8 Days, 7 Nights|
Guides, ground transportation, support vehicle, lodging, most meals (breakfasts and dinners), and entry fee into Samarian and other Gorges.|
Air or ferry to Heraklion, lunches and drinks, personal clothing and accessories, entry fees into ruins, full medical, baggage and trip cancellation insurance, airport taxes and gratuities.
Not only is Crete a kayaker’s paradise, it is home to world famous hiking trails. Hike the majestic Samaria Gorge from the mountains to the sea. Marvel at the Mediterranean’s expansive beauty from a seaside hilltop. Stroll along the beach en route to a hearty dinner and comfortable inn. Travel a portion of the E4, a renowned trans-Europe trail. You wouldn’t expect an island to have such varied terrain, but does it ever--from mountains and gorges to valley meadows to seaside bluffs to flat, sandy beaches. Don't miss out on this sensory overload of a hiking trip!
Day 1: The trip officially begins in the morning at the Heraklion airport where NWP staff will meet you. Exact meeting time will be determined once flight schedules from Athens to Heraklion have been finalized. From the airport, we will head to Knossos, the famous Minoan palace just outside Heraklion. We will have a tour of Knossos, then shuttle down to Matala on the south coast. There are many options for lunch tavernas in Matala. We’ll have some free time in the afternoon to explore Matala. We’ll get together to enjoy the incredible sunset, have a drink and begin to get to know one another. We will review the itinerary for the week and answer whatever questions you may have.
Day 2: We’ll spend the day in the Matala area, hiking over to Red Beach in the morning, then to Kommos Beach in the afternoon. We will also have some time for cliff jumping, snorkeling and exploring the famous caves (legendary homes to Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and others in the 60’s) which surround the bay. We’ll have an optional sunset hike before dinner.
Day 3: We’ll get an early start today in order to stop and visit the ruins of the Minoan Palace of Festos on our way to the trail head for the Samarian Gorge. We will put on our hiking shoes and grab our walking sticks (critical item of equipment!). The Samarian Gorge is a “must see” for every visitor to Crete and this incredible national park draws 1,000-2,000 visitors per day. We have designed our itinerary to be able to experience the Gorge after the vast majority of hikers have already headed down. Most visitors to the Gorge have to catch the ferry at the end of the Gorge. We, however, spend the night in Agia Roumeli, the town where the Gorge ends. We’ll celebrate our accomplishments with a wonderful dinner right at our hotel.
Day 4: Our second day in Roumeli gives us options to hike along the coastline toward Sougia or head up into the hills to discover the ancient Turkish (or Venetian- there is some controversy about the origin of these ruins) fortresses. The Samarian Gorge is the most strenuous hike of our itinerary and having an easier day to follow gives our legs a chance to rejuvenate.
Day 5: We’ll depart Roumeli and head along the coast to the small (and beautiful) town of Loutro. Along the way we’ll pass Agios Pavlos, an ancient seaside chapel commemorating the visit of St. Paul to that very spot. Lunch today will be at the quaint beach of Marmara, a spectacular spot for cliff jumping. Then it’s on to the charming village of Loutro for two nights.
Day 6: Our second day in Loutro finds us hiking up to the monastery perched high on the hillside. From there, we hike to the small village of Anopolis for a bit of refreshment. Then on to the Aradena Gorge where we will likely be the only hikers. Back in Loutro, we will have another optional sunset hike to the Venetian fortress ruins that overlook the village.
Day 7: We’ll start the day with a spectacular hike along the coastal route to Sfakia. A quick dip at Sweetwater Beach along the way is always an option. From Sfakia, we will shuttle to Moni Preveli, an ancient monastery high on the cliffs above the sea which is still home to active monks. From Moni Preveli, we’ll hike a short distance to Palm Beach for a cappuccino stop and possible swim in the fresh water estuary. A celebratory dinner will provide a wonderful opportunity to share memories and recount the week’s events.
Day 8: After breakfast, we will shuttle back up to Heraklion. We will have a chance to visit the renowned Heraklion Archaeological Museum before heading to the airport to catch departing flights.
This is all you will need -- anything else is unnecessary baggage and will only be extra weight to carry.
- 3-7 t-shirts 1 shirt, long sleeved
- 2-3 pair shorts
- 1 pair light long pants- zip-offs can be great
- Sun/rain hat Sneakers/cross trainers; some prefer hiking in Tevas or other sandals with socks
- Rain gear just in case! Light jacket- fleece is great.
- 1 pair sport sandals (whether for hiking or just in the evenings)
- Bathing suit
- Underwear, socks
- Casual clothes for evenings (shorts/summer dresses are fine!)
- Clean change of clothing for the trip home
- Passport (be sure to check expiration date)
- Toiletry kit- toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, sunscreen, face cream, nail clippers, moleskin, baby powder, Vaseline for hikes, washcloth (most hotels don’t provide them) etc.
- Personal medication kit- ibuprofen, aspirin, vitamins, band-aids, Dramamine®, cold/sinus meds if prone to colds
- Daypack/fanny pack for hikes
- Collapsible walking stick/ski pole for hikes-very helpful!!/ Imperative for folks with “old” or little used knees!
- Sunglasses Chums/Croakies® to keep glasses on your head
- Water bottle (optional- bottled water is plentiful and cheap in Crete)
- Camera, film (or possibly extra memory card if going digital)
- Small towel (e.g. PackTowel® works well)
- Small travel alarm clock (some hotels do not have phones in rooms for wake-up calls)
- Mask and snorkel (can be purchased inexpensively in Crete)
- Field glasses – binoculars
What is special about this trip?
Incredible coastline, spectacular sunsets, the friendliest innkeepers and taverna owners you’ll ever meet, warm waters in tremendously varied shades of blue and green, amazing sea caves, cliff jumping for all levels of risk-takers, never-ending sunshine, phenomenal food, an opportunity to see the Crete that few tourists see. Rick Sweitzer, Executive Director of The Northwest Passage, fell in love with Crete in the late 60’s and has been exploring the backroads and coastline of this incredible island ever since. The Northwest Passage has been touring Crete by kayak, bicycle and foot for many years and in the process, we have developed great friendships with our local hosts. You’ll feel like part of the family as we share with you our most popular international trip.
How do I get there?
Our adventure begins in Heraklion, the capital of Crete. To reach Heraklion, most participants fly into Athens. From there, you have a choice of flying to Heraklion (a one hour flight offered by several carriers including Aegean and Olympic Air or taking an overnight ferry. If you choose to fly, most U.S. travel agents can book Olympic Air but are not familiar with Aegean. You can book flights online for either Olympic (www.olympic-airways.gr) or Aegean (www.aegeanair.com). You can also make reservations through Pacific Travel (www.pacifictravel.gr email@example.com) We have been working with Pacific Travel for many years and they are quite helpful. They have an office at the Athens Airport that is staffed 24 hours a day. There is also a website at www.cretetravel.com which is quite helpful. You can also call our office to get more details regarding the travel options. It is important to confirm your return flights, both the flight to Athens and the flight from Athens to the US, 48-72 hours prior to the flight. If you choose to take the ferry, you can purchase tickets right at the port or in advance through a travel agent. The port (Piraeus) can be reached by taxi or bus from the airport. The cost for the ferry will vary depending on level of accommodation (private cabin with bath, semi-private, etc). Most of the ticket agents at the port will take credit cards.
What papers do I need for travel?
All US citizens require a valid passport to enter Greece. A visa is not required for citizens of the United States, Canada, and the European Union. If you are a citizen of another country, please check with your nearest Greek embassy for visa requirements.
Do I need to get any shots before traveling?
No inoculations are required when entering or leaving Greece.
How and where will you meet me?
We will ask for a copy of your travel itinerary prior to your departure. We will meet the morning of the first day of the trip at the Heraklion Airport, or otherwise by arrangement. Exact meeting time will be determined once flight schedules from Athens to Heraklion are finalized for that season. We have found over the years that the schedules vary somewhat year to year. The airport is quite small and we will be wearing Northwest Passage shirts and carrying an NWP sign. We will meet in the arrivals area of the Heraklion airport.
How long will it take me to get there?
The flight to Athens is usually an overnight flight, leaving the U.S. in the late afternoon and arriving mid-day to late afternoon in Athens. Depending on the carrier and connection, you may overnight in another city en-route. There are flights out of Athens to Heraklion starting at 6 a.m. and continuing throughout the day and evening until 11:45 p.m. Returning from Athens, most flights back to the U.S. are in the early morning, requiring an overnight in Athens the last day of the trip. Generally, participants will book flights out of Heraklion late afternoon on the last day. If you want to visit the Archaelogical Museum in Heraklion, you should not book a flight before 4:00 p.m. on the last day of the trip.
Where should I stay overnight around there?
There are many hotel options in Athens in varying price ranges. The Plaka area of Athens (near the Acropolis, etc.) is the most popular area and not too far from the airport (45+ min. cab ride depending on traffic; buses are also an option). Please feel free to contact our office for hotel suggestions. If you choose to overnight in Heraklion either at the beginning or the end of the trip, there are hotel options downtown as well as just outside of town, again in varying price ranges. We can give you suggestions based on your preferences and budget.
What money should I take?
The trip fee covers most of your costs. The only things you will be responsible for are lunches, drinks, one dinner, personal purchases, and gratuities. Lunches generally range 5-10 Euro. Dinner ranges 10-20 Euro. Personal purchases again vary- one can buy unique souvenirs made of olive wood for 5 Euro or get fine jewelry for significantly more… it’s up to you.
What’s the currency? Exchange Rate? Where can I exchange money?
The Drachma was the Greek currency. However, Greece converted to the Euro in January, 2002. For the most current exchange rate, there are several helpful websites. Oanda (www.oanda.com) will give you a handy conversion cheat sheet to take with you. You can exchange money at the airport (either Athens or Heraklion). Exchange rates at the airport may not be the most favorable and they often have higher commission rates and/or minimum commissions. There are ATM’s at the airports which can be handy as there is not a commission, just the ATM service charge. There are also ATM’s in Matala, Plakias and Agia Galini. Some of the hotels where we stay will also exchange. Some shops do exchange money but their rates are often high.
Do they take plastic there? Are there cash stations?
There is a Cash Station at the Heraklion Airport. There are also ATM’s in Matala where we spend the first two nights and again in Plakias and Agia Galini. Many of the more upscale shops will take credit cards. You can sometimes negotiate a better price on goods if you pay cash. Many smaller shops do not accept credit cards.
What’s the weather like?
The weather in fall and spring is generally around 80° with lots of sunshine. Be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen, including lip protection. A broad-brimmed hat that secures on your head can also be very helpful. Water temperatures in fall tend to be in the mid to upper 70’s. Spring water temperatures are significantly cooler (high 60’s). Air temperatures cool off at night to the point you may want a light jacket. Rain is unusual but does sometimes occur. A light rain jacket can be handy.
What are the accommodations like?
We choose the nicest inns/hotels in each of the towns where we stay. That said, we are avoiding the major touristy towns of Crete so options are somewhat limited. All of the hotels are clean and rooms have private baths. Bathtubs are a rarity in Crete but all rooms have showers.
What do I need to bring?
Upon registering, we will provide you with a detailed clothing and equipment list to guide you in your packing. Casual clothes are the order of the day- no need for anything fancy. A walking stick can be extremely helpful on your hike through the Samarian Gorge. Full hiking boots are definitely not necessary and can be much too warm. Many find that cross trainers/sneakers work well. We have also found that many prefer sandals (e.g. Tevas) with socks. Having your feet get overheated is the most common source of blisters. Keep in mind that the Samarian Gorge is all downhill which takes its toll on knees and ankles. The rest of your gear can be loaded in the van in the morning. Packing your gear in flexible bags (e.g. duffle bags vs. hard suitcases) is preferable. A common comment from participants at the end of the trip is that they brought much more than they needed- added extra clothing to what was on the clothing/equipment checklist and regretted it in the end. Simplicity is the order of the day- less is more! If you bring any items requiring electricity, be sure to bring both a converter and adapter plugs. These can be purchased at Radio Shack®, other electronics stores, travel stores etc. Let the salesperson know you are traveling to Greece and they can help you select the appropriate converter and adapter plugs for your equipment. Note that hair dryers, irons, and any other heat producing devices require a stronger converter than other devices. It is helpful to know the wattage of your particular equipment when purchasing the appropriate converter.
Can I drink the water?
The water is safe to drink in all the areas we visit except the town of Loutro. In Loutro, the water will not make you ill but has a salty taste. However, bottled water is readily available everywhere and quite inexpensive so most folks choose to drink bottled water.
What’s the food like?
Breakfast generally consists of fresh Greek yogurt with honey, bread, cheese, juice, coffee or tea, with eggs as an occasional option. Lunches and dinners are ordered off the menu which typically consists of Greek specialties such as moussaka, pastitsio, grilled meats and fish, spaghetti (doesn’t sound Greek but very popular), stifada (generally beef stew), etc. Selections for vegetarians are more limited but previous vegetarian clients have not gone hungry, enjoying dolmades (grape leaves), eggplant, zucchini, tzatzki (yogurt/cucumber/garlic dip), saganaki (fried feta), Greek salads etc.
What time zone will I be in?
Greece is two hours ahead of Greenwich Time, which makes it 7 hours ahead of US Eastern Time, 8 hours ahead of Central Time, 10 hours ahead of Pacific Time.
How can people reach me in an emergency? Can I call home?
We will provide you with a list of our hotels including phone and fax numbers. You should also provide family/friends with The Northwest Passage number (800-RECREATE, 732-7328) as NWP staff will always be notified of any changes in the itinerary. You can call home using a calling card. Many of the hotels will have phones in the rooms. Keep in mind the time difference listed above. It can be helpful to remind family and friends about this also. MCI access code for calls from Crete is 00-800-1211. AT&T access code is 00-800-1311, Sprint access code is 00-800-1411.
How much time do we spend traveling each day? How many miles? Do I have free time?
Generally we spend between 2 and 7 hours hiking each day. The Samarian Gorge is typically our longest day timewise, since the downhill is so steep. We arrange the hiking schedule so that everyone has time and energy to enjoy everything Crete has to offer besides the trails. Of course, if you’re tired or just feel like taking a ride, you can always hop on board the van.
What kind of equipment do you use?
The gear list is not all that extensive for this trip. If you like, we outfit you with an adjustable trekking pole, and, besides that, nothing else. The trekking poles ease the wear and tear on your joints. We can assist in helping you choose appropriate footwear. Some of our guides prefer trail runners or light boots, others like Tevas or similarly styled sandals.
How many people are on this trip? How many guides? Who are the guides/ what are their qualifications?
Generally between 6 and 20 people constitute a group on this trip. Our guides are avid hikers and are certified in Wilderness First Aid as a baseline minimum. Many of our guides are professional firemen or paramedics.
How can I prepare physically for the trip? How much prior experience is needed?
Since the trip is van supported, we don’t have to hike while toting heavy packs. So the best way to prepare for this trip is to hike, preferably in hilly areas. If you, like us, are situated on flatland, like the Chicago area, consider taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Although this should be thought of as credit and by no means required. If you have a history of twisted ankles you might try walking barefoot in sand or soft grass to strengthen your stabilizer muscles.
THE HISTORY OF CRETE
Crete lies at the crossroads of three continents, Europe, Africa and Asia. The largest Greek Island, Crete is the home of Europe’s earliest known civilization, the Minoans. The strategic position of Crete in the middle of the Mediterranean has led to an almost constant battle to control the Island from ancient times until the present century.
THE STONE AGE- 6000-2600 B.C.
Crete’s first inhabitants probably came from Anatolia in Asia Minor or possibly Africa. They were cave dwellers who eventually began to build simple huts from burnt clay bricks.
THE MINOANS (BRONZE AGE)- 2000-1400 B.C.
From about 2000 B.C. onwards the new immigrants with their higher degree of civilization join with the indigenous population to become the “Minoans”. A sophisticated society develops. Skilled craftsmen such as stonemasons, potters, metalworkers, jewelers and weavers are at work. Agriculture thrives. Metal tools replace stone. The society acquires a structure and hierarchy and palaces are built at Knossos, Festos, Malia and Zakros. The Minoans have a merchant fleet selling their wares throughout the Mediterranean with trading posts and colonies in places such as the Cyclades, Rhodes and as far afield as Asia Minor, Egypt and the East. Trade and not military power extends their Empire. Around the time of 1700 B.C. the palaces were destroyed, the most likely cause being an earthquake although some historians believe it may have been a tidal wave. The palaces were rebuilt even more splendidly and the society and culture continued to prosper. They were decorated with frescoes and were often on several stories with courtyards, wide staircases and complex plumbing and drainage systems. Art flourished with the rebuilding of the palaces, not just frescoes but sculpture including naturalistic human figures and animals have been excavated. As the craftsmen became more skilled so their wares changed. Beautiful pottery and stone vessels in many different shapes and designs and often decorated with local scenes dating from this period have been found. This flourishing, peaceful and wealthy society with its influence felt throughout the Mediterranean and beyond was not to last. A minor earthquake in about 1600 BC was the beginning of the decline. Complete destruction followed. Knossos survived but soon the Mycenean Greeks invade from the mainland and take over what is left of the Minoan society.
THE MYCENAENS- 1400-1100 B.C.
The Mycenaens dominate the Minoans and a hybrid of the two cultures develops. Crete is no longer the trading power it was and the Minoan dominance of the Mediterranean is at an end. The Mycenaens use weapons to defend themselves against the waves of Dorians who are coming to Crete after the Trojan Wars.
DORIAN CRETE (IRON AGE)- 1100-480 B.C.
The Dorians drive out the Mycenaens and form their own Class orientated society. The original Cretans tried to preserve their identity and formed settlements apart from the Dorians. They have become known as Eteo-Cretans (real Cretans). Crete became an Island of small independent states with no unified culture. CLASSICAL AND HELLENISTIC CRETE- 480-67 B.C. Crete becomes a shadow of its former Minoan glory. Used as a base for pirates the sea trade in the Mediterranean is disrupted. This, combined with the Island’s strategic position drew the Romans to Crete.
THE ROMAN AND BYZANTINE CRETE- 67 B.C.-1204 A.D.
After a couple of earlier abortive attempts, in 69 B.C. a successful Roman invasion took place. After two and a half years of fierce fighting, the Cretans surrendered to their fate. The Romans brought prosperity and a level of organization not seen since the Minoans. Large settlements with roads, irrigation systems and aqueducts developed. Agriculture flourished and Crete once again assumed an important position albeit within the Roman Empire.
St. Paul is thought to have brought Christianity to Crete in about 50 A.D. and there is a chapel on the beach at Agios Pavlos to commemorate his visit. Christianity spread rapidly across the Island but the early Christians were persecuted for their beliefs. At the end of the fourth century the roman Empire was split in two with Crete belonging to the eastern part belonging to Byzantium (Constantinople, Istanbul today). Although the many Churches built during this period with their elaborate frescoes testify to the prosperity of these times, the Island held an insignificant position in the scheme of things. There is soon a new threat to Crete. The rapidly developing Arab world is casting their eye in her direction. In 824 A.D. an Arab Saracen force invades the Island and meets little resistance. They use the Island as a base for attacks on shipping and are little more than pirates. For over a century they control the Island. The Byzantine rulers do little to help their colony until I 961 they drive out the Arabs ina huge and bloody battle which decimated the Cretan population and wipes out the Saracens. The island reverts to Byzantine rule and its flagging population is boosted by immigrants from the mainland and Byzantium. The Crusades were the first that brought the next of Crete’s rulers. Turning their might on Byzantium the Crusaders sack and burn Constantinople and the Empire is divided up. Crete is sold to the Venetian Republic for a small sum.