Even though Crete is the third highest island of the Mediterranean (after Sicily and Corsica), it is best known for its Canyons rather than its mountains. The best known ones, Samaria and Asfendou, are located to the south of the largest and second highest mountain range, the Levka Ori. However, gorges and canyons can be found in all of the limestone ranges of the island, deep and narrow cuts washed out by the scarce winter rains.
Oros Dikti, Crete's third highest range, also has its share of canyons, the most popular of which is located in its east. There, close to where the island narrows to an isthmus of some 25km width, you will find one of the most popular tourist areas of the island. Close to Agios Nikolaos, the main hotspot in the north, north of the mountain village Kritsa, you will find a 3km long canyon which narrows down to less than two metres in some places.
The canyon, Kritsa Gorge is dry at most times of the year. Only in spring there can be small creeks trickling through it. This quite obviously was different in former times as the washed out sections in the centre of the gorge will tell you. Much of the gorge is hiking ground. The base is filled with gravel and only occasionally you have to avoid a boulder in its midst. In the central section, however, a step needs to be cleared and here the gorge narrows to the width of an armspan. Surfaces are smooth and there are only few small handholds. Protection is installed - a few short cabbles and a number of pins so that you can easily pass this part.
In the upper part of the gorge a field of polished boulders bars the way. Since the canyon is some 20m wide here there are several ways to pass the obstacle. We found the right hand side of the boulder field the easiest of the possible routes. Above this field the gorge widens into a valley which gradually rises up to an plateau in the east of the Dikti Range. It joins an old mule trail which heads for the Katharo- and Lasithi Plateaus, an importand trade route in old times and currently quite popular with hikers who want to explore the range.
There are two international airports on Crete, both in the north of the island. One is at Chania in the west, the other is at Heraklion in the centre.
There are myriads of ferries in Greece, which connect the many islands of the country. Consequently there are many ferry harbours and Crete is no exception. However, most of the smaller harbours only cater for transportation to the other islands while the major lines to the mainland are reserved to two harbours, Souda near Chania and Heraklion. Both serve connections to Peiraias and Thessaloniki.
Kritsa is a mountain village close to Agios Nilkolaos, the main tourist centre in the east of the island. You reach it from Heraklion as follows:
- Take motorway / highway E75 to Agios Nikolaos.
- Remain on E74 until you reach the southern end of the town.
- Turn right onto the road to Kritsa (signs for a Lidl Supermarket).
- In Kritsa turn northward onto the road to Exo Lakkoniou (signs to the archeologic site of Lato), which you follow out of the village.
- The road crosses the lower Kritsa Gorge (a flat valley here), which is the best spot to search for parking. Signs lead you to the gorge.
There's no Red Tape inside the gorge. However, access to the gorge runs through privately owned property, so please remain on the path. Access through the lower canyon is possible but this as well runs through private property.
In spring there can be a little creek in the canyon. There is little danger of a rushing flood but the smooth sections in the centre will become very slippery with oily and muddy water.
AccommodationYou can quite easily find hotel rooms and apartments everywhere on the coasts. All European travel companies offer accommodation so a visit to your nearest travel office will find you some. In the mountain villages there always are inns and if everything fails you can pitch a tent. Kritsa is located close to Agios Nikolaos, the main tourist hotspot in the east of Crete. You might want to look for accommodation there.
There are abundant campgrounds along the coast and on many of the beaches you can pitch your tent. The touristic beaches in the north and the beaches in the vicinity of tourist towns are mostly off-limits but there is many a cove which you can use. In the mountains you will often find cattle (goat and sheep) fences which you should respect. There is many a green meadow in one of the plains but you should be aware that you’ll be woken up by goats. Again, in the vicinity of villages, rather ask the locals if you can use their land.
Maps & BooksThere are quite a number of maps and books out there, which deal with the island of Crete and naturally I don’t know them all. This is the list of maps and books which I used and I appreciate it very much if you can add to it
Unfortunately there are no decent topographic maps of Crete. The best maps I could find are scaled 1:100000 and contain the main hiking routes on the island. In one case the map showed wrong paths and roads (exchanged them) but in general they were quite useful. In any case they were better than the Anvasi Maps, also scaled 1:100000, which claim to be topographic maps but miss routes and even mountains
- Kreta / Crete / ΚΡΗΤΗ Eastern Part
Since there are no good topographical maps of Crete you should take care to get a good guidebook. The ones I used have good tour suggestions though the descriptions often are somewhat shortish and can be misleading. The books are available in German and English.
- Kreta Ost / Crete East
Gert Hirner / Jakob Murböck (translation: Gill Round)