Vjosa River: Wild Source for Life

Natural Heritage!

The river isn’t only stunning, Vjosa is a source which many wild beings and their existence depend on. The river is one of Europe’s last living wild rivers. Vjosa River is a natural heritage, and a source that plays a significant role in conveying social, cultural, and economic values. The damage of its waters, the surrounding nature and the life that springs out from the pathway of the river will be a significant loss for Albanian nature and social-economic development.

Vjosa is an untamed river that flows freely, and its course is about 270 km long. The river’s passage is characterized by beautiful canyons, plaited river sections, islands, oxbows and meandering stretches. Some areas of the river are over 2 km in width. What makes Vjosa River really outstanding is the fact that almost all its tributaries are free-flowing and intact as well. These tributaries create a network of streaming rivers that you can’t find in other European rivers.

The river’s source begins in Greece, near Vouvoussa village. Vouvoussa is the ancient name for Vjosa. About 80 km of the river flows through Greece and it’s named Aoos. In Albanian territory, the name Aoos turns to Vjosa. The meandering lower part opens up into a valley with extensive wetlands, providing habitats for spawning fish, migratory birds and others. Finally, it meets with the Adriatic Sea, north of the Narta lagoon.


The Vjosa River in Albania represents one of the last intact large river system in Europe. It hosts all different types of ecosystems: from narrow gorges to wide braided river sections in the middle part. While, natural delta spreads near the Adriatic Sea. When it comes to the biodiversity, the river is one of the least explored rivers in Europe. Very few studies are at hand so far. However, these few existing studies underscore the importance of the river valley as Albania’s biodiversity hotspot, providing ideal aquatic habitats for numerous species.

[1] The free flowing Vjosa is of substantial importance for various migratory fish species, i.e., the critically endangered European Anguilla as well as sub-endemic fish species like the Ohrid loach and the Pindus stone loach. In terms of bird populations, the area provides breeding ground for Stone curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus), Little ringed plover (Charadrius dubius) and others, foraging ground for the Little tern (Sterna albifrons), Egyptian vultures (Neophron percnopterus), and the Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni), as well as an important habitat for the near threatened otter (Lutra). Due to the lack of knowledge, the status of some species is unclear, for example, the Little tern (Sterna albifrons), which is regularly seen in the Poçem area and below, but nesting sites have not been recorded yet. The undisturbed morphodynamical processes with its enormous sediment shift led to a constant natural regeneration of these habitats, as well as to a lateral erosion, producing large-scale, steep riverbanks. These provide breeding grounds for thousands of Sand martins (Riparia riparia), for Kingfishers (Alcedo atthis), and Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster).

[2] The flora of the Vjosa ecosystem is also impressive. The uppermost river section hosts a variety of endangered endemic plant species, such as the endangered Solenanthus albanicus. The lower valley is characterized by mixed Oak forests (Qurecus sp.) and Strawberry trees (Arbutus andrachne); for the latter the Vjosa valley represents the only habitat in the country. This braided river system is characterized by large gravel banks with pioneer vegetation, islands, side arms, oxbows, ponds, and alluvial forests with Platanus orientalis, Willows (Salix spp.).
In order to bridge the knowledge gap, about 30 scientists from 4 countries and various expertise participated in one week of research in April 2017 on the previously almost unexplored Vjosa river in Albania – in the area of the planned Poçem dam. All experts were amazed by the complexity and sheer size of the river system and every expertise found something at the Vjosa – species, habitat types, dynamic river processes – that has been long lost on all regulated rivers in central Europe. An extensive, 3-year research program is in preparations.


Vjosa River

In the aspect tourism, Vjosa River offers the best rafting trip in Albania, and Europe. The trip takes you through unique experience of narrow passages and waves that go up to four feet with the water gushing over the sides of the boat. 

Vjosa river’s course is wild and untamed, full of beautiful canyons, braided river sections, islands and oxbows. Rafting in the Vjosa River is an experience of the beautiful wild nature that shouldn’t be missing from your life.

1, 2 – Sovinc, A. (2021). Protection study of the Vjosa River Valley based on IUCN protected area standards, Belgrade, Serbia: IUCN. iv+40pp


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