Turkey Adventure Travel Guide: Ideas and Inspiration
PureTravel Says: From timeless Istanbul to Ephesus, the best-preserved Roman city in the Mediterranean, from Priene’s Temple of Athena to the volcanic moonscape of Cappadocia, the natural and cultural treasures of Turkey will overwhelm any first-time visitor. Intrepid travellers will never get bored in a country with underground cities and Crusader castles to explore, white-sand beaches to stroll along and rivers perfect for rafting.
Walking & Trekking - A number of trekking tours are available through tour operators, but the number of marked trails in Turkey is also on the rise, making it possible to trek with or without a guide. Turkey’s crown trail is a 500km marked footpath known as the Lycian Way, which wanders throughout the Tekke Peninsula. The St. Paul Trail commemorates the travels of St. Paul through Anatolia, and passes through more civilized country. Several shorter trails wind through the unique landscape of Cappadocia.
Trekking unguided through a foreign land is an exciting experience, but organized tours provide the opportunity to cover more ground than you would be able to solo. The assistance of guides also makes it possible to take on greater challenges, such as the climb up Mount Ararat. You can even combine freedom with professional backup; some tour operators offer “self-guided” Lycian Way tours, which allow you to walk the trail unguided, then stay every night at a pension to which your luggage has been delivered while you walked.
Rafting & Kayaking - While Turkey is not commonly recognized for its rivers, some of them make for excellent white water rafting. One river, the Çoruh, has even been ranked among the top ten in the world by professional rafters. In addition to the thrill, rafting is an opportunity to visit remote areas of Turkey, where locals live in traditional villages and maintain ways of life which have been forgotten elsewhere. Trip lengths between a day and a week are available. Other commercially rafted rivers include the Dalaman, the Köprülü, and the Zamanti.
If you’d prefer an ocean voyage, try a sea kayaking trip just off the coast of the village of Ucagiz. Here, you’ll feel worlds away from the touristy beach resorts the country is better known for. Even better, this stretch of coastline is liberally peppered with the submerged ruins of ancient Kekova. Experience the thrill of paddling just above underwater walls, pillars, and stairways. End the day in a village accessible only by sea.
Culture & History - Unless you’re staying for several months, expect difficulty deciding which cultural sites to visit. There are simply too many good destinations to choose from! Must-see highlights include a tour of Istanbul, the ancient underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, Simena’s Crusader castle, a stroll through Ephesus, and a dip in a hot spring with some locals.
Snowshoeing – If Cappadocia is a strange moonscape by summer, the winter snows transform it into a peaceful, ancient plain with a strong attachment to times gone by. Blanketed in deep snow, Cappadocia’s unlikely-looking rock formations and deep crevasses become more wondrous, but also more dangerous. Snowshoeers stay with local families, at pensions, and sometimes at Guzelyurt’s converted monastery.
Cycling - A cycling holiday is a great way to explore the countryside at your own pace, either solo or with fellow travellers or a tour group. The most recommended cycling routes are those along the southern Turquoise Coast around Antalya, where you can experience Turkish cuisine, explore Roman ruins, and squeeze in some beach bumming in addition to having a great ride. Cycling holidays in this area also allow you to combine biking and a Lycian Way trek into one trip.
When To Go
With hot summers and a chilly, rainy winter climate, the best times to visit are the spring and autumn. Spring is generally the best time to go, as the days are longer than in the autumn. Either way, you will miss the mid-summer crush of tourists. Autumn is also Ramadan season, a culturally interesting time to visit but also a time when there’s some upheaval in regards to store and restaurant business hours. Spring and autumn are both excellent times for rafting, trekking and camping.
- If your visit falls during Ramadan, expect to be awakened before dawn by drummers who wander the streets to awaken Muslims for their pre-dawn meal.
- Wear the clothes you would normally wear in your own country, but if visiting a mosque, follow the proper etiquette and make sure your shoulders and knees are covered.
- If trekking or rafting, use a respected, licensed tour operator who is willing to provide references.
- Stick to rafting trips that are appropriate for your skill and comfort levels. Rapids in Turkey vary from pleasantly thrilling to extremely challenging.
- Take care in selecting a Hamam (Turkish bath), as they vary greatly in cleanliness.
Holidays In Focus
Walking, Trekking and Hiking - If you only have the time for one trek whilst in Turkey, then we strongly go to Cappadocia, a region of unique geological, cultural and historical features. In the area around Göreme, the sedimentary rock has eroded in fantastical patterns, forming hundreds of stunning pillars and minaret-like formations. The area has been occupied by humans since at least the late Bronze Age, and for centuries, the villagers of the central Cappadocia Region have carved out the softer volcanic rock deposits to create dwellings, churches and monasteries. Trekkers can stay at small pensions in villages throughout the region. The Göreme Open Air Museum is the most famous site, containing over 30 rock-carved churches and chapels.
Unlike many surrounding countries, here it IS possible to trek without a guide. This can be done totally solo or with some assistance, via a self-guided tour which provides reservations at pensions along your route and transports your luggage to the next stop for you. It’s a nice opportunity for a little more freedom and travel at your own pace, without having to haul your belongings on your back. Serious adventure travelers can trek without any assistance at all. Turkey has two long, marked walking trails, both created by Kate Clow, a British resident of Turkey who discovered many old footpaths and obtained permission to join them together into one long route.
The Lycian Way is a 500km trail that winds through the Tekke peninsula, marked approximately every 100m by red-white paint flashes. The route begins near Antalya and winds south along the coast, passing secluded beaches, ruins, camel farms, and terraced fields. Think of it as the beach holiday to end all others.
Kate Clow’s second venture, the St. Paul Trail, commemorates that venerable figure’s travels through Anatolia on his first missionary trip. Like the Lycian Way, it’s around 500km, beginning east of Antalya and winding up northeast of Lake Egirdir. It’s a wilder route than its older sibling, with a climb of 2200m. Highlights of the St. Paul include the Ucansu waterfalls, Roman ruins and deep pine forests to explore.
After the long-distance marked trails and Cappadocia, the best trekking destination in Turkey is the Kaçkars, the steep, rocky mountains of the northeast. Climbing the Kaçkars is best attempted with a guide, and is recommended between July and September due to the long, harsh winter. Many trekkers set out from Yaylalar and attempt to scale Mount Kackar, Turkey’s fifth-highest peak.
Rafting and Kayaking - Turkey truly is one of rafting’s best-kept secrets. Rivers with grade 3,4 and 5 rapids wind through remote forests, mountains, and small villages. Locals are outgoing and friendly, and especially on overnight trips, you’ll have an opportunity to experience local life in ways that most visitors aren’t able to. No previous experience is necessary on guided trips, although if you’re a beginner, your guide may opt to portage around particularly difficult rapids. The Çoruh River is the best in Turkey for rafting, and is considered world-class by rafting professionals. Three other rivers are also commercially rafted – the Köprülü and Zamanti are suitable for day trips, while the Dalaman River can be rafted for the day or overnight. Rafting trips down the Çoruh typically last four or eight days.
Alternatively, Turkey’s peaceful Mediterranean coastline is a perfect place for sea kayaking. Several outfitters lead tours around the Turquoise coast, but the best destination by far is the area around the small island of Kekova. Kekova is uninhabited today, but partially sunken ruins attest to the time when a town called Dolchiste existed on the northern side. Dolchiste was destroyed by an earthquake in the 2nd century, but the ruins are still visible through the clear waters. Paddle directly above submerged pillars, walls and stairways for an incredible look back in history. Diving and swimming are prohibited in the area where the sunken ruins are, but kayaking is permissible. Complete the adventure with a good fish dinner in Kale, a little village accessible only by boat.
Culture and History - You could spend months exploring Turkish culture – without ever leaving Istanbul! Considering that you’re probably planning on roaming a little further than that, we’ll try to just hit the highlights. Again, Cappadocia is unmissable. In addition to dwellings and churches carved right out of the rock, some of which have preserved very fine frescoes, Cappadocia is home to over 200 underground cities at least two levels deep. The finest examples of these troglodyte cities, Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, both have eight levels. While only portions of each city are open to tourists, they’re well worth visiting. Some underground cities are still used today as storage areas, stables and cellars.
Istanbul is the uncontested cultural hub of Turkey, and a visit wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the third largest city in the world. In addition to seasonal festivals, performing arts, ballet, and theatre go on throughout the year. The city’s Archaeology Museum is one of the largest and most important of its kind. Walking tours are available to explore the most famous places in the safety of a group. Tours commonly include stops at the Haghia Sophia, a mosque turned museum which is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture, as well as the Blue Mosque. The bazaar is not to be missed. The same goes for a trip to a Hamam, or Turkish bath. Suleymaniye Bath, dating back to 1550, is the only bath in Istanbul which doesn’t have separate sections for men and women, allowing families to enjoy a soak together. The Cağaloğlu and Cemberlitas Baths are also very popular. The hookah is another important part of Turkish culture, and is interesting for visitors to try. Smoking is no longer as socially important as it once was, but many Turks still consider it to be one of life’s great pleasures.
Snowshoeing - Cappadocia is the most popular snowshoeing destination in the country and it's a very different place come wintertime. The deep snows transform the volcanic moonscape into a quiet, tranquil plain perfect for a winter trek. A winter visit avoids most other tourists, and offers a very different perspective. Villages, caves and underground cities are still accessible by snowshoe – indeed, you can better appreciate just why ancient people burrowed underground to escape the elements.
Because Cappadocia contains many crevasses and holes which may be obscured by a thick layer of snow, it’s better to travel with a guided tour group in the winter months. Your guide will also know which pensions remain open in the cold weather. Some tours include stays at the converted St. Mamas monastery in Guzelyurt.
Cycling - The farther inland you go in Turkey, the hillier it gets. If you’ve got the legs or you’re up for a challenge, head for the interior, but you could also have a very enjoyable trip by sticking to the coastline. The combination of sun, sand and a good ride is a winner for many cyclists, although it is more crowded. The beachside village of Olympus is worth a stop even though it’s been discovered by the tourist hordes, thanks to the Turkmen Tree Houses. It’s the largest hostel in Turkey and features neat bungalows built up in the pine trees.
-Cappadocia Snowshoe Trek
-Istanbul Walking Tour
-Lycian Way Trek
-St. Paul Trail
-Kackar Mountains Trek
-Rafting on the Çoruh River
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia
- Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği
- Historic Areas of Istanbul
- Hattusha: the Hittite Capital
- Nemrut Dagı Milli Parki
- City of Safranbolu
- Archaeological Site of Troy
- Selimiye Mosque and its Social Complex
- Neolithic Site of Çatalhöyük
Turkish National Holidays
January 1 - New Year's Day
April 23 - National Sovereignty and Children's Day
May 1 - Labour and Solidarity Day
May 19 - Commemoration of Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day
August 30 - Victory Day