After a short time on Crete, you’ll quickly realise the incredible amount of natural wonders this island offers. Among these, the Kourtaliotiko Gorge stands out, carving a dramatic path through the island’s rugged landscape.
The Kourtaliotiko Gorge is one of the lesser popular gorges on the island and one of the few gorges with an active river running through them.
Here, the number of tourists don’t even come close to those of more popular gorges like Samaria gorge or Agia Irini, making it the ideal choice if you’re looking for an adventure off the beaten path with stunning views along the way.
In this guide you’ll find the best way to combine the Kourtaliotiko Gorge Hike and visit the Kourtaliotiko Gorge waterfalls. And everything you need to know for an amazing adventure day on one of the most beautiful and unique hikes in Crete!
Prepare for your trip to Crete
➔ Book your accommodation in advance – find the best hotel deals for Crete here.
➔ Find the best tours in Crete – book your adventures in Crete in advance.
➔ Rent a car – the best and easiest way to get around Istanbul is by renting a car.
➔ Travel Insurance – make sure you’re covered before your trip! I always use SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance which is super affordable and flexible.
Where is Kourtaliotiko Gorge
Kourtaliotiko Gorge is located in southwest Crete, on the way to the popular palm forest beach – Preveli Beach.
I definitely recommend combining the Kourtaliotiko Gorge with visiting Preveli Beach as this way you get to see two of Crete’s natural wonders in one day.
Kourtaliotiko Gorge is about a 40-minute drive away from Rethymno (25km), the closest major town to the gorge.
The journey from Chania (80km) takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes each way by car.
What is the best time to visit the Kourtaliotiko Gorge
The best time to embark on your Kourtaliotiko Gorge hike and explore the waterfalls is during the spring and autumn months.
From April to June and September to early November, the weather in Crete is typically mild and pleasant, making these periods ideal for outdoor activities.
During these months, the temperatures are comfortable for hiking, and the landscapes of the gorge are particularly vibrant.
The water flow in the waterfalls also tends to be more substantial during the spring due to the winter rains.
However, keep in mind that even though the water in the waterfalls is freezing cold throughout the year. If you plan to swim in the waterfalls it will be a lot more enjoyable during a warmer summer day.
The peak summer season of July and August can be quite hot, and the trail offers limited shade. So if you plan a summer visit, be sure to start early in the morning to avoid the peak heat.
How to get to Kourtaliotiko Gorge
There are two ways to get to Kourtaliotiko Gorge: by car or by taking a guided tour.
A trekking tour through the Kourtaliotiko Gorge would be a great option if for whatever reason you can’t rent a car or are looking for a well-organised guided trip through the gorge.
There are also other great tours that take you to visit the gorge and its waterfalls and then continue onto some other sites in the area like the beautiful palm beach of Preveli.
However, if you’re planning on doing the Kourtaliotiko Gorge hike and want to have full flexibility on the route, I definitely recommend visiting the gorge by car.
We rented our car for the full duration of our trip from RentalCars.com and we were super happy with the service and the ultimate flexibility a car offers.
Now, you may be asking yourself if it’s possible to visit the Kourtaliotiko Gorge by bus? With the current bus schedule, I wouldn’t say so. There are only buses that go from Rethymno to Plakias, and then Plakias to Preveli Beach.
The starting point of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge hike is about a 15 minute drive from Preveli Beach. So unless you take a taxi from Plakias or from Preveli (I’m not sure if there are any available), reaching the gorge as well as returning back to your starting point by public transport would be quite a hassle.
That’s why I recommend you either rent a car if you want to do the hike and have flexibility, or take a guided tour if you just want to visit the gorge and the waterfalls.
Kourtaliotiko Gorge Hike starting point
The starting point of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge hike is at a side stop along the road marked on Google Maps as Kantina.
There’s only enough parking space for a few cars so try to come here before 10am so you can grab a spot.
The beginning of the hike is also where you’ll find the Kourtaliotiko Gorge waterfalls and it’s a popular stop for guided tours and other tourists, so it can get busier.
Preparing for the Hike
Before setting off on your Kourtaliotiko Gorge hike, it’s important to be adequately prepared.
Due to the rugged and uneven terrain, sturdy, comfortable footwear is essential. If you’re planning on taking a dip in the waterfalls, I would also recommend bringing with you water shoes.
Bring along a refillable water bottle to stay hydrated throughout the hike. Packed lunch and a few energy-rich snacks for a quick fuel boost on the trail are recommended as there won’t be anywhere you can stock up.
Check the weather forecast to ensure it won’t be raining. On some days, the wind inside the gorge can also be quite strong so do check for that too.
The weather in the gorge can change quickly, so carry a lightweight jacket or rain poncho just in case.
Lastly, don’t forget essentials like sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses for protection against the sun.
It’s also really important to download any offline maps on your phone like Maps.me as there’s no signal when you get inside the gorge.
Don’t forget to bring your camera and/or phone for capturing the amazing views of the gorge and its waterfalls.
Kourtaliotiko Gorge Hike
Starting the hike
The Kourtaliotiko Gorge hike starts from the stop on the side of the road marked on Google Maps as Kantina. From here, walk towards the stone arch which marks the start of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge waterfalls hike.
A carved staircase of roughly 300 steps leads you down towards the heart of the gorge.
As you descend, the path splits in two. I recommend you first go left, where you’ll pass by the small church of Agios Nikolaos, nestled on one side. Adding a touch of history and culture to the landscape.
From here you can already hear the real spectacle that is waiting for you at the end of the staircase – the thundering waterfall.
There are two viewpoints here where you can get a different perspective of the waterfalls – one from above to the left of the church.
And the other one from the bridge which is right in front of the church.
It’s a great spot to stop for a few moments and enjoy the sounds of the cascades plunging into the river flow below.
Swimming in the waterfalls
After you’ve spent some time admiring the waterfalls from above, it’s time to get further into the gorge to continue your hike.
To do that, go back up the stairs until you reach the point where the path splits again. This time, take the path that leads you to the right (from the descending point of you) and go down until you reach the turquoise cool waters of the river.
If you wish to take a dip in the waterfalls, take a left and start heading towards the Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall entrance. You’ll need to walk over rocks and step over some water pipes to get there, but it’s all part of the fun!
A few metres later you find yourself at the entrance of the waterfall. From here you’ll have to swim for 10-15 metres to reach the inner part of the gorge where it gets shallow and you can experience the full force of the waterfall.
Beware, the water is freezing cold and swimming in the river may not be for everyone!
It really is a challenge for the mind and the body to overcome the coldness. However, it also feels super refreshing and definitely worth it once you reach the majestic waterfalls cascades in front of you.
Hiking further into the Kourtaliotiko Gorge
Whether you’ve just finished swimming under the waterfalls or decided to skip the swim, the next phase of the hike begins from the point where you reached the river.
From here, turn right and follow the path along the river where the terrain becomes more rugged and unexplored.
Clambering over rocks and navigating the pebble-strewn riverbed, you delve further into Crete’s untamed beauty, each step offering a rewarding challenge and beautiful scenery.
This was one of my favourite parts of the hike, where there isn’t really a marked trail to guide you.
Instead you make your way through the rocks and the riverbed, following your intuition, having a bit of trial and error, crossing the river at multiple points and perhaps even getting yourself a bit dirty crossing the muddy parts of the path.
The charm of hiking through the Kourtaliotiko Gorge lies in its raw, unspoiled nature.
This rarely explored wilderness offers a sense of exploration, making you feel as though you’re creating your own trail rather than treading a pre-carved path.
It’s this very sensation that turns an ordinary hike into an extraordinary adventure. It’s a feeling you have to experience for yourself.
Hiking trail options
When we first did this hike, our goal was to hike all the way down to Preveli Beach.
Google Maps states that it would take about 2.5 hours to reach Preveli Beach from the entrance of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge. This, however, isn’t the case since even if you take the less scenic gravel path above the water, it’s still 7.2 km away from Preveli Beach each way.
However, we weren’t fully aware of this when we did the hike, having been misled by incorrect information in another guide.
Without signal and without having previously downloaded an offline map (don’t make the same mistake as me), we weren’t aware of just how far Preveli Beach was from the entrance of the gorge.
We only realised this after an hour of hiking and decided to return back to the car and drive to Gefyra Bridge from where a shorter hike to Preveli Beach starts.
Nevertheless, despite this not being the hike we were originally planning to do, the untouched rugged path through the gorge was actually my favourite part of the day!
For a fully immersive hiking experience, I’d recommend you just hike inside the gorge for as long as you feel comfortable and can follow the river for.
From there, just return back to the starting point of the hike at Kantina. Depending on the time of day and how tired you are, you could either drive down to Gefyra Bridge and start a 2 hour hike to the beautiful palm Preveli Beach.
Or alternatively you can drive straight to Preveli Beach and enjoy the rest of the afternoon chilling on the beach and enjoying the crystal-clear sea water.
Other Points of Interest Nearby
Once you’ve completed the Kourtaliotiko Gorge hike there’s plenty more to explore in the vicinity.
After your hike, as I mentioned above, consider heading to Preveli Beach, known for its rare palm forest and pristine coastline. You can do this either by driving straight to the beach or by going on a second hike that starts from Gefyra Bridge and leads you to Preveli.
Alternatively, a short drive from the gorge, you can reach Plakias, a charming village with tavernas serving up delicious local cuisine and a beautiful sandy beach. It’s the perfect spot for a delicious traditional lunch.
The Monastery of Preveli is also a must-visit when in the area, just a few kilometres away, home to religious relics and surrounded by serene gardens.
These sites, combined with the gorge, can make your trip to this part of Crete truly unforgettable.
The Kourtaliotiko Gorge hike stands out as a unique gem in Crete‘s abundant natural beauty.
The untouched, raw character of this hike offers an unparalleled sense of exploration, immersing you into the ruggedness of the gorge with its waterfalls, river, and abundant natural life.
For those considering this hike, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Prepare for an exciting walk that’s a little off the beaten track. Remember, sturdy shoes, water, and snacks are a must bring on this trail.
Don’t rush through it – take your time to embrace the untouched beauty around you, whether it’s swimming under the waterfall or navigating the rocks along the river.
This hike is definitely less about the destination and more about the journey.
Enjoy and let me know if you have any questions!