Mountain and sea beauty, crystal clear waters, and small villages that keep traditions intact through the ages. Exciting changes of scenery, wonderful local cuisine and nature-loving activities that will delight even the uninitiated.
With an area of 330 square meters, Karpathos is the second largest island of the Dodecanese, situated somewhere between the more well known islands of Crete and Rhodes. Wild mountains surround paradisal beaches, villages perched on the rocks, pristine trails, verdant slopes, carved caves and sandy beaches with turquoise waters, compose a shocking puzzle of island beauty that seems to include every element of the country.
The island is well connected offering an international airport connected to many countries in the summer, and also receives daily flights from Athens. However, if you’re not pressed for time and would rather take in the Aegean magnificence, you can reach Karpathos by Ferry from the port of Piraeus in Athens or from other islands. Boats can arrive at the main port of Karpathos, in Pigadia, but some also arrive at the smaller town of Diafani. This can be a long boat ride from Athens though, so we would recommend reaching by boat if you are taking your own car or island hopping nearby.
Now, let’s explore some of the top things to do on Karpathos. Click on the link to take you to the relative section. And don't forget to head over and also listen to the dedicated episode of the My Greek Island Podcast on the Podcast platform of your choice or through the My Greek Island website here.
Busy or remote, organized or completely natural, on Karpathos you will find beaches to satisfy all tastes. The very famous and awarded with the blue flag, Kyra-Panagia and Agios Nikolaos stand out, but the beauty of other remote beaches such as Diakoftis cannot be overlooked. Other beaches such as Valias-Pounta beach and Argilopotamos beach have frequent strong winds, which makes them ideal and very popular for windsurfing, and an international windsurfing competition takes place each year on the islands southwest coast. Beaches on the northern part of the island are difficult to reach, however some are accessible by boat.
Probably one of the most well-known beaches on Karpathos is Apella beach. As it can be difficult to reach by road, many prefer to take one of the regular boats that travel from Pigadia to Apella. If you have a snorkel, we recommend you bring it with you to as the water is so clear, it looks like something out of a postcard. You can relax in the shade under the pine trees that line the beach, or you can rent the usual sunbeds and sunshades.
The island however offers such a plethora of beaches covering the taste of all travellers. Amoopi Bay is a resort with seven beaches on the south coast, protected from wind, and the beaches have shallow waters, making them ideal for children. Diakoftis beach seems to belong on a tropical island with crystal clear light blue water and fine sand that gives off a tint of pink. Best on days with no wind, this beach also offers a few sun loungers that fill up early on clear days. Kyra Panagia beach one of the most photographed beaches of the island with the little church of Kyra Panagia with the red dome, while Achata beach is a pebble beach (with some sandy patches) with great caves ranking among Karpathos' greatest snorkelling locations. Lefkos beach a well-organized shallow sandy beach with several tavernas and a small fishing port making it ideal for young children.
The most popular and famous village in Karpathos is the quaint village of Olympos, perched on a hard-to-reach top of a hill, on the north side of the island. White and pastel-washed buildings set atop rugged hills overlook clear, blue water. The sun sets in a breathtaking fashion on the village of Olympos, where women are in charge. It was founded about five centuries ago, when a strong earthquake destroyed the coastal town of Vroukounta. Due to its geographical position and its isolation from the rest of the villages of the island, traditions have remained unchanged. Each house has its own outdoor oven and windmill, and most of the women still wear the traditional costumes called Kavai, while you may hear some of the residents speaking the local dialect which contains quite a few Doric elements. It is certainly one of the most impressive villages in Greece.
You can spend all day village hopping in Karpathos, and the villages are not to be missed.
Another great village is Arkasa, a coastal village and considered the best alternative - after the capital, Pigadia - for accommodation, nightlife, entertainment and food. The picturesque village of Menetes dates back to the Middle Ages with white and pastel houses constructed amphitheatrically 300-metres high on top of rocky cliffs making it one of the island's most photographed sights. The village of Mesohori is known for its narrow alleys and remaining car-free. Built over a natural spring, the Panagia Vrysiani church is a well-known destination for pilgrims. Mesochori, like Arkasa and Olympos also make great spots to watch the sunset.
At the highest point of Karpathos, is the lovely traditional mountain village of Othos. Lemon trees, bougainvilleas can be seen in the village's gardens, while forests and fields with olive trees and wine vines encircle the town. The peaceful village of Othos is a good place to start a hike. There are numerous routes from the village to nearby settlements including Aperi, Volada, and Piles.
A combination of the island’s historical Italian dominance, its proximity to Turkey, Greek continental influences, and the abundance of fish and sheep make the gastronomic scene of Karpathos a haven for foodies. Whatever restaurant you choose on the island, it is essential to know that Karpathos is renowned for some specific dishes. Traditional plates include Makarounes; small, fluffy, striped dumplings, which are boiled and then stir-fried with goat butter, and accompanied by a seasoning of onions caramelized with cinnamon and grated hard goat cheese, Karpathian shrimps, Imam; a dish made with baked aubergines seasoned with a tomato and onion sauce and of course fresh Calamari, whether it be fried, grilled or stuffed.
Karpathos is a wonderful island for hikers with the northern part of the island being particularly interesting. There are many trails and the walks range from easy strolls to more strenuous hikes. The paths around Diafani are well marked with red or blue dots or stone bedding. If you are a history buff who enjoys hiking, the path to the ancient city of Vroukounta, which is located in the northernmost part of the island of Karpathos, is ideal for you. The over 2000-year-old path begins in the village of Avlona and takes a few hours of trekking to reach. Make sure to look for the underground church!
Along with trekking, the island also offers opportunities for climbing, mountain biking, diving, windsurfing, and kiteboarding.
The festivals are amongst the most famous of the Dodecanese, so if your dates on the island overlap its many festivals, be sure to attend! They offer plenty of wine, food and all-in-all generous doses of traditional entertainment. Notable festivals include those in Pyles, Aperi and Olympos on the 15th August, the festival of Agios Panteleimon in Othos and of Agia Marina in Menetes. An interesting festival is that of Agios Giannis in Vroukounda on 28th August and it is said that the festival lasts two days and nights, with locals starting from Avlona on foot or from Diafani by boat from the eve of the celebration. Feasting and dancing is said to go on until dawn and after the sun rises, the locals and sleep on mats placed in the outdoor area outside the cave. The next morning they attend the church service and continue the feast until the evening.
Saria is an island in the north of Karpathos full of virgin and un-spoilt beaches. This tiny islet is reported to have a resident population of 45 people, including the scientists who are studying the endangered Mediterranean monk seal which resides there. It is one of the most heavenly, unspoiled locations to explore when in Karpathos. It was once attached to the island, but now a small strip of sea divides them so on order to get there visitors must board one of the many boats leaving from Pigadia. The picture-perfect white sand beaches in Saria are the primary attraction, offering a breath-taking view of the region's clear turquoise waters. Saria is so un-spoilt that it has been declared a Natura protected area.
Kasos is a small island very close to Karpathos. This stark volcanic islet, ringed by cliffs and strange rock formations, has many more goats than people and is a breeding ground for Eleanora’s falcons. On the shore are the remnants of houses believed to have been built by the pirates that once used the island as a base camp. With influences from both neighboring Crete and Egypt, but also due to its maritime tradition, you will eat fish in abundance, and you will fall in love with the original local cuisine of Kasos. To the west, in the area of Antiperato, is Ammoua beach which is also relatively organized, while much further away at the southern end of the island, is Helatrou; a stunning beach that, thanks to the hills that surround it, is almost always windless.
You can choose to go on a day trip from Karpathos with one of the routes offered daily in the summer or even head there for a few days like I did to explore the island more and meet the locals.
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