Greek Adventure: Riding the Volcano in Nisyros

When planning any vacation, I typically start by asking Angela and the boys about their travel goals for the trip. Angela will often have a famous restaurant or specific cuisine she wants to try. Zack almost invariably requests a particular hike. Ben is typically down for anything on, in, and around water. And I love to find the journey within the journey, experiencing great joy in the epic crossings and micro adventures that set one place apart from all others. For instance, I loved everything about Istanbul but found crossing the Bosphorus to be extra special.

We were fortunate in that our Greek yacht tour provided Angela with amazing dining, Zack with majestic hikes, and Ben with all of the water all of the time. And while I was excited to be sailing from island to island as the Greeks had done for millennia, I was particularly intoxicated about exploring the active caldera on the island of Nisyros.

In fact, once we had pulled the trigger on this trip, I made Nisyros my focus. No matter what, I would walk in a volcano.

We left Symi mid-morning after a breakfast of freshly baked bread and jam, sailing north and then turning east through the shallow Strait of Diapori which separates Symi from its uninhabited neighbor, Nimos. It was another beautiful day in the Dodecanese, with a stiff northwesterly wind helping us make great time on our way to the volcanic island of Nisyros. The conditions were so good, in fact, that Captain Max taught the boys how to bring up the jib, and Democritus cut through the low surf at a quick pace.

We were all growing more comfortable in our floating home. And it was a good thing, as we were also in need of our own private space, a hard thing to establish in a public area the size of a picnic table. So we took turns, finding our alone time hanging out on the deck, lying on top of the dingy, or standing at the bow, Titanic style. Zack and Ben napped like captains of industry.


Zack and Ben napping on the way to Nisyros

Nisyros is one of the six currently active volcanoes in the Greek islands, and its signature as such is undeniable when viewed from above, with the whole island seeming to rise out of the Aegean only to crest at a distinctive circular rim before falling back down to sea level at the center of the caldera.


Aerial view of Nisyros (photo: The Insider’s Travel Guide)

The harbor in Nisyros is little more than an inlet protected by a concrete and rock breakwater, and we were one of the few boats present. We arrived at noon and grabbed a quick lunch before securing transportation to get us, twisting and turning, to the rim of the volcano and then down to the sulfur center of the hot crater.

There are really only two games in town for motorcycle rentals, and both of them sit in the harbor, ready to vie for business from the yachting crowd. Since not all decisions have to be agonized over, we picked Petastra Moto Rentals simply because they were closest to the boat. But, as it turns out, they were an excellent choice for reasons other than their rental fleet, which I will explain later.

Angela and I doubled up on a motorbike, and, since he was 17, Zack was able to rent a four-wheeler for himself and Ben to ride. When planning the trip, I had toyed with the thought of hiking up and over the rim, but I’m so glad I nixed that idea. The road is steep, the way is long, and the traffic, when it’s present, is harrowing. We would have been miserable trying to hike.


Mountain cow traffic on the road to the caldera

On the motorbikes, however, the trip was fantastic! With hairpin turns, magnificent vistas, and an absolutely stunning reveal as we slipped over the volcano rim and saw the beautiful green island pinwheeling around its harsh and barren volcanic bullseye. What we didn’t expect to encounter was the frigid wind that greeted us at elevation. Despite a height of just over 2200 feet and an unobstructed afternoon sun, the ride was quite chilly at times.


Our driving route on Nisyros: 1) the harbor, 2) the crater, 3) To Kafeneio tou Nicola restaurant

We wound our way down to the crater floor and parked the bikes at the “visitor center,” where a sign warned us that hiking in the crater was at our own risk and that the privilege would cost us 3 euros each. Since there was no one actually occupying the visitors center, and since we couldn’t find a location to deposit our fee, we celebrated the free adventure by executing an awkward group high-five and striding into the volcano like it was commonplace.


The volcano visitor center in Nisyros [photo:]

A portion of the James Bond film Moonraker was shot on location here and with good reason. This was an otherworldly landscape, with sulfur-rimmed steam vents pockmarking the blanched ground and the twisted, misshapen hulks of volcanic boulders dotting the ashy hills. The perfect place for a secret lair or a final showdown between the forces of good and evil.


Walking in the caldera on Nisyros

It was also the perfect place for flying the drone. With little wind penetrating down to the crater floor and only one other family in the volcano at the same time as us, I set up the DJI and made a few passes, getting some nice footage and annoying the other people only ever so slightly.

With the all-important volcano walk now checked off the list, we wandered back up to the bikes and motored in search of food. We veered right at a fork in the road to climb even higher along the southern side of the volcano rim, arriving at the quaint little town of Nikia.

There, on the outer edge of the ridge and looking southeast across the Aegean, we found To Kafeneio tou Nicola. Angela and I dined on fresh fish in a simple preparation of olive oil and herbs, and the boys both found lamb dishes they said were excellent. As always, the hospitality was top notch.


But the view was unbelievable. We could see the island of Tilos in the near distance and watched as clouds rushed over the low peaks and turned under themselves on the leeward slope, like river water forming a hydraulic. The effect was like cotton turning over and over in a tumbler, spinning slowly but never going anywhere. We sat in the late day sun, satisfied and silent, watching this small corner of the world in its majesty, not wanting to leave.


The weather that was stirring such beauty on Tilos was bringing rain to Nisyros, and we were still several cold miles away from the harbor. So we loaded up once more and drove the twisting turns back down to the boat just ahead of the coming storm, arriving as night began to fall.

Although the wind was whipping the sea into whitecaps that crashed against the breakwater and threatened to join the rain in soaking us to the skin, the harbor itself was calm and sheltered. Again, I reflected in awe at the seafaring ingenuity of the Greeks who had built this original harbor so many centuries ago.

And we were given the opportunity to see that same technological ingenuity (and signature hospitality) in a modern iteration. While we were returning our motorbikes and thanking the owner of the rental company, Angela mentioned to him that she hoped the storm didn’t affect the already spotty wifi on the boat. She needed to do some work that night and was hoping for a good, steady connection.

He immediately offered a solution, saying he would position the shop’s wifi antenna so our boat would be able to pick up that signal and then proceeded to give us the login information. We thanked him for his generosity but said we couldn’t possibly impose on him like that. He would have none of it, however, insisting that this was a gift and that he was happy to share, disappearing into the shop just as the sprinkle of rain turned into a downpour.

We ran for cover on the boat, and Angela pulled out her computer to look for the signal. There it was, nice and strong. We looked back toward the rental shop and saw the owner, a silhouette on the roof adjusting the antenna in the rain. We gave him the thumbs up, hoping that this wasn’t a part of Greece where that gesture was considered offensive, and Angela was able to work without a hiccup.

We pulled out of port early the next morning, heading to Kos and Pserimos for diving, so we didn’t get the chance to reiterate our appreciation for the wifi hookup. But we talked about our volcano adventure and the warm welcome we were continuing to experience throughout these beautiful islands.

It was enough to make us consider a home in Greece someday.