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Incredibly beautiful Vikos – Aoös National Park – UNESCO Geopark

It is named after the two major gorges of the area and encompasses 12,600 hectares (31,135 acres) of mountainous terrain, with numerous rivers, lakes, caves, deep canyons, dense coniferous and deciduous forest. The park is part of the Natura 2000 ecological network and one of UNESCO Geoparks and spans an elevation range from 550 to 2,497 meters (1,800 to 8,192 ft). Over 100,000 people visit the park each year and take part in activities including rafting, canoe-kayaking, hiking and mountain biking.

Plakidas Bridge with Kipi village in background - Arches stone bridge of Kalogeriko on river Voidomatis Central Zagoria Epirus Greece
Plakidas Bridge with Kipi village in background on river Voidomatis, Central Zagoria

Where is Vikos Gorge?

The Vikos–Aoos National Park is a national park in the periphery of Epirus in northwestern Greece. The park, founded in 1973, is one of ten national parks in mainland Greece and is located 30 kilometers north of the city of Ioannina in the northern part of the Pindus mountain range. It is named after the two major gorges of the area and encompasses 12,600 hectares (31,135 acres) of mountainous terrain, with numerous rivers, lakes, caves, deep canyons, dense coniferous and deciduous forest. The park is part of the Natura 2000 ecological network and one of UNESCO Geoparks and spans an elevation range from 550 to 2,497 meters (1,800 to 8,192 ft). Over 100,000 people visit the park each year and take part in activities including rafting, canoe-kayaking, hiking and mountain biking.

Map of Zagoria in Epirus, Greece
Click to enlarge map Coordinates: 39°58′10″N 20°43′41″E

The core of the park, an area of 3,400 hectares, comprises the spectacular Vikos Gorge, carved by the Voidomatis river. The gorge’s main part is 12 km long and attains a depth of 1,000 meters .

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How deep is Vikos Gorge?

View towards Vikos Gorge, Epirus, Greece - Photo Jürgen Mager
Vikos Gorge, Epirus – Photo Jürgen Mager

Vikos Gorge is located on the southern slopes of Mount Tymfi. Its main part is located between the villages of Vikos and Monodendri and attains a depth of about 1,000 m (3,281 ft), with a southeast-northwest direction. The landscape of the 20 km (12 mi) long gorge, 12 km (7 mi) which belongs to the park’s core zone, presents a diverse relief and is characterized by abrupt changes in altitude.

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Wildlife in Vikos–Aoös National Park

The park’s varied geology and topography have resulted in a unique variety of flora and fauna. There are three main habitat zones: Sub-mediterranean woodland which mainly consists of deciduous broadleaf forests and woodlands and extends up to an elevation of about 1,500 m (4,921 ft). Combined areas of agricultural land with tree hedges and various woodlots, in addition to semi-open shrublands and rocky sites of the lower and middle slopes near human settlements. Uplands with subalpine grasslands and rocky cliffs. This habitat is found above 1,500 m (4,921 ft) altitude and hosts important bird species such as the Mediterranean Golden Eagle.

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Vikos Gorge – How to get there?

aerial-view-of-the-the-vikos-gorge-in-the-autumn-and-provincial-road-with-many-zigzag-in-the-epirus-greece
Aerial view of Vikos Gorge in the autumn. Provincial road with many zigzag

The best way to arrive at Vikos Gorge is to take a domestic flight from Athens or Thessaloniki to Ioannina and from there to rent a 4×4 vehicle for driving in the mountains and around the Zagoria villages.

Vikos Gorge – Where to stay?

You will find the best hotels, chalets and traditional guest houses in the picturesque Zagorochoria. The most famous tourist villages of Zagoria are Monodendri, Papingo and Mikro Papingo. Here you will find many traditional stone guesthouses and hotels with a stunning view to the wild nature just outside the door. All houses in Zagoria are built with the traditional local architecture and the owners are really friendly. If you travel to Vikos National Park during autumn or winter, the nights are cold and you best choose a room with a fireplace.

Vikos Gorge – Best time to visit

hike-near-river-arachthos-in-national-park-tzoumerka-in-greece
Hiking near Arachtos River in Tzoumerka National Park, Epirus

The weather of Zagorochoria does not always conform to the weather forecasts, since it is under influence by the surrounding mountains. Since antiquity, though, it has been wellknown for its healthy climate. It is the combination of forested mountains, the rich waters, and the Aegean Sea that create the perfect weather conditions. During summer the weather is very pleasant with temperatures not exceeding 26°C being cooled down by the green forests covering the mountain slopes. During winter, even when the snow is covering everything, the temperatures in Zagoria stay mild (the lowest being 7.6°C) especially in the villages built on the western mountain slopes, which are protected from the cold wind from the sea. So Vikos Gorge and Zagorochoria are perfect for visits all year round, depending on the activities of your interest.

Activities in Vikos – Aoös National Park

Old stone bridge above Aoos River near Konitsa, Epirus Greece
Old stone bridge above Aoos River near Konitsa

Birdwatching near Monodendri

Breathtaking scenery, excellent for birdwatching and botany. Best viewed from the “Balcony” above Monodendri. Here you’ll find Woodpeckers, Sombre tits, Rock Buntings, Short-Toed, Booted, and Golden Eagles, Vultures, Common and Honey Buzzards, Alpine Choughs, Alpine Swifts along with Tawny Pipits, Linnet and Shore Lark and more to the higher slopes.

Hiking in Zagoria

Drakolimni of Tymfi - The-lake resides at an altitude of 2050m above sea in Vikos National Park in Greece
Drakolimni of Tymfi, Vikos National Park

One of the many routes you can choose from begins from the village Vikos and leads to Mikro Papingo. It is a route of 2 km which is really popular. You begin from Vikos in 760 meters altitude and go down the fine cobbled road until you reach the springs of River Voidomatis.
If it is summertime you will have to put your legs in the water of the river so as to go across and follow another uphill path, which takes you to Mikro Papingo. Though the route is quite short, only 2 km, nevertheless the duration of the walk is about 2 hours because of the uphill road where the hypsometric difference is 700 meters. (read about other routes…

Aoos River near Konitsa during summer, Epirus Greece
Aoos River near Konitsa during summer

Rafting and kayaking in Vikos Gorge

The first descent begins from the most photographed part of Zagori. This is not any other but the bridge of Papingo, 1 kilometer from Aristi on the way to Papingo. You will follow a green route in Voidomatis gorge and the route finishes in the bridge of Klidonia. The descent can also be done by kayak, monoraft or inflatable boat. The length of the route is 5 km and the duration of the adventure is about 1,5 hour. Previous experience is not necessary as the water is not impetuous. 

River rafting in Greece

This descent addresses people who love this sport and have excellent knowledge and experience. The route begins from Vovousa and finishes in Vrisohori. It is a route whosemain characteristic is the big degree of difficulty and the big length of the descent, which is about 27 kilometres. The duration of the route is about 7-8 hours and it can be done only by kayak or monoraft. Finally, we should say that excellent fitness, perfect knowledge of all the techniques of descent, as well as previous experience in rivers of 4th and 5th degree difficulty are necessary.

Mountain biking in Vikos Gorge

Mountain biking in Greece

The variety of the geomorphological terrain and the feast of colours create ideal routes for the lovers of mountain bike. Those of you who will not come appropriately equiped will be able to address one of the companies that offer this kind of activities and they will take on to give you the right equipment as well as guide you.

Rock climbing in the Pindus Mountains

4 different ascensions with different degrees of difficult each, challenge your limits…
Route 1: The first route is in the region Astrakas of Zagori and it is a region that is famous for the quality of the climbing field as it gets together big routes in good-quality rocks, where the hypsometric differences reach up to 450 meters. Some of the routes are: Kopsi Triestinon with height of 450 meters, Kopsi of Lost Companions in 400 meters Altitude and Pilie of Rain.

Hanggliding and tandem-flights

Hang gliding in Greece

Those who know can tell you that it is magical to fly. Those who have not dared yet can taste some of that that magic as “fellow-passengers” in a tandem flight!

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