The gorge of Samaria is the biggest, most imposing and beautiful gorge in Chania and in Europe, and that is why it is internationally renown and mostly visited, since more than 300000 people have the opportunity to cross it each year.
It has a wonderful landscape with rare geo-morphological formations. It is a unique biotope with particular richness in fauna and flora. It has a rich mythology as well, that goes back to pre-historical years and a tumultuous history during the difficult years of Crete. It was proclaimed National Park of the White Mountains of Crete in 1962, date at which two or three Sfakian families still lived in the village of Samaria, in the middle of the gorge, who were mainly busy with cattle-breeding and woodcutting.
The surface covered at the time was 48.500 sq.m., whereas the expansion of the Park is promoted today on 250.000 sq.m. that will include the remarkable portion of the White Mountains.
The gorge was awarded the following prizes: 1971: National Diploma of Nature Protection, 1973: was proclaimed a place of special natural beauty, 1979: First Order European Diploma of Protection of the Natural Environment awarded by the Council of Europe, renewable every 5 years. The same Diploma was indeed awarded anew in 1984, 1989, 1994 and 1999.
The length of the passage to the limits of the park is 12,800 km and the distance to the coast of Agia Roumeli is then another 3,200 km. Its crossing at a good pace can be done in five or fewer hours, but it is preferable not to walk less than 6 to 8 hours in order to enjoy its incomparable beauties.
The gorge can usually be visited from the beginning of May till the end of October, unless there are bad weather conditions. There are guardhouses of the State’s Service of the Park (Forest Inspection Service) at the beginning of the gorge (in the village of Samaria) and at its end. A doctor is also available to serve the visitors of the gorge, as well as a helicopter airport in Agia Roumeli.
The main fauna species is the world-famous Cretan Chamois (wild goat) (CAPRA AEGAGRUS CRETICA), an extremely beautiful and dashing animal that has been preserved and is now living freely in the gorge of Samaria and in the three gorges parallel to it. Among the well-known flora species, you find the perennial gigantic cypresses once used in shipbuilding and in the construction of the pillars of the Palace of Knossos by the Minoans, etc.
There is a total of 450 species of Cretan flora in the gorge, of which 70 are endemic, i.e. they grow in the gorge only.
The gorge has a lot of narrow passes that are called “gates” but the narrowest pass, “the Iron Gate”, is 3 m wide and 300 to 700 m high from both sides. There are a lot of spots where you can walk over the river of the gorge on small wooden bridges.
Formerly there were famous sanctuaries and oracles in the gorge. In Agia Roumeli also, the ancient city of TARA with the temple of Apollo, only a portion of which has been preserved. You can participate in one of the excursions to the gorge organised by the travel agencies in Crete or reach its entrance, i.e. the famous plateau of Omalos (at an altitude of 1.250 m and a distance of 43 km from Chania), by bus (KTEL lines). There are small taverns and hotels in Omalos and an information centre as well, a kind of little museum dedicated to Samaria and the White Mountains. You can also sail from Agia Roumeli on one of the modern crafts that secure your transportation from Chora Sfakion in one hour, and then from there take the bus to Chania, Rethimno etc.
A craft sails westwards also to the coasts of Sougia and Palaiochora. On the very clean and idyllic beach of Agia Roumeli, situated at the foot of very high mountains, you can rest and enjoy swimming in the waters of the Libyan Sea, dine in the numerous taverns and stay overnight in the small hotels of the area. All this can also be done in Chora Sfakion.