Great Prespa Lake | Birdwathcing and Adventures in the Highest Tectonic Lake in the Balkans
Updated: Oct 26
George Papadellis | SG Head
with some good tips from AI
Nestled on the tripoint of Greece, Albania and North Macedonia, the Great Prespa Lake is a mesmerizing destination that captivates visitors with its unparalleled natural beauty. Comprising a system of two lakes separated by an isthmus, namely the Great Prespa Lake and the Little Prespa Lake, this region in Greece offers a breathtaking sight of picturesque landscapes, reflecting the lush greenery of the surrounding mountains in its tranquil waters. With its status as the highest tectonic lake in the Balkans, the Great Prespa Lake, along with its diverse wildlife and rich history, stands as an alluring destination for nature enthusiasts, history buffs, and adventure seekers alike.
Until 1945 there was no development project for Great Prespa Lake. After several projects, it became a tourist and fishing center in the 1970s. The area hosts around 274 bird species, 23 fish species, 22 reptile species, 11 amphibia species and 60 mammal species (Prespa National Park Greece). Prespa Greece is linked by subterranean channels with Lake Ohrid and neighbors with Small Prespa Lake on the Greece-Albania border.
The Great Prespa Lake, encompassing a surface area of 259 square kilometers (100.00 square miles), stretches across the borders of three countries. North Macedonia claims the largest portion of the lake with 176.3 square kilometers (68.07 square miles), followed by Albania with 46.3 square kilometers (17.88 square miles), and Greece with 36.4 square kilometers (14.05 square miles). The neighboring Little Prespa Lake, covering an area of 46.8 square kilometers (18.07 square miles), mainly lies within Greece, with a small portion extending into Albania. Enthroned amidst the region of Florina, the Great Prespa Lake embodies the wonders created by retreating glaciers and seismic phenomena. Its shores present a diverse landscape, ranging from steep and rocky areas to serene stretches adorned with lush vegetation. The lake's remarkable biodiversity has earned it the title of one of the most important wetlands in Europe. Migratory birds, including endangered species like the Dalmatian pelican, cormorant, and heron, find solace in this paradise. To fully appreciate the avian wonders, a visit to the special Bird Observatory is highly recommended. Equipped with proper bird watching gear, visitors can indulge in observing these majestic creatures up close or borrow a telescope from the Hellenic Ornithological Society to enhance their experience. Additionally, the shores of the Mikri Prespa, adorned with thick reeds, serve as a haven for pelicans, wild ducks, and a myriad of rare bird species, attracting the attention of international scientific institutes. A must-see attraction is the floating bridge that leads to the island of Saint Achilios in the Little Prespa Lake. Here, visitors can admire the ruins of the 10th-century church bearing the same name. Exploring the caves once inhabited by hermits and witnessing the captivating rock paintings along the shores of the Great Prespa Lake adds a touch of mystique to the journey.
Conclude your tour of the lakes with a visit to the traditional settlements of Psarades, meaning "Fishermen," and Aghios Germanos. These charming villages offer an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and savor a delectable meal featuring carp, one of the lake's exquisite fish. Accompanied by Florina peppers and gigantes beans, complemented by a taste of local tsipouro, a clear schnapps-like spirit, this culinary experience promises to delight your taste buds.
Activities and Exploration
The Great Prespa Lake invites visitors to embark on a romantic boat ride aboard traditional boats called "plaves". Drifting along the serene waters of the lake, surrounded by awe-inspiring scenery, is a perfect way to immerse yourself in the tranquility of the region. Prespa is conveniently located about 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Florina and 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Kastoria, making it easily accessible for day trips or extended stays. Nature enthusiasts will find themselves in paradise within the Prespa Lakes region. Designated as a National Park, the area offers a multitude of outdoor activities and exploration opportunities. Hiking and biking enthusiasts can revel in the natural splendor by following the paved walking and biking path constructed by the municipality of Resen. This path connects various villages, allowing visitors to embark on an unforgettable journey through the southwestern corner of North Macedonia. The route includes scenic mountain peaks like Pelister and Galicica, offering panoramic views and a chance to witness the emergence of Lake Prespa's waters into Lake Ohrid.
Great Prespa's Evolution
Over the years, the Greek part of the Prespa Lakes region remained underpopulated and held military sensitivity, requiring special permission for outsiders to visit. The region endured the intense conflicts of the Greek Civil War, leading to significant emigration as locals sought refuge from poverty and political turmoil. However, since the 1970s, the area has witnessed development and promotion as a tourist destination. Recognizing the region's ecological significance and rare flora and fauna, the area was declared a Transnational Park in 2000. In 2013, the Lake Prespa Ramsar site, renowned for its wetland conservation efforts, was included in UNESCO's World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Moreover, the signing of the Prespa Agreement in 2018, which aimed to resolve the Macedonia naming dispute, added historical importance to the Great Prespa Lake. The agreement, signed in Psarades, marked a milestone in diplomatic relations between Greece and North Macedonia.
A Haven for Wildlife
The Great Prespa Lake boasts a unique ecosystem that nurtures a diverse array of wildlife. Although only 11 native fish species inhabit the lake, nine of them are endemic, including Alburnoides prespensis, Alburnus belvica, Barbus prespensis, Chondrostoma prespense, Cobitis meridionalis, Pelasgus prespensis, Rutilus prespensis, Salmo peristericus, and Squalius prespensis. The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) and European carp (Cyprinus carpio) complete the list of native fish species in the lake. Recognizing the lake's significance as a habitat for various bird species, Greece, Albania and North Macedonia have designated their respective sections as Important Bird Areas (IBAs). These areas provide a safe haven for species such as ferruginous ducks, tufted ducks, Dalmatian pelicans, and pygmy cormorants.
An Ideal Retreat
The Great Prespa Lake in Greece stands as a testament to the awe-inspiring beauty of nature. Its tranquil waters, surrounded by majestic mountains, serve as a sanctuary for migratory birds and endemic fish species. This remarkable destination offers a blend of natural wonders, cultural heritage, and recreational opportunities, making it an ideal retreat for travelers seeking an escape from the bustling urban life. Whether you embark on a boat ride, explore the islands and caves, or indulge in local culinary delights, the Great Prespa Lake promises an unforgettable experience. As you traverse the region, be sure to immerse yourself in the rich history and witness the ecological significance of this enchanting destination. The Great Prespa Lake invites you to embark on a journey of discovery, immersing yourself in its natural splendor and leaving you with lasting memories of this hidden gem in Greece.