The absolute best rock climbing spot in the world is debatable, of course. Some prefer sport climbing on perfect tufas with breathtaking sea views. Others climbers will swear that perfectly smooth granite walls in picturesque forest landscape are tops. Bouldering nerds will attest that slapping perfect sandstone slopers is the only way to go. So it stands to reason that when asking climbers from different disciplines about their favorite spots, their answers will vary. However, if you tally up the favorites from all areas of the sport, you’ll end up with the list we have here — a selection of best rock climbing spots in the world.
Pros and cons
Is there anything better than a perfect overhang, scattered with beautifully sculptured tufas, hiding all kinds of sport climbing trickery, like knee bars, deep drop knees, heel hooks and toe hooks? If you share my vision of a perfect sport climbing route, Kalymnos is the ‘X’ on your treasure map. If you don’t share my vision, climb there anyways! The area is full of hidden climbing treasures. Kalymnos’ pumpy overhanging mega pitches are the island’s main dish, and its 3,400+ routes, ranging from slabs to roofs, are plenty to satiate any climber’s.
When you’re not climbing, a Mediterranean diet of fresh fish, fruits and vegetables will feed your body, while beautiful scenery, sun and sea will feed your soul. The word on the street there is that the climbing grades will feed your ego too…
Kalymnos’ Aegean setting and its dry, Mediterranean climate makes climbing possible throughout the year. Autumn is the best and most popular season for climbing, with October being the month where the number of climbers peaks, so keep that in mind when planning your trip. If you choose to go in October, you may want to avoid Odyssey, Grande Grotta, Arhi and Spartacus, as they are the most popular and most crowded spots.
Though Kalymnos is small, it offers everything you need should you choose to stay for a couple of days or extended periods. Most climbers choose the villages of Armeos, Masouri and Myrties as their base. From here, you can easily access all climbing spots by either scooter or foot. The island also has a number of hotels and studio rentals, bars and restaurants, and most importantly, climbing gear shops and guiding services. Be aware, there were few reported cases of burglary, so it is better to take your valuables (money, passports, etc.) with you when you go climbing.
With well-bolted crags and a wide variety of grades, the climbing in Kalymnos is accessible for climbers of all abilities. Even though we climbed nearly every day of our trip, we weren’t able to visit all of the crags we had outlined.
by Emily Cole - Avid sport climber, founding member of Crux Crush
Kalymnos - good to know
Fly to Kos, then take the ferry to Kalymnos, or fly to Athens, then fly directly to Kalymnost
Pros and cons
When I first entered the forest of Fontainebleau, just 90km south of Paris, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning! I was stunned by all of the perfectly smooth sandstone boulders, and their incredible shapes, colors, and crazy “elephant skin” texture. I kept wondering how on Earth nature could have made this place? The best conclusion I could surmise was that the stone was here for a purpose: it was made to be conquered by climbers. Indeed, climbers divined the boulders’ some time ago.
Ever since the late 19th century, alpinists from Paris would climb Font’s boulder problems in succession (i.e., what we call bouldering circuits today) to prepare for bigger walls they intended to climb on future expeditions. This pastime later took off on its own and evolved into what we today call “bouldering” — arguably the most popular discipline of rock climbing. Even the grading scale used in bouldering is called the “Font scale.”
Fontainebleau (or simply Font or Bleau) is huge. The forest spreads out to over 900 square kilometers, with more than 100 bouldering areas and more than 30,000 registered boulder problems to test your skills. Most of the sectors are easily accessible, with short walks on flat terrain, and soft and sandy landings (check Cul de Chien sector!). My friends who have kids love to take their toddlers to Font, they can play in the sand while their parents crush boulders problems.
Font’s specialty are slopers — the area has the most perfect examples you’ll find anywhere. The climbing is tricky and technical, with some close to none-existent footholds in places. I believe anyone’s footwork will benefit from a trip to Font!
Another Font specialty is its color-coded circuits — the legacy of Parisian alpinists. There’s a circuit for every level, yellow circuits are for inexperienced climbers; orange, blue and red circuits for intermediate climbers; the white and black circuits are reserved for experts. Font is a must for every serious boulderer. Even if bouldering isn’t your cup of tea, Font could change your mind. It happened to me.
Font sandstone is simply the best in the world. Add history, unlimited potential and its proximity to Paris, and soon you realize it’s hard to find reasons not to visit.
by Perica Levatic, 57hours founder, rock climber, and speed champion
Fontainebleau - good to know
Go in spring and autumn for the best grip, summers can get hot, but due to the vast amount boulders there’s always shade somewhere
It’s good to have a car due to the size of the forest. Some sectors are accessible by public transport
The are several camping sites, three hotels and a lot of Airbnbs in Fontainebleau and Gîtes, all of which are full of French characterMore info here
Because of Font’s size, there are lots of guidebooks: circuit guides, off-circuit guides, and a mixture of bothGuidebook reviews here
- Visit Paris
- Visit Château de Fontainebleau
- Disneyland Paris if you travel with kids
- Guided hiking tours through the beautiful forests, rent a bike and ride around, or even go for a carriage ride for a unique European experience
Pros and cons
Rocklands is a bouldering area three hours north of the oldest South African city, Cape Town. Miles and miles of perfect red and orange sandstone boulders are spread throughout the desert of the Cederberg Wilderness area.
If Fontainebleau is the birthplace of bouldering, Rocklands is its modern-day grandkid. The two areas complement each other perfectly. While Font is all about mastering the peculiar dance between bad and terrible holds, Rocklands is about steep athletic climbing, pulling hard, cutting loose, dynoing, campusing, locking off…all the fun stuff that’s part of modern bouldering! While I absolutely love Font, I go there with modest expectations, due to its particular style of climbing which is hard to learn anywhere else. The climbing in Rocklands, on the other hand, is more similar to what we climbers do on a regular basis at the gym. In Rocklands, I expect to send my hardest, which, I believe, is a reasonable expectation for anyone.
Legends of bouldering Todd Skinner, Scott Milton, and the one and only Fred Nicole discovered the huge potential of the area in 1996. Two years later Klem Loskot, another old school legend of the sport, quickly took up their excitement. In very little time, Rocklands became one of the top bouldering destinations in the world.
Bouldering is concentrated in three main areas: Pakhuis, Agterpakhuis and Wupperthal Commanage, though, new areas are developed almost every season. There are some sport and trad climbing spots as well. Even if it is not nearly as known as bouldering, I’ve heard of people traveling there being motivated solely by rope action. What adds to Rockland’s appeal is that it’s in the southern hemisphere, providing a perfect escape from the northern hemisphere’s summer heat. By the way, Fred Nicole still frequents Rocklands, alongside with many new climbing superstars. Opportunities for selfies with famous climbers always abound!
Rocklands is cool because it's wild. You get amazing climbing far away from civilization on perfect red rock.
Rocklands - good to know
There are several guesthouses and a campsite. Book months ahead, lodgings fill up fast!
Some areas require a climbing permit, so check the guidebook for details. Get it from Traveller's rest, de Pakhuys camping or online
Close to the area there are activities such as hiking and wine tasting, while driving for a few hours drive can take you to an enjoyable safari in Namibia or surfing on ocean waves from the coast
Tonsai and Railay
Pros and cons
No matter how serious I am about climbing, I find that a laid-back style suits me best. Endless morning coffees, late arrivals, short approaches, napping between climbs, doing a few climbs, finishing early to go to a beach or a bar…you get the picture? Now, imagine a breathtaking beach in an exotic location.
There’s perfect, overhanging walls directly above this sandy beach, and a bar directly below, full of fellow climbers. Can you imagine a better location for a relaxed climbing holiday? I can’t. This ‘beach’ that I just described is really two climbing spots near Krabi in Thailand: Tonsai and Railay. During the climbing season, these two areas are transformed into a friendly community of like-minded climbers and hippies from all over the world.
In Tonsai and Railay, camaraderie and ease sum up the way of life when visiting. If traveling solo, finding a climbing partner is as easy as it gets, just show up at the bar. There are also plenty of climbing courses, guides, and rent-a-partners. The specialty (besides feeling like you’re climbing in paradise) is 3D climbing on stalactites. Lots of fun! For an unforgettable experience, I recommend one of the breathtaking multi-pitches on Thaiwand Wall.
Since Tonsai and Railay are popular tourist destinations, finding accommodation that suits your needs will not be an issue. The most typical type of arrangements are bungalows, though, the region has it all, from camping sites to hotel resorts. Decide if you would rather be closer to Railay or Tonsai and start planning from there. To add to the appeal, once there, you’ll find most everything quite affordable. Though, due to the areas’ popularity, prices are steadily rising, so I’d recommend going there sooner than later. Climbing in this exotic location comes with a higher price tag, though, due to logistics, so check out our tips below to prepare better.
Tonsai is one of the only places on this planet where you can find an amazing tropical beach mixed in with world class climbing. It is literally one of a kind place that every climber needs to experience!
by Jacob Bushmaker, traveler and climber, author of the Tonsai Climbing – The Ridiculously Excellent Guide
Tonsai and Railay - good to know
Most routes are overhanging on pocketed limestone with many stalactites. It is possible to find some slab climbing
Fly to Phuket or Krabi (better option), take the bus to Ao Nang, from there a boat takes you to Tonsai or Railay
November to March (high-season) and April to October (low season). Expect queues in popular routes during high season!
Besides climbing there are plenty of other activities like yoga, snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, slacklining…
Some crags are only accessible by boat or during low tide, check the tide-forecast
The Pocket Guide by Sirichai Pongsopon
Exotic animals abound, like monkeys, scorpions, snakes, and lizards. Check cracks for possible guests if you are climbing some less traveled routes
Stock up on mosquito coils and sprays in Ao Nang. Mosquitos abound, beware of tiger mosquitoes, as they can transmit dengue fever. They are generally active only just before sunrise and after sunset
Climbing accessories such as chalk and tape can be expensive, so bring some with you to save money. Also, a large rope pad is very handy as sand gets everywhere
Check the condition of bolts and slings before you clip them! Due to the areas’ proximity to the ocean, many routes need re-bolting with expensive top-quality titanium bolts. If you can, donate to the re-bolting efforts at local climbing shops
Pros and cons
If I had to describe Squamish in a few words, I’d say: adventure at your doorstep. Only one hour north of Vancouver, Squamish has it all. There’s intimidating, big walls, world-class single pitch and bouldering, with both trad and sport climbing on offer.
Few places have so many world-class routes between grades and climbing disciplines. Because of this and such easy access to so many crags, I find Squamish to be a truly unique place. The climbing is on the finest slick granite, which means plenty splitter cracks. There are classic crack lines of all grades — from 5.8 to 5.14. If you don’t have prior experience with crack climbing, be prepared to learn from the hard way. I have seen (and experienced first-hand!) climbers falling off cracks that are way below their usual sport climbing level. Finally, I have to mention the rain. It can be rainy in Squamish, but there has to be something, right? Otherwise it would just be too perfect.
Squamish’s most prominent climbing feature is the Chief, a mighty 700m granite wall that looms over the town. The easiest way up is only 5.9, but the route requires some efficiency to complete it before nightfall. I advocate starting with some of the smaller walls, like the Apron, to get a feel for the climbing and so you practice moving quickly. There’s also easier routes up the Chief, and they’re quite popular, so I recommend an early start to avoid getting stuck in traffic.
For single pitch, I’d recommend Smoke Bluffs, Murrain Park, and Leviticus, ordered with respect to the increasing level of difficulty. The forest below the Chief is littered with boulders. Even if Squamish is not primarily known as a bouldering area, don’t be fooled, bouldering in Squamish truly is world-class, as evidenced by frequent visits of world’s best boulderers. It is worth mentioning the two gems of the area that attract world’s climbing elite: Cobra crack (5.14b), one of the hardest crack climbs in the world, and Dreamcatcher (5.14d), the most esthetic sport climbing line as far as I am concerned, first ascended by the legendary Chris Sharma.
Squamish is just the perfect climber’s destination. There is amazing sport climbing, bouldering, alpine climbing, single pitch crack climbing and multi pitch traditional climbing. It really got it all.
by Jase Wilson, adventurer, traveler, photographer, and a Squamish local
Squamish - good to know
Bouldering, trad, multi-pitch, and sport climbing on slick granite of all grades. From beginner to pro (5.8/5a to 5.14d/9a)
Fly to Vancouver and drive north for 1 hour. You can reach Squamish by public transport or hitch-hiking. Having a car is probably best
A cheap basic campsite is just below the climbing area (there are no showers). It’s possible to rent apartments around the Squamish area, or stay in Vancouver and travel north
Zephyr Café for a good coffee, tea and cake with fellow climbers; The Watershed for sit-down dining
The place is famous for mountain biking and downhill riding (be careful with the latter option!). There are many beautiful hiking trails, via ferrata, as well as options for kayaking, kitesurfing, sailing, and canoeing
Try Cheakamus Canyon which is a 20 minute drive from Squamish, or bail to Ground Up Climbing Centre for some indoor action