The Samaria Gorge is the largest gorge in all of Europe. Three hundred thousand people cross this gorge every year. It is a wondrous landscape with rare geographical formations and a unique habitat rich with distinct flora and fauna. Mythology abounds, going back to prehistoric times but the gorge also played a part in historical events during Crete's difficult years.
It was declared The National Park of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori), Crete in 1962. Until this time there were still a few families from Sfakia living in the village of Samaria, located in the center of the gorge. Their occupation was livestock farming and logging. At this time Samaria covered an area of 4,850 hectares (about 12,000 acres) but today the National Park has expanded to 25,000 hectares (almost 62,000 acres) which includes a valued portion of the Lefka Ori range.
The walk through the gorge is 12.8 kilometers but one has to walk another 3.2 kilometers from the park exit to the beach of Agia Roumeli. The crossing, at a rapid pace, can be done in 5 hours or less. However, it is recommended to take 6 – 8 hours in order to fully savor the incomparable beauty of the gorge.
The gorge is normally accessible from May 1st through to the end of October, baring unfavorable weather conditions during this time period. The Department of Forestry has three outposts; at the entrance to the gorge, at Samaria Village and at the exit of the National Park. First-aid is available and there is a heliport in Agia Roumeli.
The main type of fauna is the world renowned Cretan Agrimi goat, fondly called the Kri-Kri (CAPRA AEGAGRUS CRETICA). This extremely beautiful and elegant animal has been rescued from extinction and now roams freely through the gorge and on the three surrounding beaches of Samaria. On the flora side, there are the centuries-old gigantic Cyprus trees. In ancient times the wood was used for naval boats while the Minoans used it for the columns of the Palace of Knossos. In total, there are 450 types of Cretan flora within the gorge of which 70 are endemic – only growing there.
There are many narrowings in the gorge which are called "portes" – gates. The narrowest of all is "Sideroporta" – iron gate, which has a width of only three meters while the height of the vertical rock on both sides varies from 300 to 700 meters. At several points you will cross the gorge's stream via small wooden bridges.
In ancient years there were well known scared monuments and oracles in the gorge. Parts of the Temple of Apollo have been recovered In Agia Roumeli, which is built on the site of the ancient city of Tara.
In order to best uncover all the "mysteries" of the gorge, you can participate in an excursion to the gorge organized by tourist offices throughout Crete. You can also find your way to the entrance of the gorge, at the Omalos Plateau (43 km from Chania at an altitude 1,250 meters) by bus (KTEL). At Omalos you will find tavernas, small hotels, an information center and the small museum of Samaria and Lefka Ori.
You may choose to rest or overnight at one of the small hotels at Agia Roumeli Beach. If you don't wish to stay in Agia Roumeli there is a boat which will take you to Sfakia (one hour). From there you can take the bus (KTEL) to Chania, Rethymno and other places. Additionally, there is a boat which sails westward to the beaches of Sougia and Paleochora.