Vikos Gorge is an incredible testament to nature’s unmatched beauty and one of Greece’s finest sights. Where the earth is divided, precipitous scarps rise to the heavens and loom over age old paths and virgin forests. A criminally underrated destination in the country’s wild and forgotten north.
When I first arrived in Ioannina, I had no idea that only a few kilometres north of the city laid one of nature’s most stunning creations: Vikos Gorge.
Holding the Guinness world record for the world’s deepest canyon (relatively to its width), one would expect thousands of camera-wielding tourists to besiege the many viewpoints and walk the shaded paths of this geological marvel. And yet, Vikos has somehow eluded the limelight and its seemingly predestined fame, despite the masses arriving at Greece’s pristine shores annually.
Shielded by majestic peaks and forested foothills, few have penetrated this remote corner of the country and even fewer have descended into the gorge’s depths to wander its ancient trails and marvel at the presented greatness. Those who do venture there, however, will find a magical land of enchanted woods, untouched glens, and splendid springs, worth every praise.
Whatever the future holds for this natural marvel, for now it remains comparatively off the beaten path, and serves as the perfect introduction to the wonders of the Pindos mountains.
This guide contains all the necessary information to visit Vikos Gorge independently from Ioannina, including how to get there, where to start, the best viewpoints, the ideal time to go, and many more tips.
ALONG ANCIENT PATHS
A weathered, red metal board heralds the starting point of the hike. Old steps, covered in decaying leaves, lead towards the edge before dropping hundreds of metres into the depths of the canyon.
Beneath the towering walls of Vikos, the trail snakes ever onwards along the dried-up riverbed, now filled with rounded boulders rather than gushing torrents, towards the source of the former stream. The journey continues past moss-covered stones and verdant ivy fields, over age-old stone paths and damp ground, shaded by a lush forest canopy. Moss hangs from arching branches and covers gnarly trunks, bestowing a truly magical feel to the place.
As the gorge opens up so does the vegetation, and soon scree slopes and thicket replace the enchanted woods of before, giving way to stunning views of Vikos.
At some point, the sparkling reflections of turquoise springs will peek through the canopy and invite you to unwind in their calming presence. This also signals the imminent end of the hike. Now, only a last ascent stands between you and a well-earned pint in the local taverna to bring a wonderful day in Vikos to a satisfying closure.
THE WORLD'S DEEPEST GORGE
Since 1997 Vikos Gorge has been listed by Guinness World Records as the deepest canyon in the world (relative to its width).
A red metal board in Monodendri commemorates this achievement and claims the depth to be 900 m and the max. width 1100 m. Declarations about its actual dimensions differ greatly, however.
Despite its decades-old accolade, Vikos Gorge remains widely unknown, which has helped to preserve its rich flora and fauna and to create one of Europe's most biodiverse areas.
HOW TO GET TO VIKOS GORGE FROM IOANNINA
Public buses going directly to the Vikos-Aoos National Park are rare (once every two weeks!). Thus, if you want to avoid expensive private transport and can’t rely on the frustrating Epirote bus system, practice your smile and warm up your thumb, cause it’s hitchhiking time!
This might be a daunting prospect for some of you, but the single best option if you are limited on time. Should the simple thought of getting into a car with a stranger make you uncomfortable, remember that you won’t have to do this alone! If you are staying in Ioannina’s sole hostel it should be fairly easy to find someone to accompany you on your excursion to Vikos Gorge.
Here is what you have to do:
1 | Take a bus to Metamorfosi (either the bus towards Kakavie (at the Albanian border) or Konitsa). Aim for the earliest option.
2 | Once in Metamorfosi, follow the northbound street next to the highway until you reach the country road running along the mountainside and into the national park. Find a suitable spot (preferably where a car can pull over) and try for a ride to one of these trailhead options:
- Monodendri/Vitsa: most people begin to hike in this twin-village; it is most likely that you will end up here
- Dilofo: a few kilometres south of Monodendri
- Bridge of Noutsos near the village of Koukouli
3 | If you can’t catch a direct ride to one of these trailheads, at least try to get to Aspragelli (first village after Metamorfosi) and try your luck there.
GET BACK TO IOANNINA
After a wonderful day wandering beneath the imposing cliffs of the canyon, you will find yourself in the tiny mountain hamlet of Vikos. Opportunities for a lift will be few and far between, and chances are quite high that you won’t find a (direct) ride at all.
Here is how you are getting home regardless:
Option 1 | Hitchhike to Kalpaki to catch the bus back to Ioannina.
- buses run several times a day, however, remember to ask for the last bus back to Ioannina before departing for Vikos
- the bus stop in Kalpaki is in front of a restaurant with a pub garden right next to the main road
- you can pay for the ticket (2,6€) in the bus
Option 2 | Hike onwards to Aristi (5km down the road) and try your luck there.
- the village is bigger and popular with the locals for its excellent restaurants
- since both the roads from Vikos and Papingo merge here, it will increase your chances to catch a ride
Option 3 | Take a taxi to Kalpaki and then the bus.
- the taxi will cost 25€ (November 2021)
- the trip to Kalpaki will take roughly half an hour, so make sure to have enough time to catch the last bus once you depart from Vikos
- tell the driver that you are going back to Ioannina, he will know where to drop you off
Due to its ideal location right above the southern entrance of the canyon, Monodendri is the most common starting point for the trek. This is where day trippers, families, and experienced hikers alike congregate and prepare for the imminent descent.
This charming village is also home to some of the best viewpoints, including the only one reachable by car, massively boosting its popularity.
Should you be able to spare a hot minute, I highly recommend exploring the winding alleyways or indulging in the excellent cuisine. Monodendri, as well as all the other villages of Zagori, is an absolute delight and definitely deserves the attention!
If you inquire an obligatory Google search on Vikos Gorge, you will inevitably come across images of picturesque stone bridges spanning the rivers and streams of the national park.
Built between the 17th and 19th century, they proved to be an immeasurable, infrastructural addition for the hardened residents of these mountains, and although numerous have collapsed over the years, there are still dozens to be found in the valleys of Pindos.
One of the most impressive ones, the Bridge of Misios, stands proudly below the village of Vitsa.
A possible route would be to check out the viewpoints in Monodendri, before tackling Vitsa’s Steps (Vitsas Skala) to start your hike in the shadow of this architectural highlight.
Another ridiculously beautiful mountain village.
Located roughly 3,5 km south of Monodendri and Vitsa, this trailhead is recommended for those looking to go the extra mile(s) and for a gentler climb-down. You will have the option to skip the aforementioned villages entirely and follow the riverbed instead.
If you want to incorporate viewpoints into your hike, you won’t get around ascending to Vitsa and Monodendri, though.
Bridge of Noutsos
In case you only catch a ride going to Koukouli (or further), tell your lovely driver to drop you off at the Bridge of Noutsos/Kokkoris. Once there, you should be able to find signposts pointing you towards Vitsa or the Bridge of Misios (below Vitsa) respectively.
It will take roughly 1 ½ hours to reach Vitsa and Monodendri from there.
THE BEST VIEWPOINTS
Beloi | Located near the village of Vradeto, Beloi offers the most striking views of the canyon, however, it is also the most difficult one to reach on this list (without a car).
Take the bus to the neighbouring village of Kapesovo (runs once every two weeks), before scaling the Vradeto Steps (3,5km). Once you arrive in Vradeto, follow the signs leading you to the viewpoint.
Oxya | The only viewpoint reachable by car. It will take roughly 15min to get there from Monodendri. There is also a 4km trail leading to Oxya.
Agias Paraskevi Monastery | A short walk from Monodendri, you will find the Monastery of Agias Paraskevi. Great views of the south end of the gorge. The trail also runs along the cliffside so not for the fainted hearted.
Nkrounia | Great little viewpoint 10min away from the amphitheatre in Monodendri. The walk through the birch forest, past moss-covered boulders, is also super pretty.
WHERE TO STAY
“Backpackers and Travelers” Ioannina | One of the best hostels I have ever stayed at and the ideal base for all your endeavours in and around Ioannina. They offer clean and comfortable (14€/night, that’s a good price in Greece) 6-bed mixed dorms (separated male/female during low season), as well as a private room, a kitchen, and a backyard terrace to unwind after a long day of hiking. What makes the hostel truly stand out are its owners Gianna and Kosta, though.
I can’t recommend this hostel enough!
Zagori | While staying directly in the national park will allow you to properly explore the winding alleyways and cobblestone streets of the beautiful Zagori villages, it definitely comes with a price. Although there is plenty of accommodation available, retaining a budget will be impossible as prices usually start between 30-40€/night.
Wild camping | Even though wild camping in Greece is generally prohibited, it is perfectly fine to do so regardless. Especially on the mainland wild camping appears to be widely accepted and local authorities don’t seem to care at all.
Obviously the cheapest and by far the best option to truly experience the natural beauty of the Pindos mountains.
WHEN TO GO
Even though Vikos Gorge is accessible throughout the year, one season stands out: Fall.
When the days grow shorter and tourists start to leave Greece, Vikos changes its dress and transforms into an autumnal dream. Cloaked in flamboyant attire of yellow, orange, and red the gorge performs its greatest spectacle before the inevitable coming of winter.
Temperatures will also be perfect, and there will be significantly less hikers on the trail than during the summer months.
Without a doubt, this is the season to experience Vikos in all its glory!
WHAT TO BRING
Gear | Good footwear is essential for a pleasant day of hiking. I also recommend bringing a pair of hiking poles for those struggling with their knees as the descent from Monodendri is quite steep and straining on the joints. In autumn bring an extra jacket as it gets quite chilly once the trail is in the shade.
Food | Plenty of restaurant options in Monodendri/Vitsa. There is also a taverna at the end of the trail in Vikos. Buy snacks for the trail before going to Monodendri, however.
Water | I recommend carrying 2-3l of water for the day (depending on the season). There are fountains near the start (below Monodendri) and end of the trail (shortly before the Voidomatis springs).
The water from the springs is clean and drinkable, as well.
Sun protection | Most of the trail is covered by forest canopy, however, some parts aren’t so make sure to bring sunscreen to properly protect yourself from the Greek sun. Especially during the summer months, the heat shouldn’t be underestimated, and temperatures can easily rise well above 30°, therefore bring sufficient headwear too.