Hiking The Lycian Way
/ By Josh
Turkey’s Mediterranean coast is a magnificent blend of sea vistas, snow-capped mountains, pine forests, sandy beaches, and to top it off, the scattered remains of thousands upon thousands of years’ worth of civilization. So the opportunity to hike through all this, even just a little bit, was too much to pass up!
While the Lycian Way is over 500 km long, it’s very easy to pick and choose what sections you do allowing you to experience much of what the trail has to offer without needing to commit to tougher climbs, camping, piles of gear, or the long time requirements. And so with only a few free days I still managed to have an awesome weekend of hiking, forests, sea views, and much more!
On the first day Sean, myself, and a crew visiting from Canada gathered at Sabiha Gökçen Airport and caught an afternoon flight to Antalya, a lovely city with a beautiful old-town center on the Mediterranean that dates back to 200 B.C. We wandered through the old walled city, chatted with some locals, checked into our pansiyon, and left the touristic district to find some cheap local food, before heading to bed.
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The next day we learned lots about Antalya’s public transit system. Unfortunately, the hard way. We went to catch the tram to the bus terminal only to find out we were waiting for the wrong tram (there’s only two, it really shouldn’t have been that hard). Then tried to catch a bus that never showed up; the story goes on but you get the picture. After a bit of stupid delay we jumped onto a bus and headed down the picturesque coastal road to Tekirova. Our bus driver took us right to the Lycian Way trail head which was great except for one detail: it was the south-bound portion of the trail and we wanted to head north towards Kemer where we planned to meet friends that evening (usually I get around more efficiently than this, I promise!).
This actually turned out to be a good thing because it meant we had to walk through the town and had a chance to get lunch even though Tekirova was basically deserted. The streets were completely empty, and we only saw one restaurant that was open, though a passerby did give us half of his orange as we walked by. Later he walked by the restaurant we were eating at, so we returned the favor and gave him a slice of our pide (think canoe shaped pizza). If you’re looking for quiet, the off season in Tekirova definitely offers plenty of that! Talking to people at the restaurant and comparing what they said to what we could find online we discovered that the main route of the Lycian Way actually bypasses this region though there is a lesser known section of the trail that follows the coast north from Tekirova then rejoins the main route near Gönük, skipping the more challenging climb up Mt Olympos (Tahtalı Dağı).
And so after lunch, walking through town, and jumping a few fences, we finally found our trail and were on our way!
If you’re looking to get a feel for Turkey’s Mediterranean landscape away from the crowded beaches and hoards of summer tourists the Lycian Way in February is an awesome way to do it. In a single day of hiking you can experience the forests, ocean, the occasional city ruin without all the crowds or the too-hot-for-hiking summer heat.
Despite the quietness we still got to meet some characters. First was an older man dressed in traditional garb in the woods attempting to control a black lab pup that apparently wanted to follow us rather than stick around with his owner (we had that effect on dogs as you will see later). The second was one of the stranger things I’ve seen while hiking. As we walked we could hear a brass instrument being played and when we rounded a corner we came into a clearing on a gravelly beach where a dreadlocked guy was playing a trombone while surrounded by a herd of horses coming up out of a shallow river. It turned out the guy played for the national orchestra in Ankara and showed us some of his skills while I took some pictures of the cool moment.
Leaving the trombone player to his practice, we started down a long gravelly beach where we made some new friends. While there were a few people on the beach there were far more dogs, about six of whom decided to join us on our trek and followed us till we finally had to abandon them at the end of the day (hitchhiking with a dog, never mind a pack of large dogs, was never going to happen). From this point on we have lots of dogs in our pictures!
One bay over from where we picked up our companions are the picturesque ruins of Phaselis.
(As Phaselis is a museum you normally need a pass to get in. However, as we came and left via the coast we never actually went by the ticket booths. Check out our Destinations+ page for more about Phaselis!).
Phaselis was originally established by settlers from the Island of Rhodes around 700B.C. on a strategic peninsula surrounded by three bays that served as harbours. The city was rebuilt a number of times and much of the ruins that we see today are actually Roman built on top of various eras of Greek foundations. What makes Phaselis so great is not just the state of the ruins but the setting. The three harbours are lovely beaches that look out to the Mediterranean and the headlands to the north and south. The theatre looks to the inland forests, red tinted cliffs, and the often snow-capped Mt. Olympos (the Greeks were known to set the theatres in such a way as to make use of such natural views).
Leaving Phaselis we followed the trail along the coast where kilometer after kilometer (or mile after mile if that’s your thing) of tombs were scattered on the hillsides. The coastline here is magnificent and there are a few caves set in the cliffs above the water as well.
Now I must confess to something. At Çamyuva we cheated and left the trail and went to the highway where we attempted to hitchhike into the town of Kemer, no easy feat when people think you want to bring a whole pack of dogs with you, but it led to a lot of hilarity so it was worth it and my first experience with hitchhiking in Turkey was excellent!
After a bit of waiting a hired van stopped for us and, once we convinced the driver that the dogs were NOT coming with us, we all piled in. The bus was full of guys in their mid 20’s who claimed to be nursing students. Considering I’ve heard from some people here that male nurses don’t exist I think they may have been joking but I guess I’ll never know. They were naturally curious about us and in the loudest and most chaotic fashion imaginable they asked us all sorts of questions about us: what we were doing in Turkey, our thoughts on Trump, and if we supported a Turkish football team. I told them that I support Galatasaray which led to loud cheering and chanting. In return they all solemnly pledged their support for my hockey team: the Vancouver Canucks! We ended up having so much fun we just about missed the town of Kemer completely and ended up jumping out on the wrong end of town.
After spending the night in Kemer at a local pansiyon we caught a bus to Ulupınar from which we got to do some more traditional hiking towards Yanartaş. This leg of the trip felt so much more like the hiking that I grew up loving and made me realize just how much I missed it!
Farm with mountain in background
There was one particular thing that I never saw back in the Pacific Northwest and that was at Yanartaş. Yanartaş (literally ‘burning rock’ or Chimera in English, entry 6 TL) is a really fascinating place to visit. Fire has been seeping out of the hillside here for at least 2400 years! There are ruins at the bottom of the hill of what was once a temple to Hephaisos, the Greek blacksmith god, as well as a Church which was built later. If you have the choice I’d recommend you try to come in the evening, catch some sunset and see the flames when they’re not competing with the noon-day sun. The trail from the town of Çıralı is easy and so if you’re not interested in hiking but want to see the flames coming from that side is easily managed. People often cook food or brew tea on the fires so feel free to bring something of your own!
Since we didn’t bring anything to cook we went down to the seaside town of Çıralı to get a bit of lunch. It’s a bit of a tourist trap and the prices are pretty over inflated (though the soup was VERY good I must admit), but as there isn’t anything else nearby so there’s not much to be done about it.
Just down the beach from the shops and restaurants we came to the magnificent ruins of Olympos just as the sun started to get low behind the mountains making for some great photo ops! As you come down the beach all you can see of the city is a few cliff-top castles (most of these are medieval and built by the Genovese I believe) but tucked into a valley behind them is a massive site that is well worth dedicating at least a few hours to. If you’re anything like me you could spend a whole day here between the beach and the ruins.
Other than being an amazing city ruin that is so overgrown you get to feel like Indiana Jones exploring in the jungle, the coolest thing about Olympos is that a young Julius Caesar defeated a pirate king to claim the city for Rome. Stranger than fiction.
Olympos is truly a massive site nestled between tall mountains, just back from the Mediterranean, with a picturesque river running through the middle of it. The ruins of a bridge are still obvious, standing surrounded by ducks and fish in the shallow water. Even though the entrance from Çıralı as well as the museum entrance are on the northern bank of the river it’s well worth the effort to try to get across and see the southern half of the city. There’s the stunning ruins of a theatre overgrown with wild trees and tangled bushes and further upstream there are a number of sarcophagi and tombs on the hillside; some of which are extremely impressive.
When we visited there was no bridge so the crossing was a bit wet. Also, if you are hiking the Lycian Way and passing through Olympos you will need to cross this small river to carry on, so keep your footwear in mind!
Once the sun had really set we were forced to leave the magnificent ruins and start to make our way back to Antalya for one last night before calling it quits on an amazing whirl-wind tour of Antalya’s natural and historic beauty!
Other than the names of the people I travel with there is a good chance that names have been changed for the sake of people’s privacy.