Exploring Lake Kerkini: a journey through one of Greece’s most unique wetlands

Once upon a time, in the heart of Greece, there was a remarkable wetland called Lake Kerkini. Nestled in the northeastern region of Serres, near the border with Bulgaria, this stunning lake covers an area of from 4,500 ha to 7,500 ha, depending on the water level. But make no mistake, Lake Kerkini is not a relic of the past. It shines brightly surrounded by majestic mountains, verdant forests, and lush wetlands. Its breathtaking landscapes and unique ecosystem make it one of the most picturesque destinations in the country, and a must-visit spot for anyone who loves nature and adventure.


Kerkini Lake. © Stathis floros, Wikimedia Commons



A haven where fauna and flora thrive

The lake, declared a National Park in 2006, is a Ramsar Site and a Natura 2000 Site of Community Importance and an Important Bird Area. It is a haven for all sorts of plant and animal species, including rare and endangered ones, making it an important component of Greece’s natural heritage. The lake is particularly renowned for its rich birdlife, with more than 320 recorded species, 70 of which are protected ones. Many species use it as a stopover during their migration, and others, such as the Dalmatian Pelican, use it as a breeding ground. In addition to birds, the lake is also home to many fish species, including the famous Kerkini Carp, which is a local delicacy. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the area covered today by the lake was an internal delta of the River Strymona, along with several riparian forests and Prasiada (or Butkovo) Lake to the north, which has existed since ancient times. In the 1930s, a dam was created at the Lithotopos village which created modern Kerkini Lake, now considered among the top most important bird sanctuaries in Europe. The lake’s biodiversity and natural beauty have made it a popular destination for photographers from around the world.


Birds in Kerkini Lake. © Vassilios Vescoukis, Wikimedia Commons



A rich history and a hub of local culture

Apart from its ecological value, Kerkini Lake also has significant cultural and historical importance. It was named after the ancient name of the mountain and a former lake with the ancient name Kerkinitis, which was located nearby. The lake and its surroundings have been inhabited for centuries, and many traditional villages, monasteries, and churches can be found in the area, adding to its cultural richness.

The lake is also an important source of inspiration for artists, writers, and other creative people. Its natural beauty and cultural significance have inspired numerous paintings, photographs, movies, and other artistic creations.

Kerkini Lake is a hub of local culture, with traditional activities like fishing, farming, and animal husbandry playing a crucial role in the local economy and way of life. Characteristic to the lake are water buffalo herds, rare in other areas of Greece, their products (dairy, sausages, sweets, and ice cream with buffalo milk) give a unique flare to the gastronomy of the area. The local communities have their own unique cultural traditions and practices, such as the annual festival of Saint George in the nearby village of Lithotopos.

Overall, Kerkini Lake is an important cultural landmark that showcases Greece’s rich history and vibrant cultural traditions.


Buffaloes in Kerkini Lake. © Makedonas62, Wikimedia Commons


A Global destination for wildlife photographers

With its abundant wildlife and captivating landscapes, Lake Kerkini has captured the hearts of photographers and nature enthusiasts alike. It has become one of the world’s top destinations for wildlife photographers, renowned as Europe’s most accessible lake for birdwatching.

The lake’s thriving ecosystem is a haven for a captivating array of species, from graceful birds and majestic water buffaloes to elusive wolves and golden jackals. Step into this natural wonderland at Lake Kerkini, where every click of the camera unveils the secrets of wildlife in their natural habitat. Prepare to be spellbound as you witness the fascinating dance of nature’s wonders unfold before your lens.


A photographer in Kerkini Lake. © Nikolaos Fantsoudis, Wikimedia Commons


Photographers in Kerkini lake. © Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, Wikimedia Commons


But it’s not just the wildlife that attracts photographers to Lake Kerkini. The region is also known for its stunning sunrises and sunsets, providing awe-inspiring photo opportunities. In this peaceful and serene environment, photographers have the chance to fully connect with nature and capture its beauty in an inspiring and transformative way.


Kerkini Lake. © Paps198011, Wikimedia Commons


Supporting local livelihoods and economy

Lake Kerkini is not just a remarkable natural wonder but also a lifeline for the surrounding communities. It provides a valuable freshwater source, sustaining fertile lands and the crops they nurture. The lake’s fisheries offer abundant aquatic resources, supporting local fishermen. Furthermore, Lake Kerkini creates numerous employment opportunities through responsible ecotourism, revitalizing the local economy.


Fisherman in Kerkini Lake. © by Efthimios Tsilikidis, Wikimedia Commons



Hidden services… more than meets the eye

Lake Kerkini, a significant provider of benefits, works tirelessly for the benefit of local communities and the entire planet. Like a central hub, its wetlands transform into natural sponges, absorbing and purifying heavenly rains, mitigating the perils of floods, and enhancing the water quality downstream. This charming lake ‘deity’, surrounded by its sacred forests, captures atmospheric carbon, weaving a shield against climatic upheavals. A crucial sanctuary for migratory birds, Lake Kerkini offers them vital refuge and feasting grounds during their arduous journey. Let us not forget the invaluable educational and scientific opportunities it offers to researchers and students, supported by the Lake Kerkini Visitors Center.


Kerkini Lake. © Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, Wikimedia Commons


Balancing tourism and conservation

Endowed with remarkable biodiversity, breathtaking landscapes, and undeniable ecological and economic significance, Lake Kerkini stands out as an unmissable tourist destination. Indeed, it distinguishes itself as a shining example of the benefits that sustainable tourism can bring to the environment and the local economy.

However, as tourists and awe-struck explorers flock to this natural treasure, it is crucial to emphasize that sustainability remains a key priority to ensure a harmonious balance between the exploration of this exceptional place and the preservation of its delicate ecosystem. While the management authority has done an excellent job in protecting the lake and its inhabitants, it is imperative for the tourism industry and visitors to adopt responsible and environmentally friendly practices. Avoiding littering and pollution, supporting sustainable tourism and local businesses, protecting species, using the lake’s resources wisely, and avoiding excessive exploitation of its water are among the measures and practices that will contribute to its protection and the preservation of its natural and cultural values.


Pelicans posing for tourists in Kerkini Lake. © J.Panagiotakis, Wikimedia Commons


By working together to promote sustainable tourism approaches and adhering to current regulations, we guarantee that future generations will have the opportunity to revel in the natural splendor and benefits offered by Lake Kerkini. In this way, we will safeguard this invaluable heritage and further enhance the harmonious bond between humanity and the surrounding environment.


School students are on an expedition to clean up the area near Lake Kerkini. © Annatsach, Wikimedia Commons


Special thanks to Irini Lyratzaki, from MedIna, and  Michail Davis, from the National Environmental and Clime Change Agency of Greece, Central Macedonia Management Unit of Protective Areas, department of Lake Kerkini National Park, for their valuable review of this article.