Kalymnos is a small island located in the Dodecanese region of Greece, at a stone-throw for the Turkish coast.
Renowned for its superhuman sponge divers and its mythical rock climbing, Kalymnos is a wholesome travel destination sought after by foreign and Greek travellers alike.
We have been fortunate to spend two full weeks on the extraordinary island back in April and what struck us the most is, well… everything!
Intrigued by the quantity and quality of rock climbing routes, we were amazed to find out that Kalymnos is a wonderful island to discover as a family and that is sure to please everyone, including the non-climbing grandparents.
Greeks Are Fond of Children
Greeks literally adore children and welcome them everywhere. Now try to walk out of a store without a free treat – usually sweet – being offered to your little angel! That’s just about impossible. While we were there, I must say that I had to loosen my grip a bit about sugar and treats as it would have been quite impolite to turn down such a nice gesture and refuse the treats #hellofreegroceries.
Cafés and taverns are all very welcoming to kids and will make anything to please them and their parents. I read in a travel guidebook that hiring a babysitter on a Saturday to go out on an adult date just isn’t a thing in Greece. Hence, it’s not unusual to see very young children out and about with their parents quite late in the night. If the restaurant owners have children themselves, they are very likely to be playing in the place while their parents are at work and entertaining the guests.
Anywhere you go, beware however that there is just no boardwalk in that country. Streets are as narrow as can be and cars, scooters and other motorized vehicles drive at fast speed. A stroller is great to keep the little ones contained while walking on the road and older kids should be kept very close by.
Greek children learn a very good English in school and are happy to engage in a conversation with foreigners at the playground or the beach. Most of them have dark hair and dark eyes, they are quite intrigued when seeing a little blond kid and sometimes can stair with insistence. To my point earlier about sweet treats; it appeared to me that Greek children eat a lot of junk food and a lot of sugar and sugary drinks; something that even our daughter noticed on her own. Different country, different eating habits!
Grandparents Are a Blessing
I am speaking in general here. But they are especially for a rock climbing couple traveling to Kalymnos Island with their four-year-old daughter.
We don’t have the luxury of living near our parents in the everyday life and that makes us appreciate even more to 1) spend quality time with them as an extended family 2) being able to leave our daughter with them for a few hours to go climbing AND knowing she is having a blast.
This year we realized that for the first time we are able to really climb as a family, now that baby girl is no longer a needy baby or a crazy toddler and starts to enjoy climbing a lot or is just content playing with her toys at the crag and making friends with whoever has a few minutes to engage in a conversation with her.
I must say that having my father and stepmom there with us was extra special and made us enjoy our stay on the island … a lot. In addition to providing us with some quality adult time, it also opened our mind to other activities and attractions to explore on Kalymnos for non-climbers.
For those who would like an opportunity to go on the occasional adult climb, Monster Café in Masouri offers a childcare service for about 8 euros per hour. This is also a place for the little ones to hang out with their parents, meet up with other kids and enjoy the fabulous toys and activities. The Café’s menu includes healthy kid-friendly meals and snacks, fresh fruit smoothies but also good coffee and après climb hop beverages.
Here is the list of our top activities to do as a family in Kalymnos:
- The Climbing
Well…It’s a bit difficult not to mention it, so might as well start with it. The climbing in Kalymnos is not only fabulous, but also very family-friendly. The information about the walking distance and difficulty of the trail is easy to find as well as the areas at the bottom of the crag and presence of easy climbs for beginners or children and the sun exposure. The guidebook is very complete, to say the least, which makes the planning of family cragging days much easier. The trails are overall in quite a good shape and walking distances are reasonable. Many areas at the bottom have been landscaped nicely so parents don’t have to fear deadly falls or traumatizing injuries. We also found that although the routes are all very long (30-40m), the first couple of metres often offer easier climbing, which makes the scenario ideal for families.
Unsurprisingly, we encountered quite a few young families during our stay, all eager to exchange beta and share a secret gelato place or nice kid-friendly beach.
Speaking of beach, the “Beach” sector was one of our favourite to spend a day at, with kid and grandparents. We also enjoyed Symplegades a lot as well as Sea Breeze and Arginonta Valley, all for their easy access, flat and safe areas and shade.
For non-climbers wanting to experience verticality, guided via ferrata might be a great option. Located near Myrties, the via ferrata takes adventurers from 10 years old and up some 400 metres above the sea with outstanding views of the neigbouring cliffs and the island of Telendos.
2. The Underworld
Caving. Underground exploration. Spéléologie in French. The act of going underneath the surface of the earth through a sometimes tiny hole entrance to enjoy the sight of karstic activity and stalagmites and stalactites as big as the walls of a gothic cathedral.
Fully equipped with steel ladders and ropes, the Underworld is the most accessible cave on the Island. Located near the town of Skalia, it can be accessed within only 10 minutes of walking. While my daughter had the time of her young life going down in the tummy of the Earth, I – a longtime claustrophobic – was petrified.
Nonetheless, (and because I know my own fear is irrational) I thought the place was safe to explore for a child that can safely climb up and down a ladder and walk on uneven ground with some help from papa.
Since then I know I am less of a hero to my daughter who was so proud to out courage her mom at only 4. Well, that’s just the beginning, isn’t it!?
For a preview of what the cave is like, check out this short Youtube video.
3. The Sea & the Beaches
No surprise here. Kalymnos being a Greek Island, just like all the many Greek islands, boast amazing beaches, is warm and sunny and is surrounded by deep turquoise water. Beaches and children always go well together and early-mid April, the temperature of the air and the water were getting warm enough to enjoy nice swims and sandcastle building sessions. The beach in Masouri has some really nice sand and one or two cute beach bars.
Taking a taxi boat ride to Telendos, the nearby island located 10-minutes across from Myrties is also very much worth it. For 2 euros per adult one way, a day spent at Telendos is great fun for the whole family and the beaches are beautiful and shady.
We found the cute little harbour of Porto Vathys was also a great place for a nice seafood lunch and a swim. The place has some natural diving platforms and hosts diving competitions in the fall each year. Make sure to take swimming armbands or a lifejacket for little kids as the water is too deep to stand and the stairs are coated with sea urchins…ouch!
In the summer months, Vathys would be an ideal base to go out on a kayak or SUP tour and boats can be rented right there.
Scuba diving and snorkeling is also very popular on the Island which boasts many diving schools and guiding services.
4. Local flavours
Tomatoes taste better when they are in season and fish tastes much better when caught the same day. Kalymnos is an absolute paradise for foodies, especially foodies like myself who enjoy food when fresh, local, ripe and its most simple form. A little olive oil and vinegar, a little oregano, a few olives, fresh goat feta, crispy cucumbers and sweet red bell peppers AT EVERY SINGLE MEAL. Difficult even for a picky eater not to like the food in Greece. Greek yogurt topped with honey and pistachio, frozen greek yogourt with berries, local salami…yyyuuuummmm. Exploring the flavours of Kalymnos was my own personal second favourite activity (or perhaps even my first).
It is true that sweet treats are very present in Greece and especially when traveling and in need of quick, easy snacks that don’t require prep or can be packed easily. However, fresh produce is everywhere and is so affordable compared to BC!
Oh, the joy we had in stopping on the side of the road to buy fresh feta from the local lady cheesemaker, or fresh oranges and strawberries from the mobile market – a pickup truck loaded with produce going around the island each day.
Agriculture is a very important part of Kalymnos economy, as the thousands of free-roaming goats and chicken can attest. Grapes are grown in the lush Vathys valley. Fish is caught every day, right there off the shores of Masouri.
Restaurants all take pride in the authentic Greek menus they display on the black chalkboards. Eating out is way more affordable than in other european countries. Count 12-15 euros per adults for an entree and a beer.
Portions are generous enough so two entrees can feed a family of three with leftovers to take home. Greek cuisine is simple but so tasty. Greek wine is okay and quite pricey. Beer is thirst quenching after a day spent outside in the sun and of much better value.
On the go, grab a gyro! For a mere 2 bucks, those tasty pita bread filled with chicken or pork, tomatoes, lettuce, onions and tzatziki make up the best lunch.
5. Archeological & Cultural Wonders
As the cradle of Western civilization, Greece boasts many remnants of the past and does well at restoring, interpreting and showcasing them.
The Orthodox calendar is filled with celebrations of all kind so chances are one is going to fall while you are visiting. We were there for Catholic Easter (not really a big deal) and the Orthodox Easter or Christos Anesti (Christ Arisen), celebrated in Kalymnos with dynamites and fireworks across all the island, in memories of the battles against Turkey and perhaps as a warning to the neighbouring country with whom Kalymnians seem to hold on-going tensions. The detonation of dynamite bouncing off the limestone cliffs was really deafening and I sure was glad to be witnessing the celebration in downtown Pothia rather than climbing in a cave that could collapse from the strength of the explosion!
Massive family reunions seem to be the tradition on Christos Anesti and the equally traditional lamb roast is what brings the families together. Wandering through the streets, we couldn’t help but feel our mouth water to the fragrant smell and sight of perfectly roasted animal on the tiny balconies. Having a taste of a juicy and flavourful chunk of lamb kindly offered by a local was a pure delight to our daughter.
Pothia holds an impressive archeological museum for the size of the town and the island. Exhibitions feature antiquities from the Prehistoric and Post-Byzantine era, presenting thus timelessly the island’s history over millennia.
The Castle of Chora is one of the most famous attractions in Kalymnos. It is situated in the place where ancient Pothia once resided and it is considered as the medieval capital of Kalymnos. The castle took its final form in 1495 and was inhabited continuously until 1812 . Our little clan enjoyed hiking up the 230 steps leading to the Castle, wandering through this larger than nature open-air museum and exploring the many chapels and building that once constituted the town. With a little imagination and many princess and dragons stories, this kept our child entertained and interested for a full half-day.
The Maritime Museum of Kalymnos is another important cultural point of interest. It presents the naval tradition, history and methods of the sponge catching, along with many artifacts from ancient shipwrecks.
6. The hiking
There are many great hiking trails on the Island most of which are fairly easy and short and can be managed by strong little walkers or parents carrying the precious load…or a mix of both, like in our case.
Our whole crew had an amazing day hiking the Island most-traveled hiking trail: the Italian path, from Pothia to Vathys.
Though the trail is in much better condition on the Pothia side. Built by during the Italian occupation of the island under Mussolini, this easy 8-kilometre journey took us from the narrow streets of the capital to the quaint port of Vathys over a pass culminating at about 400 m above sea level with amazing views along the way. The work that has gone into paving the first portion of the trail to carry weapons and supplies is unbelievable.
Along the way, the landscape evolves from urban at the start to a few gardens and farm on the outskirt, then to dry and deserty land on the plateau with views of the sea and the neighboring Island of Kos. Then, upon descending toward Vathys, the lush valley bottom lined with fruit trees and vine welcomes the travellers that then end up the journey with the refreshing view of the harbour, its cute houses and colourful fishing boats.
This hike is best when completed early in the day as there is no shade at all and no access to water. From Masouri, we took a bus to Pothia and then a scenic 30 minute taxi ride back to Masouri after a well-deserved swim and ice cream.
Kalymnos hiking map can be purchased at any outdoor retailer and includes the location of all walking trails as well as all the climbing sectors.
Getting there, getting around and getting a roof overhead
Kalymnos being a remote little island, it can be a bit challenging to get to, especially when the weather is not cooperating. From our research, we found that flying from Athens into Kos and then taking a ferry ride was the fastest, safest and most cost-efficient of all. The flight takes about an hour. Then a taxi takes you to Mastichari for about 15 euros. From the port, a fast or a slow ferry sails across to Kalymnos in 20 to 45 minutes for 5-10 euros per person. On the return day, it’s best to allow plenty of time to get to the Kos airport and to book a return flight later in the day as the stormy sea might get in the way of catching your flight.
Scooters are the absolute best way to get around the island, although it’s not very convenient with an infant. We used a mix of scooter rental (12 euros per day or weekly deals around 55-60 euros (yes, the 3 of us rode on it with all the gear! #dontdothatathome) and public transit (2 euros per trip). Small rental cars are also available and are certainly the best option for families of 4 or with babies. Otherwise, when staying in Masouri, many climbing sectors, stores and amenities can be accessed on foot.
Note that tap water in non-potable so, therefore, the freshwater logistic needs to be planned efficiently, hence a car might be useful for families. Free water springs are found in Masouri and bottled water can be purchased everywhere, but please, do our dear planet Earth a favour and don’t contribute to the plastic orgie in the sea.
All accommodation options can be found in Kalymnos – (except camping?!) but our recommendation for families really is the apartment with a full kitchen. Little studios are less costly but are limited in cooking amenities and usually more designed for couples. I personally find that you always end up spending more time in the unit as a family as you would without kids, might as well be comfortable.
Our travel party of 5 opted for a spacious 2-bedroom apartment that we rented from Poppy and Nikolas Sdregas, a lovely local couple. We thought the place was a little pricey and located oddly close to the road but it offered comfort and convenience of cooking most meals in, easy walking access to everything and a common living area to hang out as a family. Moreover, the kindness and attention of the owners really made our stay enjoyable, especially the fridge stocked with bottled water, wine and breakfast items upon our late night arrival.
We had been wanting to experience Kalymnos for so long and the waiting was well worthwhile. Kalymnos is getting better every year with more sectors, more routes and more amenities being added. We were surprised to see how family-friendly the destination is and enjoyed discovering the island with our daughter, my father and stepmom so much. Kalymnos must be on every rock climbers list and having a family should not be the excuse you are making not to go. Go! Go, now!
For useful travel information visit: climbkalymnos.com
P.S. I would like to say a special thank you to Jacques and Diane for being such formidable travel companions and grandparents and allowing Hervé and I to climb together again. Thank you to Hervé for being carrying such a heavy load around each day and still managing to send some pretty impressive routes. Thank you to my little Eva for being such an incredible adventure partner and a keen little rock climber and finally, thank you to my friends Anne and JD for giving us the guidebook and lots of very useful tips.