The southern entry to Tsikkhliana Gorge
Crete is famous for its many gorges, which have been cut deeply into the limestone of its mountain ranges. Sometimes the walls are several hundred metres high and close in into gaps of only several metres width. Sometimes they remain wide but offer a deep view into the karst nature of the island through arches and caves, which open into their walls. Tsikhliana Gorge
is one of these gorges, a canyon which stretches between the villages of Sirikario in the sout and Polyrrinia in the north, the latter a Doric settlement with an Akropolis on top of its lookout mountain. The gorge is located in the north-west of the island, close to the coastal town of Kissamos.
The Tsikhliana Gorge is wider than your regular Cretan gorge, measuring up to 800m across. Still it remains very impressive, as the wall which enclose it are almost vertical and several hundred metres high. The upper part of the gorge follows a creek, which (at least in May) still carries water but which vanishes in the central part of the canyon.
Thanks to its usage as connecting route between the villages in the past, the gorge has well kept trails at its bottom. Some parts - especially near Polyrrinia - are paved. The main section, however is regular rocky hiking terrain, which in the upper part is sometimes a bit tricky to orientate in. Near its northern end you find an old bridge, spanning the creek bed, and which dates back to Roman times. Everywhere - like in all the Cretan canyons and gorges you find towers, overhangs and caves in the enclosing walls, which reach a height of some 200m at their maximum.
Tsikhliana Gorge panorama seen from its centre
Tsikhliana Gorge can be hiked from either the north or the south. The respective trailheads, Polyrrinia in the north and Sirikario in the south are connected by a narrow mountain road which passes the village of Kalithenes.
- From Chania follow the coastal highway E65 westward to Kissamos
- In Kissamos follow the signs to Polyrrinia and Kalathenes
- For the Sirikario Trailhead pass Kalathenesand follow the signs. There is a parking lot near the little church outside (south of) the village
There is not much red tape here. The plateaus above the gorge as well as the gorge itself are used for sheep and goat grazing. Part of the trails run through private property but most of the houses you find in the vicinity of the gorge are abandoned. The inside of the gorge is protected as regional preserve and usual restrictions apply. There are many orchids on the upper slopes of the gorge, which are protected as well.
Old cobblestone bridge at the northern end
You 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. Most hotels and apartments can be found on the north coast but Chora Skafion and Frangokastello also offer their share of accommodation. The mountain villages have one or two small inns and one can ask for rooms there. Apart from this you can always pitch a tent along the coasts.
Polyrrinia has several inns and you'll be able to find a room for an overnight stay. More rooms and apartments can be found in and around Kissamos on the coast.
Crete is already located very close to northern Africa, thus temperatures can get very high. March, April and early May are the best months, winter can be wet, the summer scorchingly hot. Here are a few weatherunderground links to the tourist towns on the island. Be aware that those links direct to locations on the north coast, where temperatures are generally several degrees lower than in the south. The gorge focusses the heat, especially at noon and can be a real pain to hike through.
Maps & Books
There 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 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.
- Kreta / Crete / ΚΡΗΤΗ Western 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.
- Kreta West / Crete West
Gert Hirner / Jakob Murböck (translation: Gill Round)