Crete Kayak Adventure: Matala to Loutro
8 Days, 7 Nights
Join us on The Magical Minoan Mystery Tour!
The Crete Kayaking Adventure: Matala to Loutro itinerary focuses on three of our favorite villages and allows ample time to explore some of the most beautiful beaches and coastal hikes in Greece.
Discover the unspoiled coast of Southern Crete as we paddle on the crystal blue waters of the Libyan Sea, visit secluded beaches, hike the dramatic Samarian Gorge, and explore the ruins of Venetian castles and Minoan palaces. At night we enjoy star-filled skies, dine on delicious fresh local cuisine at seaside tavernas, and share in the warm hospitality of intimate family-owned inns.
The last three days of this tour offers a variety of adventure options to choose from. Explore beautiful Marmara and Sweetwater Beaches, hike the Ariadne Gorge or to a Greek monastery with breathtaking sea views, practice yoga by the sea, or simply relax and enjoy the view from your hotel balcony.
If you a kayak enthusiast and want spend as much time as possible in your boat, please check out our Crete Kayak Adventure: Matala Full Loop itinerary which includes an additional 40+ miles of kayaking time.
Can’t decide which trip is right for you? This blog post provides more detail to help you make your decision-or call us in the office with your questions.
Day One – Matala: No matter which route you take to get to Heraklion, the trip will officially begin at 10:00 a.m. at the Heraklion airport. We will meet you at the airport in the arrivals section. You then set off to tour the world famous archaeological site of Knossos, an ancient Minoan palace that predates the Trojan War. After the tour, the group sets off for Matala where you settle into your room and have lunch (be sure to ask the guides about the best gyros pita in town!). During the afternoon there will be a kayak outfitting session followed by welcome drinks while viewing the incredible sunset. Over our first delightful dinner together at an authentic Greek taverna, we will review the itinerary for the week and answer whatever questions you may have.(D)
Day Two – Matala: After breakfast we hold an introductory kayak lesson, and then immediately put the new skills to use as we paddle to the world famous Red Beach. Along the way we explore the beautiful coastline and poke inside some cavernous sea caves. After lounging, swimming and maybe grabbing a drink on Red Beach, we paddle over to Kommos Beach to enjoy a seaside lunch. We then paddle back to Matala, capping off today’s kayak mileage at seven. After landing our kayaks, the afternoon is yours to lounge on the beach, explore the area trails or go cliff jumping in Matala Bay! This evening we hike up a seaside hill for an unparalleled view of the Cretean coast, and watch the sky blaze through the color spectrum as the sun slips beneath the horizon. (B, D)
Day Three – Matala: After breakfast you have the option to hike amongst the hills and beaches, or paddle along the headlands, bluffs and coves to the very beautiful Vathi Beach. We return to Matala for lunch, and spend the afternoon checking out the ancient Roman catacombs, swimming, cliff jumping, hiking and/or paddling. (B, D)
Day Four – Roumeli: After an early start we set off for Phaistos, another ancient Minoan palace that was home to mythical Minotaur's labyrinth. After touring the more than 4,000 year old palace, we get back on the road heading for the Samaria Gorge, Europe’s deepest gorge and one of the world’s most astounding natural wonders. After reaching the top of the Samaria Gorge we have lunch and stock up on hiking snacks. We hike the gorge through pine forests, across mountain streams and between towering canyon walls. Words cannot capture the majestic beauty of this incredible place. You simply have to hike it to believe it! We stay the night in Roumeli, the seaside town at the bottom of the gorge that is only accessible by trail and by boat. Tonight we enjoy well deserved cold drinks and maybe a dip in the sea before dinner. (B, D)
Day Five – Loutro: After breakfast our fleet of kayaks await us. We paddle first to Agios Pavlos, a 1,000 year old Byzantine chapel that marks the spot where St. Paul was shipwrecked. We linger on the beach at the nearby taverna to enjoy a cappuccino before setting off for our lunch stop, Marmara Beach. Again, we relax at Marmara, taking time to snorkel, lay out and do some more cliff jumping. We then paddle on to Loutro, our home for the next three nights. Loutro, like Roumeli, is another beautiful south coast town that is only accessible by hiking trail and by boat. We settle into our rooms at Loutro and then head off for dinner. We can even go for a starlight paddle in the stunning protected bay. (B, D)
Day Six – Loutro: Today we have the option to hike on the world famous E4 trail, hike the Aradena Gorge or paddle to some of the area's beaches. Sweetwater Beach is a very popular beach approximately one hour away by kayak or trail. This smooth stone beach is known for the freshwater springs that gurgle up through the rocks onshore. Sweetwater is also a great place to grab a snack and a coffee before going on to the town of Chora Sfakia or back to Loutro for lunch. Dinner is on your own tonight, and options abound. (B)
Day Seven – Loutro: It's hard to believe but we've already come to our last full day of the trip. So we make sure to pack it full of adventure. If you fancy a challenge, and didn't hike the Aradena Gorge the day before, we highly recommend this full-day hike down an awe inspiring natural wonder. Along the way you'll pass traditional Cretan villages and a bluff-top monastery with panoramic views of the sea and surrounding mountains. Of course the sea offers unlimited kayaking adventure possibilities as well if you choose to paddle instead. This evening we go for another sunset hike, stopping to admire the seascape from the ruins of a Venetian fortress. Afterwards we celebrate the memories we've made at our farewell dinner. (B, D)
Day Eight: After breakfast, we will hike or take a short paddle from Loutro to the port town of Hora Sfakia and from there, shuttle back to Heraklion. The Northwest Passage plans to have you back to the departures terminal of the Heraklion airport by 4:00 PM on this final day of the program. When booking travel please allow enough time to comfortably navigate check-in and security.(B)
**This itinerary is subject to change.
"I have been on several trips that The Clymb has sponsored, and have never had a bad experience. This trip to Crete was no exception. As you know, in addition to the planning and attention to detail, the guides can really make or break the experience in so many ways. There is a lot riding on them.
Being safely home now for a day, I have had the time to think about this and past trips. They were really spectacular, each in their own way. However, I can safely say that this trip to Crete was far and away the best I have experienced (and I have been on some awesome ones). And Amy had never been to Europe, so to have such a positive experience is something she will never forget.
The combination of activities was just the right mix. Taking us to such awesome, historic sites and beaches, such clear blue and green, warm water, helped make the trip the right combination of activity and feeling like we were really on vacation. And we laughed-- a lot!
I commend you for having staff like Eric, Johnny and Max. They were really a hoot, clearly enjoy working together, complement each other so well, put our group at ease right from the start and helped our group come together (we did have an awesome group of folks on the trip, so that of course helps). No one complained or lolly gagged (ask the guides about the derivation of the choice of words! You can add it to your NW Passage lexicon!)
Eric, Johnny and Max were very attentive, organized, knowledgeable, and always helpful. I am sure no one ever felt unsafe or that they did not have what they needed. Accommodations were superb, and we are still talking about the food. The guides suggestions were ALWAYS spot on. Nothing was ever scrimped on or short changed, we all always had enough (even more than enough) to eat.The Raki was a pleasure to end with (OK, maybe sometimes too good!)
I commend and thank the guides for making this trip so spectacular. While they were all outstanding, I would like to give Eric special recognition. Very mature, funny, great expertise, and really seemed to have the big picture of the trip and our whole group. He carried his responsibility extremely well and professionally. He has a broad perspective of the NW Passage mission, probably from his administrative duties in the off season. It was really our pleasure to get to know the guides, and Eric in particular. He is an asset to your program.
In closing, we will certainly look at and consider other NW Passage trips and hope we can have another experience like we just had.
- Victor and Amy, Schenectady, New York, -Oct. 2014
Chris and Eric were great! Chris guided and drove like a champ and Eric patiently put much time and effort into teaching me how to roll. The guides dropped lots of truth bombs about Crete and were awesome to hang out with! - Becker, K. St. Louis, MO - Crete, May.2013
Thank you so much for your time and patience with me and my new experiences. Yoo are so awesome. Bless you. -Lynda H, - Crete, Oct. 2012
Had such an amazing time on this trip. Fantastic guides and great places to be. I can't say enough about The Northwest Passage. Can't wait for the next trip! -Crete, Oct. 2012
Phenomenal experiences guys. Thanks so much for the great memories! God bless! -Justin D, Crete, Oct. 2012
Beautiful sunsets, spectacular water the color of jewels, incredible guides all of you (Ryan, Dana, Andrew, and Alex). Opening our eyes and hearts every day in a gorgeous country. Loved the trip more than you can know. Can't wait for the “Hawaii reunion” trip and the paddle/yoga trip. Loved every minute. Thank you for my happy place. -Marlene K, Crete, Oct. 2012
I planned and planned but nothing could have prepared me for the magic of Crete. My paddling improved, which was part of my goal, but so too did I find like-minded people interested in engaging this island in a non-touristic/traditional way. I have fallen in love with Crete, and almost as much with my fellow travelers. Let the future trips know that all 16 of us chose to be together even when the option existed to be on our own. Thanks to the Crete/Oct/2012 group. You have rocked my week. -Fran S, Crete, Oct. 2012
Thank you! You manages to find/create a sweet spot at the intersection of challenge, fun, discovery, security, and camaraderie. It was all very good. Thanks. -Joe N, Crete, Oct. 2012
I was not expecting such a great quality on this trip. Not expecting so many carefully prepared details, so I just would like to that you all for this wonderful experience. Amazing guides and unexpected organization. Will remember it long time. -Javi G, Crete, Oct. 2012
I have never asked myself so many times, “is this real? How can life be so good?” Thank you for such an amazing trip. It was so well organized that it seemed effortless and everyday was filled with amazing experiences. It was truly wonderful. -Samantha C, Crete, Oct. 2012
Great fun. The guides were superb. So good to see Ryan again. The best goup of any trip I have been on. Many thanks. -Joan S, Crete, Oct. 2012
Who does this? It was such a great time exploring a new culture, kayaking the ocean blue, and having such great guides! -Melinda H, Crete, Oct. 2012
"I loved the camaraderie of the group and being able to experience the beauty of Crete from the sea. Everything amazing from the people, the weather, the food, the kayaking/hiking. Kayaking into Luotro and cliff jumping were some of the best highlights." -Anita S., Durham, North Carolina-Crete 2012
"It was fantastic and personal. Very boutique trip and I felt great. It was amazing to have someone meet us at the end of a long paddle with cold drinks! Great guides too. Just stellar." -Brooke C., British Columbia, Canada-Crete 2012
"I am only emailing to my kids during my vacation, but I just wanted to send you an email to let you know what a phenominal trip this is. The group is wonderful, Chris and Taylor are completely delightful and are taking fantastic care of us and Crete, well need I say more. We just landed in Loutro and are soaking in the white and blue beauty. I knew no one when we started and I already feel I have made some friends for life.
Thank you all for making this a trip of a life time." -Carla G., Chicago, Illinois- Crete, 2012
"Great, great trip! It was the guides and freedom of choice they afforded us that made our trip so great. All guides went above and beyond expectations and were very helpful. Bethany was very enthusiastic and a good instructor. The best experience and kudos has to go to Chris, who deserves all acknowledgments - he was very experienced and extremely hospitable." - Richard W., Toronto, Ontario - Crete, 2011
"The food was good, the guides were encouraging and kept a good group dynamic, gave excellent instruction and offerings for activities. I really enjoyed the balance between hiking and kayaking options!" - Crete
"Great guides!! Keith and Chris were watchful and helpful. Chris did an incredible job during a very difficult paddle day and kept people calm and well informed." - Jill H., Oak Brook, Illinois
"Tons of fun!! I only wish I could continue the trip a few more days!!" - Heather N., Washington, DC
"Go for it! Great experience, even for beginners. This was one of the best vacations I have ever been on. The guides, Ryan and Chris, were AMAZING! Very helpful in difficult situations and always there for a good laugh. Great guys!" - Ashley D., Annandale, New Jersey
"I cannot say enough great things about Chris and Ryan. They really make the trip! I loved the options. See Crete in a unique way and eat well. Great hiking." - Rebecca J., Lansing, Michigan
"The guides were great and I really appreciated how they were always positive and encouraging. And how they had back-up plans when the weather was bad. Overall a great trip!" - Kacie C., Oakland, California
"Great mother daughter get away! This was defenitely a trip to remember. Vacations make memories to talk about for years to come. Good bonding with my girls!" - Kim D., Annandale, New Jersey
"Amazing, amazing trip. I am so glad I went! I cannot say enough good things. Ryan and Chris went above and beyond. They were always excited, smiling, enthusiastic, supportive, patient, helpful, teaching, looking out for us, and putting us in front of themselves... they were extraordinary - they went above and beyond and always made me feel safe and fully able to enjoy my experience." - Julie P., Menlo Park, California
"The guides were excellent - they tried to make all our wishes possible. They were safety conscious without being overly restrictive." - Patt R., Jackson, Michigan
"Chris and Ryan were awesome - very knowledgeable and fun. I really liked cliff jumping!" - Elizabeth R., New York, New York
"The guides were just terrific - professional but always friendly and patient, took opportunities to explain and elucidate, always ready to accommodate requests and offer plenty of alternatives if something wasn't going to work. Great facilitators!!! The food was fantastic. Two things I really enjoyed about the adventure were the accommodating "we'll do anything you want" attitude of Chris and Ryan, and seeing beautiful Crete, the gorges, the goats, the amazing colors of the sea and the clear water. This was a great tip in every way!" - Kerry K., Clancy, Montana
The guides were "excellent, very friendly and knowledgeable... I loved the food!" - Rick B., Jackson, Michigan
"The guides were incredibly helpful and helped make the trip great. They were always overly accommodating and up for having a good time- could have had a better guide duo. I really enjoyed learning the eskimo roll at Sweet Water Bay- thanks to Chris!" - Julie W., New York, New York
"We took the Crete kayaking trip for our honeymoon and we couldn't have designed a more perfect trip. From paddling and swimming in incredibly blue, warm water, to the impressive hike through the gorge, to the delicious food, the ruins, tiring us out thoroughly, and even learning to roll a sea kayak- we loved it all. Listen to the guides and you'll never go wrong" -Charles R., Seattle, Washington
"It was an experience in every sense of the word- fun, challenging, exhausting and joyful. I haven't had this much fun since I was a kid. The guides were amazing- very helpful and they did a great job challenging us to new adventures and fun!" -Kate E., Seattle, Washington
"Thank you so much for an absolute amazing trip! I had a great time. Definitely one of my favorites." -Rachael K., Tinton Falls, New Jersey
“Nothing short of excellent.” -Bruce P., Victoria, Australia
“I enjoyed not being a tourist behind the bus glass but having a go at being a traveler.” -Geoff F., Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
“Each day new facets of food, history, landscapes, etc. would unfold. My kayaking skills have improved -- a great way to explore!” -Bernice F., Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
“I enjoyed the combination of experiencing Crete as it is today -- vibrant in a harsh environment -- Crete’s history, brilliantly clear and colourful seas, which ranged from glassy smooth to turbulent, great company and skilled guides.” -Dora P., Victoria, Australia
“For those who have ever had the fantasy of a trip that challenges them physically and at the same time soothes the mind with in depth stress relief through connections with our past and with new friends, this is the company that is expert at it.” -Ron B., Oley, Pennsylvania
“Great job NWP. As always we love being treated as friends and always enjoy our time with you.” -Blayne and Charlene H., Ely, Minnesota
“Sea kayaking was new for me. Learning how to do it right was fun.” -Dan H., Milford, Ohio
“Having trouble processing thoughts at the moment, so all I can say is that this is the trip of a lifetime! [I enjoyed the] Great company, wonderful food, synchronous timing, the water colors, Marmara, wonderful guides, Samaria Gorge, Agio Galini, etc.” -Katie B., Palatine, Illinois
“Guides were top notch, extremely helpful. The Samaria Gorge was my highlight, and of course the final paddle.” -Lori V., Hillcrest, South Africa
“Age does not matter on this trip if you’re willing to have an open mind.” -Margaret M., Evanston, Illinois
“I felt very cared for and was able to attain the goals that I set for myself.” -Dianne D., Pittsfield, Massachusetts
“Everything was great. Everyone was thoughtful and attentive. I wish I had done this years ago.” -Paulette B., Wilmette, Illinois
“[The guides] Keith and Ryan are very knowledgeable and willing to share their passion about Crete and kayaking.” -Joel S., Cumming, Georgia
“Extremely worthwhile! Adventure of a lifetime! I’ll probably do something with The Northwest Passage in the near future.” -Nick T., Cumming, GA
“Spectacular! No exaggeration.” -Chuck L., St. Paul, Minnesota
“This is such a beautiful place to be and exploring it in a kayak or on foot brings you so much closer. The guides were extremely helpful and knowledgeable. They are clearly very capable paddlers but they also answered everyone’s questions from where to eat to where to shop. They were very patient and cheerful.” -Anna D.
“Guides were great, willing to do anything and very knowledgeable about everything.” -Judson B., Golden, Colorado
“I knew it would be beautiful but it was even more so than I thought. Rick and Andrea were always very thoughtful and helpful.” -Suzanne M., Denver, Colorado
“I loved the adventure. It’s a great way to escape from daily life and unplug in a beautiful part of the world.” -Phil R., Chicago, Illinois
“I’ve been to Crete three times now with The Northwest Passage. Each trip was just wonderful. NWP staff is the best prepared, best trained and best all around.” -Bob D., Evanston, Illinois
“I learned so much about kayaking. I loved the mysterious land of Crete and the companionship of participants and guides. This was the first group travel adventure that I have experienced. I think I have been spoiled for any other.” -Marcia H., Wilmette, Illinois
THE HISTORY OF CRETE
Crete is the largest of the islands of Greece, and is the home of Europe’s earliest known civilization, the enigmatic Minoans. While the first permanent settlements on Crete seem to date to about 8000 years ago, new artifacts found in sea caves along the coast we will kayak indicate that the first mariners may have reached its shores as early as 150,000 years ago, rewriting the history of early seafaring.
THE STONE AGE- 6000-2600 B.C.
Crete’s first inhabitants appear to have been a blend of settlers from Anatolia, Africa, and the coastal regions of the Middle East. Neolithic tools include handaxes, stone drills, and other artifacts. The site of the Minoan-era palace of Knossos and Phaestos are built over neolithic remains, and at Phaestos, the stone base of a neolithic-era hut can still be seen.
MEETING THE MINOANS (BRONZE AGE) - 3000-1400 B.C.
From simple beginnings, the arts and crafts began to thrive on Crete. Early dark-fired pottery called "Kamares Ware" after the cave in which it was first found still dazzles modern viewers with its delicacy and strong sense of design. From the beginning, Minoan artists expressed a freedom and liveliness of line that is enchanting. Around 2000, the first so-called palaces rise up, seemingly coordinated, in a number of places on Crete. These structures cover large areas with multi-story buildings enjoying a natural ventilation system and running water - even fountains and flush toilets. Images of beautiful women with complex coiffures and clothing dominate the arts, leading many to believe that the earliest Minoan society was ruled by powerful queens and priestesses rather than a male king. But by the time of the development of writing, the myths tell of powerful kings such as Minos himself and his brother Radamanthys, a renowned seafarer and lawgiver. But despite their power over the Aegean seas, men are not usually depicted in positions of power in Minoan art. A fresco of male tribute-bearers which originally covered hundreds of feet along the walsl at the palace complex of Knossos appears to end in front of a female figure, preserved only by her feet and hem of her dress.
But apparent divisions on the island drove some Minoans to the Greek mainland, where they may have mingled with the local Greeks and become the Myceneans.
The Minoans established towns throughout the Aegean and beyond in what some have termed a "thalassocracy" - domination by seatrade. But in a sudden shift about 1638 BC, everything changed. The island of Thira - now known as Santorini - exploded in a devastating volcanic eruption which sent as tsunami roaring into Crete, less than 90 miles away. The height of this wave has been estimated as high as 200 feet, and it was accompanied by a volcanic cloud which dimmed the sun enough to affect agriculture around the Mediterranean. About the same time, Knossos was destroyed in an earthquake and fire. Some historians believe there was an opportunistic invasion of Crete by the Mycenaeans shortly after the eruption and tsunami. In any case, there is a shift in language and culture after this time. Though Knossos itself was rebuilt, the other palaces were not, and Knossos became the undisputed center of Cretan politics during the Mycenaean period. After about 500 years, around the close of the estimated time of the Trojan War, the Mycenaeans lost power to a new invader, the Dorians, tall blue-eyed Greeks who are the ancestors of the local Sfakians we will meet along our journey. Some of the changes that come with the Dorians are preserved in the stone steles found at Gortyna which make up the "Gortyna Code", a collection of laws. Corrections 'penciled in" on these stone tablets show the gradual diminishment of Cretan women's rights of inheritance and other changes.
Crete eventually comes under the control of the Ptolemies, the Greek rulers of Egypt who came to power after the death of Alexander the Great. Crete at one point belonged to Cleopatra, who is believed to have visited her holding after it was restored to her by Marc Antony. She would not be the first femme fatale to make a visit to the island - Helen of Troy is also rumored to have stopped along the south coast of Crete while traveling with her husband Menelaus.
Crete is mentioned in the Bible several times, mostly in connection with St. Paul who is said to have been shipwrecked at the Cretan port of Fair Havens on his way back to Rome to face charges. In any case, the south coast is fond of St. Paul and there are several spots named for him, including a chapel on the beach at Agios Pavlos which we will visit by kayak. "Pavlos" is also a very popular name in southern Crete. Slightly later, St. Titus came to the island to preach and there are the remains of an early cathedral at the ancient site of Gortyna. While not part of our usual itinerary, some may find the ruins of this vast Roman-era city worth a visit before or after the trip.
After the departure of the Romans, Crete was made part of the Byzantine Empire. In 824 A.D. an Arab Saracen force invaded the Island, meeting little resistance. They used Crete as a base for attacks on ships and were little more than pirates. For over a century Arabs had control of the Island. The Byzantine rulers did little to help their colony until 961 A.D., when they drove out the Arabs in a huge and bloody battle which decimated the Cretan population and wiped out the occupying Arabs. After the Crusades, the island of Crete fell into Venetian hands. While the native Cretans were second-class citizens, the Venetians were generally more or less benevolent or merely indifferent rulers, and as time went on, Venetians and Cretans intermarried. Some of the foods of Crete and other Greek islands still reflect this Italian influence - which is why a baked spaghetti with pork dish is a specialty at one of the tavernas we'll visit.
The Venetians maintained control over Crete until 1668, when the Ottoman Empire captured the island. Crete remained under Ottoman control until long after the liberation of the rest of Greece, gaining independence in 1897. It was its own nation for about 15 years, reuniting with Greece in 1912.
During World War II, Crete was the site of the "Battle of Crete", when Hitler dispatched 17,000 paratroopers to take over the island in a single night. However, over six thousand of them were killed by local Cretans. While the invasion succeeded, the loss of so many elite troops against ill-equipped opponents made Hitler resolve to never use that method of attack again, a decision which may have cost him dearly.
In modern times, Crete enjoys a robust agricultural and shipping economy augmented by a vibrant tourism sector. While it is suffering from the financial crisis throughout Greece, Crete is still a net contributor to the economy of Greece, sending far more in taxes to the Greek government than they receive back in services - or so our Cretan friends insist. Crete also made good use of EU funds in the early days of Greece joining the Euro union, with the result that many roads and other infrastructure projects were financed with EU money. It also has become a popular destination for many Northern Europeans seeking a holiday home in the sun. Throughout the rest of Greece, Crete is renowned for its excellent food, great climate, and generous hospitality, all of which we will enjoy on our journey through the land of the mystical Minoans.