After our brief stint in Athens, we flew into Chania and immediately took a bus to Chora Sfakion (a.k.a. Sfakia). We were really pushing the limit on time as our flight landed at 2:30pm and the bus to Chora Sfakion leaves at 3:30pm. As luck may have it, I was asked to check my backpack when we checked in for our flight but Andrew wasn't yet his backpack looked so much larger... I am convinced our backpacks were the same size but I was singled out because the backpack look larger relative to the backpack carrier. We did test it against those luggage size things at the airport and his did fit while mine barely did not :(
Anyway, I digressed from the topic at hand! While we thought we would barely make it to the bus, it turned out to be fine as we were reassured by our taxi driver from the airport who was cool as a cucumber. The cost of a taxi would have been upwards of 100 euros whereas the bus was a fraction of the price.
We spent one short night in Sfakia as our end goal was to use that as a starting point for the rest of our hikes along the southwest of Crete.
That's the small town of Sfakia at sun rise the next morning as we embarked on our hike. There is no editing on this photo as I wanted to show how calm and dimly lit it was.
The hike starts next to the parking lot where you are dropped off by the bus from Chania and you have a bit of a steep scramble to get to the top. Once you're at the top, it's paved road for the first 20-30 minutes of the way.
Along the paved road, you'll pass by Ilingas beach which is a nice stop if you want to go for a swim. We did not make the stop as it was still pretty early on in our hike and in the morning.
Past Ilingas is where the trail begins on rocky hills. You first take a descent towards Sweet Water beach
This is me being happy that the hike has been easy so far. It's my 2nd time hiking with a backpack and this time we'd packed for 2 weeks. I did cheat on this hike and bit and offload a few pounds to Andrew. It was his initial offer anyway! While hiking down, we encountered goats upon goats upon goats! Cue the goat picture intermission:
Look at how MAJESTIC they are...come on! A part of me thinks Andrew should look into becoming a wildlife photographer. Okay, that ends my goat picture intermission for this blog post.
We took a short dip in the ocean just before getting to Sweet Water beach as we found this amazing outlet into the water but unfortunately did not take pictures of that. #livinginthemoment? #forgot
We made it to Sweet Water, snapped some photos, and went on our way as it was quickly getting pretty hot despite still being morning. It was probably around mid-70s as this point and was supposed to hit 90s by noon.
We encountered a ton more goats and finally spotted Loutro at around the 2 hour mark from when first started the hike. We spent the day at the beach there then caught the 7pm and last ferry of the day to Agia Roumeli where we planned to check out Samaria Gorge.
As an ending note, I was stung by a bee for the first time in my life at Loutro and I was terrified that I would react poorly. Did some research and it turns out you won't know if you are mortally allergic to bee stings until the second bee sting soooo looking forward to that...!
One of my favorite hikes on Crete was hiking the Samaria Gorge at 7AM. There are many reasons for this and while a big one is the lack of the large backpack I had on most other hikes, the primary reason was the sheer calm and quiet beauty of the gorge when you have the trail to yourself. After much research, I found that most people typically start the hike from the northern entrance at Xyloskalo trailhead and they usually are picked up via tours to start the hike sometime between 8-10AM. This option did not seem appealing as we did not want to hike with a group of people nor start that late. The heat of July in Greece is no joke (~30C) and we wanted to complete the hike before noon.
Our plan was to start the trail from the trailhead at the Agia Roumeli side and make our way up to Samaria village before turning around for a there and back hike. There was no way to do a looped hike and it did not make sense for us to hike up to the Xyloskalo trailhead as we did not plan on arranging for a car service.
Andrew and I started early before 6AM to get up, get ready, and head on our way from the hotel (Tarra) where we were staying. From town, we walked through a well-paved area to the opening of the trail and go there around 6:30 AM. To our dismay, we did not realize that we would not be let in until 7AM but it was a short wait after we figured this out through some sign language with the man at the entrance.
Note: The fee to enter is 5 Euros and you need to retain your ticket to show to the entrance / exit to leave.
On our way up from town to the trailhead, we passed through hordes of lamb and goats.
The water was wonderfully clear and beautiful as it runs over rocks. Much of this water goes to towns as their main water supply and it's easy to see why. Walking through the gorge and over rivers was simple - there were often wooden bridges such as the one above to avoid contaminating the water and to avoid getting yourself wet. This is all while taking in the incredible beauty of the gorge!
Certain areas only had rocky paths above the water but they were easy to navigate as well. I had a walking stick that I picked up conveniently by the trailhead but one could go without it.
The flowing streams of water ended and we encountered a mainly rocky stretch of the trail that looked like it used to have water flowing through it but not anymore. We were a bit nervous about this stretch of the trail when thinking about the walk back to where we started. As you can see, there will be minimal shade in the middle of the gorge by mid-day when the sun is overhead so Andrew urged me to pace a bit faster. I suppose this is one of those short people problems when you are walking with a tall person. I think I'm pacing perfectly fine with my 5'3" legs but need to go at a light jog if my 6'4" boyfriend starts to speed walk.
We're almost to the Samaria Village as the sun starts to rise over the mountain tops. At this point, we've encountered perhaps 2 other hikers which makes for a pretty private experience.
Across the bridge from Samaria Village.
From the map, you can see that we are a bit more than half the way to the Xyloskalo trailhead but for us, this was the turning point to go back down to Agia Roumeli and take a dip in the sea.
Here is a returning shot from the first section of the hike. The sun has risen a lot more but we made it back before noon!
On on our first full day on Sao Miguel island, we were ambitious and tackled a couple of lengthy hikes sandwiched between visits to the hot springs in Furnas (See my post on the caldeiras of Sao Miguel).
I was admittedly a bit nervous tackling double digit km hikes, since it had only been 8 months since I broke my ankle and had not done a hike with elevation since the surgery. Thankfully I had my pack mule/human GPS/boyfriend who was very aware of my limitations and basically carried all of my belongings. (You the best!)
In terms of the trails, the paths on Sao Miguel island were extremely well documented with the clearest and simplest trail signage I've encountered. The weather and atmosphere was the epitome of moodiness, with the air getting mistier and colder as you approach the peaks, even though you have just left a sunshine filled road at the bottom of the trail.
Per the recommendation of our Airbnb host, we rented our car via Auto Ramalhense, a local car rental business that operates on the Azore islands.
What we were looking for:
Traveling through Portugal was a breeze, with the exception of getting from Coimbra to Conimbriga (which did not turn out too difficult but it was not the most obvious to us). Because we searched and failed to find useful references on how to get from downtown Coimbra to Conimbriga, I decided to document that here.
Conimbriga is the site of ancient Roman ruins that would make for a great half day trip from Coimbra. You can do a full day and tackle one of their long trails there but we did not have enough time. We took the earliest bus in the morning, spent a few hours wandering through the ruins and their small on-site museum, and returned on the early afternoon bus.
Bus Service & Times
All Ankle Recovery Asia Azores Barrier Reef Belize Berkeley Burma Cahal Pech California Cambodia Camping Canada Caye Caulker Central America China East Asia Europe Fiverr Gardening Gluttony Go Slow Greece Guangdong Guangzhou Hair Loss Hiking Hong Kong How To Internship Island Long Distance Luohu Commercial City Maya Maya Ruins Myanmar New York North America Ocean Ontario Paddleboarding Philippines Portugal Post Travel Post-Travel Quarantine Reflection San Ignacio Shenzhen Sickness Snorkeling Southeast Asia South Korea Stress Study Abroad Taiwan USA Vietnam Yunnan