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.
After 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.
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
Once 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.
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.
This year we again went in mid August, about a week or so earlier than the last 2 years. Unlike last year there was a good amount of water in the gorge which made going harder. In these conditions walking boots really aren’t suitable, nor are they necessary when the canyon is dry so I recommend against wearing them unless you’re happy to get them wet. It could be done in flip-flops in all the conditions we’ve encountered, but the best footwear would be secure sandals, or canyoning, bouldering, or climbing shoes. Plimsolls will also work well.
As others have mentioned — taking a camera is highly recommended — although you may want to take it inside a bag
Another important thing to note is that guides to the route and ropes etc are likely to be out of date by the following year — each year we’ve found the route a bit different. I assume this is due to winter rains causing the canyon to change. The number of people visiting the gorge has steadily increased over the past 3 years, but even in the height of summer you are only likely to encounter a handful of other people
This summer I took some friends to Sarakina Gorge, on what I think i sno wmy 5th visit there. This time there was no water to be found at all — probably because we were later in the year in late August. This does reduce the interest a little bit, but the scramble is still good fun. W einitially started at the bottom of the gorge (which is now pretty well signposted from the main-road past Mirtos), but with the lack of water and a tighter than normal time-frame we decided to drive up past the main scramble, and rejoin the gorge where it flattens out. We followed the left fork of the gorge as far as it is possible to go until we reached where a significant waterfall would be and there was no way to get any further. On the basis of this visit I would recommend visiting between April and July for the most interesting trip.
- Reviews on trip advisor (including 2 by me)
- Cretan Beaches
- Hans Huisman’s Crete pages
- Web Crete
- Destination Crete
Note — this article was originally published at JonScaife.com