Posted by: Sam Tanner | July 3, 2010

Walking on volcanoes in flip flops

When it was decided that this year’s trip would be based in the Greek islands, a few people were surprised and even asked whether is was a wise idea ‘with their problems’. This intrigued and infuriated me at the same time as the misrepresentation within the media had once again been seen to affect a country’s tourism. Tourism which they rely on more than anything else.

In fact we weren’t going anywhere near Athens, Kos was the base for our getaway and we would be nearer to Turkey than mainland Greece. It did make me shake my head before we went as I read on forums people asking whether they would be asked to leave there hotels if the country collapsed while they were on holiday. I don’t think any amount of explaining that the country wouldn’t actually collapse into the sea would have made a difference.

Kos is part of the Dodecanese island group which also includes Rhodes, Leros and Nisyros. According to geologists, the Greek islands used to be a continent itself thousands of years ago until a massive earthquake caused the land to sink below the sea. The islands we see today are the top of this continent’s mountains, which is why they appear to be so mountainous. It is also why the islands are a hotbed of activity, with Kos and the surrounding areas being affected by an earthquake in the 1930’s which flattened almost everything on the island.

With all this tectonic activity centred around this part of the world, it was impossible not to feel the allure of Nisyros, home to one of only two active volcano craters that you can walk on in the world. I believe the other one is in Mexcio.

Nisyros is an hour’s boat ride away south of Kos in the Aegean Sea and home to around 900 people. The main settlement is Mandraki where the harbour is. The towns on Nisyros keep to the typical Greek whitewash with blue roofs which give it the authentic Greek feel. Apparently, there is a ruling that any house built on the island has to be built in this manner, preserving the towns which have no running water.

This is an islet outside of Nisyros. According to experts this was once the top of the volcano on Nisyros.


The island’s volcano is active but the last eruption, we were assured, was over 15,000 years ago making it safe for visitors to walk on the Stefanos crater.

When we descended down to where the crater was it all felt quite surreal, like we were on a different planet. Indeed this is where parts of the James Bond film Moonraker was filmed. The eerie sense was also combined with the overpowering smell of sulphur, confirming that you really were at the hub of the volcano. The sulphur had even given yellow tinges to the crater and the surrounding volcano.

Stefanos crater


Once you descend down even further onto the crust floor of the crater, you can feel the activity beneath you. You are able to feel the magma rumbling and if you drop a rock you can hear that it’s hollow underneath. In fact, we even saw steam escaping from the rocks towards the side of the crater.

Towards the centre of the crater are holes that have been formed in the crater, these contain boiling hot water which has been pushed up to below the surface of the crust. It was very hot and we advised not to stay in the same place for too long as our flip flops would melt. It was all very exciting.

Holes in the crater


The best views of the crater are from the mountain top village of Nikeia which has a monastery on the edge of the cliff where the most amazing views await you. As you walk in to the village centre (which has a population of less than 40) the locals have put arrows on the side of their houses directing all tourists to see the views.

View of crater from Nikeia


This experience was completely different to anything I have ever witnessed and the geek within me had an absolute field day. It is amazing to believe that something this awe inspiring and important was an hour away from the Kos party town of Kardamena (no, I didn’t stay there. We were based outside Kos Town).

There are more posts to come from my Greek experience, but Nisyros is by far the most surreal.



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  1. Sounds like a fascinating island. I had no idea that is where they filmed Moonraker too! It is annoying to hear people discourage travel to Greece, especially some where so close to Turkey. Great shots of the crater as well.

  2. Wow, what an incredible experience!!! I’ve always wanted to climb an active volcano. Seen many, but never climbed one. What gorgeous photos!

  3. Regarding “Moonraker” being filmed on Nisyros, this is actually factually inaccurate. It is something dreamt up by the Tour operators got get bums on seats. I am a big Bond fan, and while I was in Kos I booked the tour because my holiday rep told us about the link to Moonraker. Went on the tour, got to the volcano and at the end of the tour asked our guide ( a local man from the island ) why he hade not made any mention of Bond during the tour. His answer was simple, because Bond was never there… I have since looked up the filming locations for this movie and guess what, no mention anywhere of Nisyros. Having said this, if you ever get a chance to visit this Island, you won’t be disappointed, as the scenery, the views and the volcano are spectacular.

  4. Hi, I just came across your blog, and I thought i’d leave you a comment 🙂
    I’m glad you liked Nisyros so much; it is a wonderful island, filled with fantastic people. 😀
    I am a volcanologist and my research is focused on Nisyros volcano. I studied it in great detail for my PhD. Nisyros is indeed active, but the crater that you visited (Stefanos) was generated by a phreatic (steam explosion) eruption, and not related to magma. So the rumbling that you feel and hear beneath your feet is not magma at all, but actually related to a super-hot aquifer below. It is this hot aquifer which fuels the boiling mud pools you see. If anything, such phreatic eruptions can be more dangerous as they often give very little warning, so one of those big craters could just blast open any day really! (I really dont think people should be allowed so close to the mudpools and fumaroles!)
    Also, the little islet that you saw (in picture above) – that is called Strongyli.
    It is a lava dome, and so essentially a small hill of lava which has now solidified, creating an island. It is therefore a ‘volcano’ in its own right. I do not know which ‘expert’ told you that it was once the top of the Nisyros volcano but the idea is really ridiculous!!! Maybe it is an urban legend, but certainly no expert would have said this. It is impossible to be the top of Nisyros – especially as it is so far away from the island.
    The top of Nisyros volcano is now actually deep beneath it! The entire island of Nisyros is a volcano. Many thousands of years ago (we cant be sure when exactly) there were two large Plinian volcanic eruptions which deposited the pumice you see all over the island.The amount of magma which was erupted was so great, that the overyling volcano collapsed into the then-empty magma chamber beneath, creating the large depression (caldera) we see today. Then within this the smaller phreatic craters were later created.
    I hope you don’t mind me correcting your information, I thought you may be interested in the facts 🙂

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