Fall climbing vacation: Leonidio or Kalymnos, Greece?
Editor’s Note - Looking to get away in the fall for some sport climbing action in Greece? Well, ACC Ambassador Nancy Hansen has some great beta for you, whether you want to head over to Leonidio or Kalymnos, or if you’re deciding between the two destinations.
Read on to learn all about sport climbing in Greece and make your first (or repeat) trip there one of the best!
Big sun, big fun
What runs through your imagination when you think of Greece?
✔ Friendly and welcoming locals
✔ Awesome seafood
✔ Healthy Greek salad
✔✔✔ Outrageously fun climbing with easy access
✔ The best olives and olive oil
✔ Pretty islands, nice sunsets
✔ The Mediterranean Sea
✔ The Acropolis and other ancient landmarks
✔ Fair prices
For sure, it is all of these things and much more. If you are planning your first climbing trip to Greece, I hope this post will help you decide which of the two most popular sport climbing destinations to go to. If you’ve already climbed on Kalymnos, read on to find out more about how the new destination of Leonidio compares.
Leonidio as a new sport-climbing destination
Ralf and I had each been to Kalymnos three times, once together. Three years ago, we decided to check out a new hotspot called “Leonidio” on the Peloponnese in Greece. We immediately fell in love with the place!
Overall, the climbing is similar to that found on Kalymnos – tufa-wrestling, technical climbing on grey walls, and pocket-pulling. The grades are good for the ego, and the bolting is very friendly.
Like on Kalymnos, you can easily seek sun or shade and can climb at sheltered crags when it rains. Unlike Kalymnos, the crags range from sea level up to 900 metres elevation, so there really is somewhere to climb no matter what the weather is doing. Speaking of the weather, it tends to be nicer in Leonidio than on Kalymnos in December and January. For the average easily-overheated Canadian, late fall and early spring are the best times to visit Kalymnos, while late fall all the way through early spring are great in Leonidio.
The pros and cons of both sport-climbing destinations
Getting to Leonidio is easier than getting to Kalymnos
High and low elevation climbing options
Car rental pretty much mandatory
Only one crag that we found (Mars) has polished rock
Weather is better in December and January than on Kalymnos
Best time to go (assuming you don’t like to roast): mid-October to mid-April
Island atmosphere on Kalymnos is hard to beat
More tufa climbing on Kalymnos than at Leonidio
Older crags at Kalymnos are now polished, but there are tons of new areas
It is possible to climb without renting a car or scooter (although you should for at least part of the trip to visit the outlying crags)
Accommodation is less expensive
Best time to go (assuming you don’t like to roast): mid-October to early December and mid-February to late April
Varied climbing at all grades
Options for climbing in sun, shade, and rain
Happy holiday grading
Welcoming and generous locals
Fun rest-day sightseeing
Bolted, multi-pitch options
Ralf and I will be returning to Leonidio for the third year in a row this November. To be honest, we probably would have made our next Greek climbing trip to Kalymnos because it is also so fantastic, but we have friends going to Leonidio and we will join them.
The beta for your first trip to Greece
If you are planning your first climbing trip to Greece, I’d have to recommend Kalymnos because of the overall island atmosphere, the scenery, and the fun climbing. If you’ve already climbed at Kalymnos, then I recommend checking out Leonidio. And if you’ve already climbed at both, then, like us, you have a difficult decision to make - go where your friends are.
Most Greeks in the tourism industry speak English.
Ralf and I always have great success with Airbnb and Booking.com. On Kalymnos, the best climbers accommodation can be found in Masouri and Mirties. When climbing at Leonidio, we choose to stay in Poulithra, a 15-minute drive south of Leonidio, but closer to the excellent crags at Kyparissi.
Leonidio is a 3-hour (easy) drive southwest of Athens. It is an eight-hour drive south of Thessaloniki. One reason to consider this longer drive is that you can stop for a couple of days at Meteora on the way. Meteora is an unworldly place with 300-metre-high conglomerate towers topped by extremely unlikely, beautifully constructed monasteries. You can climb the typically run-out conglomerate routes if you put your brave-face on.
Kalymnos is a bit more complicated to get to. Fly to Athens, and then take another flight to the island of Kos. If you are coming from November to April, your option is likely only going to be with Olympic/Aegean Airlines. On Kos, you will take a bus or taxi to the other side of the island and then get on a ferry to Kalymnos. From the port town of Pothia, you can take a bus or taxi to Masouri or Mirties. Depending on the timing of your international arrival and departure, it is very likely that you will need to spend a night in either Athens or on Kos, both coming and going. This is not a hardship – you can visit the impressive Acropolis in Athens or THE Tree of Hippocrates on Kos. There is great information about getting to Kalymnos here: https://climbkalymnos.com/kalymnos-info/
The Best of Greece Sport Climbing, 2017: Aris Theodoropoulos (select guidebook, but a must-have for Leonidio and Kyparissi)
Leonidio and Kyparissi, 2018: Panjika Cooperative (not as good as the above, but complete, more up-to-date, and it is good karma to support the climbing cooperative)
Kalymnos, 2019: Aris Theodoropoulos (amazing and inspirational guidebook with 3,400 routes!)
70-metre rope is adequate for most routes, but a 80 will get you up pretty much everything
Helmets are always recommended
20 or so draws, including some long
There are many restaurant options in both Leonidio and near the climbing areas on Kalymnos. Try them all and then return to your favourites!
I must specially mention the Myrtoon Restaurant in Poulithra, 15-minutes south of Leonidio. The food is a fraction more expensive than in many other restaurants, but the food and service are truly fantastic and it is well worth a visit.
The “To Kyma” restaurant in Emporios on Kalymnos is worth the drive (or eat there after climbing at Kastri). The owner/chef told us flat out that she makes the best moussaka. And she was 100% correct. Judie makes excellent Chinese food at Kouzina By The Sea in Mirties, and she is a delight to talk to.
Leonidio has a couple of larger supermarkets with everything you need. Near the main climbers accommodation on Kalymnos, you’ll find several small markets. The big supermarket is a few kilometers away, reachable by scooter, car, taxi, bus, or hitch-hiking.
Swim in the Mediterranean (for most people until mid-December)
Visit the monasteries Elona and Saint Nicholas of Sintza
Visit the World Heritage Sites Mycenae and Tiryns
Visit the local olive mill
Go to the Monday market
Take a hike
Eat oranges, make orange juice
Visit the lovely village of Kosma
Help a local harvest their olive trees
Swim in the Mediterranean (for most people until mid-December)
Rent a scooter and circumnavigate the island
Explore the caves (Kefalas cave, the Epta Parthenon (Seven Virgins) cave and the Skalia cave)
Even if you don’t climb there, visit Sikati Cave
Do the fun via ferrata above Masouri/Mirties
Drink Mythos beer on the beach at Pirates Bay, Kalamies
Take a day-trip to the tiny island of Telendos – either to climb or just to walk around
Take photos of the always-amazing sunset over Telendos
If you want three days off in the middle of a longer trip, take a fast ferry to Rhodes and visit one of the oldest and largest inhabited medieval cities in Europe (it feels like you are walking into a Harry Potter book)