Hiking Samaria Gorge without a tour

2018/07/13

My partner and I hiked Samaria Gorge in Crete on 11 July 2018. We considered going with a tour, which would have cost 35€, but we liked the idea of using our rental car and being more independent. I tried to read about how it would work, and I’m writing this for anyone else who wants to read a single, coherent narrative.

The general scheme was:

We stayed the night before in our hotel near Chania, on the north coast. Starting at 6am, we drove from there to Omalos, and more specifically the Xyroscalo area that is the start of the gorge. Driving there included some windy mountain roads, but most of them were fairly wide, with more than enough space for two cars to pass, which didn’t matter because there were only a handful of cars on the mountain part of the road, and they were all going towards the gorge. Driving took about 1 hour.

When we arrived at 7am, we got coffee, spanakopita, and a freshly baked cheese pie (lyxnaraki) from the little store. Using the bathroom cost 0.50€. We were among the first few dozen people who started on the trail, and there was plenty of parking. (When we came back later at the end of the day, people we parked further and further down the road away from the entrace, so it seems like parking doesn’t fill up, it just gets further away.) To enter the gorge, you pay a 5€ entrance fee.

We started hiking at 7:30am. The start of the hike is mostly walking down stone stairs to get from the road to the bottom of the gorge. The way becomes progressively more flat as the hike went along. There are many rest stops, spaced a few kilometers apart, most with bathrooms. It was a hot day in general, but we cool for most of first half of the hike because it’s shady and there’s was a nice breeze blowing in the gorge. We stopped for a lunch break at the old village of Samaria.

Most people we saw were wearing sneakers or light hiking shoes and were carrying a little bit of water and some food.

We finished the gorge section of the hike at 1:00pm. We’re fit people and have a fair amount of hiking experience. We sat down maybe three times during the hike and took a decent number of photos.

At the end of the gorge, there is a checkpoint where they check your entrace ticket before allowing you to leave, so do hold onto it. Just after the exit there were some shops selling orange juice, milkshakes, etc. From that point, it was a short walk through the old village of Agia Roumeli before we hit a “bus to the beach” station. We just walked for another 30 minutes rather than paying the 2€ to ride that bus.

We arrived in Agia Roumeli and went to the Anendyk ticket office, just up the road from the jetty, to buy our tickets. We picked the taverna we liked best and had a relaxed lunch. Then we went to the beach, where there are umbrellas and sunbeds that you can lounge on for the cost of a beer. (Mine was 10€, steep for a beer, but I thought fair for renting a shady spot on the beach for many hours.) The sand was black and burning hot; the water was cool and clear. We lounged, swam, and used goggles to look at fish near some of the big rocks further down the beach.

At 5:15pm, the ferry boats started to arrive, and there was a mad rush to the pier. There are two 5:30pm boats, one to Sougia and one to Xora Sfakion. They dock directly adjacent. You can tell which boat to get on by looking for the “Vessel” written on the ticket. (We road Samaria; the other boat was Daskalogiannis.) The ferry was packed and I wished we had stood in the line/mob earlier to get a better seat. The starboard (right) side is clearly the better choice because the coastline is beautiful. The ferry ride was 45 minutes.

Arriving in Sougia, we saw the private tour buses spread out on the road that leads from the jetty into town. The public bus (KTEL) was past the private tour buses. It said “Omalos” on the front.

Boarding the bus was the most challenging part of the whole trip. Some people had bought tickets at the ticket counter 50 meters from the bus; the rest of us were waiting to buy tickets on the bus. There was a mad crush as people were afraid that the bus would run out of seats, and they wanted to get on. (Someone misinformedly shouting, “He [the bus driver] said there are only three seats left!“, to his family added to this madness.) The driver kept selling tickets even as the bus ticket counter person was telling people waiting they had to buy their tickets at the counter. We got on the first bus, having bought our ticket from the driver. It seems like people who didn’t fit on that bus actually just got on the other KTEL bus that had “Palaichora” on it, and we saw that bus follow us to Omalos rather than to Palaichora. I don’t know if there’s a way to avoid this craziness. (My backup plan was to get a taxi, which would have been fairly expensive and it’s unclear when it would have come.)

The KTEL bus to Omalos first stops at the gorge entrance, which is where most of the people got off. Having met one another in an angry mob fighting without one another for seats on a bus, we all rushed off the bus to our cars and form another angry vehicular mob trying to get out of the parking area and back on the road to Chania.

The road back was pretty quiet with only a few cars, all of which appeared to be going from the gorge to Chania. We got back at 9pm.

In the end we thought that all these connections were worth the adventure and saving the 70€ for the cost of a guide. I get carsick, especially on windy roads, which is part of why I liked the idea of driving rather than riding in a tour bus, but I found the bus ride from Sougia to Omalos very comfortable.

So my overall recommendations are: