Zakros Gorge Hike: A Local’s Guide to Crete’s Gorge of the Dead

Zakros gorge hike

Are you visiting Kato Zakros and want to know more about its famous Gorge of the Dead? As scary as the name might sound, the reality is much nicer yet intriguing. Sounds interesting? Here’s everything about the Kato Zakros Gorge and its wild beauty.

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Introduction to Kato Zakros

zakros gorge
Drone view of the gorge and the coastline.

Situated in the less crowded and peaceful eastern part of Crete, Kato Zakros is a serene coastal settlement that invites you to unwind and rejuvenate.

Beyond its tranquil retreat, however, lies one of the island’s most intriguing and historic natural wonders: the Gorge of the Dead. 

Aerial view of the local landscape, Zakros Gorge.
Aerial view of the local landscape, Zakros Gorge.

This guide will help you explore this beautiful location, offering insights into its history, significance, and thrilling hike. So, prepare for an adventure that will transport you through time and nature, leaving you refreshed and inspired.

Location of Kato Zakros Gorge

Zakros gorge trail.
Zakros Gorge Trail.

Kato Zakros Gorge, also known as the Gorge of the Dead, is located between the settlements of Zakros and Kato Zakros.

It forms the final part of the European Long Distance Trail E4, a picturesque hiking trail that extends from Portugal, crosses the Mediterranean countries of Southern Europe, and ends in Kato Zakros, Crete.

Getting to the Gorge

Aerial view Zakros coastline.
Aerial view of Zakros coastline.

You can reach Kato Zakros by car or bus. If you’re starting from Athens, a flight to Heraklion Airport followed by a drive to Kato Zakros would be the most convenient option.

The journey will take you through scenic routes, offering glimpses of Crete’s stunning landscapes. 

Zakros Gorge.
Zakros Gorge.

I’d also recommend staying in town – that is, in Kato Zakros, as you can walk right from your house rental to the gorge. That’s what we did. And if you copy us, wake up as early as possible to enjoy one of the most spectacular sunrises you’ll ever see.

The Origin of the Name: Gorge of the Dead

zakros gorge
The trail.

Despite its unsettling name, the Gorge of the Dead is not haunted or dangerous (unless you’d like to believe that for fun: go for it!). The name comes from the Minoan burial tombs discovered within the large caves dotting the gorge’s steep walls. 

Some may say this is still a little spooky feeling, and I would agree, yet when we hiked it in early spring, it was nothing short of a perfect day in the sunshine.

Sunset in Zakros.
Sunset in Zakros.

Alright, back to the tombs: The tombs of the Gorge of the Dead come from a unique burial tradition four thousand years ago. At the time, the Minoans had to carry and somehow haul their deceased up the gorge’s sheer cliffs. 

Although the reasoning behind this is unclear, some archaeologists suggest that the Minoans expected their dead to resurrect. Hence, they often placed them high up on cliffs to avoid disturbance.

Walking Through the Gorge of the Dead

Zakros Gorge.
Zakros Gorge.

The Kato Zakros Gorge offers multiple hiking routes, each promising a thrilling adventure. For instance, the hike from Ano Zakros to Kato Zakros is a moderate 8-kilometer trail that takes about two to two-and-a-half hours to complete. 

The trail features a stunning landscape of towering rocks and rugged mountain faces, making the trek a thrilling experience for nature enthusiasts.

zakros gorge
End of the trail near the village.

The gorge trail is extensive and can feel like a desert as you begin, but things change once you continue.

You will soon notice the walls start to narrow away around you while the trees and greenery grow more and more. We even had a couple of sheep hiking ahead of us, which was fun, so you will not be short of nature during this hike!

zakros gorge

As you continue, you will notice the path goes slightly up and down in elevation. It never gets too steep, so this is perfect if you are not an experienced hiker. 

Note that this is an out-and-back trail, so once you finish the gorge, you will turn around and finish in the other direction. However, when you do, you will have a beautiful view of the ocean as you near the end. If you keep walking straight toward the ocean, you will find yourself in the crystal clear waters of southern Crete.

Experiencing the Natural Beauty

Zakros: The landscape.
The landscape.

As you explore the gorge, you’ll be captivated by its breathtaking natural beauty and unique vegetation. Specifically, the canyon is a haven for various trees, such as plane trees and myrtles, and aromatic plants like oregano, thyme, and sage. 

These plants, harvested by bees, fill the air with intoxicating aromas, adding an alluring touch to your hike and leaving you in awe of nature’s wonders.

Zakros Gorge.
Zakros Gorge.

Speaking of bees, if you are hiking in March or April, bring allergy medication if you experience some allergies as a traveler. This will help to make your hike all the better!

The Flora and Fauna

zakros gorge
Zakros trail.

The gorge is a haven for various species of birds, including blackbirds, partridges, and birds of prey. Its rich flora includes unique plant species like the Sitia Orchid and the ancient aromatic evergreen rue, believed to protect against poisoning and negative energy.

The Archaeological Significance

Gorge of the Dead
Gorge of the Dead.

The caves within the gorge walls served as burial grounds during the Minoan period, giving it the moniker The Gorge of the Dead. Archaeologists have found valuable artifacts within these tombs, significantly contributing to our understanding of the Minoan civilization. 

Whether you’re into history or not, the canyon’s rich archaeological significance adds another layer of fascination to your adventures. In short, it’s not your average hike, so if you are torn between going to a museum and hiking one day in Crete, this is the gorge for you. 

zakros gorge
Gorge of the Dead.

To make the most of your visit, read a guide on the Minoans in Eastern Crete before entering the gorge. It will help you recognize the cultural significance of this well-preserved area and give recognition to all the people who lived before us.

>> Read more about the Minoan Palace of Kato Zakros

Safety Measures and Tips

zakros gorge
Zakros trail.

While the Kato Zakros Gorge is generally safe and easy to walk, preparing well for the hike is essential. This includes carrying plenty of water and snacks, dressing appropriately, and constantly checking weather updates. 

zakros gorge

In winter, the riverbed can be filled with water, making the rocks slippery and possibly increasing the hike’s difficulty. However, if you follow these safety measures, you will enjoy a safe and memorable trek through the Gorge of the Dead.

Kato Zakros: A Rewarding Destination

Zakros, the beach and the village.
Zakros, the beach, and the village.

Once you’ve completed the hike, you’ll find yourself in the tranquil village of Kato Zakros. It’s a haven of peace, and some incredible beaches are only a 20-minute walk down the road. 

Here, you can relax by the crystal-clear sea, explore the famous Minoan Palace, or savor delicious meals at the local tavernas. 

You’ll also notice that the area is mostly tourist-populated. That’s because locals live in the village higher up in the mountains. As a result, the town is so quiet that it feels like a true escape from everyday life.

Drone view, Zakros Gorge.
Drone view, Zakros Gorge.

The Kato Zakros Gorge, with its historical significance, natural beauty, and thrilling hiking trails, offers a unique experience for nature lovers and history buffs. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a casual walker, the Gorge of the Dead is a must-visit destination in Crete that promises an unforgettable journey.

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zakros gorge

Written by Dimitrios Tsevremes
Passionate about travel, spirituality, and sports, Dimi divides his time between Chania (Crete) and other countries. Writing is a way for him to express himself and his creativity. You can find out more about him and his work here.

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A Local’s Guide to Zakro Gorge

Zakros gorge hike in Crete

About me:

Gabi Ancarola | The Tiny Book

Gabi Ancarola

I have lived in Chania, Crete, since 2016. As a local, I have an intimate knowledge of the island. I host culinary and concierge tours and experiences in Crete and write about the island for several travel media. During the last five years, I have helped many travelers plan the perfect holiday in Crete. I co-authored DK Eyewitness Top 10 Crete and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person could ever handle.

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