Karpathos

Get ready for an experience like no other in the Mediterranean. The island of Karpathos can truly be described as the most ideal for ecotourism in Greece and one of the most authentic! It has two very different sides to it – the north and the south – which until very recently were virtually only connected by sea rather than by land. Karpathos is, after all, a pretty remote island lying between its better-known neighbors, Rhodes and Crete. Its traditions are strong, its nature pristine, and its people proud, particularly in North Karpathos which represents one of the most unspoilt regions in the Mediterranean.

While the south side has a relatively busy town with modest tourism infrastructure and many hotels, the north offers an isolated experience with more individual accommodation such as guesthouses, apartments that look like private homes, and small family hotels. In fact, the whole northern part of the island, along with the neighboring mountainous islet of Saria, falls in the Natura 2000 protected reserve, as well as in Greece’s third and latest marine park area. This means the biodiversity on this island is unparalleled, from endangered species from the monk seal (Monachus Monachus) to endemic flowers.

According to the Environmental Management Agency of the Karpathos-Saria protected area, Karpathos is home to one of the largest populations of the monk seal and has been declared one of the ‘Important Bird Areas of Europe’. Its caves has rare owls and bats, while are salamanders, frogs and serpents roam the land.

Apart from fauna and flora, a breathtaking collection of wild beaches, sign-posted hiking paths, archeological sites, folklore museums, lazy traditional cafés, authentic seaside restaurants and historic whitewashed churches await visitors to this enchanting island. Eco-friendly sporting activities include hiking and trekking there are great spots for windsurfing, diving and rock climbing, kite-surfing, birdwatching and mountain biking, so be prepared to embrace nature in a myriad of ways.

You’re going to love exploring the handful of villages or settlements on the northern side, such as the stunningly traditional village of Olymbos, the area of Avlona in a valley with 300 traditional farmhouses yet not many inhabitants, and the seaside port of Diafani with its seafood restaurants. Adventurers could also hike to the gorgeous bay of Tristomo (reached only by foot or by boat), representing the furthest and north-most little settlement on the island – but do take enough water and snacks with you as there are no public shops or café there.

The south side shouldn’t be neglected either, as it also hides some superb sights and secrets. Othos, the highest village of Karpathos, boasts a folklore museum and the gallery of local artist Yannis Hapsis. The nearby village of Piles offers spectacular sunsets and great views of Kasos island, especially from the Panorama Café Restaurant. Marvel at the houses of Aperi and dine in its restaurants, then pass by nearby Volada to admire the houses as well. If you’re fond of the sea head to the small fishing villages of Finiki (known for its seafood restaurants) and Lefkos. As you go from south to north, make a rest stop at the traditional village of Mesochori with its breathtaking views and to nearby Spoa to see the views of Karpathos’ eastern side.

Lastly, the mouth-watering culinary secrets of Karpathos shouldn’t be neglected. Based on healthy Southern Mediterranean ingredients with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and sumptuous seafood, the cuisine boasts delicious local cheeses (armotyri and meriari), flavourful baby olives, fresh bread from wood ovens, rye rusks to eat in salads, a curious cabbage pie (lahanopita), alevria cookies, onion bread rings, the occasional lamb dish and much more uncommon dishes. On the sweeter side you must try the sesame honey (sousamomelo), sweet cheese pies and the island’s special version of baklava.

If you crave an authentic Mediterranean experience that does not cater to mass tourism, Karpathos will certainly not disappoint.

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Location - Karpathos

Agios Minas

One of the most gorgeous pebbly beaches on the island, this beach is surrounded by rocky hills and shrubs. Mostly deserted, great if you have a boat to explore. Access also by dirt road.

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Kastelia

The gorgeous beach of Kastelia lies after Ammoopi, representing a hidden paradise among the rocks. You can reach it through a dirt road from Ammoopi.

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Kyra Panagia

One of the nicest sandy beaches on the island lying between two mountains with crystal waters about 14 km from Pigadia before the beach of Apella. Some accommodation not far from the beach.

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Karpathos, and particularly the northern part of the island, is an exceptional place for birdwatching. Other than the numerous migrating birds, there are many other types of endemic birds that flourish here, extending to the island of Saria and nearby rocky islets.

Photo: www.ecotourism-karpathos.com

There is a small wetland in Tristomo – the only one in the area – which represents a refuge for waterfowl and wading birds such as the Plover (Charadrius dubius), Little Stint (Calidris minuta) and Wood Sandpipers (Tringa glareola).

Very noteworthy are the birds of prey such as Bonelli's Eagle (Iieraaetus fasciatus), Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus), and Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) observed relatively easily throughout the year. You will also be fascinated by the beauty of the Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) and Island Partridge (Alectoris chukar), as well as the numerous Spanish sparrows (Passer hispaniolensis), elegant Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana), restless Eurasian Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) and chirpy Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (Hippolais pallida). Less frequent species that you might be lucky to spot include the Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina), Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (Merops persicus) and Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola).

Spring in Karpathos brings with it a panoply of colors and melodies, with migratory passerines that flood the small valley of Avlona and the surrounding area, including hoopoes, shrikes, wheatears, flycatchers, warblers, wagtails, orioles, and leaf warblers. Birdwatchers will revel in the flying flocks of swift, swallows, bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) and Spanish sparrow. Quite common is the presence of Katsoulieris (Galerida cristata), the Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) and Mafrolaimidon (Saxicola torquatus) observed throughout the year on the island.

Ιn the meantime, the sea around Karpathos and surrounding islets is surrounded by the European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) which lives in this environment all year round. Also present are Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea), Mediterranean shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan) and Eleonora's Falcon (Falco eleonorae) which are actually migrating birds.

The elegant Audouin's Gull (Larus audouinii) can commonly be seen in the skies over Karpathos, particularly since it breeds in the greater region like the Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) and the Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta). If you visit in fall you're likely to see migrating birds of prey like the European honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus) and others that fly on a migratory path from Karpathos to Africa.

Walking through the island's established hiking paths from Tristomo to Diafani and Papa Mina, as well as from Vroukounta to Avlona and on to Olymbos, visitors can admire numerous little birds and birds of prey, but should take care not to disturb them, particularly during breeding season. The same applies for birds on the island of Saria.

Environmental matters in the region of Northern Karpathos and Saria, which lies in a Natura 2000 zone, fall under the responsibility of the Management Agency of Karpathos and Saria Protected Area. There is an information office in the seaside village of Diafani along with an exhibition area about the fauna and flora, as well as ecological and eco-tourism related activities and initiatives. Printed material, books and hiking guides will help enlighten visitors who are interested in ecotourism.

 

Get ready for a Mediterranean gastronomy tour like no other. While Crete has become famous worldwide for its healthy and tasty Mediterranean Diet, its lesser known neighbor Karpathos has equally delightful culinary surprises that are just as healthy. The island is big on seafood from its untouched turquoise seas, free-range chicken and meat, wild greens, exceptional sea salt, aromatic herbs, quality olive oil, delicious breads, and a myriad fruits and vegetables of course.

Photo: www.kuklaskouzina.com

Traditional dishes abound

It is not uncommon to see women mill wheat or barley on traditional stone mills to make homemade pasta, such as the variety called Makarounes. These are served with onion and fried in olive oil with dry Mizithra cheese to create a mouthwatering pasta dish. This tasty cheese also goes into a wonderful cheese pie (Myzithropita), and there are a variety of local cheeses to sample across the island.

Stuffed baby squash flowers (Kolokythoanthi) and lentil rice with onions (fakorizo) will delight vegetarians, so will small pies called Kopeles that are stuffed with greens. Seafood lovers will certainly delight in the parrotfish found off the coast and cooked to perfection.

Photo: Paola Manfredi

You can even derive a culinary experience from a visit to a traditional coffee house where you can drink some ouzo while grazing on anchovies and Manouli (hard goat cheese). The panoply of dishes on offer range from a unique version of Trahana soup (with tomato) to escargot with dill and bay leaves. Noteworthy is the herb Krithamos (known elsewhere in Greece as Kritamos) growing near the sea and paired beautifully with salads and seafood dishes. More adventurous meat-eaters might come across the rare dish of Anterizia or Anderizia that is made from intestines and meat cooked in spices and different flavors, then served with rice.   

Best in bread

Karpathos is famous for its breads, such as sesame bread rings and onion bread (Kremidopsomo). Villages still bake in wood ovens, especially in the traditional town of Olympos. There are savory bread varieties with different ingredients such as cumin or pepper, as well as sweet bread varieties with cinnamon, mastic or clove. During Easter you'll love the Christ's bread (Christopsomo) sesame and what the Greek's called black sesame (Mavrosousamo) which is really the seeds of the fennel flower. You should also try the sweet bread with a red-dyed egg in the center if you're on the island close to Easter time.

Photo: Nikos G. Mastropavlos/eudemonia.gr

Celebration time

You'll be eating well during feasts and holidays on the island. If you happen to be in Karpathos during a wedding, baptismal ceremony or other celebration, you might be lucky to taste a delicious fish called Pasti Menoula, a tasty small fish related to the sea bream and generally caught in February's cold waters. Easter brings forth a lamb or goat dish called Vizanti stuffed with rice and herbs, cooked slowly in a clay pot. After such a meal sweeten your tooth with Easter 'Tourtes', made of lightly sweet leavened bread, aniseed and sweet Mizithra cheese.

Christmas also features delicacies, such stuffed turkey with a Karpathian twist, as well as beef or goat in tomato sauce slowly cooked together with bulgur. A pork dish called 'Pichti' is also on the Christmas menu, complete with plenty of herbs and spices such as bay leaf, pepper and cumin, together with lemon juice. On the sweeter side you may get to try Paklava – a different version of Baklava – representing a fried dessert with honey, cinnamon and clove. Christmas is well known for a raisin dessert called Zimpilia (pronounced Zibilia) that should be sampled.

Sweet surprise

Home cooking brings with it a good variety of sweet delicacies such as Moschopougia, representing crescent-shaped cookies stuffed with walnuts or almonds. Karpathos also boasts delicious Takakia, a fried doughy dessert topped with support. You will always find varieties of Baklava, as well as sweet cheese pies called Myzithropita. Sweet triangle-shaped cheese pastries will delight those with a sweet tooth, so will the Sissamomeli, a dessert that combines honey and sesame in sinful ways.

Photo: Paola Manfredi

You're going to be impressed with the hiking opportunities that the island offers, with vistas of the sea, mountains, cliffs, rolling fields and all sorts of fauna and flora. The island of course was a hiking haven for past civilizations, from the Ancient Minoans to the recent Saracen pirates.

Photo: www.activeholidaysingreece.com

Hiking o the Northern part of the island is also special in that it lets you discover places that are unreachable by car. There are 10 main hiking trails on the island to explore:

1. Spoa – Olympos (5.5 hours)

2. Olymbos – Pei Area – Olymbos (4.5 hours)

3. Olymbos – Forokli (2 hours)

4.  Olymbos – Diafani (2.5 hours)

5.  Olymbos – Avlona (2 hours)

6.  Olymbos – Peak Prophet Elias (1.5 hours)

6Α. Peak Prophet Elias – Olymbos (1.5 hours)

6Β. Olymbos – Cross Road trail No 1 – Olymbos (3 hours)

7. Olymbos – St. Constantine Col (1 hour)

7Α. St. Constantine Col – Diafani (1.5 hours)

7Β. St. Constantine Col – Diafani (1 hour)

8. Avlona – Tristomo (3.5 hours)

9. Avlona – Ancient Vroukounda (1.5 hours)

10. Avlona – Diafani (through Vananta Beach) (2 hours)

This long island does not come without a mixed variety of beaches, from sandy and pebbly to shallow and windy (perfect for windsurfing). Beaches on the southern part of the island are more easily accessible and are busier, with more chance of finding organized beaches that offer sunbeds and umbrellas. The adventurous, however, will revel in exploring the central and northern part of the island, as well as the islands of the coast by boat, including Saria and Sokastro.

Agios Minas

One of the most gorgeous pebbly beaches on the island, this beach is surrounded by rocky hills and shrubs. Mostly deserted, great if you have a boat to explore. Access also by dirt road.

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Agios Nikolaos (Arkasa)

Here’s a well-organized beach near the big village of Arkasa on the western side of the island, 15 km north of Pigadia. White sand, shallow waters and delicious little restaurants (tavernas) serving seafood and local cuisine.

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Agios Nikolaos (Spoa)

The beach of Agios Nikolaos near the village of Spoa has won accolades for its clean waters. There are umbrellas, beach chairs, and a little restaurant, all in a serene environment.

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Ahata or Achata

A quiet and pretty beach some 13 km from the capital. Sandy and pebbly with gorgeous waters, surrounded by mountains and greenery. There’s a small ‘taverna’ for food.

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Ammos, Afoti, Vronti

These three sandy beaches near Pigadia, the capital of Karpathos, offer clean waters, different watersports, good food and sea-side restaurants. They are most popular and happening, so not ideal for those seeking privacy.

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Apella

Considered one of the nicest beaches on the island with stunning waters. Easier to access by boat than by road. Not much else apart from the gorgeous beach though.

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Argilopotamos

The name of this beach means ‘Clay River’, boasting white sand, shallow waters and big waves that are great for surfing. A beach canteen onsite comes in handy.

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Christou Pigadi

Here’s a decent organized beach with some umbrellas that’s not crowded, lying serenely a few minutes away from the airport on the way to Pigadia. The name means “Well of Christ”.

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Damatria

Not far from the airport, this sandy shallow beach is perfect for families and not too busy. However you need to get your own umbrellas.

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Diafani and Vananda

There is a little beach off the small fishing village of Diafani that you could swim in, but for a more secluded experience head to nearby Vananta (pronounced Vananda). Better done by boat than road from Pigadia.

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Finiki

Finicky travelers will love Finiki beach on the western side of the island with its crystalline waters, accommodation options, seafood ‘tavernas’ and more. Umbrellas and beach beds normally available.

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Forokli

This attractively secluded and isolated beach lies against a backdrop of sharp mountains. Explore by boat or make sure you have everything with you if you go hiking there.

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Kastelia

The gorgeous beach of Kastelia lies after Ammoopi, representing a hidden paradise among the rocks. You can reach it through a dirt road from Ammoopi.

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Kyra Panagia

One of the nicest sandy beaches on the island lying between two mountains with crystal waters about 14 km from Pigadia before the beach of Apella. Some accommodation not far from the beach.

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Lefkos: Gialou Horafi, Panagias-Limani, Frangolimniona

In the bay of Lefkos on the central western side of the island there are 3 beaches that can delight curious travelers. Gialou Horafi has umbrellas, while Panagias which is smaller and quieter does not.

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Makris Gialos

Roughly means ‘Long Beach’, Makris Gialos on the southern tip of the island (near the airport) about 15 km from Pigadia is very popular for windsurfing. Sandy and with lovely clean waters.

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Megali Ammoopi and Votsalakia

Megali Ammoopi is perfect for families with children thanks to its shallow waters. Nearby is Votsalakia, a pebbly beach with fantastic water. These are popular beaches with restaurants, cafés, hotels, etc.

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Mihaliou Kipos

Translating as ‘Garden of Michael’, this beach near the airport offers wild beauty and unique caves by the beach paint a surreal picture in this Mediterranean island.

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Mikri Ammoopi

A bit south of the capital in a bay with three small sandy beaches and unique beauty. Not far from the larger Ammoopi (pronounced like ‘o’ in door) but more secluded.

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Pera Ammos

Relatively large pebbly beach and a peninsula just 6 km from Pigadia with shallow water, great for families with kids. Several ‘tavernas’ and eateries to rest and feast in.

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Pouliou Potami

The name translates as River of Birds, but it’s more a beach with large pebbles just 10 km south of Pigadia. Can be reached by a dirt from Ammoopi.

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Psoraris

Welcome to the biggest sandy beach on the southwestern tip of the island. This isolated beach doesn’t have any restaurants or umbrellas, so go well prepared.

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Saria

If you arrange a boat trip from Diafani to Saria, you can swim but also explore this isolated island with its medieval ruins and recent churches. It was once a pirate’s hideaway too.

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Valias and Pounta

Pebble beaches with deep waters on the southeast side of the island. Strong winds make them just perfect for windsurfing. In summer Valias offers umbrellas and beach beds. Restaurants available.

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Agios Minas

One of the most gorgeous pebbly beaches on the island, this beach is surrounded by rocky hills and shrubs. Mostly deserted, great if you have a boat to explore. Access also by dirt road.

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Kastelia

The gorgeous beach of Kastelia lies after Ammoopi, representing a hidden paradise among the rocks. You can reach it through a dirt road from Ammoopi.

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Kyra Panagia

One of the nicest sandy beaches on the island lying between two mountains with crystal waters about 14 km from Pigadia before the beach of Apella. Some accommodation not far from the beach.

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This long island does not come without a mixed variety of beaches, from sandy and pebbly to shallow and windy (perfect for windsurfing). Beaches on the southern part of the island are more easily accessible and are busier, with more chance of finding organized beaches that offer sunbeds and umbrellas. The adventurous, however, will revel in exploring the central and northern part of the island, as well as the islands of the coast by boat, including Saria and Sokastro.

Photo: karpathosinfo.com

What makes Karpathos very special in terms of nature is that it's been evolving in total isolation for the past 2 million years. This has given rise to many plants and flowers that can't be found anywhere else in the world (i.e. endemic), with a few common only to Karpathos, nearby Kassos and in a few cases the island of Crete. The Management Agency of North Karpathos – which was established to manage and protect the area's biodiversity and nature – reports the presence of about 90 different endemic species in the region (mostly Karpathos with some common to Kassos and Crete). It also points out to 18 separate ecosystems or habitat types that are relatively in a very good state.

Photo: Rosa-Maria Rinkl

Forests, surprising trees and interesting herbs

Occurring generally at lower elevations, healthy Turkish pine forests (Pinus brutia) can be spotted on the eastern slopes of Northern Karpathos and on the southern side of the nearby Saria Island. There are also other enigmatic Mediterranean tree species such as mastic trees or lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus) and Carob trees (Ceratonia siliqua) that even until today flavor some of the foods and desserts in this region of the world.

Photo: Konstantin737

Present on the island too is Black hawthorn or Mediterranean Buckthorn (Rhamnus lycioides ssp. οleoides) which offers good nourishment for birdlife but shouldn't be consumed by humans in big quantities as it could be poisonous. The pretty rockrose (Cistus spp.) with its purple flowers also graces the landscape, while a wild type of thyme known as conehead thyme (Coridothymus capitatus) – apart from its potential cosmetic and culinary value – has been shown to have powerful antifungal and antibacterial properties.

Intriguing shrubs

A certain kind of shrubbery thrives in the rocky regions and gorges of the island, scientifically known as chasmophytic vegetation. The most common is Ptilostemon, a kind of plant that is placed in the thistle tribe within the sunflower family. Similarly another flowering plant from the thistle tribe called Hirtellina fruticosa is reputed to grow only the island of Karpathos.

In higher altitude you'll find shrubs such as tree spurge (Euphorbia dendroides) and Phoenician juniper (Juniperus phoenicea), while a specific type of garrigue or phrygana – a kind of low, soft-leaved scrubland – can be found in the form of Euphorbia acanthothamnus, as well as the endemic germander (Teucrium gracile).

Photo: Tato Grasso

Plants that thrive in salty and windy environments can be found on the coastal rocks including the rare and endemic limonium (Limonium carpathum) and the white beancaper (Zygophyllum album). Worth mentioning as well as certain plants related to old cultivation practices on the terraced hills, namely the Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia cretica), the Holy orchid (Orchis sancta) and the Lusitanian woad (Isatis lusitanica).

Protecting the Monk seal

The northern part of Karpathos the nearby uninhabited island of Saria fall within an environmentally protected area, under the responsibility of the Management Body of Karpathos and Saria. One of its key missions is to protect the endangered Mediterranean monk seal, Monachus Monachus. Within a European context, it is also involved in protecting locally and regionally important ecosystems and habitats on land and sea

Monachus Monachus is in fact the most threatened sea mammal in the EU and is in danger of extinction. While Karpathos is a very suitable habitat for the seals, there are only a few dozen on the island left.

Photo: www.discovergreece.com

Shells and snails

Beyond the seal the island has a few other curiosities, endemic wildlife and endangered species that should be respected. For example, an interesting kind of gastropod or land snail on the island is Albinaria unicolor, with its elongated shell. Also curious is the land snail Pyramidula chorismenostomawhose spiral whorls are not attached to one another. Other snails include Vitrea clessini (almost endemic) and Zonites sariae (obviously from Saria Island). A type of rare locust called Rhacocleis silvestri and an uncommon island beetle known as Danacaea insularis are also part of the fauna on Karpathos.

The bivalve mollusk Arca noae – Noah’s Ark shell – can grow to about 10 centimeters and can sometimes be visible in low-tide areas, particularly in Tristomo Bay. Another such mollusk known as the fan mussel or noble pen shell (Pinna nobilis) is also a protected species and flourishes in the bay’s seabed. It can grow to much bigger proportions, as much as 1.2 meters, however it usually measures anywhere from 30 to 50 centimeter.

Photo: Shadowshador

Cave life

There are two caves on the island that are home to different kinds of life. Saint John’s cave hosts different species of crawling bugs known as isopods (actually a type of crustacean) such as Bathytropa granulata and Chaetophiloscia cellaria, as well as an endemic insect (orthopteron) known as Discoptila kinzelbachi.

The Olympos cave on the other hand is home to the barn owl (Tyto alba), bicolored shrew (Crocidura leucodon), lesser mouse-eared bat (Myotis blythii) and an intriguing species of vesper bat known as Savi's pipistrelle (Pipistrellus savii) which are considered protected species under European and/or Greek law.

Rare frogs and salamanders

Some rare or endangered species of amphibians can be found within the limits of the protected area, such as the Karpathos Lycian salamander (Lyciasalamandra helverseni), known also as Kochylina. It can be found only in the Dodecanese. A very important endemic amphibian species of the island is the Karpathos frog (Pelophylax cerigensis) and is considered critically endangered.

In terms of serpents, Kotschy's gecko (Cyrtopodion kotschyi oertzeni) and the Snake-eyed skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii fabichi) – both of which are considered protected species – can be found only on Karpathos and nearby islands. Also protected are:

Snake-eyed lizard (Ophisops elegans)
Ocellated skink (Chalcides ocellatus)
Turkish gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)
Grass snake (Natrix natrix)
Large whipsnake (Coluber jugularis)

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