The southern coast of Greece is among the most dramatic landscapes in the world, featuring some truly spectacular canyons and gorges. These amazing natural sights give this area a particular charm and offer excellent adventure opportunities if you are looking to get away from the heat of the beaches for a while. Among the most interesting natural wonders of southern Crete, the beautiful gorge of Kourtaliotiko is a wild and fascinating destination, where you can admire the unique geological formations, splendid waterfalls and pristine nature of Crete. Starting south of the village of Koxare, it leads towards the south, passing through a plain and continuing with the small gorge of Preveli, finally reaching the magnificent beach of Preveli.
Where is Kourtaliotiko Gorge
The beautiful gorge of Kourtaliotiko is located in the central part of the southern coast of Crete, about 100 km from the capital of Heraklion, 80 km from Chania and about 25 km south of Rethymno. From the capital, you can rent a car and get to Kourtaliotiko Gorge, making for an amazing day trip in the middle of nature. The spectacular canyon begins south of the Koxare Village and exits into a small depression, west of the Asomatos Village, also being known as the Asomatos Gorge. It is situated between the mountains of Kouroupa and Xiron, the river being followed by a road all the way through the canyon, making it extremely easy to explore.
How to Get to Kourtaliotiko Gorge
Getting to Kourtaliotiko Gorge by Car
If you arrive in Crete at the airport, you can reach the Kourtaliotiko Gorge with a car rental from Heraklion. The trip usually takes about one and half hour, following the northern coast road until Rethymno and then driving south for about 25 km. From the village of Koxare, you can drive through the canyon or choose to explore it on foot in order to better appreciate the wild nature.
The best way to visit this amazing destination is definitely by renting a car, as you can drive directly and visit other unique sights in the area. There are accommodation opportunities in the villages near the canyon.
Getting to Kourtaliotiko Gorge by Bus
It is more difficult to reach the Kourtaliotiko Gorge on a bus. You will have to change buses in Rethymno and it could easily take a few hours to reach Koxare. While there are plenty of connections from Heraklion to Rethymno, it will be more challenging to find a bus towards Agia Galini that passes near Koxare. Considering the bus change and the time you need to reach your destination; it is a more comfortable and faster option to book a car hire in Heraklion Airport.
Best Things to Do in the area of Kourtaliotiko Gorge
The gorges of Kourtaliotiko are one of the most interesting natural attraction in this region of Crete. Although they are just 3 km long and there is a road passing through, they retain a particularly wild and dramatic aspect.
The dramatic cliffs can reach 600 meters and they are breached by numerous caves, while also featuring waterfalls and other interesting geological formations. You can reach the gorges from the village of Koxare, first passing by a few small churches. After you enter the gorges, you could also hear a specific sound like the clapping of hands.
This is created by wind passing through the high caves and gives the name to the river and gorges. Further along, passing though some spectacular rapids and small waterfalls that form gorgeous clear pools, you can reach the little church of St. Nicholas, where a splendid big waterfall can be admired (Kourtaliotis).
These can also be reached from the road by descending several stairs. Some portions of gorge are very narrow and you will have to pass through the water. The whole area of the gorges is enchanting, with many things to discover, including interesting vegetation, vultures and other birds. After exiting the gorges, the river is known as Megalos and you can still follow its course to reach the sea. After you pass through the stunning Preveli Gorge, you will reach the idyllic beach of Preveli. The whole hike through the canyon should not take more than two hours, while you could also continue forward towards the beach.
Explore other sights in the area
Traveling further south along the same river, you will first pass through the equally enchanting gorge of Preveli. While hiking through the canyon is quite challenging, there is a road taking you above the stunning Preveli Beach, considered one of the most beautiful in all of Crete. It is truly unique, with the river flowing right into the sea and superb stretched of sand backed by palm trees. The small cove is surrounded by high cliffs and amazing rock formations, while the water is crystal clear, although colder than elsewhere.
Nevertheless, this almost tropical destination is well worth visiting. A short distance from the beach parking, you can also visit the splendid Preveli Monastery, with two location that have been developed at different times in history, but equally inspiring and interesting. The panoramas of the sea and the coast from the high cliffs is unforgettable, especially from the road towards the monastery.
Before reaching the beach, there is also an old stone bridge known simply as Preveli Bridge and built in the 18th century by local monks. Another fascinating sight close to the monastery is the old church of Saint George in Xylomacheri, dating from the 13th century and featuring two layers of superb old frescoes. Another interesting smaller gorge runs almost parallel alongside Kourtaliotiko and is known as Fratiano Gorge, with a challenging route that takes many hours to complete.
Close to Preveli, there is a smaller canyon with interesting features called Swallows Gorge. Apart from the unbelievable Preveli beach, there are many other great beach destinations nearby that you can visit from Kourtaliotiko Gorge, including places like Pahia Ammos Beach, Katsouni Beach, Ligres Beach, Triopetra Beach, Ammoudi Beach, Damnoni Beach, Pirgos Beach, Agia Fotini Beach and others.
Where to Stay near Kourtaliotiko Gorge, Crete
The area surrounding the wild Kourtaliotiko Gorge is quite remote and there are few accommodation options in the villages near the canyon. A far better option would be to search for lodging in the one of the large beach resorts, where there are plenty of opportunities. Among the most popular destinations, you can stay in Agia Galini, Kokkinos Pirgos, Kalamaki or Plakias.
During the summer season, accommodation choices might become crowded and scarce, so you should search and book well in advance.
Plakias Villas 4*
Located in the village of Lefkogia, on the road from Kourtaliotiko towards Plakias, these superb villas are surrounded by lush gardens and feature excellent rooms with all the necessary amenities, as well as swimming pool and terraces.
☏ +30 697 255 1966
Sunrise Residence 4*
Located in the small village of Pale, just north of Koxare and the gorge, this superb villa has excellent reviews and offers 3 guest rooms equipped with Tv’s and private bathrooms, as well as a kitchen and a charming swimming pool.
☏ +30 698 182 3148
Villa Frati Gorge 3*
Located just a few km from the entrance in the Kourtaliotiko Gorge in the small village of Frati, this gorgeous villa offers superb large and airy rooms, a living-room, a fully equipped kitchen, a terrace and a large garden that features a small swimming pool.
☏ +30 694 254 8377
Where to Eat near Kourtaliotiko Gorge
One of the best reviewed taverns in the region, it is located south of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge and north of Preveli Beach, next to the old stone bridge over the river. It offers authentic local food, as well as amazing Mediterranean recipes, including excellent lamb dishes and seafood.
☏ +30 694 498 6740
Located just south of the Asomatos village and the exit from the gorge, this charming little tavern is surrounded by a pleasant lush garden and offers delicious traditional food in a nice atmosphere.
☏ +30 697 892 8784
To Sideradiko Tavern
Located just a few kilometers west of the Koxare village on the road towards Agios Galis, this little family run restaurant is the hidden gem of this area, with amazing reviews from its guests. It offers the most delicious traditional Cretan food you could find, in a nice and cozy atmosphere.
☏ +30 697 369 7116
When is the best time to visit Kourtaliotiko Gorge
The best time to visit this impressive natural destination is from late spring to early autumn, when you can get away from the sun and explore the gorges. This is also the period when the water is quite low and allows for easier passage. During the rainy months, it is not advisable to venture into the canyon, as the water level can fluctuate a lot. It would also be best to start the adventure early in the morning in order to avoid the midday sun.