Kourtaliotiko Gorge: How To Get There And Find This Magical Waterfall in Crete, Greece

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a collage of kourtaliotiko gorge waterfall in crete island greece
Discover Crete’s best kept secret – Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall

Explore Crete off the beaten track. Find out how to get to Kourtaliotiko Gorge and see its otherworldly waterfall with or without a car.

Planning to visit Kourtaliotiko Gorge but have no idea how to get there? You’ve come to the right place!

We spent two weeks exploring Crete island and swimming under Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall was one of our absolute highlights. And it will be yours too if you love adventure and are willing to brave swimming in frigid water.

It’s worth it though! Just take a look at this view and tell us you don’t want to go there, we dare you!

the cascades of waterfall in the deep gorge of Kourtaliotiko with trees on the side of the canyon
Kourtaliotiko Gorge waterfall looks like a scene from Avatar

Finding the gorge isn’t difficult. But finding the entrance to the waterfall is tricky without some insider tips.

That’s why we’ve written this Crete travel guide! Find out how to get to Kourtaliotiko Gorge with or without a car, the best time to visit, and other travel tips so you can make the most out of your adventure in Greece.

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Why This Is A Must-Visit in Crete

There are countless beautiful places to visit in Crete. But discovering Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall is something no one can forget. We surely can’t!

Not only is it a breathtaking, magical place. But in our opinion, it’s probably one of the best-kept secrets of Crete.

In fact, we would never have known about this waterfall if it was not for a kind-hearted local who told us that this is a must-visit in Crete.

We’re paying it forward by sharing this hidden gem with you! Sharing is caring, after all.

Related Guide: Planning an epic vacation in Crete? Skip all the guesswork and follow our exact Two Weeks in Crete itinerary! Or check out our ridiculously detailed Crete Itinerary for a shorter vacation.

Where is Kourtaliotiko Gorge

Kourtaliotiko Gorge is located in southwest Crete, not far away from the famous palm tree forest beach – Preveli Beach.

Rethymno is the closest major town to this hidden gem. About a 40-minute drive (25km) away. But it’s also possible to get to Kourtaliotiko Gorge from Chania and Heraklion if you don’t mind the long drive.

The drive to the gorge from Chania (80km) and Heraklion (105km) is about 1 hour and 30 minutes (one-way).

The canyon itself is formed between the beautiful rocky mountains of Kouroupa and Xiron. It is here where the mighty Kourtaliotiko River has for thousands of years carved out deep and majestic gorges and canyons that have created what the gorge is today.

a man standing on paved stairs in greece looking up at rocky mountains
The beautiful rocky mountains around Kourtaliotiko Gorge

Kourtaliotiko Gorge is stunning. But the ultimate highlight is seeing its otherworldly waterfalls. And even better yet, swim beneath its thundering cascades.

How High Is Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall?

The waterfall is 40 meters high!

How To Get To Kourtaliotiko Gorge

There are a few ways to get to Kourtaliotiko Gorge: by public transport (bus), by car, or taking a guided tour.

By Public Transport (Bus)

It’s easy to get to Kourtaliotiko Gorge by public bus. It’s getting back to civilization that’s the tricky part.

But don’t worry. If you don’t mind making the journey just as exciting as the destination. Then getting there by public transport won’t be a problem.

a turquoise blue public bus in crete
Public buses in Crete are either turquoise or white

There are only 2 bus services a day on Mondays to Saturdays and 1 bus service on Sundays. So make sure to check the KTEL bus schedule and plan ahead if you’re getting there by public transport.

We’d recommend taking the early morning bus (06:00 on weekdays). That way, you’ll have enough time to explore the gorge and hike down to Preveli Beach.

Getting From Rethymno

To get to the start of the hike, you’ll need to take the public bus (KTEL) from Rethymno to Plakias.

Get off at Asomatos – the closest bus stop to the gorge. From there, you’ll need to walk 30 to 40 minutes (3km) to get to the start of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge hike.

Bonus Tip: The bus ticket from Rethymno costs €4.50 per person. The entire journey will take around 1 hour and 10 minutes to get to the entrance of the waterfall hiking trail.

Getting from Chania to Kourtaliotiko Gorge

To get from Chania to Kourtaliotiko Gorge, you’ll first need to take public transport from Chania to Rethymno. Then catch another bus from Rethymno to the gorge.

We don’t recommend this option unless you plan to stay in Rethymno for the night.

The earliest bus from Chania to Rethymno is at 05:15. It takes more than an hour to get from Chania to Rethymno by bus. This means that you won’t make it in time to catch the 06:00 bus from Rethymno to Plakias.

If you plan to visit there from Chania, we’d highly recommend you rent a car and drive there instead.

You can easily compare prices for renting a car in Crete on DiscoverCars.com or RentalCars.com.

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How To Get Back From Kourtaliotiko Gorge to Rethymno

Getting back from Kourtaliotiko Gorge to Rethymno is tricky, but not impossible.

You’ll need to hike down to Preveli beach and take the 15:00 or 17:00 ferry with LB Ferries from Preveli beach to Plakias. Ferry tickets cost €9 for adults and €5 for kids.

Then stay the night in Plakias so you can catch the next available bus back to Rethymno the next day.

Not sure where to stay in Plakias? Don’t worry – here are some suggestions:

Find more options on Booking.com or read hotel reviews on TripAdvisor before booking.

Bonus Tip: The KTEL website does not sell bus tickets from Plakias to Rethymno online. But you will be able to buy bus tickets at a coffee shop or supermarket in Plakias.

Getting to the gorge by public transport will take 2 days out of your Crete itinerary. But it’s a great opportunity to visit the quaint town of Plakias whilst you’re at it.

If you’re tight on time, then the best way to get there is to rent a car and drive there.

Getting There by Car

Getting there by car is easy. Simply follow Google maps and take the north-south motorway from Rethymno to the entrance of the hiking route.

It’s a fairly easy, 40-minute drive (25km) on paved roads all the way. The drive from Rethymno to Kourtaliotiko Gorge is incredibly scenic.

You’ll pass many farms with endless rows of shimmering olive trees before you reach the mountain pass that takes you to the starting point to enter Kourtaliotiko Gorge.

Related Guide: First time visiting Crete island? Make sure to read our Driving in Crete guide for the essential road rules to know.

Parking at Kourtaliotiko Gorge

There is a small parking area near the entrance of Kourtaliotiko Gorge. Just head to the Kantina and park alongside the street-side cantina.

a small parking area next to a roadside cantina near kourtaliotiko gorge in crete greece
The small parking area next to the Kantina

Parking is free here. But there are only a couple of parking spots so make sure to get there early (before 10:00 ideally).

Getting There by Guided Tour

If you plan to explore Crete without a car and don’t want to take the public bus, you can visit Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall via a guided tour.

It’s off the beaten track, so there aren’t many tours that go there. The only guided tour to see this hidden gem in Crete is this day trip to Sfakia, Plakias, and Kourtaliotiko Gorge.

We’re not sure if the guide will get wet and swim with you to see the waterfall. But it’s an optional activity that you can do on your own on the tour.

How To Get To Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall

Now, to answer the big question – how do you get to Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall?

entrance to water cave at kourtaliotiko canyon
We always choose the road more adventurous

There are two options. The first option is to see the waterfall from above. The second (and more adventurous) option is to see and swim under the cascades of the waterfall below.

Can you guess which option we took?

Whether you want to see options 1 or 2 (or both!), we’ve shared the exact directions below.

Kourtaliotiko Gorge Map

It may be tempting to just follow Google Maps to see the Big Waterfall of Kourtaliotiko Gorge. But doing this will only take you on the option 1 hike – which is seeing the waterfall from above.

The views from above are no doubt beautiful. But if you’d like to fully immerse yourself in this stunning natural wonder and feel the mighty thunder of the waterfall, then option 2 is the answer.

a map of the hiking trail to kourtaliotiko gorge waterfall
The starting point of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall hike

Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall Hiking Route

From the Kantina, walk towards the Stone Arch entrance to the starting point of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall hike. Descend the steps until the road splits in two.

a stone arch alongisde the road in crete marking the entrance to the hiking trail that leads down to kourtaliotiko gorge waterfall
The Stone Arch entrance that leads you to Kourtaliotiko Gorge waterfall

Turn left if you want to see the waterfall from above (option 1). You’ll know you’re heading in the right direction if you pass a small church (Church of Agios Nikolaos).

To see and swim under the waterfall (option 2), turn right and continue descending until you reach the turquoise, blue waters of the river.

Once you reach the river, turn left to head towards the entrance of the waterfall. You’ll need to walk and climb over rocks and water pipes to reach the entrance.

water pipes next to the kourtaliotiko river at the bottom of the canyon in crete greece
You’re at the right trail if you see lots of water pipes next to the river

We’d highly recommend wearing any non-slip (or hiking) shoes so you can do this part of the hike safely. This part of the trail can be tricky, but it’s only for a couple of meters until you reach the entrance to the waterfall.

Once you reach the entrance to Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall, the real fun and adventure begin!

turquoise blue waters that lead into the entrance to the waterfall at kourtaliotiko schlucht in kreta
The entrance to swim to Kourtaliotiko Gorge waterfall

From here, you’ll need to swim 10 to 15 meters in freezing (but crystal-clear) waters to reach the inner sanctum of the gorge and experience the waterfall in all its might.

This is probably some of the coldest water we’ve swam in. But so worth it when you see the waterfall and double rainbows within.

What is the Difficulty Level of Hiking Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall?

The hike from the entrance down to the gorge is relatively easy. It’s only a 10 to 15 minute descent and the stairs are mostly paved or treated.

a man hiking down the steps to reach the bottom of the canyon at kourtaliotiko gorge
The hike down is relatively easy if you have good knees

Scrambling over the rocks and pipes to get to the entrance to the waterfall is slightly trickier. But it’s manageable with the correct shoes.

Swimming in the frigid water was probably the hardest part of this hike. The crystal clear, turquoise blue water may look inviting. But the water is so cold that it will literally take your breath away.

Luckily you won’t have to swim very far – just 10 meters or so before it becomes shallow again. Then you can enjoy the majestic views of Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall from within until you’re ready to leave.

Bonus Tip: Make sure to bring a waterproof bag for your phone or camera. There are some seriously Instagram-worthy shots inside. We’ve used our Ocean Pack Waterproof bag for years now. But a waterproof smartphone pouch would work too.

a man standing in knee deep crystal clears waters under waterfalls in crete
An Instagrammable photo spot!

Related Guide: Love this photo? Check out our Crete Photography guide to find the most beautiful places on the island for taking photos.

Kourtaliotiko Gorge to Preveli Beach Hiking Route

We didn’t hike from Kourtaliotiko Gorge to Preveli beach (we ran out of time). But it’s possible to do so and highly recommended if you arrived there by public transport.

The hiking trail is about 10km and will take the average hiker 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete.

a map of the hiking route from kourtaliotiko gorge waterfall to preveli beach
The hiking trail from Kourtaliotiko Gorge to Preveli Beach

Once you’ve descended the gorge and reached the river, follow the path along the river heading south.

We couldn’t find the exact hiking trail on Komoot or AllTrails. But Google Maps provides a rough guideline on how to hike from the waterfall to Preveli beach.

Hiking in Crete can be quite challenging. We’d only recommend this trail for experienced hikers.

preveli is one of the most unique beaches on crete island
The stunning views of Preveli beach from above

Bonus Tip: There is no phone signal at the bottom of the gorge. Make sure you download Google offline maps before the hike.

Can You Do Kourtaliotiko Gorge with Kids?

We don’t currently have kids. But if we did, we’d only bring kids to Kourtaliotiko Gorge waterfall if they’re older than 14 years old.

Younger children may struggle to scramble over the large rocks and water pipes to get to the entrance of the waterfall. Once they reach the entrance, they’ll need to swim in really cold water to see the waterfall.

a woman scrambling on all fours climbing large rocks next to the kourtaliotiko river
Scrambling over large rocks can be tricky

We’re not sure what the exact temperature of the water is. But our best guess is between 5 to 10 degrees Celsius (41 to 50 Fahrenheit).

Related Guide: Planning a family-friendly vacation in Crete? Read our Where To Stay in Crete guide for a list of the best towns to stay with kids.

Things To Bring For Kourtaliotiko Gorge Hike

It would be a shame to arrive here and not see the waterfall because you weren’t prepared. Not on our watch!

Here’s a short packing list for visiting:

Sustainable Travel Tip: Don’t apply sunscreen if you’re planning to swim at the gorge. The ingredients in most commercial sunscreens will destroy the flora and fauna of the river. Alternatively, use an organic, eco- and reef-friendly sunscreen like SurfDurt or  Suntribe Organic Sun Cream.

Best Time To Visit Kourtaliotiko Gorge Waterfall

The best time to visit Kourtaliotiko Gorge waterfall is on a warm, sunny day. We’re not exaggerating when we say the water temperature is freezing.

The best months to visit will then be between May and September.

Whatever you do, don’t go to the gorge after heavy rain or bad weather. The water levels of the the river can fluctuate a lot which can make swimming dangerous.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Travel insurance will protect you against injury, illness, theft and even trip cancellation. It’s comprehensive cover in case anything goes wrong. We never go on a trip without it as we’ve had to use it many times in the past. Here are our favourite companies that offer the best value and service:

Where To Stay Near Kourtaliotiko Gorge

The area around Kourtaliotiko Gorge is quite remote. But there are a few places to stay in the villages nearby.

The closest village is Frati. It’s a short 6 minute drive (3km) from the gorge but you’ll need a car to get there.

Here are some vacation rental recommendations to get you started:

Another option is to stay near Preveli beach:

For more options on where to stay near Kourtaliotiko Gorge, check out Booking.com or read reviews on TripAdvisor before deciding.

Related Guide: Looking for more hidden gems in Crete? Check out our Best South Crete Beaches guide to explore Crete off the beaten track.

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