Valley of the Dead
by / Juhani

Updated 30.03.2014

Less than 6km (4 miles) long Kato Zakros Gorge (“Valley of the dead”) opens to the sea at the Kato Zarkos village on the east coast of Crete. The entire gorge is much longer and has multiple forks, but the 6km long part is largest in size and most popular. The name of the gorge dates back to findings from the Minoan period, during which the dead were buried into small caves in the walls of the gorge.

The narrow and winding trail on the bottom of the gorge is lined up with bushes. It is here where the E4 hiking trail reaches its easternmost point. Down by the sea shore, at the end of the gorge is a village called Kato Zakros, and a few kilometres inland at 300 meters altitude is another village called Zakros.

The start of the hike from the parking area, in the middle of the gorge.

Kato Zakros is situated about 40 kilometers from Sitia and 20 kilometers from Palekastro. The descent to the village is via a steep road, and the village is a small tourist site with a few taverns and a couple of choices for accommodation. The beach is stony, but swimmable. Kato Zakros may feel a bit too windy, but it is worth a visit as there is lot to see and visit in its vicinity. 

The Minoan Palace of Zakros is close to the village, just a few hundred meters apart. The area of the palace is fenced and guarded and there is an entrance fee to be paid.

There are ongoing excavations in the area and findings have been valuable and numerous. The palace has been mentioned as one of the four most remarkable administrative palaces of the Minoan period, partly perhaps because of the good harbour which made the ancient city a significant trading post in the eastern Mediterranean.

The burial caves of the gorge have also been studied and examined thoroughly.

The remnants of the Minoan villages in the gorge can be reached with just under a two hour hike from Kato Zakros.

Hiking the Zakros Gorge

There are no organized tours, so here you are on your own. You can reach the gorge from three different locations:
1. Upward from Kato Zakros. This is the most recommended route as there are food and lodging available in the village.
2. From the middle of the gorge from a well marked parking lot by the road leading to Kato Zakros.
    This is a good option for a short visit to the gorge with no services. (See photo below).
3. Downward from the Zakros village. The most difficult sections are even more difficult going downward.
4. Gorge hike upward from the Kato Zakros village

The mouth of the gorge seen from the Kato Zakros village.

Approximate timetable:

It takes about 
-15 minutes to walk from the village to the gate of the gorge (in the picture below)
– 60 minutes from the gate to the trail junction from which you can get to the parking lot mentioned above
– 30 minutes from the trail junction to the parking lot
– 30 minutes from the trail junction to the right to the ruins of a Minoan village
– 3 hours 30 minutes from Kato Zakros to the Minoan village and back to Kato Zakros

In the Zakros gorge you usually have to hike back and forth. There are a couple of taxis in the village, but there is no guarantee they are available when needed. A bus leaves up from the village during the afternoon, but a bit too late to be a good option. As a hitchhike is an unreliable option too, it is recommended to plan the whole hike in advance to be performed back and forth.

Hiking trails are available also on both sides above the gorge, of which the trail on the right leads to the Minoan village on the bank of the gorge. There is another ruined village in the gorge. The actual Minoan palace area is on the hillside to the right of this picture.

The trail is lined up with bushes and has a rocky surface, so heavy-duty shoes are recommended. In some places the bushes are very thick. There are lots of shady places available for cover from the shining sun, but a big water bottle is nevertheless needed and the most important piece of equipment next to a good headgear. The trail is marked with red dots, but there really isn’t any way to get lost while in the gorge. The trail includes stony and rocky sections, but has only a few gently sloping step-like climbs making it a suitable hiking experience for anyone.

Additional information:

Google Earth map of Kato Zakros