Kalymnos – without doubt one of the best climbing destinations in the world. The rock climbing is fantastic, but the real bonus is not only the full spectrum of grades and styles, but also the combination of holiday ingredients that make this an absolute must-visit for any climber.

However, this is old news really. It’s not like Kalymnos has just been discovered, and there must be more articles singing the praises and dishing the beta than anyone could read in a lifetime. If you happen to be reading this its because you are wondering if Kalymnos will work as a combo holiday/climbing venue. It clearly works just perfect for a climbing trip, at just about any time of the year, but what about if you want a holiday with your kids/parents/non-climbing friends? Will it be OK in mid-summer, is there enough beach action, is it too busy, too expensive, too sweaty or just awkward to cater for everyone?

Kalymnos really scores high on the ‘climbing venue’ scale because of the backdrop; the sun, the sea, the views, most people could just spend a week sitting and taking in those views. There is also a nice town (Massouri); busy but not too busy, loads of cheap accommodation, great places to eat, and if you don’t want to hire a car you can walk to tons of crags or hire a moped for a day or two. It has a real holiday feel. Many climbers will go ‘out of holiday season’, ditching the warm seas and great snorkelling in preference of cooler weather and better climbing conditions. Priorities right!

I was there in March with Ben Heason. It was cold, for a few days totally Baltic…. like climbing in a duvet jacket even in full sun! On our first night in our little two bed apartment, we slept wearing all our clothes including gloves and hat as we couldn’t find the remote control to turn on the heating. After a few days it warmed up, back to perhaps not wanting to climb in the sun at midday, and it was while belaying Ben on some high up crag on one of the hotter days that I found myself staring at the sea thinking ‘wow, I really fancy getting in there for a dip’. We were near Ghost Kitchen and a little bay below sparkled, the sun bouncing off the crystal-clear water. This turned out to be the beach below the village of Skalia, and later, as I watched Ben shiver his way into the sea while I snapped pics of the idyllic sandy beach with a mind-blowing backdrop of tufa strewn caves, I had a light-bulb moment; ‘This place could be the perfect venue for a family holiday’.

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Beaches beyond Massouri are likely to be quiet. This picture is taken in Mid August.

So I’ve been to Kalymnos quite a bit, maybe 4 or 5 times. That’s going back a while, to 2003/4/5/6, when pretty much all the climbing was within walking distance from Massouri. I had a great Petzl Rocktrip where I actually came joint first with Andrada and Sharma, and even had a week long family holiday with my then 1 year old daughter bolted on to a coaching trip. Back then Kalymnos was awesome, but it didn’t grab me as a great holiday venue; the beaches were OK but nothing special, and there didn’t seem that much else to do. Fast-forward 15 years and I’ve just had potentially one of the best summer holidays of my life. So, what makes it so good?

Travel – Fairly reasonably priced flights to Kos, and then a short Taxi ride (10 mins) to the port of Mastihari. Actually, its barely a port, more or a huge beach of golden sand with a bit of a jetty where boats go back and forth to Kalymnos. Great bakery, nice restaurants, and lovely beach. Not a problem to hang there for a while at all! The 40 minute boat ride between Mastihari and Kalymnos (10 euro per adult) gives a travel vibe for excited kids on the top deck in the sun as the port of Pothia comes into view. From Pothia its about 20 minutes drive across Kalymnos to Massouri, which is where you’ll want to be really. Basically, travel is pretty easy, out and return no problem in a day provided flights are reasonably early. Ferry times online here to plan the journey. No need to book, just turn up, there will be space. https://www.anemferries.gr/en

Car Hire – Many climbers won’t bother with a car, taking a taxi from Pothia to Massouri and then walking to many of the crags from there. This is one of the real bonuses. However, Kalymnos has really developed and there are tons of crags that are well out of walking distance. For a team of two, the moped hire on a daily basis sorts this out as and when you fancy a change of scene. For a family though, a moped is unlikely to be an ideal choice to say the least! And to be fair, it was the car that really made our trip, being able to visit so much of the island. Most ‘journeys’ might only take 10 minutes, but these journeys really opened up the place. Being such a small island you are unlikely to even use half a tank in a fortnights holiday, but the hire can be expensive. It might even be worth NOT having a car for the first 4 days or so and staying local. (get a taxi from Pothia to Massouri). There are plenty of car hire venues around Massouri and these can be booked on-line. Note though – there was hardly any available in August so book early (like really early, in March!). These guys sorted us out with hire and seemed the cheapest. https://car.bookingplan.gr/carweb/climbinghouse-booking-system.html

The towns – Massouri is a nice spot, for a start it faces west and gets all the evening sun going, with to-die-for sunsets every single day from just about every house in the village. It basically lies along one main street, with a load of restaurants and cheap accommodation along the way. There is a good scene, especially at night with plenty of folk around, loads of cool (and expensive) shops selling tourist stuff as well as a few really well stocked climbing shops. For evenings out it is perfect; warm, good food, good scene, beer on the balcony vibes. Everyone is a winner really. It can be pretty busy though, and worth bearing this in mind when booking accommodation. There is a constant buzz of mopeds zooming around, and so the further you are away from the man strip the better unless you really like being in the thick of it. That said, as a family venue, Massouri was perfect, being able to walk out for food and drink and take in the evening vibe, stroll along the main strip and buy an ice cream from the supermarket. We stayed half the trip at Massouri and half at Skalia, a tiny village about 10 minutes north (beyond Masouri). There is no doubt that having the two venues made the trip! What a contrast! Skalia was utterly silent in the evening with much time staring up at star studded skies, as well as a number of night-swims at the beach only five minutes stroll away. There is also the bonus of another set of crags within walking distance, and to be honest, I don’t know why lots of climbers don’t base themselves at Skalia for at least part of their trip. Lots of AirBnB options, we stayed at Irini’s place which was amazing!

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Rock jumping near the crag of 'The Beach'

The beaches – So this is the crunch info. Massouri has a few nice spots which are certainly worth an afternoon or two. And for something different, a trip over to Telendos has a number of quiet beaches with great views. All are sandy, though not quite the pure sand style, more gritty. This doesn’t make amazing sandcastles but is less likely to mess up your sandwiches! Best beaches by far are further north. Not only are they better but they are also considerably quieter, with the ones requiring a bit of a walk-in almost certainly deserted. If you like your beaches, these are what you came for, with lovely sand, crystal clear emerald-green water and the sound of gently lapping waves by your feet as you take in the afternoon sunshine. Snorkelling is pretty good, amazing visibility, plenty of fish, though not that much underwater life really. Nice beaches just beyond Emporious. For the more adventurous kids who like a bit of rock jumping we found the best spots were Paralia Akti, which is on the opposite side of the island (and worth visiting on a loop of the whole island) and near St George Sikati which is where the cunningly named crag of ‘The Beach’ is found. Though the actual beach is not the best of the bunch (go to the more western of the 2 beaches), it wins out by far for having stuff to do. The crag is awesome, the 15 minute walk in lovely, loads of rock jumps, snorkelling, a beautiful church and almost certainly no one else there. There is also a great beach right by Sikati Cave, and you can combine a visit there with a few incredible routes in the cave! However, if its just a beach visit its probably a tad far at about 40 mins wander (in the boiling sun).

The Climbing – No need to go into any detail really, other than to mention a few points. Firstly, even in mid-August climbing conditions can be OK. Maybe not best for your 8b onsight, but certainly not bad at all. This is due to a gentle breeze that often blows. Morning climbing works very well for the family teams, and we were up at 6.45am every morning, climbing by 7.15, and back by 11.30 before anyone had really known we were missing. This was partly because everyone had been up till 1am taking in the fine local drinks, including the climbers. I must admit, by the end of the trip I was gagging to get home for a rest…, the mark of an excellent holiday! Secondly, the climbing style is often pretty steep and on decent holds, and so conditions don’t matter quite so much as on a line of tiny crimps on polished limestone. But that said, when the wind drops and the humidity goes up, and maybe a few storms slide in, then conditions do become utterly awful. It is on these days that you should coordinate your lie-in!

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Kids (and adults) love the 3D climbing style and the type of holds!

Stuff to do – Obviously there are beaches and climbing, but there is lots on offer that really make a holiday feel like its lasted for ages!

The Via Ferrata is good fun. Its an easy one, mostly going sideways. We didn’t use any proper kit, in fact I didn’t even take a harness or anything, though allowed my kids a harness and a few quickdraws. In the shade until about 1pm, it is above the top-road above Massouri. We went up it and to the summit, and then back down again to save a much longer scree-filled walk off.

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Skalia Cave. A surprisingly good underground journey into stalactite and stalagmite world. The sort of place you might expect to have to pay for, but feels like you are the ones discovering it. An ancient metal gate covers the entrance (to stop goats falling in) and a ladder down marks the start. As with all places like this, treat nature with respect. The cave is mentioned in the guide and is right next to the crag of ‘Cave’ (funnily enough). No ropes needed or any kit, other than a torch of course.

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Walks. To be fair, it is a tad hot for most, but on a rare cloudy day or if up early, or just keen, there is plenty of ground to cover. The Telendos round trip is awesome, especially combined with a nice meal afterwards. And some great trails up and over the top of The Grande Grotte that take you up into a baron wilderness. There are also some lovely trails in the far north taking in a bunch of beaches and amazing scenery and terrain that seems to be completely untrodden.

Overall it seems Kalymnos is pretty much perfect. There is much more than just climbing, and there is something for everyone, no matter what you want out of a holiday.

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