The island of Kalymnos lay pink and gold across the horizon as the ferry left the tiny port of Mastichari. Sitting up top the wind was quite fierce and the ferries had not run the previous day because of high winds. But this morning the sea had calmed, the ferry was operating and we were on our way to a week of relaxing and rock climbing on Kalymnos.
The world was bathed in the pure, clear light of the Aegean Sea in ‘winter’ when the 12 islands of the Dodecanese look sun-baked but the sunshine that has lost the fierce heat of August.
Kalymnos has long been known as the ‘island of sponge divers’ and there are a number of shops selling this product of the sea. But this Greek Island off the coast of Turkey has reinvented itself as a rock climbing paradise.
With 110 square kilometres of craggy limestone, an enthusiastic climbing community of many decades’ standing, international climbing support and the financial commitment of the local authorities, the future looks bright.
From our apartment balcony on the first evening I looked out past the swimming pool, across the bay to the impressive bulk of Telendos, a satellite island.
I’ve been to the popular Greek islands of Santorini and Paros but Kalymnos is off the radar for most people. Be in no doubt – it is a hidden treasure. A laid-back island with authentic villages, delicious local produce and friendly inhabitants.
From our base in Massouri Kalymnos we quickly fell into a routine of climbing in the morning before retiring to whichever gorgeous beach we were near for picnicking and swimming in the afternoon. If there wasn’t a beach where we were climbing we went to Massouri beach, which is sandy.
We dragged ourselves away from Kalymnos convinced this is the best climbing destination in the world, in terms of number and range of routes, as well as the beautiful setting, facilities, people and food. Each day we were just pinching ourselves and couldn’t believe it was so amazing. We were already scheming about a return visit on the ferry back to Kos.
Favourite Kalymnos rock climbing crags
The number of crags and routes on Kalymnos can be overwhelming but these are the ones we chose, based on easy accessibility and plenty of routes in the 5-6 grade range – we are recreational climbers after all!
The headland of Kasteli is just a few minutes drive from Massouri and surrounded by turquoise waters and beautiful views of Telendos. Broken steps and a tiny chapel lead to a ruined fort, once a perfect lookout vantage and now glowing golden in the sun. The climbing routes are close together and well bolted – Kasteli was perfect for our first day climbing on Kalymnos Greece. The crag is shady in the morning and the gentle slap of the sea against the rocks below is very pleasing.
There are two sides to the Arginonta climbing area – the main crag to the left of the road (look for the access ladder up the cliffside) and the more recently developed Arginonta Valley area on the righthand side. Both have amazing views of the village and the beach with its amazing turquoise water, just waiting for our post-lunch swim. On Sunday morning, we climbed to the accompaniment of tonal chanting and bell ringing from the Panagia Monastery below. The Sea Breeze restaurant at the beach serves up delicious, home-cooked food and there’s another bbq place in the village.
This one is a bit of a drive but we enjoyed our day here very much. Palionisis is a long bay frequented by visiting sailing yachts and the crag is about a five-minute walk from the parking place (there are signs directing you where to park). There are a couple of nice tavernas and the swimming was as ace as the climbing.
This is the longest access walk we did – an easy 20 minutes to the crag through fragrant maquis and mong browsing goats. Keep going past the first beach to the one overlooked by the orange crag. This one gets afternoon shade so we swam in the limpid Aegean before lunch. The goats are friendly here so make sure you keep your food safely in your rucksack or they may help themselves!
We saved this for our last day and it did not disappoint, mainly because the crag felt isolated and wild. You can get a ferry from Myrties directly to Irox but not every ferry stops there so either check the times with the boatman or you can walk about an hour from Telendos village. The advantage with walking is being able to stop for a swim at Paradise Beach.
You have to step from the boat directly onto the rocks at Irox, which is fun! We caught the ferry back and got off at the picturesque Telendos village to have dinner at a taverna after a swim at the sandy beach. The ferry runs quite late into the evening.
This is the view from Telendos back to Massouri, Kalymnos:
Kalymnos for families
Greece is a country that welcomes children warmly and Kalymnos is no exception. The beaches are safe and the water clean. If your kids are not used to pebbly beaches take some reef shoes. It is also worth taking a look to check there are no sea urchins in the area you are going to swim. There were a few but we found them easy to avoid. Our daughter loves animals and particularly cats and she loved all the (mostly healthy) creatures everywhere.
At some of the beaches there were goats wandering about so make sure your food is packed away if you don’t want to share. The goats were very relaxed and no problem but will go for any food left lying about.
Eating out on Kalymnos
Kalymnos has as wealth of tavernas serving up fresh and delicious food from the local salad speciality featuring bread rusks along to succulent seafood. The one place you absolutely must eat at on Kalymnos is the Aegean Taverna in Massouri, which is possibly the most picturesque taverna in all of Greece.
You’ll need to book at least a few days ahead, especially if you want a table with one of the best views on the island. Traditional favourites given a classy make-over, friendly service and highly-instagrammable decoration and views make this a restaurant you are likely to return to again during your visit. The views just get more incredible as the sunset develops and a rim of gold and red outlines the skyline of Telendos.
Make sure to try the stuffed squid and save enough room for the (complimentary) loukoumades drowning in local honey and sprinkled with cinnamon.
Another lovely place to have a meal is the tiny village of Emporious, along the winding road about 20 minutes’ drive from Massouri. An handful of houses, an idyllic beach and a line of restaurants are all you will find here – and all you need. You can sit at tables right on the beach at Captain Kostas, and Harry’s Paradise – further back from the seafront – is also recommended. The obligatory swimming/lazing about on the beach with views of Telendos from a different angle can be enjoyed either before or after lunch!
I have talked about Kalymnos beaches a lot already in this post and a daily swim with beach time was a focus of our holiday. If you want sandy beaches than Massouri and Telendos (village) are the best options.
If you don’t mind smooth pebbles then Agrinonta and The Beach were our favourites, although they were all stunning. This is the beach on Telendos – well worth the short walk along the coast path:
Kalymnos climbing guide
There are a couple of options for a Kalymnos climbing guide to the multitude of amazing climbing routes on the island. Both are recently updated, although with the speed of development in Kalymnos climbing there are already many new routes that don’t appear in either!
The first is the 2019 edition of the Kalymnos Climbing Guidebook by local climber Aris Theodoropolous and Katie Roussos. This covers around 3,400 sport routes, has a free app and user-friendly layout. I appreciated that it included information about whether crags are kid-friendly, as well as vital timings for shade.
The other option is the Rockfax climbing guide by Chris Craggs entitled Kalymnos: A guidebook to the world class sport climbing on this Aegean Island. This was published in 2018 and is in the excellent Rockfax format.
When to go to Kalymnos
For rock climbers Kalymnos has the enormous appeal of being an almost year-round destination. Apart from the very hottest and coldest months, Kalymnos weather is all about warm weather and sunshine. Spring is popular with nice weather from March onwards and pretty wildflowers. October is a particularly beautiful month with warm sea temperatures to match the sunshine. The Wandering Kiwi family visited in the last week of October and were blessed with truly perfect conditions.
Where to stay in Kalymnos
On the east coast of Kalymnos, a 10-minute taxi ride from Pothia (cost 18 Euros) are the villages of Myrties and Massouri, which are now a long coastal stretch of houses, guest accommodation, restaurants, shops and bars that focus primarily on visitors who come to Kalymnos for rock climbing.
There is a range of accommodation, from a four-star Kalymnos hotel all the way down to the cheapest Kalymnos studios. There really is something to suit every travel budget.
We stayed at Agelikos Apartments, which is attached to Babis Bar, for our week in Kalymnos and it was perfect for our needs. A clean apartment with basic cooking facilities and fabulous views from the balcony across the lovely pool area, the sea and spectacular Telendos Island:
Babis is on the beachfront, with a supermarket across the road and many bars and restaurants within easy walking distance. There is a bar and restaurant onsite and a good breakfast is included in the price. The ferry to Telendos goes from nearby. Above all, the lovely people who run Babis (including Babis himself of course) made us feel very welcome and looked after.
How to get to Kalymnos
The closest island with an international airport is Kos – Pothia is a half-hour ferry ride away from the Kos port of Mastichari. The ferry cost 19 Euros for two adults and a 10-year-old. Charter and budget airlines summer schedules to Kos from the UK and other European cities.
We flew directly to Kos but then had to fly with a Greek airline to Athens, from where we could pick up a BA flight back to London. There are a number of accommodation options in Mastichari and we found a good budget option for less than 40GBP.
Kalymnos airport has domestic flights to Kalymnos from Athens so that is another possibility.
Of course, if you have plenty of time you might like to catch ferries from Athens and other Greek Islands to Kos.
Getting around on Kalymnos
The majority of visitors to Kalymnos hire either a scooter or car to get around on Kalymnos. We paid 20 euros per day for a tiny Kalymnos car rental, which we needed with our daughter and our climbing/picnic/child entertainment gear to cart around. There is a bus service running from Pothia to Kasteli, Emporios, Vathi and places in between. There is a summer and a winter timetable.
Happy travels and rock climbing on Kalymnos, I’m sure you’ll fall in love like we did!
By Natasha von Geldern