Karpathos, one of the best islands in the Dodecanese

At the southeastern edge of Greece’s Dodecanese Islands, Karpathos is still largely under the tourist radar, but visitation is growing each year. Why wouldn’t it? The island is made of stunning mountains, surrounded by 100+ gorgeous beaches, has among the mildest winters in Europe, and is home to one of the most traditional villages left in Greece. But the good news for the preservation of Karpathos is that they’ve had time to learn from the pitfalls of Greece’s over-touristed islands.

When it comes to sustainability, north and central Karpathos are largely wilderness areas, protected under the EU Natura 2000 Network (there are so many endemic species here!) and their tourism industry is training with MEET (Mediterranean Experience of Eco-Tourism) to develop their own programs, like DestiMED PLUS, to help local operators reduce the environmental and social impacts of visitors.

Why was Karpathos, Greece a secret for so long and why is word getting out? In the 1940s when Karpathos was liberated from Italian occupation, Greeks finally had the freedom to get passports. So after decades of hard times and few job opportunities on the island, upwards of 80% of Karpathians moved abroad! Many lived in Greek neighborhoods of Maryland and New Jersey, growing their wealth working in factories and running diners, and eventually saving enough for summer houses in their homeland. After spending months enjoying the beaches, incredible food, and rich traditions, their American kids naturally fell in love with the island and they have slowly been spreading the word and coming home.

As Americans, it was fascinating to chat with 80-year-old Ana, who grows vegetables for her restaurant in Avlona (a village of 7 people), about her time working in a coat factory in Baltimore. And we loved sharing a glass of wine with 50-year-old Minas, who grew up in Maryland dreaming of someday moving to his seemingly mythical homeland and running a guesthouse in Olympos (of which we stayed at…and it was unreal!)

With so much biodiversity, indigenous culture, and limited government resources to manage a huge island, Karpathos needs the good kind of tourists. Here are our favorite eco-friendly activities that will make YOU want to love and care for this island.

Things to Do in Karpathos, Greece

Pigadia Harbor

Pigadia Harbor, Karpathos

The capital and main port of the island has a lovely seaside promenade, with cute cafes and bars. Be sure to enjoy a delish plant-based breakfast at Enplo, shop for local goods at the Greek Project, take a selfie in rowboat alley, catch a cocktail with the cool kids at Anoi lounge, and enjoy the ambiance of this charming seaside town.

Ancient City of Vrokounta

@honeytrek Hiking with @Ecotourism_Karpathos to the ancient city, rock tombs, cave church, and stunning coastline of Vrikouda, #Greece! #karpathos #trekking ♬ The Greek Tavern – Erguner, Kudsi

One of the three ancient Doric cities on the island can still be reached via their 2,500-year-old trail. We set out with Ecotourism Karpathos, whose local, scientific, and archaeological intel gave us a true appreciation for the area. Along the way, we encountered tombs of Alexander the Great’s generals and high-ranking families carved into the rocks. Signs of the ancient civilization (abandoned in 700 CE after numerous pirate raids) and present-day pilgrims extend throughout the peninsula, with homes and churches across the ages. The trail ends at the cave church of St. John; descend the stairs and this rough-hewn space feels as sacred as the Notre-Dame. At the end of the trail, reward yourself with a homegrown, homecooked lunch at Taverna Avlona (and ask Ana about her days in Baltimore)

Sustainable Travel Tip: Ecotourism Karpathos, run by a father-daughter team and natives of North Karpathos, is a key player in the island’s sustainable and community-based tourism initiatives. If you have time, do the overnight hike to the wild Tristomo region and stay at their family home. Many consider it the most beautiful part of the island…and that says a lot! Plus, Ecotourism Karpathos can arrange beekeeping and cooking classes.

Lefkos Beach

Lefkos beach, karpathos

While Karpathos has 100+ stunning beaches to choose from, like the famed Apella and Kyra Panagia, one that really seemed to have it all was Lefkos in central Karpathos. Set at the foot of the island’s tallest mountain (3,986 feet), with five coves to choose from, this beach has beautiful scenery and small-town charm.

Still a small fishing village at heart, Lefkos has a series of simple seaside tavernas (eat at the House of Gyros and say hi to Eugenia for us!). With such an extremely serpentine coastline, there is a beach for every audience: kids, lap swimmers, cliff-jumpers, and even nudists (tucked away in the farthest cove). Make a day of it or stay for a few in the town’s lovely guesthouses.

Olympos Village

Built on the spine of a mountain along sheer sea cliffs, Olympos is remote by design. After a slew of pirate attacks at their original settlement of Vrokounta (see above), this ancient culture moved their seaside village to the mountaintop in the 8th century. They remained fiercely independent and virtually inaccessible until 2011 when the first paved road connected them to the rest of Karpathos. After so many centuries without outside influence, Olympos’ unique culture flourished and remains intact. They still speak their own dialect, wear traditional dress, bake in communal wood-fired ovens, and have their medieval windmills at the ready to grind grain.

We were planning to just visit Olympos for the day but were so charmed by this village that we dropped our city plans and literally booked a guest house on the spot. We had a feeling that if we stayed longer, more magic would unfold…and it certainly did! Watch this video (above), complete with impromptu cooking classes, a traditional dress-up party, and some of the most breathtaking scenery from a village frozen in time.

NECCA Nature Exhibit

NECCA Nature Exhibit

Stop by the NECCA (Natural Environment & Climate Change Agency) office in Diafani village to learn more about the incredible biodiversity of the island and how you can help protect it. Their kid-friendly nature exhibit highlights species that can only be seen in Karpathos, Greece, like the rana cerigensis frog, the Mertensiella luschani helverseni salamander, and the endangered Mediterranean monk sea which thrives in these waters. Check their event calendar for beach cleanups, kids’ programs, and more ways to get involved. Can’t make it north to Diafani? NECCA also has a small exhibit you can visit at the Pigadia harbor.

Saria Island: Diaplou to Palatia Trek

saria island, Kapathos

Until a major earthquake, Saria island was connected to Karpathos and acted as a powerful piece of their ancient civilization. Today it’s uninhabited and a nature-lover’s and history-buff’s paradise. Hop the ferry from Diafani or Pigadia and get dropped off at Diaplou beach for an epic 8km trek, past incredible ruins, chapels, olive groves, caves, canyons, and beaches, ending in the pristine cove of Palatia. Enjoy a beach day until your return ferry arrives. Note: Regular ferry service is available in the summer from Pigadia and Diafani.

Sustainable Travel Tip: Friends of Nature Karpathos is a local nonprofit that leads hikes to different parts of the island every Sunday (except July and August), for a mere €4 donation. We joined them for the Saria Island trek and it was such a lovely way to connect with locals! Check their Facebook page to see what adventure is happening during your trip.

Best Restaurants in Karpathos, Greece

best restaurants karpathos, greece

Enplo Seaside Lounge

This is arguably the hippest restaurant and best spot for plant-baed easts in Pigadia. We went for Enplo’s renowned brunch for decadent vegan nutella pancakes and washed it down with a berry smoothie that we’re still dreaming about.

Orea Karpathos

Perfectly situated on the harbor, this sweet family-run restaurant has been serving traditional Greek food for 30+ years. Known for their seafood but quite accommodating to plant-based eaters, Orea Karpathos restaurant offers unique (and delish) cabbage dolmades, the classic caramelized onion Karpathian pasta, and, if you’re lucky, grilled artichoke from their garden.


In central Karpathos, just inland from Lefkos, Ellovos is home to perhaps our favorite meal in all of Greece! The Chef Popi (or Aunt Popi) grows virtually everything she serves and slowly cooks it to perfection (something as simple as her stewed garbanzo beans were mouth-watering). Ellovos Restaurant is a charming old-style taverna, where you can sit by the fire or on the patio with mountain views.

Best Hotels in Karpathos, Greece

Best hotels in Karpathos

Agnantema Luxury Suites

The hot new hotel in Kyra Panagia (one the best beaches in the Dodecanese) was incredible! Just 20 minutes from downtown Pigadia, Agnantema was perfectly situated on the cliffs and just a quick walk to the beach.  Every studio has a chic living room, kitchen terrace, and a plunge pool to enjoy the most incredible views!

Sounds of the Sea

This is a solid choice to be closer to town, get breathtaking views, and save a little money. We spent our first two nights in Karpathos in our spacious studio, enjoying the well-manicured grounds and chatting with the friendly staff. FYI Sounds of the Sea has a big renovation in the books, so it is about to get even nicer.

Anemos Guest House

Anemos Hotel, Olympos

Staying overnight in Olympos is a MUST to feel the rhythms of this traditional village and take in their incredible sunsets from your very own patio….and Anemos has arguably the best view in town! Run by the friendly Greek-American Minas, Anemos is their family home that has been lovely renovated with traditional Karpathian lofted bedrooms, dining areas, and patios with views to the stunning coastline and colorful cliffside village.

How to Get to Karpathos Island

How to get to Karpathos Island

Unlike many Greek islands, Karpathos has an international airport, with direct flights from numerous European countries (Italy Netherlands, Belgium, and more) and daily flights from Athens (1.5 hours direct). Ferry service is excellent across the best islands in the Dodecanese, making Karpathos a three-hour ferry from Chalki and four hours to Rhodes. Just be aware that departures are more infrequent outside of the summer months. 

What do you think of Karpathos? Discover more of the Best Islands in the Dodecanese, Greece in our blog post with 6 stunning & sustainable Greek getaways, featured in our ongoing series on The World’s Most Romantic & Sustainable Destinations.

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  1. Greece is such an amazing place. We were lucky enough to sail the Greek Islands. Needless to say, it was an amazing experience. We haven’t been to Karpathos, but since reading this post, it is now on our bucket list.

  2. We would love to visit an island like Karpathos that is under the tourist radar. And hope to get there before it gets too crowded. The colourful fishing harbours are always a big draw for us. Especially if we can get fresh seafood. The beaches and clear waters would draw us underwater for sure. And make us check out whether scuba diving was offered. Definitely a spot we would visit by ferry.

    1. The color of the water is incredible here. Excellent visibility for diving. The ferry to get here was great and they have direct flights to Athens as well. Though travel in Greece requires a lot of logistics, make sure you have travel insurance!

  3. I am sold on visiting Karpathos! I love a visit to any of the Greek islands but this one looks incredible. I love that sustainability is so embraced here, it makes me more keen to visit. The beaches look amazing as does the food. I’d stay at the same guest house, the views are spectacular and it looks so relaxing too.

    1. We adored Karpathos! The landscape had Hawaii vibes but yet it is almost totally undiscovered! Agnatema Suites would be a fabulous place to stay. That view from the plunge pool was so divine! And when it comes to sustainabiliy, it’s so important to support outfitters doing the right thing. Definitely check out Ecotourism Karpathos, she’s really championing responsible tourism and offers sooo many cool excursions!

  4. Greece is one of my favorite destinations.
    Very good article, thank you.

  5. Superb info and I really enjoyed this article.

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