If hiking is something you enjoy, you’ll want to hike the Samaria Gorge–a 16km, unique hiking experience on Crete. Any online searching for things to do on Crete will quickly uncover this scenic, iconic gorge–it’s the second most visited site on Crete (after the Palace of Knossos). Justin and I hiked it on a beautiful October day and we highly recommend it to you.
It’s multi-step, all-day excursion. The journey forms a triangle: travel south from Chania to the gorge then hike to the sea, take ferry east along the coast, then travel north back to Chania. You may be led to believe, as I was, that it’s difficult to get there. Site after site tried to steer me to guided tours, rental cars, and even taxis. But you know what will work equally well but will cost a great deal less?
The public bus.
“Avoid the hassle of the public transportation system!” the tour sites exclaim. But what hassle? The bus system on Crete is fantastic. From our hub in Chania, we went to a winery, olive oil farm, a few famous beaches, Heraklion and Knossos, a nearby village to visit a friend, and yet another tiny mountain village for a chestnut harvest festival. We loved each of these excursions, and the bus got us there (and back). All the adjectives you’re looking for in a bus go here: reliable, safe, comfortable, clean, easy to use, excellent value, professional (and no-nonsense) drivers. Yes, I’m an advocate for public transportation in general, but even if I weren’t, I’d love the buses on Crete.
You know what sounds like a hassle? Renting a car, then finding a place to park it after dodging truculent goats on mountain roads. Or hiring a taxi (one way to the top of Samaria Gorge would have been €98!) and then figuring out how to get one to pick me up on the other side. Or sitting on a tour bus for over an hour before it even leaves the city because it mules around, picking up people from their hotels instead of efficiently departing from the bus station.
Or, you could take the public bus.
A lot of Americans are reluctant to get on a bus. This is generally because the last time many of us were on one, it was yellow and full of the indignities of 6th grade. But in much of the world, buses have grown up. Here is Crete’s public bus system website. Click on “Departures from Chania” to see where they go, which is essentially anywhere you’d like to visit (and back).
Reasons to take the public bus to the Samaria Gorge:
- You will save money. As I’m writing this in October of 2023, prices for the major guided tours ranged from €32 to €46 per adult. That fee got you exactly what I got on the public bus–transportation to the gorge and back. Those folks still had to buy their entrance to the gorge and their ferry tickets, just as I did. But a round trip public bus ticket for one adult was €15.
- You don’t need a guide to get there. The tour sites mention an English-speaking guide included on their tours. That person could, I assume, stand at the drop-off point at the gorge and point to the ticket kiosk, a few feet away. I assure you, you do not need someone to do this.
- You don’t need a guide on the hike itself. Up to two thousand souls enjoy the beauty of the gorge every single day in the busy season, which means this trail is well marked. It’s a national park of Greece; there are toilets, water spigots, rest areas, and rangers stationed along the way to help out if needed. For better or for worse, you will never be alone in the Samaria Gorge, and there is no way you could get lost.
Ready to take the bus to Samaria Gorge? Here’s what to do.
- Choose lodging in the city of Chania. It’s a lovely place to explore. From virtually anywhere in this compact city you’ll be a short walk from the central bus station. (We stayed one block away and loved it.)
- Buy your tickets the day before. The national park is open May through October, and it closes in inclement weather (rains make the gorge impassable). They decide whether or not it’s going to be open the day before; buy your tickets then so you’re not in a scramble the morning of your hike. The 7:45am bus is plenty early. I’m a short-legged, slow hiker who likes to stop to admire along the way, and I had ample time to hike, swim, eat and drink and still get to the ferry on time.
- Buy all your transportation tickets at the same time. Go to the Chania bus station ticket window on the right, which is clearly marked (in English) that they sell bus AND boat tickets. Tell the very nice, English-speaking person that you would like a ticket to the Samaria Gorge, a ferry ticket, and a ticket back. They will sell you three tickets for each person in your party. Departure times and locations for each leg will be printed on your tickets. If you have any doubts, just ask. The ferry ticket was €15, so the total cost per adult for all the day’s transportation was €30. Woot!
- The next morning, take the bus to the top of the gorge, to the little village of Xyloskalo. The journey is about an hour from Chania. Get to the bus station with plenty of time to spare. This is always a good idea, but we learned on Crete that the buses are so efficient that they actually, on a few occasions, left a minute or two early. Your bus number will be listed on the electronic departures board. You’ll have with you, of course, good hiking shoes and socks, sunscreen, a hat, a packed lunch, water, and your three tickets. If you toss in your swimsuit, you can enjoy a refreshing dip in the sea at the end. Also nice to have: a €.50 coin for the toilet in the cafe at the top of the gorge.
- Buy your entrance ticket at the top of the gorge. It’s €5 per adult. If you like, you can stop at the cafe to use the toilet and get coffee and snacks.
- Hike! It’s wonderful. Greece created this national park in 1962 to protect this special place. Snap lots of photos of the beautiful cliffs around you and enjoy your fellow hikers–there will be lots of both. Eat the sandwich you packed in the abandoned village of Samaria with some goats around–or better yet, find a outcropping of rock to perch on and gaze at the view you’ve earned.
- Enjoy a rest at the end. You’ll have plenty of time before your ferry leaves. We started hiking at 9am, we reached the sea before 4pm, and our ferry left at 6pm. When you reach the bottom of the park, show your ticket at the exit. Hike along the road just a bit more to the Libyan Sea, then peel off your socks and sink your toes into the black sand. Take a swim. In the little village of Agia Roumeli, get a drink and a bite seaside, with a view of the ferry you’ll be boarding soon.
- Get on the ferry to Hora Sfakion. Enjoy your sail along the Cretan coast. On the October evening we sailed, the sun was setting at the back of the boat while the moon rose at the front. Marvelous. Our ferry briefly stopped at Loutro, then we went on to Hora Sfakion where almost everyone disembarked.
- Get on the bus to Chania. When you get off the ferry, walk straight ahead for a short distance into town, then take a right up the big stone steps to the bus platform. (Just about everyone else will be doing the same thing.) All the expensive tour buses will be there, and so will be your lovely public bus. Ask if you’re not sure which one is yours–we did, since they looked so much the same. The trip back is about two hours.
It’s a long, good day, and a terrific experience of Greece. If you go, please leave a comment to let me know how it went for you. Enjoy!
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