8 miles) long, but there is another distance of 3.2 km (2 miles) to walk after leaving the gorge to reach Agia Roumeli; you need five to six hours to walk the 16 km. Be aware that it's always going downhill and thus is strenuous to the knees.
  • The entrance fee is €5 (no less money for children or students, 2010).
  • There is plenty of drinking water all along the gorge. Sneakers or hiking boots are recommended.
  • At the end of the gorge plus 3.2 km (2 miles) is Agia Roumeli, a village with restaurants and accommodation, and boats to Chora Sfakion or Sougia. To return the same day, take the 17:30 boat (fare: €9.00, 2010) to Chora Sfakion.
  • From Chora Sfakion, buses return to Chania (fare: €6.50), departing at 18:30; the bus always waits for the boat to arrive.
  • Tickets for the two buses can be reserved at the ticket office at the Chania bus station. The ticket for the boat can be purchased in Agia Roumeli only .
  • There are daily guided tours operated by various travel agencies, whose cost is usually around €40 (2008) and which includes fare for buses that stop at hotels. The price does not include boat tickets and entrance fees, which is usually collected separately on the bus.

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