Sea turtle in Greece (Photo: Constatinos Vatikiotis)
List 05 May

Wildlife watching in Greece

From dolphin spotting to bear watching, Greece's national parks offer incredible wildlife encounters galore. We've tracked down the 8 most memorable experiences – here's where to find them

Water buffaloes at Lake Kerkini 

Not every European lake can boast a population of wallowing water buffaloes – but beautiful Lake Kerkini in northern Greece can. The lake and fiercely-protected surrounding wetlands are home to hundreds of these hairy horned beasts, munching on the lush meadows and bathing in the watering holes. It's a distinctly Serengeti-esque sight, best enjoyed on a boat trip through the mirror-like lake.

Lake Kerkini (Photo: S. Mountzelos)
Lake Kerkini (Photo: S. Mountzelos)

Keep an eye out for the bird life, too: over 300 protected species nest and breed here, including falmingoes, dalmatian pelicans, eagle owls and masked shrikes. The birdwatching is spectacular year-round, although we'd recommend spring and autumn for long, dry days and soft sunlight that's perfect for wildlife photography.
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Cretan ibex at Samaria Gorge

With their perky pointy ears and long goatee beards, kri kris – or Cretan ibex – are one of Greece's most characterful critters. If you are very lucky, you may spot them scuttling over the rocky trails of Samaria National Park, Crete's nature-rich reserve, snaffling shrubs and low trees.

Kri kri (Photo: Samaria National Park Management Body)
Kri kri (Photo: Samaria National Park Management Body)

The kri kri is probably the rarest species of ibex in Europe, found only in this mountainous national park, and it is carefully protected by park authorities. Spotting one from a wild herb-scented hiking path is a treat – chances are, it'll size you up with a boggly-eyed stare, before diving into the undergrowth. Look out for bearded vultures and the incredibly-rare Cretan wildcats, too.
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Valley of the butterflies in Rhodes

In late May every year, Rhodes welcomes thousands of butterflies, congregating in fluttering clouds of scarlet wings that cluster between the trees. They are attracted to the aptly-named Valley of the Butterflies by the high humidity and tempting scent of the park's zitia trees – and they stay all summer, sheltering in the cool.

Valley of the Butterflies (Shutterstock)
Valley of the Butterflies (Shutterstock)

This is a beautiful spot for the whole family to enjoy, peering up into the treetops as you wander over burbling streams. If you're quiet and still, the butterflies might even land on you – now that's a tempting prospect to get some peace from the kids...
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Otters in Nestos Delta

Spot otters, wild boars and even the occasional wolf in the marshy Nestos Delta and surrounding coastal lagoons. The mineral-rich earth in this part of northern Greece has nurtured a thriving array of plants and trees, which form the perfect habitat for some of the country's rarest mammals.

Otter (Photo: Delta Management Body for Nestos)
Otter (Photo: Delta Management Body for Nestos)

Stroll amid the juniper bushes and towering oak trees for a walking safari unlike any other in Europe: if you're lucky you'll tick off wild otters, flamingos, jackals and birds of prey.
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Dolphins and seals in Alonissos Marine Park

As Greece's first marine park and the largest marine protected area in Europe, Alonissos Marine Park in the Sporades islands is a must-visit for anyone keen to discover Greece's ocean life. Its most famous resident is the Mediterranean monk seal, one of the world's largest species of seal and currently endangered – the islands of Gioura or Piperi are where they have been known to live.

Dolphins (Photo: Municipality of Alonissos)
Dolphins (Photo: Municipality of Alonissos)

Alonissos Marine Park is also a good place to spot dolphins: take a boat trip around the islands for a chance to see them swim and jump out of the water.
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Sea turtles at Zakynthos National Marine Park

Zakynthos is home to one of the most important nesting habitats in Europe for the loggerhead sea turtle (scientifically and also locally known as Caretta caretta). The turtles are most commonly found in the Bay of Laganas and the Strophadia Islands, which are 40 miles south of Zakynthos.

Caretta caretta hatchling going to sea (Photo: Charalampos Dimitriadis)
Caretta caretta hatchling going to sea (Photo: Charalampos Dimitriadis)

As protection of the turtles is top priority for the marine park, travellers are asked to leave the nesting beaches as undisturbed as possible – visiting after dark is not permitted so as to give the turtles space to nest. Catch sight of the turtles in the water either by a boat or diving tour, but be careful which operator you use – some disturb the turtles more than they should.
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Bears and wolves in Pindos National Park

Greece is not often linked to dense green forests and mountains, but Pindos National Park in the north will make you feel like you've stepped into Europe's alpine landscapes. Here you'll find a large population of the only bear species living in continental Europe – the brown bear – and packs of wolves roaming the park.

Wolf (Photo: K.Tsakalidis)
Wolf (Photo: K.Tsakalidis)

You'll be lucky to spot either of these in the wild in the Pindus mountains, so visit the bear and wolf sanctuaries further north in Nymfaio and Agrapidia for more of a chance of seeing both, and the opportunity to learn about them.
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Bird life in Prespes National Park

Tucked away up in the far north of Greece – and overlapping into neighbouring Albania and the Republic of Macedonia – is Prespes National Park, home to hundreds of species of flora and fauna. In the Greek section of the park are parts of lakes Megali Prespa and Mikri Prespa, where more than 200 species of aquatic birds have been spotted, in particular colonies of white and red pelicans.

(Photo: SPP ARCHIVE)
(Photo: SPP ARCHIVE)

The area is wonderfully scenic – don't forget to bring binoculars for bird watching.
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This article was produced in partnership with the Greece National Tourist Office. For more information on Greece and its wildlife, see visitgreece.gr