If you’re looking for an island paradise away from the crowds, then it’s time you swapped the likes of popular destinations Mykonos and Santorini for lesser-known Karpathos. From turquoise waters, relaxing beaches and amazing food, there are so many reasons to fall in love with this low-key, undiscovered wonder.
Pristine beaches, picture-postcard villages and delectable dishes are some of the elements that make Karpathos a must-visit destination. Even though this Greek island is not nearly as popular as other ones in the Dodecanese group – such as Rhodes – or the busier Cyclades, it feels special in all its unassuming, natural beauty. Brave the scorching-hot weather – temperatures on the island may rise up to 40C (104F) in August – or wait until it cools down a little later in the year, and you’ll be sure to find a new favourite getaway. These are the best things to see and do on Karpathos.
Whether you’re looking for relaxed, sandy beaches or adventurous, rocky coasts, Karpathos will not disappoint. The island is famous for its crystal-clear emerald waters and unspoiled terrain that make it the ultimate destination for beach lovers. Think swimming in serene, pool-like waters or snorkelling around caves and coral reefs and exploring the colourful seabed. Apella, Achata and Kyra Panagia are among the busiest and most famous beaches, yet calmer options such as Agios Nikolaos, Lefkos and Amoopi are equally worth a visit. Don’t miss the striking light-blue waters and pink sand of Diakoftis.
Fans of watersports will surely appreciate the southern side of Karpathos, which transforms into a surfing hub in the summer, thanks to the strong Meltemi wind. Make the most of the fierce waves, and try windsurfing or kitesurfing in the Afiartis area near Karpathos Airport. There are three bays to choose from, depending on your skills; opt for the Chicken Bay if you’re a beginner, the Gun Bay if you’re more experienced and the Devil’s Bay if you’re a pro. You can also take a proper windsurfing class at Makris Gialos Beach or swim in the turquoise waters amid roaming windsurfers if you feel like laying low.
Karpathos’s beauty lies more in its wild nature and less in whitewashed houses and churches such as the ones found in Paros or Santorini – although the churches here are just as impressive. Still, Karpathos shines through its traditional villages, most of which boast beautifully coloured houses, a few taverns and kind-hearted locals who will rush to say “hello” to strangers before asking them if they need a bottle of water – a lifesaver, really, as it can get insanely hot here during the summer. Menetes, Aperi and Olympos are the villages worth visiting the most, standing out thanks to their distinctive architecture and mellow ambience.
Olympos has to be Karpathos’s crown jewel. With its pastel-coloured houses clinging to a cliff and the little shops lining its narrow pathways, the village is every Instagrammer’s dream. It’s worth spending an afternoon wandering around the alleys before sitting at a cafe overlooking the Aegean Sea. You will see women walking in traditional attire, while many of them will invite you to their shops that sell Karpathian goods. Don’t miss your chance to try (and buy) an elaborate headpiece with bold patterns and golden details – according to tradition, black is for married women and white is for the single ones.
Pigadia, the capital of Karpathos, might be more touristy than the villages, but it’s, no doubt, the heart of the island. Lots of cafes, bars and restaurants line the port, and, if you dig a little deeper, you will find some cute shops along the backstreets. Take a selfie on board the tiny boat that adorns the painted steps of one of the alleys – making it seem as if you’re floating asea – and marvel at the ruins in the ancient city of Poseidio. End your day with a cocktail at Anoi bar. On the side of the road that leads from Pigadia to Aperi, you will also come across the mystical ruins of Agia Fotini Church, a series of marble frames and columns.
Like most Greek islands, Karpathos takes pride in its flavourful cuisine. Alongside classics such as Greek salad – here topped with manouri cheese – or the fresh fish, the island is famous for the makarounes, a special kind of pasta which is mainly cooked with garlic, butter and cheese. One of the places to try it is the quaint tavern Folia, in Spoa village. For mouthwatering Greek mezedes (Greek appetisers), pass by Votsalo in Agios Nikolaos village, and, for some excellent lobster, make sure to visit Delfini in the fish village of Finiki.
If you’re looking for a short escape to a green(er) heaven, the uninhabited islet of Saria just north of Karpathos will do. Embark on a boat tour from Pigadia and, once on Saria, spend your time hiking amid lush vegetation and swimming in virgin waters. Don’t forget to explore the rocky caves, where the mediterranean monk seal lives. Alternatively, sail to Kasos, the other charming island that lies nearby – this one inhabited. Great food, abundant nature and pretty houses await. Among the highlights are the six churches of Kasos, one attached to the other; legend has it they were built to drive the fairies away.