The Vikos Gorge is one of the most spectacular sights on earth. It’s nature showing off in all its majesty and the best part about it — there are hardly any tourists!
With everyone heading to the islands to laze on beaches, this untouched piece of paradise in the Zagori region of Northern Greece feels about as off the beaten path as you can get (making it one of the top places to visit in Greece).
I visited the Pindos National Park in September 2018 during our 6-month campervan trip through Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, and Italy. We were originally only planning on spending one day in the park, but completely fell in love with the quaint villages and the breathtaking scenery, so ended up spending 5 full days there.
We visited all the villages in Zagori, ate delicious traditional food while chatting to the locals, drove some of the crazy hairpin bend roads in the campervan and stopped everywhere for amazing views of the gorge.
Read on to learn about the incredible Vikos Gorge in Pindos National Park, including practicalities of the hiking trip. Plus, if you’re not a hiker, there are still numerous other things to do in the park!
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The Vikos Gorge
The Vikos Gorge is located in the Northern Pindos Park, in the historic area of Epirus, just 30km from Ioannina and close to the Albanian border. Click here to find the Vikos Gorge on the map.
You can hike the entire length of the gorge without seeing another person. For nature lovers, hikers and anyone who appreciates the outdoors, you’ll never want to leave.
There are 46 villages (collectively named the Zagorohoria), that make up the area of Zagori in which the Vikos Gorge lies. Running through the centre of Zagori is the magnificent Vikos Gorge. Recorded in the Guinness book of records for being the world’s deepest canyon in proportion to its width.
The Vikos Gorge offers some of the best hiking in Greece. There are hikes for all levels of fitness, from vigorous 5-hour hikes to 1-hour meanders. For non-hikers, there are a number of viewpoints, all easily reached by foot and offering the most spectacular views of one of Mother Nature’s greatest creations.
The Zagori Region
Nestled in the Pindos Mountain range lies the magical Zagori region, one of the most beautiful and untouched places left on earth. The deep gorge and mountainous landscape made accessibility almost impossible, so for hundreds of years, the villages in this area existed with hardly any influence from the outside world.
Now the roads are paved and accessibility is easy, yet the area still remains largely untouched by tourism.
This seclusion allowed the preservation of tradition, and the rich culture can still be seen today in the individual character and distinctive architecture of each of the 46 villages.
The villages can be found perched high on top of mountains, hanging over the sides of the gorge or deep in the bottom of the valley. Wander the cobbled alleyways, enjoy the peace and tranquility and find yourself transported back in time.
The villages are all connected by a network of stone footpaths, some leading over magnificent arched bridges, some following along winding rivers, while others zigzag at an impossible angle up the steepest of slopes. These ancient pathways now provide excellent routes for hikers, mountain bikers and nature lovers alike.
How To Get To The Vikos Gorge
The Northern Pindos National park is located about 30 kilometers from Ioannina, the capital city of Epirus province. The best entrance to visit the Vikos Gorge is 27km North of Ioannina, just after the town of Karies. This will take you to the Aspragelli Information Centre, where they will provide you with maps and a vast amount of information on the park.
For some great information and maps, click here.
Vikos Gorge by Car
The recommended way to visit is by car. Car rental is available in Ioannina, Thessaloniki, and Athens, but the best value and availability will be found in Athens. Most of the access roads can be found on the Western border of the park, between Ioannina and Konitsa.
The roads in the Zagori region are all new, meaning great quality and easy to drive, no matter what type of vehicle you have. Be aware that there are numerous hairpin bends.
Buses run from Ioannina to almost all the villages of Zagoria, including the popular villages of Papigo, Monodendri, and Konitsa. Depending on where the villages are located, the duration of the trip will vary from 40 min to 1 hour. The bus to Monodendri runs on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11:15am.
If you are flying into Athens or Thessaloniki, buses are available to Ioannina. The buses from Athens and Thessaloniki to Ioannina run daily. From Athens, the buses leave from Kifissos Bus Station with the trip taking about 7 hours. From Thessaloniki, the bus leaves from KTEL Station and is about 3 hours.
The bus connection between the villages is poor, so be prepared to hike or hitchhike.
On a Tour
The other option would be to visit the Zagori region on a tour. These day trips can be joined from Ioannina.
Vikos Gorge Trailheads
There are a number of hikes available in the gorge. These range in length and difficulty. The most popular hike is the Mondrendi to Vikos Hike. For those wanting to go the extra distance, the Vikos to Papigano is a great add on. For those looking for a more leisurely hike, then the Mondrendi to Kipi is a great option.
Mondrendi to Vikos Hike
- Most popular hike in the Vikos Gorge
- Length: 12.5 kilometers
- Duration: 6 – 8 hours
The village of Monodentri is the most popular starting point for visiting the Vikos Gorge. From here you can hike north to Vikos and the two Papingo villages or south to Kipi.
The main hike takes you 12.5km along the bottom of the Vikos gorge from the village of Monodentri to Vikos. It is a relatively easy hike, although you should be prepared for some boulder hopping.
Metal or wooden ladders have been strategically placed to assist you over tricky bits. The final ascent is also very steep. The hike can take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours depending on your level of fitness.
From Monodentri there is a steep 300m descent down a cobbled pathway to the bottom of the gorge. From there, the trail descends along a slowly graded footpath, through charming woods, all the way to Vikos.
Around the 2 hour mark, you will reach the intersection with the Megas Lakkos ravine. A pipped spring marks the halfway spot and provides an opportunity to fill up your water bottles.
Around the 3 hour mark, the steep walls start receding and the gorge opens out. Here you have two choices: Either you can continue straight along the well-worn path until you reach the paved kaldermi, leading up to Vikos. The ascent is steep and will take about 1.5hrs. Or, the alternative is to follow the marked 03 route to Mikro Papingo or Megalo Papingo, which will add on an additional 2 hours.
The hike is well marked all the way to Vikos with red dots or white-on-red diamonds (03 route). Where markers have been lost, the locals have tied plastic bags to trees to guide you in the right direction.
Vikos to Papigano Hike
Instead of ending at Vikos, you can choose to continue to the two Papigano villages. This route will take you across the gorge bed at the Voidhomatis springs. Allow an additional 2 hours to reach Mikro Papingo and slightly less to reach Megalo Papingo.
Be aware though, the exit here is steep and can be tough going in the sun. The best option would be to stop for lunch in Vikos so that your ascent to Papigano is done in the late afternoon, so you can make use of the shadows of the setting sun.
For those hikers wanting to head east into the Gamilla range, the villages of Mikro Papingo and Megalo Papingo would be better suited. The Vikos gorge can be hiked in either direction so you could also stay here and hike to Monodendri.
Monodendri / Vitsa to Kipi Hike
As an alternative starting point, the village of Vitsa is also a good choice for hiking the gorge, although it is slightly further away from the entrance to the gorge. This trail follows the dry riverbed south towards Kipi and is an easy hike.
Make sure to take along a map so that you can spot the ancient arched stone bridges and the stepped kaldermi paths that connect the villages.
Practicalities For Hiking The Vikos Gorge
Make sure to collect maps and guides at the tourist information office. These will be invaluable in locating sights along the way. A great example is the eighteenth-century Kimisis Theotokou chapel, located at the start of the ascent to Vikos. It will require a 15 minute round trip detour, but the incredible frescos will be well worth it.
During the hikes, you will notice an abundance of flora and fauna in the Pindos Park with more than 1800 known species of flora and a myriad of animals to try and spot. The region is also known as Bear Park due to its population of Eurasian Brown Bears, but you’ll be incredibly lucky to see one of these.
As you approach the Papingo villages, look out for Astraka, the third highest peak of Mount Tymfi. A series of huge vertical rocks called the Towers of Astraka that form a magnificent backdrop to the village of Mikro Papingo.
Despite the gorge’s popularity with hikers, there are sections of the hike that are not easy. Make sure to have sturdy hiking boots, preferably the over-the-ankle boots. Walking poles and sticks would be very handy and a water bottle is an absolute essential. You will pass the Voidomatis river, but the water is not always drinkable, so make sure to take enough water with you.
In summer months, it is best to start the hike as early as possible to avoid the midday heat, while in winter months, you may have some snow at Monodentri.
There are great restaurants in all the villages, all serving delicious hearty traditional dishes, but you will need to pack lunch for en-route.
It is best to pre-organise a pickup from your final destination, as there are no buses. Ask at your place of accommodation for transportation options. Taxis can be arranged but they are not cheap and you’ll be looking at about 35 Euros for the trip. If you haven’t pre-organised your transport, then ask at the local tavern and they should be able to assist.
Things To Do in The Pindos National Park
The mountains, lakes, and rivers offer the perfect environment for ecotourism activities. Hiking, trekking, climbing, mountain biking, and rafting are popular activities that can be enjoyed surrounded by this most stunning scenery. For the not so active, the natural beauty and the quaint villages make the park well worth a visit.
Monastery of Aghia Paraskevi
The breathtaking Aghaia Paraskevi monastery perches on the vertical cliffs of the gorge and offers a panoramic viewpoint of the gorge. From Monodendri’s main square, follow the stone pathway for about 1km to the edge of the Vikos Gorge.
One of the best views of the gorge can be seen from the Beloi viewpoint near the town of Vradheto. This is the most southern point of the Vikos Gorge and from here you will see the vertical cliffs stretching far into the distance.
The walk from Vradheto to Beloi is easy enough, but even better is to climb the Vradheto steps (Skala Vradheto) as it winds up the cliff face to the village of Vradheto and then continue on to Beloi.
The steps run 3.5km from Tsepelovo to Vradheto and until the 1970s this was the only access to Vradheto. This 17th Century ancient stone stairway looks much harder than it is, as the zigzags are not as steep as they look.
The trail starts just north-east of the village of Kepesovo. Park at the junction where the road forks left to Vradheto. Follow the track into the valley, across an old stone bridge and from there you will start the ascent up the Skala.
When you reach the top, keep left near the church until you reach the road. The road winds through the village and then turns into a dirt track. There are signposts to Beloi and the path is very well trodden so easy enough to follow. After a slightly rocky section, you will emerge at the Beloi viewpoint with its jaw-dropping vista of the gorge.
The walk from Vradheto to Beloi should take about 45 minutes with the ascent up the Vradheto Skala taking an additional 2 hours.
The view at Beloi is truly spectacular so make sure to leave enough time to relax and soak it all in. Better yet, take a picnic and spend an hour or two!
For the less energetic, you can drive up the somewhat hair-raising road to Vradheto and then continue on the easy 45min to Beloi.
The taverna in Vradheto is excellent and serves traditional Greek fare.
The Oxya Viewpoint is the most easily accessible place to view the gorge and looks over the deepest part of the Vikos gorge. Travel north from Monodendri, and when the road ends stop and walk the rest of the way along the stone path. It’s a quick 10-minute walk but the views are spectacular!
To the left of the viewing platform is a stone path with a sheer vertical drop down into the gorge. A sign tells you to use the path at your own peril, but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone. For those brave enough, the view from the end of this path is even more incredible. If that’s even possible?
On the drive back, make sure to look out for the Stone Forest along the way. Huge horizontal layers of stone have created fascinating rocky formations to create a natural monument.
The Zagori region is dotted with masterly crafted stone bridges, worthy of a visit in their own right. Until the 1950s these bridges played a vital role in interlinking these remote villages. Paying for the construction of a bridge was a sign of wealth and afforded one great prestige in the community, so each bridge was named after its patron.
The most easily accessible bridges can be found near the village of Kipi. The Kokkori Bridge is one of the oldest and most impressive, creating a huge arch over the Voidomatis River and dating back to 1750.
The Plakadis Bridge is one of the only 3 arched bridges that exist, which is probably why it is the most photographed bridges of Zagori. Its triple arches are deceptively steep and show intricate craftsmanship.
The single arch Bridge of Lazaridis was built in 1753. It can be found in the ravine of Mikros Vikos near the village of Koukouli and requires a short stroll down a stone pathway.
Other bridges to look out for are Kamber Agas Bridge, Misios Bridge, Milos Bridge, and Klidonia Bridge.
Lazarides Museum of Flora and Fauna
The area is incredibly rich in a variety of medicinal plants and for many years herbal healers known as vikogiatri (Vikos doctors) used these plants to treat patients. In fact, during the 18th and 19th century, these vikogiatri were renowned in the Balkans and Asia Minor.
Visit the Lazarides Museum of Flora and Fauna in Koukouli village, dedicated to Kostas Lazarides. He was an important naturalist who collected 1,240 different species of plants in the Vikos Aoos Gorge.
Ready For Vikos Gorge and Pindos National Park?
With the allure of sun-kissed beaches, not many tourists venture to northern Greece, which makes the Northern Pindos National Park and the Vikos Gorge one of the best-kept secrets in the travel world.
If you’re looking to get off-the-beaten-track and really become one with nature, then the Vikos Gorge is an absolute must! It offers some of the very best hiking in Greece, and with so few tourists, you’re likely to have the trails all to yourself.
The easily accessible viewpoints allow hikers and non-hikers alike to enjoy the breathtaking views of one of the world’s deepest gorges. The rich culture and traditions of the villages will captivate you, and you’ll be amazed by the ancient bridges and pathways.
If you are a nature lover but tired of having to share your experiences with hundreds of other tourists, then the Vikos Gorge is the place for you!
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