0Sarakina Gorge in South East Crete

Sarak­ina Gorge (or Canyon) is a gorge in south-east Crete about 25 minutes drive from Iera­petra. The gorge starts near the vil­lage of Males, and snakes south to the sea just east of the vil­lage of Myrtos

I first learned of the exist­ence of Sarak­ina Canyon back in 2013 thanks to a photo on a face­book page called Vis­it­I­era­petra that I used to fol­low before I closed my face­book account. Des­pite hav­ing vis­ited Iera­petra many times I had been unaware of the gorge and the pic­ture made me want find find and explore it.

When I first vis­ited Sarak­ina Canyon there wasn’t a great deal of inform­a­tion in Eng­lish online but the canyon is now bet­ter known and plenty of inform­a­tion is now avail­able. How­ever, due to the lack of inform­a­tion when I first vis­ited I had to do a lot of research which I then wrote about after vis­it­ing the gorge in the ori­gin­al ver­sion of this art­icle. I have now been back to the gorge approx­im­ately 10 times and con­tin­ue to dis­cov­er more about it.

The total length of the water­course from Males down to the coast is 5 miles (8km) as the crow flies, and real­ist­ic­ally about double this, or maybe more, when fol­low­ing the twists and turns of the river­bed. Giv­en the boul­der­ing and scram­bling required this would take a good part of a day to walk in full. The most inter­est­ing parts of the gorge are near the middle, and for­tu­nately sev­er­al roads criss-cross the river­bed so it is not neces­sary to walk the whole thing.

Sarak­ina Canyon is also known as Myr­tos Canyon and to some loc­als may be known as Sarantapi­hos. The river that flows down it is often labelled on maps as Myr­tos Pot­amos (Pot­amos is Greek for river), but I believe it is more cor­rectly called Kriopotamos.

For most sec­tions of the gorge there are parts that would be a con­sid­er­able chal­lenge to young chil­dren, any­one with a phys­ic­al dis­ab­il­ity, any­one with a ser­i­ous fear of heights, or any­one who might be described as ‘eld­erly’. I would sug­gest most of the route is prob­ably doable for any healthy indi­vidu­als aged 7 to 70, but I’d recom­mend the exer­cising of some judge­ment at both ends of that scale.

How to get there by car

A little bey­ond the vil­lage of Mythi there is a hydro­elec­tric facil­ity or dam right next to the tar­macked road with an area where vis­it­ors can park. This is the area most people travel to when vis­it­ing the gorge even though this is in the middle of the full length of the water­course. From this hydro sta­tion one of the most inter­est­ing parts of the gorge is imme­di­ately upstream (see sec­tion 3 below), and anoth­er is around 500m down­stream (see sec­tion 4 below), both with­in a fairly easy walk/scramble.

To get to this hydro sta­tion, which is around 4 miles drive from the vil­lage of Myr­tos you need to drive west from Iera­petra 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 Lygia 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 end of the route of the gorge!

Fol­low the main road past Myr­tos which curves away to the North (to the right), back up into the moun­tains. Just under a mile (just over 1km) 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 1/2 miles (approx 2km) 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 2/3 mile (1km) 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.

Alternative starting points

For stage 5: If you want to start at the very bot­tom of the gorge (not recom­men­ded) you could park just off the main coastal road east of Myr­tos where the river­bed passes under the main road. From here it would be a very long walk to the more inter­est­ing parts of the gorge though so I don’t recom­mend it.

It is also pos­sible to turn off the main coastal road either side of the bridge over the river­bed and drive par­al­lel to the river­bed (on either side) which is how to get to the Roman bridge. This road will pass the obser­va­tion point for sec­tion 4 and will even­tu­ally reach the hydro sta­tion but the road qual­ity is not as good as the route described above.

For stage 2: Con­tin­ue past the hydro sta­tion described above for just under 2½ km (approx. 5 mins driv­ing) and then turn left onto the first dirt-road exit. After 100m or so on the dirt road you will see the best place to park which is a hexagon­al wooden struc­ture which is an obser­va­tion point.

The different parts of the gorge

I will break the full length of the gorge into 5 parts and describe them from the top down to the coast. The only sec­tion of the gorge that I haven’t explored is the top most sec­tion. The inform­a­tion I can find, includ­ing views on google earth, sug­gests this part is largely fairly gentle river­bed without the high nar­row walls found on oth­er sec­tions. It also looks quite over-grown and may be dif­fi­cult to explore. When I have invest­ig­ated this top part more I will add more inform­a­tion about it.


Section 1

I haven’t yet explored this sec­tion, but will add fur­ther inform­a­tion when I even­tu­ally do.

Section 2

The second part of the gorge is more of a river­bed and less of a gorge. It can be accessed dir­ectly on a dirt road although I would recom­mend park­ing near the top and walk­ing down (see map). There are 2 branches of water here, with the main (east­ern) branch com­ing from the part described as sec­tion 1 which comes down from south-east of Males.

There used to be a nar­row met­al bridge over this branch as recently as 2018, but by 2019 it had been washed away. It is pos­sible to fol­low the dirt road along­side the river for a little dis­tance here, but if you want to con­tin­ue upstream it is even­tu­ally neces­sary to get back onto the river­bed which is sur­roun­ded by dense bam­boo-like plants.

The oth­er (west­ern) fork runs for a short dis­tance which requires quite a lot of scram­bling over boulders and then ends at a sheer cliff which I ima­gine might form a water­fall in winter and early spring, although I have nev­er seen any water fall­ing there as I’ve only gone this far up this branch in summer.

Down­stream from where the 2 branches merge the river­bed is gentle and pebbly and not too dif­fi­cult to walk. After 200m or so it starts to enter the first prop­er sec­tion of canyon and quickly reaches a point where it drops around 2–3m. To get down requires the use of a rope. This is where the part I will call sec­tion 3 begins. On the way down the dirt road, next to the hexagon­al wooden con­struc­tion there are views into this part of the canyon from above, although the drop is quite dan­ger­ous and there is no fence so take care.

This whole sec­tion is one of the easi­est to access thanks to the dirt road and the more open area around it. I would say it is suit­able to explore for all ages and in any foot­wear. In spring there is usu­ally a reas­on­able flow of water and there are often lots of nice flowers dot­ted around includ­ing orchids.

Section 3

The part I am call­ing sec­tion 3 runs from the start of the gorge just after the 2 rivers described above join, down to the hydro facil­ity where most people park. This sec­tion is a great sec­tion of gorge to explore for any adult of good health along with chil­dren and seems to be the most pop­u­lar and most explored part, with most people start­ing at the hydro sta­tion and work­ing their way up.

The first part of this sec­tion is eas­ily explored with young chil­dren but to get all the way up to sec­tion 2 is a little tricky in places and prob­ably best only tackled by healthy teens and adults, although those older and young­er may still wish to give it a go. Explor­ing in sum­mer and autumn is rel­at­ively straight­for­ward as there is usu­ally not very much water, but it can be more chal­len­ging in spring when there is more water. I would exer­cise cau­tion in winter in all parts of the gorge as sud­den heavy rain could prove dan­ger­ous! In sum­mer I have worked my way all the way up this sec­tion in flip-flops but I have seen enough water earli­er in the year that I would want some­thing a bit more ser­i­ous for spring.

The first year I explored this sec­tion, in August, there was a decent flow of water with a num­ber of fairly deep pools, but in sub­sequent years there has been less water in sum­mer and I haven’t found any pools deep enough to dip in for the last couple of years. Anoth­er factor is that the nature of the gorge changes every year – I’m assum­ing sud­den heavy rains in winter can pro­duce suf­fi­cient flows of water to rearrange some of the large boulders.

The lower part of this sec­tion starts with around 30 steps that lead up from the car park by the hydro sta­tion, and then, after turn­ing right, a dis­used con­crete chan­nel that was pre­vi­ously used for irrig­a­tion runs par­al­lel to (and above) the river­bed for around 200m. This con­crete chan­nel is flat and easy to walk on and leads well into the gorge.

The next 200m or so are reas­on­ably easy to walk as long as there isn’t too much water as the ground is fairly even and covered by gravel and sand. In sum­mer and autumn it would prob­ably be just about pos­sible to walk all the way up without get­ting your feet wet, but it is much easi­er going if you have foot­wear that can go ankle deep into the water. I have pre­vi­ously worn flip-flops and light-weight shoes like plim­soles or cas­u­al loafers and found it was easi­est just to let them get wet.

Fur­ther up the num­ber of large boulders increases and a little more scram­bling and jump­ing is required. Once you reach the area with the boulders the route isn’t always obvi­ous (although in a 10m wide canyon there isn’t too much search­ing to be done). There are faint yel­low arrows painted in quite a few loc­a­tions, and rocks that are part of the route often have a red square painted on them. Using these (and the obvi­ous carved footholds) makes find­ing the best route reas­on­ably straightforward.

After around 500m (a pretty rough guess on my part) you reach the only sig­ni­fic­antly deep part of the river in this sec­tion of the gorge – which in some years (but not all) it forms a pool which is around 7m wide by 8m long and 2m deep at its deep­est point. If there is enough water this is the best place to go for a dip if you wish to do so.

The very top of the sec­tion has a 2–3m high boulder that back in 2013 I was able to climb with the help of a rope that had been put there. I don’t know if this is still the same but think it fairly likely. Bey­ond that is what I described above as sec­tion 2.

Section 4

The part I am call­ing sec­tion 4 runs down from the hydro facil­ity. Ini­tially it is wide and flat with large pebbles for a base. After around 500m the river­bed encoun­ters harder ground and is forced through anoth­er nar­row gorge sec­tion – the nar­row­est part of the whole gorge I believe. This sec­tion has at least 2 fairly large pools that in autumn could just about be jumped when trav­el­ling down, but could not be passed com­ing up without get­ting very wet. I ima­gine they would be impass­able without wad­ing in all oth­er sea­sons. At the oth­er end of this nar­row sec­tion the river­bed widens out again and becomes what I will describe as sec­tion 5.

When I explored this sec­tion in 2020 I wore light-weight loafers and my trav­el­ling com­pan­ion wore flip-flops which were good enough to do the job but I cer­tainly wished I had train­ers or even prop­er walk­ing boots. The walk got pro­gress­ively more chal­len­ging as we got fur­ther down and as we got near­er to the nar­row part there were more and more boulders we had to scramble and jump to work our way down.

We didn’t go through to the end of the nar­row sec­tion as we both had cam­er­as (and phones and car keys) with us and didn’t want to get wet. We also didn’t really want to walk and scramble our way back up the river­bed on our return as it would have taken at least an hour, but I had spot­ted a truck passing by above us, so we just about man­aged to scramble our way up a fairly steep part of the side to the road and then walked back along it.

I wouldn’t recom­mend this sec­tion for most chil­dren or for any­one oth­er than healthy adults as the going was a little tricky in places.

Section 5

The final part that I am call­ing sec­tion 5 is fairly flat and wide and gentle. It runs from just after the nar­row­est part of the gorge, down to the coast. Whilst this sec­tion might not sound espe­cially inter­est­ing, there is an old arched bridge that is claimed to date back to the Romans. This is eas­ily accessed along paved roads that run along­side the river­bed from the main coastal road so can be explored sep­ar­ately from the oth­er sections.

Other information

In many places the water seems to dis­ap­pear, only to reappear fur­ther down. In sum­mer and autumn it appears that there is a suf­fi­ciently gentle flow of water that in areas with a sig­ni­fic­ant depth of gravel and sand the water is flow­ing in this lay­er and isn’t vis­ible at the sur­face. In sec­tions where the sand and gravel lay­er is thin­ner the water re-emerges.

I have seen a tad­poles, small frogs, and crabs in sec­tions 2 and 3 of the gorge although only on a couple of occa­sions. I haven’t found myself bothered by flies or mos­qui­tos in any parts of the gorge, and whilst there have been wasps occa­sion­ally they only seem to be inter­ested in drink­ing the fresh water and have nev­er bothered me.

There are guided hikes and walk­ing tours that include the full length of the gorge from Males down to Myr­tos. If you are a ser­i­ous out­door explorer then these might be some­thing to con­sider as they will provide trans­port so you can go through the wet parts without wor­ry­ing about car keys, and they are also likely to provide inform­a­tion about the flora and fauna.

When there is sig­ni­fic­ant water in the gorge walk­ing boots really aren’t suit­able unless they are designed to be sub­merged, nor are they neces­sary when the canyon is largely dry so I recom­mend against wear­ing them for sec­tions 2 and 3 unless you’re happy to get them wet. Most sec­tions can be done indi­vidu­ally in flip-flops in all the con­di­tions we’ve encountered, but the best foot­wear for short­er excur­sions would be secure san­dals, or canyoning/bouldering/climbing shoes. Plim­solls will also work well when explor­ing short sec­tions. If you want to walk the full length you will need to invest in some prop­er water­proof hik­ing boots.

I would say that tak­ing a cam­era is highly recom­men­ded, and I would fur­ther recom­mend a ruck­sack to carry it in, along with some bottled water. The num­ber of people vis­it­ing the gorge has stead­ily increased since I first explored the gorge, but even in the height of sum­mer you are only likely to encounter a hand­ful of oth­er people.

Anoth­er import­ant thing to note is that online guides to the spe­cif­ics of the route (e.g. the loc­a­tion of ropes etc.) are likely to be out of date by the fol­low­ing year — each year we’ve found the route a bit dif­fer­ent due to changes caused by winter floods.

Photo Gallery for Sarakina Canyon

Other information

A note on the history of this post

This art­icle was ori­gin­ally pub­lished at JonScaife.com. It has been extens­ively reworked and updated since the original.

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