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What is the Samaria Gorge?
Samaria was originally a little mountain village. Today, one of the most beautiful canyons on Crete is named after it, as well as the whole Samaria Gorge National Park. Samaria is often stated to be the longest European gorge, yet this is not true. There is also another canyon, Eligias, passing in parallel about 2.5 km east of the Samaria Gorge, yet most travellers don´t know about it.
In all cases, Samaria is the most impressive canyon and passing through it is a unique and beautiful experience you should definitely not miss.
Samaria Gorge National Park: Location and history
The Samaria Gorge is located in the west part of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) about 45 km south of the beautiful historic town of Chania. The canyon is a part of the Samaria Gorge National Park, stretching in the shape of a triangle between Gingilos - Melinadoa - Agia Roumeli. The area was declared a national park in 1962, in 1964, the whole area was appropriated by the state, with the old village of Agia Roumeli being abandoned. The Greek governmost even filed an application for putting the Samaria Gorge National Park in the UNESCO World Heritage List - see http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/1793/
Is the Samaria Gorge accessible during the whole year?
The Samaria Gorge is open for the public from the beginning of May till the end of October. The only exception are very rainy days on which, like elsewhere on Crete, there is a rick of landslides and falling of huge stones. For this reason, it is e.g. the Glykanera Beach that becomes very dangerous.
The Samaria Gorge
The path leading through the Samaria Gorge starts at the height of 1250 m near the village of Xyloskalo, 4,2 km from the south border of the Omalos Plateau, finishing 16 km further on the sea coast in the villlage of Agia Roumeli. Near Xyloskalo, there is a lookout with a beautiful view on the Mount Gingilos (2080 m). From this lookout up to the end of the canony, there is a well-maintained path passing through several pine and cypress groves and ending on the pebbly beach in Agia Roumeli.
Besides the amazing scenery, on your way through the Samaria Gorge with the rocks forming the canyon reaching the height of 300 to 600 m, you can also observe the beautiful and varied nature. The Samaria Gorge is one of the few places where you can see the original Kri-Kri goats, badgers, martens, weasels, or some rare species of mice. You can also watch there some of the rare bird species like the griffon vulture, bearded vulture, or the golden eagle. It is almost impossible to name all the rare plants growing in the canyon. This locality is a home of hundreds of plants, with several of them being endemic. Besides that, there are great amounts of aromatic herbs exuding their scent at the slightest stimulus, so the whole gorge smells really nice.
The most famous (and the most photographed) place in the gorge is the Iron Gate. In this point, the gorge is only about 3.5 m wide but the rocks rise to the height of up to 500 m. This is also the only place where things might get complicated - if you arrive early in the spring, it can happen that the water from the melting snow on both sides will form a brook, changing into a rapid stream you will need to ford.
Yet the Samaria Gorge doesn´t finish on the coast but on the border of the Samaria Gorge National Park near the old village of Agia Roumeli. Here you will find refreshment and obviously some souvenirs as a memory of your performance. If you are lucky, you can also buy there the renowned thyme honey. Agia Roumeli, a small resort on the coast of the Libyan Sea with a port for the boats taking the tourists to the bus in Sougia, is located about 3 km far away.
Passing through the Samaria Gorge
You can pass through the Samaria Gorge only after paying a fee (you shouldn´t really try to avoid it). The path is very well organized, there is even a doctor at hand, and the park keepers are trying to prevent mess installing enough toilets and waste bins. The Samaria Gorge is watched over by guardians who will help you in case you have problems or get injured and will check your tickets on your entrance and exit.
When to visit the Samaria Gorge?
The best time of the day to pass through the gorge is early in the morning. The Samaria Gorge has become a very popular ´must-see´ tourist attraction, and on the most busy days, there are up to 3000-4000 tourists pasing through daily, mostly the participants of a trip of some travel or tourist agency that takes them to Omalos in a bus, and before they pass through the canyon, the buses pass to Sougia where the tourists are taken by a boat from Agia Roumeli in the late afternoon. So, if you set off early in the morning, you can be among the first to walk through it on that day.
If you have enough time, you can also visit the Samaria Gorge after noon when the tourists have already gone. Yet you need to count on that you won´t make it for the boat and will need to put up for the night in Agia Roumeli. Otherwise the Samaria Gorge can only be accessed before a certain hour so that you could walk through it before the dark.
How to get to the Samaria Gorge?
If you are participating in an organized trip, you don´t really need to worry. Yet in case you are travelling alone, things get a bit complicated. Excluding the possibility of coming by car, walking through the canyon, taking a dip in Agia Roumeli and walking the gorge back to the top (yes, this is also possible)., the best option is to transport yourself to the entrance of the Samaria Gorge by a public bus. If the Samaria Gorge is open for the public, there is a public bus on the route Chania - Omalos passing early in the morning. Then you can continue by boat to Hora Sfakion and take a public bus to Chania.
Trip advice and what to be careful of:
- do not enter the gorge without a ticket
- take firm shoes. Although the way is maintained, it is still a 16 km long path with unpaved surface. Be prepared for all kinds of stones: in some parts, there is only dust and pebbles, while other parts have huge stones. Sometimes there are obstacles and small wooden bridges have been built on the brooks, in other places you will need to jump from one rock to another.
- water is very well accessible in the gorge. There are enough springs with clean and drinkable water. The best is to take some middle-sized bottle you can fill as you need.
- take enough food with you - there is no refreshment on the way.
- all the passage through the gorge goes from a hill downwards. Check that you have cut your nails on the feet - if not, they could pinch you and become painful.
- if you are not used to walking, take a plaster for blisters.
- in case you set off for the trip early in the morning, remember that your trip starts at the height of 1250 m and so, the first part can be really cold.
- don´t forget your sunscreen and a head covering to protect yourself from the sun. In the last part fbetween the end of the canyon and Agia Roumeli, there is no shade at all (and you will be arriving there soon after noon where the sun beats down the most, and you will need to wait for the boat in the village, too.
The emergence of the Samaria Gorge
The whole area has emerged as a result of the acitivity of the brooks and streams between the massif of the White Mountains in the east, and the peaks of Gingilos, Volakias and Kefalas in the west. During the summer, they are small streams, but during the winter (the rainy period), they become fierce and rapid streams sweeping away everything from the bottom of the canyon.
Úžasná scenérie, kozy kri kri, orlosupi, nejlépe široké sandály, neokopete si palce.
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