Everyone with an extra day on Crete -- and steady legs and solid walking shoes -- should consider hiking through the Samaria Gorge. The endeavor involves first getting to the top of the gorge, a trip of about 42km (26 miles) from Chania. Second comes the actual descent and hike through the gorge itself, some 18km (11 miles). Third, a boat takes you from the village of Ayia Roumeli, at the end of the gorge, to Khora Sfakion; from there, it's a bus ride of about 75km (46 miles) back to Chania. (Some boats go westward to Paleochora, approximately the same distance by road from Chania.)
Most visitors do it all in a long day, but you can put up for the night at one of the modest hotels and rooms at Ayia Roumeli, Paleochora (to its west), Souya (to its east), Khora Sfakion (main port to meet buses), and elsewhere along the south coast. I strongly advise signing up with one of the many travel agencies in Chania that get people to and from the gorge. This way, you are guaranteed seats on the bus (there and back) and on the boat. One agency I recommend is Diktynna Travel, 6 Archontaki St. (tel. 28210/41-458; www.diktynna-travel.gr); it offers a day excursion -- including all transportation to and from the Samaria George -- for 65€ per person. In recent years, Samaria Gorge has been so successfully promoted as one of the great natural splendors of Europe that on the most crowded days, you can find yourself walking single file with several thousand other people. Starting very early is one way to beat the worst of the crowd; alternatively, start on in the afternoon and plan to spend the night in Ayia Roumeli. The gorge is open from about mid-April through mid-October (depending on weather conditions); the best chance for a bit of solitude means hiking near the beginning or end of the season. The hike is relatively taxing; and here and there, you will scramble over boulders. Bring water and snacks, and wear sturdy, comfortable shoes. Admission is 5€.
The gorge offers enough opportunities to break away from the crowds. You'll be treated to the fun of crisscrossing the water, not to mention the sights of wildflowers (but don't pick them!) and dramatic geological formations, the sheer height of the gorge's sides, and several unexpected chapels -- it will all add up to a worthwhile experience, one that many regard as the highlight of their visit to Crete.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.