Karpathos island is characterized by a rough landscape with cliffs, forests, slopes, beaches and small plains which host dozens of endemic species of fauna and flora. It is the second largest island of the Dodecanese islands and is located at the southeastern end of the Aegean Sea, between Crete and Rhodes, in an area called “Karpathian sea” since ancient times. The name of the island probably comes from the mystery plant “karpaso”, and according to greek mythology the island was the home of the sea demon Proteus. Karpathos is 44 nautical miles eastern from Sidero cape of Crete and 28 n.m. southwest from Rhodes. In the southeast and at a distance of just 3.8 nautical miles lies Kasos island. The size of Karpathos reaches about 300 sq.kilometer and its coastline has a length of about 160 km. The shape of the island is characteristically narrow and stretches from south to north to a length of 48.5 km. The widest point reaches only 12 km in the south and the narrowest point, close to Spoa, is 3.5 km. To the north lies the uninhabited island of Saria, which is separated from Karpathos by a narrow strait with a distance of 150 meters. Karpathos is essentially the backbone of a mountain that rises calmly in the south and ends up on high, steep slopes in the central and north. The highest peak of the island is the Kali Limni of Mount Lastos (1,215 m.). Other little mountains and hills are Amaki (1,168 m.), Stroumboulas (1,118 m.), Prophitis Elias (718 m.), Orcilli (712 m.), Kouloura (709 m.) and Homalis (686 m.). Geologically, the island is distinguished mainly for its limestones, while in the center and in the north slates appear. There are many interesting caves and chasms, and dozens of small seasonal streams throughout the island. Many small islands and rocky islets lie around Karpathos, like Diakoftis, Moira, Sokastro and Ammoudi. Important natural attractions are the sheltered bay of Tristomo with its little seasonal wetland, the vertical slopes of Xanemos, the Flaskias gorge, the plateau of Avlona and the chain of sandy beaches to the south. The geographical location of Karpathos, the landscape and the sustainable way of life of the Karpathians have preserved until today a huge number of wild animals and plants, which are characterized by a big degree of endemism. Northern Karpathos and Saria are a Special Protection Zone in an area that reaches 154 sq.km and covers both sea and land areas. Bare peaks, dense pine forests, small streams, steep slopes, calm plateaus and golden beaches, magically alternate in Karpathos, creating ideal conditions for endless walking and exploring.
The island is dominated by maquis vegetation with species, such as rockroses, thorny burnets, thymes, sages, lavenders, oreganos, heaths, jointfirs, rock samphires, capers, rosemaries, storax, savories and spurges. The trees of Karpathos are seashore junipers, phoenicean junipers, kermes oaks, mock privets, lentiscs, turpentine trees, wild olive trees, carob trees, strawberry trees, almond-leaved pears, wild almonds, hawthorns and tamarisks. In the central and north of the island are rich forests of turkish pines which formerly covered almost the whole island. The streams are covered by oriental planes, sycamore maples, nerium shrubs and chaste trees. It is important that in a few spots of the island there are clusters of Cretan date palms (Phoenix theophrastii). Throughout Karpathos 923 plant species have been recorded of which 66 are endemic of Greece, 28 are endemic of Crete and Karpathos, 11 are endemic of the Karpathos-Kasos complex and 9 are endemic of Karpathos and Saria. The most important endemic species are: Silene ammophila subsp. carpathae, Silene insularis, Nigella carpatha, Dianthus fruticosus subsp. carpathus, Campanula carpatha, Campanula pinatzii, Origanum vetteri, Micromeria carpatha, Hypericum cuisinii, Ricotia isatoides, Erysium candicum subsp. carpathum, Limonium carpathum, Limonium vanandense, Genista fasselata, Cuscuta rausii, Pterocephalus brevis, Phlomis pichleri, Phlomis floccosa and Teucrium montbretii subsp. heliotropiifolium. Other important species are: Caroxylon carpathum, Paeonia clusii subsp. clusii, Astragalus austroaegaeus, Limonium amopicum, Limonium oligotrichum, Arum purpureospathum, Arum creticum, Teucrium gracile, Hippocrepis cyclocarpa, Silene macrodonta, Symphytum creticum, Carlina barnebyana, Isatis lusitanica, Centaurea aegialophila, Pteridium aquilinum subsp. brevipes, Allium brachyspathum, Allium bourgeaui subsp. bourgeaui, Anthemis ammanthus subsp. paleacea, Arenaria fragillima, Anthemis pseudocotula, Filago eriosphaera, Trifolium praetermissum, Jacobaea gnaphalioides, Erysimum horizontale, Asplenium bourgaei, Dianthus strictus subsp. multipunctatus, Lithodora hispidula subsp. hispidula, Lomelosia variifolia, Pisum fulvum, Tulipa saxatilis, Linum decumbens, Cymbalaria microcalyx subsp. dodecanesi, Iris unguicularis subsp. cretensis, Medicago heyniana and Campanula laciniata. Other interesting species are: Crocus biflorus subsp. nubigena, Crocus tournefortii, Eryngium glomeratum, Ophioglossum lusitanicum, Daucus broteri, Seseli crithmifolium, Aristolochia cretica, Carlina tragacanthifolia, Bellis longifolia, Viola heldreichiana, Galatella cretica, Filago aegaea subsp. aegaea, Helichrysum orientale, Onopordum bracteatum subsp. bracteatum, Onopordum majorii, Colchicum pusillum, Trifolium rechingeri, Vicia palaestina, Stachys spinosa, Stachys mucronata, Plantago squarrosa, Cyclamen persicum, Ranunculus subhomophyllus, Arenaria aegaea, Linum arboreum, Minuartia lydia, Rosularia serrata, Inula verbascifolia subsp. heterolepis, Galium canum subsp. ovatum, Convolvulus lineatus, Paronychia argentea, Staehelina fruticosa, Silene discolor, Silene fruticosa, Silene holzmannii, Cephalaria squamiflora subsp. squamiflora, Nigella fumariifolia and Crucianella imbricata. Karpathos is an important orchid site with species like Anacamptis collina, Anacamptis laxiflora, Anacamptis morio, Anacamptis papilionacea, Anacamptis sancta, Limodorum abortivum, Neotinea lactea, Neotinea maculata, Orchis anatolica, Orchis anthropophora, Orchis provincialis, Orchis simia, Spiranthes spiralis, Serapias orientalis, Serapias parviflora, Ophrys apifera, Ophrys aegaea, Ophrys bombyliflora, Ophrys ariadnae, Ophrys ferrum-equinum, Ophrys iricolor, Ophrys omegaifera, Ophrys heldreichii, Ophrys helios and Ophrys speculum.
Karpathos is also important for the avifauna, as the island is located on a large migration route. The predators of the island are: Bonelli’s eagles, Eleonora’s falcons, long-legged buzzards, common buzzards, peregrine falcons and kestrels. In the maquis vegetation live chukar partridges and the presence of ravens and choughs in the mountains is frequent. The wetland of Tristomo is a station for many migrating wading birds. The area is important for seabirds, such as Audouin’s gulls, storm petrels, shags, Scopoli’s shearwaters and Mediterranean shearwaters. Other birds of the island are: turtledoves, rock doves, barn owls, little owls, scops owls, nightjars, tree pipits, crested larks, swifts, pallid swifts, isabelline wheatears, northern wheatears, black-eared wheatears, blue rock thrushes, stonechats, sardinian warblers, Rüppell’s warblers, olivaceous warblers, red-backed shrikes, woodchat shrikes, golden orioles, goldfinches, greenfinches, linnets, Cretzschmar’s buntings, black-headed buntings and corn buntings.
Karpathos hosts two endemic amphibians that are found exclusively here. The Karpathos salamander (Lyciasalamandra helversenii) that lives in north Karpathos and the Karpathos frog (Pelophylax cerigensis) that lives in the few seasonal streams. Both species are in Greece’s Red Book of endangered vertebrates and are strictly protected by international laws. The reptile fauna of the island includes starred agamas, Dodecanesian geckos (Mediodactylus oertzeni), Mediterranean house geckos, snake-eyed skinks, ocellated skinks, large whip snakes, cat snakes and grass snakes. In the nearby seas, frequent is the presence of the loggerhead sea turtle and occasional that of the green turtle. Among the mammals in Karpathos there is an undisputed protagonist, the Mediterranean monk seal. The coastline is full of underwater caves and here is present one of the most flourishing populations of this wonderful animal. Other mammals are hedgehogs, hares, wild rabbits, some species of small mice and bats, such as: Blasius’s horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus blasii), lesser mouse-eared bat (Myotis blythii), Geoffroy’s bat (Myotis emarginatus), Savi’s pipistrelle (Hypsugo savii), common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) and free-tailed bat (Tadarida teniotis). Many rare and endemic invertebrates live on the island, such as the terrestrial crab Potamon karpathos, the crickets Discoptila kinzelbachi and Rhacocleis silvestri, the grasshopper Chorthippus vagans, the butterfly Hipparchia christenseni, the cicada Cicadatra karpathosensis, the isopods Chaetophiloscia cellaria and Bathytropa granulata, the beetle Danacaea insularis and the snails Albinaria unicolor, Pyramidula chorismenostoma, Vitrea clessini, Zonites sari and Deroceras lasithionensis. In the marine area around Karpathos are large areas with Posidonia meadows (Posidonia oceanica), while the seabed still holds good numbers of lobsters, despite their overfishing.