Karpathos is a Greek Island that is rich in culture and traditions. It is part of a cluster of islands called the Dodecanese in the southeast Aegean Sea. Located halfway between its more famous neighbors, the islands of Rhodes and Crete, Karpathos has beauty and hospitality that is unmatched anywhere else in Greece.

Karpathos History

War and conquest define Karpathos' history. Karpathians fought with Sparta in the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC and lost their independence to Rhodes in 400 BC. In 42 BC the island fell to Rome. In the following centuries, Karpathos was ruled in turn by the Arabs, the Genovese pirate Moresco, the Venetians, and the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman rule ended when the Italians conquered the island during World War I. Karpathos even found itself ruled by the Germans for a couple of years before the end of World War II. The Italians named the island "Scarpanto."

Despite such a scattered past, the last half-century has been pivotal in charactering the island. A war-ravaged economy sent many a Karpathian to the U.S. eastern seaboard cities. Karpathos today has a significant Greek-American constituency who have returned to their beloved island and invested heavily. As a result, Pigadia and other towns successfully infuse modern elements into a traditional setting. In the mountains north, a world unto itself, residents preserve tradition almost religiously.

Karpathos Today

Karpathos has changed significantly since 1980, when only a few hotels were on the island. At that time, the capital, Pigadia, was a shadow of what it is today. In Pigadia, do not expect to find much in terms of how Karpathos used to be. Almost everything you'll see there is new. Pigadia is a modern town, with internet cafes, restaurants, and hotels practically everywhere. Other villages have not been affected to the same degree as the changes in Pigadia, but you'll always see indications that tourism is very important to the island's economy.

The 1980s ushered in the construction of many new hotels and other buildings, and the 1990s brought in many foreigners (non-Karpathians) to the island. Pigadia is now a very much a melting pot, with people of many national origins calling Karpathos their new home (and many of them appear to have done so illegally). Although these people help the local economy, their arrival has not helped with the preservation of Karpathian traditions and customs. However, most of the blame for Karpathos' shortcomings goes to many younger Karpathians, who have decided that an easy lifestyle is worth more than honoring their ancestors by keeping their spirit alive (though this is happening all over the world).

As much as things have changed, Karpathians as a whole have done an incredible job of retaining and celebrating their heritage, when compared to practically any other place in Greece. Karpathians, both in Karpathos and abroad, must be commended for the effort they have made to preserve their centuries-old traditions. In many of Karpathos' villages, particularly those in the north, it is very easy to imagine a time when technology did not exist, and people lived simpler (but tougher) lives. Many still do!

A suggestion to those interested in visiting Karpathos: Do not make hotel reservations. Come, and you will find the hotel of your choice. There's no reason to be cooped up in an undesirable (and potentially expensive) hotel for any length of time. There are quite a few places which will suit your needs. In addition, local residents (many of whom speak English) will help you and guide you, free of charge, to find the place of your choice. If walking around Pigadia searching for accommodations while also carrying around your luggage sounds troublesome to you, try leaving your luggage at a local restaurant (after eating there, of course) until you find something reasonable. I think that most restaurants would be amenable to helping you in this way, provided they are not very busy dealing with many customers.

Transportation

Karpathos Island National Airport, with its relatively large runway, is located on the south side (Afiartis area). Karpathos is connected to neighboring islands and to the mainland via ferries and airplanes. The ferries provide transport to and from Piraeus (via Crete and Rhodes). Scheduled domestic flights connect the island with Rhodes, Kasos, Crete and Athens daily. Additionally, charter flights from various European cities are frequently scheduled during the high season (April–October).

Within the island, cars are the preferred mode of transportation. The port, the airport, the main villages and other popular locations are connected by an adequate system of municipal roads, most of which are paved. During the summer months, small private boats depart from Pigadia to various locations daily, including Olympos (via Diafani) and some inaccessible beaches. Fixed-rate taxis (agoraia) and municipal buses are also available all year long.

Population

The island's 2011 census population was 6,181 inhabitants. This number more than doubles in the summer months as many Karpathian expatriates come to the island for their vacation with their families. Also, taking into consideration the number of tourists that visit, there can be up to 20,000 people on the island during the summer months. The population density is greatest during the 15th of August due to the Panagias festival (Assumption of Mary), which is considered the most important festival on the island. Individuals travel from around the world to attend the festival and view the many traditions that still remain on the island.

Beaches

 

The beaches of Karpathos island can be divided into four large groups: the beaches on the east coast are smaller and gravelly but without wind; the beaches of the southern part of the island, near the airport, area made of fine white sand; the sandy beach on the west coast are the most exposed to the Meltemi and they are only available in low wind conditions; the beaches of the north of the island, accessible only by sea and partly by a jeep.