Dalmatian Pelicans and Meteora Monasteries

Ancient Birds and Ancient Landscapes, Greece

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Ancient Greece. These two words highlight the theme for our unusual winter wildlife and landscapes photo tour to northcentral Greece. Here, several intriguing photo opportunities are conveniently within a few hours driving distance. Lake Kerkini is one of the most important wintering sites for highly photogenic Dalmatian pelicans whose origins date back almost 30 million years.  The spectacular stone monasteries of Meteora, built more than 700 years ago and perched precipitously on 60-million-year-old rock pinnacles, provide intriguing landscape images. And to complete our journey, we photograph the awe-inspiring Vikos Gorge, with glacial origins beginning some 30,000 years ago.
"The leaders both provided suggestions and support using new techniques and ways of looking at a scene. I got shots that surprised me and kept thinking ‘Wow, I took that picture?'"
- Bob S.
During winter, mainland Greece is reclaimed by the Greeks. The throngs of tourists that flood the country in the warmer months are gone, while impressive numbers of wintering birds congregate on quiet lakes and coastal lagoons. Here, winter is an undiscovered season for great nature and landscape photography. Greece is roughly the size of Florida and, like Florida, the further south you travel, the warmer the weather. But, unlike Florida, temperatures in northcentral Greece can be cold, with the possibility of snowy mountain backgrounds in our images, or a fleeting snowfall on the Meteora monasteries.

Dalmatian pelican portraitDalmatian pelicans—the world's largest, rarest and most spectacular—congregate annually on Lake Kerkini, not far from the northern border with Bulgaria. Though pelican numbers have declined dramatically during the 20th century, they thrive here, living peacefully with the local fishermen who now use their fishing boats (and fish) for winter pelican photography tourism. In January and February these amazing birds, weighing up to 15 kilograms (31.1 pounds) are in full breeding plumage with long comical and unkempt crown and nape feathers, massive red pouches and piercing white eyes.  They can be photographed by boat as well as from the shore—in flight and on the water.
The Meteora monasteries are built atop dramatic sandstone pillars—some reaching heights of 550 meters (1,800 feet).  Caves in this amazing landscape were inhabited thousands of years ago. As early as the eleventh century, monks occupied the caverns of Meteora. Then, construction of the famous monasteries commenced in the fourteenth century, when the monks sought refuge in the face of an increasing number of Turkish attacks on Greece. Nowadays, even without the monasteries, Meteora offers breathtaking panoramic views of its inspiring geological features and great imagery of the play of light and shadow on this stony landscape.
Meteora GreeceAnother wonderful component of this trip is a shoot at the Vikos Gorge and the nearby traditional villages of Zagori. The gorge is deep and very photogenic. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Vikos is the world’s deepest canyon relative to its width. The 46 sleepy Zagori villages are nestled beneath pine-clad towering peaks and are known for their characteristic stone architecture, cobbled streets and several picturesque arched bridges built “relatively recently” in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Read James Rogerson's trip report from our latest Greece photo tour 
For trip questions or to enroll give us a call at (206) 463-5383

Tour Itinerary

Day 1
Depart from home.

Day 2 (Jan 17, 2024)
Arrive at Thessaloniki Airport, Greece. We will meet this evening and head to dinner at a local restaurant. (D)

Day 3
Following breakfast we drive with our vans to our hotel near Meteora and check in. We will be out for a sunset shoot of the Meteora rock monasteries. (BLD)

Day 4
We photograph Meteora, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Nothing can prepare photographers for the amazing scenes that await! Towering pinnacles of sandstone rise above the valley floor and are topped with spectacularly-perched red roof-tiled medieval Eastern Orthodox monasteries. Religious hermits took up residence here in the earliest days of Christianity. They were followed by monks who constructed monasteries on Meteora’s inaccessible rock pillars as refuges from Turkish raiders as well as the temptations of secular life. A loop road provides us with excellent vantage points for photography. Often mist circles around these hills hiding the monasteries and, when they emerge, we are ready to capture scenes that words can scarcely describe. (BLD)

Stone bridge, GreeceDay 5
Light and shadow play a crucial role in the success of our Meteora images, so we make one final sunrise foray to our favorite vantage points. Afterwards we pack up and drive about two hours to the Zagori villages. Along the way we photograph old stone bridges, bucolic landscapes and the small village of Ioannina where we photograph the town’s mosque and castle along the shore of Ioannina Lake. (BLD)

Day 6
We shoot the traditional Zagori villages and graphic landscapes of Vikos Gorge. (BLD)

Day 7
Today is a travel day as we make our way north to Lake Kerkini. The drive takes about five hours and yields relatively few photo opportunities. We arrive at the lake in the late afternoon where we capture the last light of the day and have our first encounter with the spectacular Dalmatian pelicans.

Dalmatian pelican reflected in waterDays 8-10
We start the day at first light. Over these three days we take three private boat trips on Lake Kerkini and attend three feeding sessions from the shore—ample time to capture amazing images of Dalmatian pelicans. Using small, low boats and enticing food, the pelicans follow us out onto the lake where we can easily maneuver our boats to compose images with the best backgrounds and light.

Shooting from the shore also has photographic advantages. Using a long lenses and tripods, we can isolate floating birds against “clean” backgrounds. Whether shooting from boats or the shore, the pelicans come extremely close—sometimes inches away—but, on shore, we’re able to take ultra-low-level images. Using wide-angle lenses, we can frame large groups of birds while accentuating dramatic skies and snowy mountain backgrounds.

Dalmatian pelicans are three times larger than the more familiar brown pelicans of North America. In fact, they rank among the world's heaviest flying birds—and what incredible flyers they are! With wingspans that rival the great albatrosses, these elegant soaring birds can be seen high in the sky, their flocks flying in graceful synchrony.

Pelicans in flightOur trip is timed to photograph the Dalmatian pelicans in their striking breeding plumage and curly silver-gray nape and crown feathers. Their amazing bill—the second longest of any living bird—with its brilliant red pouch, and their watchful white eyes surrounded by vibrant orange skin ranks them among the most graphically interesting large birds.

Dalmatian pelican numbers plunged precipitously during the 20th century due to wetland draining, poaching and disturbance to nest colonies. These days their numbers have stabilized with an estimated world breeding population of 3,000–5,000 pairs. (BLD)

Day 11 (Jan 26)
Following an early breakfast, we pack our vans and head to the Thessaloniki Airport for flights homeward. (B)

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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Dalmatian Pelicans and Meteora Monasteries

Jan 16, 2024 - Jan 26, 2024

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits we accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days prior to departure and may be paid by check or bank transfer. If you wish to make your final payment with a credit card a 3% convenience fee will be charged.

We must receive written notice of your cancellation. Based on the cancellation date the following apply:

Trip deposits are non-refundable.
150-91 days before the trip start date: We will refund any payments made exceeding 50% of the total trip cost.
90-61 days before the trip start date: We will refund any payments made exceeding 75% of the total trip cost.
Within 60 days of the start of the trip: No refund.

If, on the trip start date, your space has been resold and the tour is full—as designated by “Limit” number of travelers on the tour website page—we will refund your payment, minus the non-refundable trip deposit and any discounts given to resell your space.

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

We strongly encourage you to protect your travel investment and purchase a comprehensive travel insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. We can provide travel insurance options, or it can be purchased online. A CANCEL FOR ANY REASON policy is available. Trip participants without travel protection insurance are considered “self-insured.” Without insurance you assume all risks and losses for any conditions requiring your cancellation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you, or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health, including viral illnesses, occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, and applicable health advisories. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or email address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or email messages to info@photosafaris.com.

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific details that are included in your trip fee. Generally, these include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch, or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, internal tour air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages, and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry, or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Most of our trips are priced in double occupancy (shared) accommodations. Single accommodation is available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodation or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations, and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins, or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea is included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks, as well as alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two people traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger (trip participant) in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motor coach, automobile, van, boat, ship or aircraft or any other conveyance, and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts, bankruptcy or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay, cancellations or changes in flights or other tour services, and by force majeure including sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine, epidemics, pandemics and outbreaks, or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in flight schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure due to low enrollment, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non -refundable air tickets, visa fees, travel insurance premiums and medical related expenses; 3) At the company’s sole discretion, suspend or postpone any trip due to force majeure or disease outbreak in which case the trip may be rescheduled, or a refund issued less any non-refundable deposits paid to tour component providers on behalf of the passenger, or a travel credit given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 4) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 5) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A signed Registration Form with the Enrollment Conditions and Release and Assumption of Risk sections must be returned by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington.

I have read, understand, and agree to the terms, conditions, and provisions of the enrollment information, as stated on the Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris website and the Enrollment Conditions section of this form, especially noting the policy on cancellations, refunds, and limitations on responsibility.

I am aware that during any trip or tour that I am voluntarily participating in under the arrangements of Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., a Washington corporation, and its employees, agents and associates, certain risks and dangers exist while traveling in the United States, foreign countries, and wilderness areas in any country or territory that include the possibility of property damage, bodily injury, and death. There is a possibility of accident or illness occurring without access to immediate or timely medical treatment or facilities. There is a risk of tropical or communicable diseases that may require quarantine and removal from the tour at my expense, food-related illnesses, the risk of personal injury and property damage or delay or inconvenience by forces of nature, wildlife or wildlife models, quarantine, political instability, acts of terrorism, strikes, government restrictions or regulations change, thefts, and the risk of accidents during travel while on foot or by aircraft, train, automobile, van, bus, boat, ship, or other conveyance. I understand that such risks cannot be eliminated without jeopardizing the essential qualities of this trip or tour. In consideration of, and as part payment for the right to participate in such trips, tours and/or other activities and services arranged for me by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, agents and associates, I have and do hereby assume all risks, and hereby release Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, shareholders, agents and associates, and will hold them harmless from any and all liability, actions, causes of actions, debts, claims, and demands of every kind and nature, howsoever caused, which I now have or which may arise of or in connection with any of my trips or tours and participation in any activities arranged for me by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, agents and associates.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf, be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this Agreement, I agree to indemnify them and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, I agree to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington and further agree that the substantive law of that state shall apply in that action without regard to the conflict-of-law rules of that state. The terms hereof shall serve as a release and assumption of all risk for myself, my heirs, executors, and administrators, and for all members of my family.

If any part, article, paragraph, sentence, or clause of this Agreement is not enforceable, the affected provision shall be curtailed and limited only to the extent necessary to bring it within the requirements of the law, and the remainder of the Agreement shall continue in full force and effect.

I acknowledge that if anyone is hurt or property is damaged during my participation in this activity, I may be found by a court of law to have waived my right to maintain a lawsuit against Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, shareholders, agents, and associates, based on any and all claims from which I have released them.

Dalmatian Pelicans and Meteora Monasteries: Easy Activity Level

Van and boat transportation. Generally easy walking up to one mile daily throughout this trip. Monastery landscapes largely accessible from overlooks near to the van. A high step over the boat gunnel is required at Lake Kerkini.
Trip Details
Jan 16 - Jan 26, 2024
Fee: $6,995 from Thessaloniki, Greece
Deposit: $2,000
Limit: 8 participants
Activity Level: EasyEasy

Single Supplement: $475
  • Photograph Dalmatian pelicans—world’s largest, rarest, and most spectacular—in winter 
  • Three days of pelican photography from small private boats and on shore—often at very close range
  • Trip timed for the height of pelican breeding plumage
  • Create spectacular landscape images of the world-famous Meteora monasteries
  • Shoot the graphic landscape of Vikos Gorge—the world’s deepest relative to its width
  • Includes all meals, lodging, boat and ground transportation, entrance fees, photo guides and instruction
Tour Leaders
James Rogerson

James Rogerson

And local guide