0Sarakina Gorge in South East Crete

Just before we set off on our trav­els this year, I noticed a pho­to on face­book, post­ed by a “page” I fol­low called Vis­i­tIer­ape­tra. It was a pho­to of a beau­ti­ful look­ing fresh-water gorge, appar­ent­ly very near to Ier­ape­tra in South-East Crete. Hav­ing vis­it­ed Ier­ape­tra over 20 times and hav­ing friends who live there, I thought I’d prob­a­bly seen all of the local high­lights, but I’d nev­er heard of this gorge. A bit of research on google indi­cat­ed that the gorge wasn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly well known, at least to Eng­lish speak­ers. I gath­ered togeth­er what infor­ma­tion I could and made a vow to find the place.

Sarakina GorgeAfter sev­er­al days get­ting set­tled back in Crete we set off to find the gorge. I had a sus­pi­cion that I knew where the trek start­ed as a cou­ple of years pre­vi­ous­ly we’d dis­cov­ered a riv­er a short dis­tance from Ier­ape­tra, and with fresh water being fair­ly rare in August in South-East Crete it seemed the log­i­cal place to start. Luck­i­ly it turned out to be the right place. The gorge called Sarak­i­na Gorge, but is also known as Myr­tos Canyon and to locals as Saran­tapi­hos. On google maps the riv­er is labelled as “Myr­tos Pota­mos” (i.e. Myr­tos Riv­er) although it is more cor­rect­ly called Kri­opota­mos.

Some advice before you set off

You will need footwear that you would con­sid­er suit­able for a “scram­ble”; I wouldn’t rec­om­mend flip-flops for exam­ple! Equal­ly, you are like­ly to get your feet in the water, so expen­sive shoes or train­ers might not be the most sen­si­ble option either. I wore some “flossy shoes” which are effec­tive­ly plim­solls.

There are a few parts which would be a con­sid­er­able chal­lenge to any­one with a seri­ous fear of heights, young chil­dren, any­one with a phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ty, or any­one elder­ly. I would sug­gest the route is prob­a­bly doable for any healthy indi­vid­ual aged 8 to 70, but I’d exer­cise con­sid­ered judge­ment at both ends of that scale.

Bottom of GeorgeHow to get there

So, before I go any fur­ther I’ll give some clear direc­tions (by road) to the bot­tom of the gorge, as I haven’t been able to find any in Eng­lish any­where else. The Gorge is just over 4 miles from the vil­lage of Myr­tos. From Ier­ape­tra dri­ve West along the South coast on the main road (called “Ier­ape­tra-Arkalo­chori­ou” on Tom­Tom, and called “Epar.Od. Pachias Amou — Gdochia” on Google Maps). Pass through Gra Ligia and Stomio and con­tin­ue towards the vil­lage of Myr­tos (locat­ed 8½ miles West of Ier­ape­tra). Just as you enter Myr­tos you cross a riverbed on a bridge. This is the riverbed that the water would flow down, but it doesn’t reach the coast as it is col­lect­ed upstream, pre­sum­ably for agri­cul­tur­al usage. Whilst it would be pos­si­ble to walk up the riverbed (or the road along­side it) this would be sev­er­al miles in the hot sun, so I’d rec­om­mend stay­ing in the car for now.

Fol­low the main road past Myr­tos which curves away to the North (to the right), back up into the moun­tains. 0.85 miles after cross­ing the riverbed by Myr­tos you will see signs for a right turn towards the vil­lage of Mythi. There is also a sign in Greek and Eng­lish point­ing to the gorge. Fol­low this road, and after 1.6 miles you will pass through the vil­lage of Mythi. Con­tin­ue along the road, which will still have sign­posts to the gorge. After Mythi the road starts to drop again. After anoth­er 0.65 miles the road appears to be cross­ing the riverbed again and start­ing to wind back up. Here, on the left, is a grav­el park­ing area and some con­crete struc­tures. You should also be able to hear run­ning water. Park on the grav­el area. Con­grat­u­la­tions, you have arrived at the start!

I’ve also made a google map to help intre­pid explor­ers

Scrambling up the gorge

First part of walk up CanyonOnce you’ve parked (and had a look at the con­crete con­struc­tion that “dis­ap­pears” the riv­er itself into a hole) you can set off up the gorge. There are some steps on the left hand side of the car park with trees hang­ing over them. Climb up these and at the top (there’re only 30 or so steps) the path turns right, par­al­lel to the riv­er. You can fol­low this for a cou­ple of hun­dred metres. After this the scram­bling begins.

I sus­pect it is pos­si­ble to walk the gorge with­out get­ting one’s feet wet (at least in August), but to do so would be quite a chal­lenge. With the tem­per­a­ture in the 30’s and appro­pri­ate footwear we opt­ed to walk in the water in some places. There are also a few places where a large boul­der (3–4m high) must be scaled – in these places con­sid­er­able hand and foot holds have been cut well into the rock.

The route isn’t always obvi­ous (although in a 10m wide canyon there isn’t much search­ing to be done) but there are faint yel­low arrows paint­ed in quite a few loca­tions, and paint­ed red squares on rocks that are part of the route. Using these (and the obvi­ous carved foot holds) makes find­ing the best route rel­a­tive­ly straight for­ward.

After around 500m (a pret­ty rough guess on my part) you reach the only decent depth part of the riv­er in this part of the gorge – a pool which is around 7m wide by 8m long and 2m deep at its deep­est point. This is the best place to go for a dip if you wish to do so. Also, after here there are a cou­ple of tricky parts which have a rope pro­vid­ed to help. If you have any less con­fi­dent mem­bers in your group this would be a good place to stop before head­ing back. If you’re con­fi­dent enough on the rope there is only a cou­ple of hun­dred metres to go before you emerge from the gorge into a more gen­tle val­ley where the riv­er is slow­er and there are lots of trees and plants. This is as far as we went.

I under­stand that we walked the “first” of 3 parts of the gorge. The sec­ond part is the gen­tle val­ley area with the tree and plants (espe­cial­ly bam­boo). After this there is appar­ent­ly a third part of the gorge which has much deep­er water, where swim­ming might be required.Canyon Dipping pool

2014 Update

In August 2014 I returned to Sarak­i­na gorge with 4 friends. This year there was almost no water at all in the gorge, even though we went on almost the same date as in 2013. We all climbed up the rope at the end of the first sec­tion and explored fur­ther. The sec­ond sec­tion is very easy as it is just a gen­tle stroll along a wide flat riverbed with part of the walk along a dirt road. At the end of this there is a fork where 2 rivers join. We explored around 200m up each fork. The west­ern (left hand) fork quick­ly becomes very dif­fi­cult to fol­low whilst the east­ern (right hand) fork con­tin­ues to be wide and gen­tle. It is pos­si­ble to walk back along the dirt road up to a paved road, and from there back along the paved road to the start of the gorge. We did not explore any fur­ther, but hav­ing done some more research I am hop­ing to explore the east­ern fork much fur­ther in 2015.

In 2014 I again walked in plim­solls. My bet­ter half wore her beach shoes, and anoth­er mem­ber of our par­ty did the full walk in his flip-flops. When the water lev­el is low (i.e. in sum­mer) these kinds of footwear are suit­able, although prop­er san­dals would be the ide­al. Oth­er reviews I have read insist on prop­er walk­ing shoes being the answer but I assume these must be refer­ring to much ear­li­er in the year when there is a lot more water and it is nec­es­sary to take a more chal­leng­ing route along the sides of the canyon.

Other sites

Note — this arti­cle was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished at JonScaife.com

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