Hiking the Lycian Way in Turkey - { 300 Kms } - Three Weeks. Two Women. One Great Adventure!

Sunday, September 24, 2017


{ Hiking the Lycian Way, a long distance trail in Turkey }

In the autumn of 2015, I set out of one of my biggest adventures yet. The challenge was more mental than physical, but it was nothing like anything I had done so far. Along with a friend, I decided to hike a way-marked long distance trail called The Lycian Way in Turkey for a whole month, independently. There, that word posed the biggest challenge. We planned to carry our own tent, food and other camping equipment and be our own guide while navigating the coast of ancient Anatolia in southern Turkey! Carrying a backpack which weighed at least 15 kilos, we aimed to cover anything between 10 to 20kms each day and stay overnight at a mix of wild campsites and pansiyons(guesthouses).

What excited me about this particular hike is that it is a long distance trail, 500+ kms long between Fethiye and Antalya, peppered with ancient Anatolian ruins in the middle of wilderness. That as well as the going on a week long adventure is so different from doing something for a whole month. Besides, hiking just with a friend (Melanie, whom I met in Mongolia a year before) made it all the more exciting and interesting as we both women independently try to find our way, tackle the abundant shepherd dogs, camp in the wild and walk, walk, walk and then some more for all of three weeks. My friend had been hiking for a week already starting from Oludeniz while I joined her at Kalkan. Armed with a very helpful German guidebook written by one Mr. Michael Hennemann and a GPS app on iPhone, we went on to hike the rest of the trail together, about 300-odd kilometers to the end.

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Read my journal entries from each day as written while on the hike to see how it went. As expected, it turned out to be an adventure of a lifetime with many learnings and mistakes. It's a massive post, I've given you the heads-up for the record. Get yourself a cup of coffee or tea and join me on this loooong virtual hike through daily byte-size updates. Or just skim through for 25+ images from the hike.

Day 1: The Litmus Test (Kalkan to Bezirgan | 9 km | 860m ↑)

Town of Kalkan on Lycian Way Hike, Turkey
Glorious double rainbow (my good omen) over the town of Kalkan wishing me luck on this new adventure.

Unfortunately, it has become quite usual for me over the past few years to land up in an adventure without any preparation. No points for guessing I arrived in Turkey with zero preparation to hike 300+ kilometers over 3 weeks with a 16 kilo backpack weighing me down. So day 1 turned out to be my litmus test. As we set out on the hike to a small Turkish working village in high mountains called Bezirgan, a beautiful rainbow showed up. I took it as a good omen despite the troubling dark skies. As we started the climb, I could feel the full weight of my oversized backpack and my unpreparedness. Huffing and puffing in the intense heat, I scrambled over the thirsty landscape where nothing grew apart from short bushes.

On the far distance, the beautiful Turkish coast shimmered but I was in no position to enjoy the views. I wondered how I would climb up to 1800m high few days later if mere 800m was doing this to me. But as someone with some experience in the outdoors, I knew you get used to everything over time. As the day passed, we reached our destination with great difficulty dragging that backpack and many doubts in my mind when heaven's gates opened up and it poured like hell!

Thankfully, we found a shelter for sheep that protected us from the intense rain and later, a small 12 year old girl called Miné took us under her wing and offered us food and shelter for the night. Despite the afternoon ordeal, what started as a glorious day with a rainbow ended just the same way with the kindness of the Turkish people. Some start that was, phew!

Day 2: Two Surprises - One pleasant and the other not! (Bezirgan to Gokcoeren | 19 km | 300m ↑)

The rugged landscape along Lycian Way, Turkey
Rugged coastal landscape along Lycian Way, Turkey

Bidding goodbye to our wonderful hosts who were quite possibly the poorest in the entire village but incredibly kindhearted, we left for our next destination on the trail. With yesterday's ordeal still fresh in my mind, I was worried how could we possibly be hiking 15 to 20kms each day over the next few weeks along the Lycian Way. But our day had already gotten to a bad start when the Turkish timezone played a big prank on us. Thing is, while rest of Europe moved to Day Light Savings time, Turkey didn't because the President wants an extra hour of sunlight for the upcoming elections. But the internet and telecom network didn't care. So our 6.30 alarms rang at 7.30 and our 8.30 departure became 9.30, which was very late for hiking.

Huffing and puffing in the heat, with almost 17kms ahead of us to the next village, we cursed the unpleasant start. And then came the pleasant surprise, a chance detour that saved us a ton of energy and time. We reached the village of Goekcoren just in time and a friendly Pansyion(Guesthouse in Turkish) owner (who was already tipped of our arrival by a hunter we met on the way) came to the trailhead and picked us up. As if a hot shower and a comfortable room wasn't enough to soothe the day's exhaustion, we were treated to the most amazing dinner ever! The best part about Turkish meals(except for breakfast which is full of veggies and cheese) is that it is so similar to Indian cusine! I'm loving the food and that's a very very good thing.

Day 3: First encounter with the magnificent Lycian Ruins (Gokcoeren to Cukurbag | 20.5 km | 300m ↑ 1000 ↓)

Ruins of Phellos on the Lycian Way hike in Turkey
Lycian Ruins of Phellos on a hilltop in the middle of wilderness

When Melanie suggested this hike, one of the biggest draws of the Lycian Way to me were the ruins. This entire coastal region is peppered with plenty of ruins, necropoli, amphitheatres, sacrophagi belonging to the ancient region of Anatolia. And the best part? The ruins are scattered all over the mountains, surrounded by dense forests and many can only be reached on foot and almost no one bothers to come there except for the Lycian Way hikers. While the sites lower to the coast are still maintained and restored by the archaeology department, the ones high up in the mountains are all for you to discover.

This means, you can act as Indiana Jones when you stumble upon a piece of this ancient ancient history! Also, this was a long and exhausting day of finding and following the very confusing trail markers. And I developed a slight pain in the right knee, something I've never felt before. Hoping this doesn't progress into a worse situation over the coming days. Today, we camped in the outskirts of a village in our little green tent for the first time. Exciting times ahead.

Day 4: Paying the Price for Packing Poorly! (Cukurbag to Ufak Dere | 18 km | Rolling Terrain)

Lycian Way, Turkey
Campsite for the day, a secluded beach in Ufak Dere

After 3 days, I'm slowly getting used to the idea of getting up every morning and walking till your feet hurts like crazy. Meanwhile, I've packed some unnecessary extras which are pulling me down. Every little bit counts in the mountains, so today we got down to the beautiful coastal town of Kas where I paid a small price to send some stuff back home to India. Knee pain is the same, at least it hasn't deteriorated but its presence bothers me. My backpack is lighter by 2 kilos and that's additional food and water space for when we go up in the mountains! Yay!

After sending my stuff back to India in Kas to lighten my 16-kilo backpack, we hiked more towards the campsite of Ufak Dere which is located by the side of a beautiful secluded bay. The hike was long and tiring, no surprises, but the view in front of us made it all feel worthwhile when we arrived just in time for a sunset.

Day 5: Getting used to the rigors of long distance hiking! (Ufak Dere to Aperlai | 18.5 km | 300 ↑)

Beautiful Turkish Coast along Lycian Way, Turkey
Beautiful coastline along Lycian Way in southern Turkey

It's hard to believe that is already Day 5 of hiking, meaning I'd have been hiking for nearly a week soon. When I agreed to do this hike, the challenge here, unlike other Himalayan expeditions I've been on, was to keep at it for a whole of 3 weeks. 3 weeks is a long time to keep doing the same thing, over and over again, especially for someone who gets bored very easily. I thought, this could be a very good practice for some other bigger and longer expeditions I might plan for later in future. Not too far from civilization but also not too close to it, I felt Lykia Trail would be the perfect ground to train myself and test the waters when it came to long distance hiking.

Along with that, hiking with just another person was a new challenge I've been dying to try for a while. Without a support team, hiking by yourself and taking decisions in the outdoors day in and day out is wildly exciting. Besides, views like this that come way too often on the Lycian Way are excellent motivators to keep you motivated. Hoping that one of these days, we'll get to camp on one such beautiful beach.

Day 6: More ruins and More beaches, all incredible! (Aperlai to Ucagiz | 8 km)

Lycian Way, Turkey
The pretty coast of Ucagiz as seen from the ruins of Simena

Waking up early is always a challenge for me. While I manage barely on week or two week long Himalayan treks, the thought of waking up early for nearly a month at once makes me hide under the sleeping bag and never get out. But, by this time, I've learnt that starting late, especially during the winters where the daylight hours are so short, is turning out to be detrimental. So, for the past 2 days, I've been trying to get up and about as soon as possible. I haven't been able to start at 7 as planned yet but starting a bit early than usual. Melanie, on the other hand has no problem waking up early and is quite on time. Hopefully, I'll get there soon.

Today's view, is of the beautiful town of Üçağiz seen through the ruins of Simena at sunset. In case you haven't noticed, Turkey's coast is wildly beautiful and some villages like Kalekoy are so chilled out that I can totally imagine spending a month lazing around there.

Day 7: A lovely, pristine beach full of Pebbles! (Ucagiz to Andriake | 13.5 km)

Lycian Way, Turkey
Rewards of hiking, pristine beaches all to yourself!

Walking in the searing heat with a heavy backpack feels normal now. We've been hiking anywhere between 10-20kms per day depending on the terrain and the camping/pensyion options.

Today, on our way to a beautiful camping site by the beach, we passed by this lovely beach near a bay with the clearest waters and shore that was full of white pebbles. It's hard to find a place of such solitude in a place as popular as the Turkish coast but that's the best part about hiking, it takes you where few go to!

Day 7: Time for some peace and quiet!

Chilling out at Andriake Campgrounds
Chilling out at Andriake Campgrounds where you can get good food and relax

After hiking for nearly 100kms over the pas 7 days and climbed quite a bit of mountains, we are resting for a day at this wonderful camping ground called Andriake on the Turkish Coast. While Kate Clow, the lady who marked the trail few years ago, has written a guide book, it's unfortunately outdated and hard to use. Thankfully, a German guy has written a much better and detailed guide on the Lycian Way which my hiking partner Melanie has bought.

The book's been of great help, that along with a hiking app on her iPhone has been guiding us greatly for the past week. Meanwhile, I'm putting up my feet and tasting Turkish beer today!

Day 8: The scary faces of Magnificent Myra! (Andriake to Myra and back | Day trip)

Lycian Way, Turkey
Amphitheatre at Myra, an ancient, now-ruined Greek town in Lycia

So turns out I have hiked nearly 100kms till today, sounds a bit unbelievable but magic happens when all you focus on is putting one step in front of the other.

Today is our rest day, we prepare ourselves to carry ourselves and 20kilo backpacks up into the mountains where we have to camp for 2 straight nights. But we couldn't miss the opportunity of exploring one of the largest Lycian ruins on the hike at Myra. One of the biggest and most important Lycian port cities, Myra was founded as early as 1st Century BC!

Today, all that remains of the glorious city is a huge amphitheatre(where I can totally imagine a GOT scene happening) and spectacular rock-cut tombs carved into the face of a whole mountains. All this splendor notwithstanding, the thing that intrigued me most were the scary faces carved all over the place. More pictures of that later.

Day 9: The big climb and the HEAVY backpack! ( Andriake to Alakalise | 14 km | 1040m ↑ 225m ↓ )

Ruins of a church at Alakalise, high up in the mountains
Campsite by the ruins of a church at Alakalise, high up in the mountains!

We loaded our backpacks with 3 litres of water each and food for 3 whole days, that is 7 meals, and started climbing up to the ruins a church at this place called Alakalise. The climb was brutal, as expected. We had to climb to 800m today and camp there and push off for another huge climb the next day.

Huffing and puffing we reached the first village where we saw plenty of people gathered outside, only to realize it was national elections. Another pleasant walk along a well paved mud road led us to the campsite where this Turkish man, Ibrahim, came running to our tent and was so amused by our gear that he just welcomed himself into the tent and started rolling around on the mattress and the pillow.

It was incredibly funny! Later, he invited us to his home nearby and offered us warm and super delicious "Ekmek", Turkish rotis and honey which was delectable. I was worried we'd feel lonely camping up in the mountains but with people like these around, seems my fears were unfounded. We slept under a super starry sky thinking of the 100m climb and 18km walk ahead of us the next day!

Day 10: The long, long hike up and down a big mountain! (Alakalise to Belos | 22 km | 1145m ↑ 1075 ↓)

Fall colors in Turkey
It was early November and we got to see fall colors in Turkey!

We woke up to an incredibly cold morning where our hands almost froze as we packed up our tents and campsite. Cooking our quick and standard breakfast of porridge with some apples offered by the shepherds, we set out on the long hike along super confusing trail towards the 1800m+ Mt Merdiven.

The walk up was tiring and finding the frequently missing trail was infuriating but slowly we trudged up to reach a metal road beyond which we decided not to follow the trail and just follow the road instead that goes right by the trail side. The views of the coast and the verdant mountains were stunning despite the heat and long walk.

Our GPS had misinformed us and tricked us into thinking the campsite was closeby. It was almost 3.30 when we realized we had atleast 600m more to descend and 4kms at least to our original intended campsite. We arrived at a green patch at almost 6 in the evening, completely tired to the bone. We just set up camp, cooked dinner as fast as we could and collapsed inside our tents while presumably goats chewed on our tent all night long. We were too tired to be bothered!

But hey, the big climb's behind us now! Yay!

Day 11: The Road to Perdition! ( Belos to Finikke | 11 km | 300m ↑ 1100m ↓)

Road to Finikke
Parts of the trail can be skipped in favor of tarred roads, like this one to the town of Finikke

It certainly seemed like hell because the road to Finikke, the next stop after the big mountain push, was in the far horizon and just stayed there. With my right knee still troubling me and the left knee following suit, it has become incredibly hard for me to tread on descents. And tarred roads are the worst, my knees are just not able to take the full weight of me and my backpack together. Walking down on the steep descent towards the town, we saw a man pass us by who enquired if we were going to Finikke. Just minutes after he crossed us, he made a call. Melanie, pictured here, was quite right and quick in guessing that he would've called a pensyion(guesthouse) owner.

Normally, we do get plenty of offers to hitch a ride in the many vehicles passing us by. But this day, after we said no to one ride, none stopped by us. And I was quite disappointed that we weren't getting any lifts today when I could totally use one! What's the point of walking on a tar road right? Just then a car arrived from the opposite direction and stopped near Melanie who was ahead of me. Turns out it was the Pensyion owner and he came all the way to pick us up! How very cool! That's a thing here on the Lycian Way, if someone sees you hiking to the next village, they usually call the pensyion owners who come to the trailhead to pick you up. In this case, the owner saved us more than 5kms of walk on the tar road and I couldn't be more thankful for that!

Today we rest a bit.
Tomorrow, to the lighthouse!

Day 12: The most amazing coastline to Cape Gelidonia! (Karaoz to Gelidonia | 8 km | 200m ↑ 0m ↓)

Camping at Gelidonia Lighthouse
Camping above the cape coastline at Gelidonia Lighthouse

Today was a much needed lazy day! We had a very slow start to the day as we were walking just 8kms today, the least we have walked in a day so far. Today's destination was the lighthouse at Cape Gelidonia which is the southernmost point on the Lycian way and is situated along a stunning coast. Skipping the super boring part along the road, we took a taxi right upto the trailhead so we could just enjoy the good part and the views were unbelievably amazing. The coastline was full of clear blue bays and dense greenery.

We had a lazy lunch under a tree by a blue lagoon, then walked leisurely eating fresh grapes and oranges from the orchards and stood spellbound whenever views like this showed up. This part of the coast is sparsely populated and looks very rugged and beautiful. Little before evening, we arrived at the lighthouse and it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever camped. We cooked our dinner looking at a stunning sunset and waited on the benches until the stars came out. It was all incredible, this will go down as one of the most memorable experiences on the whole Lycian Way hike!

In our little green tent, we slept to the sound of roaring wind, crashing waves and the blinking lighthouse!

Day 13: From Magical Forests to a Seaside Ghost town! ( Cape Gelidonia to Adrasan | 22 km | 380m ↑ )

The craggy coastline of southern Turkey
The beautiful but deserted beach of Cirali, it's a party town in season but we were late

Once inside the tent the previous night, the geniuses that we were, we realized we pitched the tent in the wrong way inspite of planning to wake up to a sunrise view. We chose the right side of the mountain but not the right side to which the tent opens! Either way, the sunrise wasn't nearly half as spectacular as the sunset and it wasn't that cold so we dragged ourselves out of the sleeping bags as well. Today, we walked on the most well-marked trail we have encountered so far and through magical pine forest that was full of wildflowers.

The walk wasn't too tiring and we were looking forward to arriving at the coastal town of Adrasan to chill and relax a bit before another strenuous climb ahead of us. But even as we arrived into the town, it looked bleak and desolate. Once we reached the main road, we only found unkempt cafes and hotels, closed one after the other. The entire town looked abandoned, quite recently!

Turns out, the normally bustling tourist hotspot of Adrasan closes down for all of 6 months when the tourists stop coming during the rainy season. And that is now. With great difficulty, we found one open place where we're staying for tonight. Looks like we'll be heading to another ghost town tomorrow but for tonight, we sleep well and comfortable.

Day 14 - "Too many Germans. Too many Russians. One Hindistani." (Adrasan to Cirali | 14.5 km | 700m ↑ 700m ↓)

Lycian Way, Turkey
A friendly Turkish Man we met on our way

From the ghost town of Adrasan, we started to the next supposedly "buzzing" beach town of Chirali. But the catch was that we had a 700m pass to cross and 16kms to cover.

The climb was through brilliant pine forest where we climbed at least three small hills before reaching the pass. This meant, tons of up and down despite it being a climb. With all the salts I was losing everyday, my calf muscles have started cramping these days. Knee pain still continues but it's in check. By midday, we reached a lovely plateau where we met a friendly Turkish man who was some curious about my skin color. "Too much sun!", I told him. "Too many Germans. Too many Russians. One Hindistani." he said. We laughed and he asked to take a picture with me. It was fun.

Day 15 - The Eternal Flames of Chimaera (Rest Day | Day Trip )

The Eternal Flames of Chimaera
This mountain slope at Cirali is always on fire, thanks to methane deposits which have been burning since forever

Under the shadow of Turkey's Mt. Olympos, the abiotic flames of Chimaera have been burning continuously for 2500 years, on a rocky slope at the edge of Olympos Beydagları National Park. The flames fuelled by methane deposits underground are associated with the legend of a fire-breathing monster killed by Bellerophon, the hero who slew the monster Chimaera with the help of Pegasus, his winged horse. Even the legend of Chimaera is believed to have originated from this region belonging to ancient Lycia. The idyllic setting and heady mythology aside, the mild flames look stunning under a starry sky. So the next evening we went to visit the eternal flames of Chimera, the original inspiration for the Olympic torch and the games. Fascinating place.

Tomorrow, big mountains and deep forests!

Day 16 - The longest day so far? (Beycik to Gedelme | 13.5 km | 1120m ↑ 1200m ↓)

Lycian Way, Turkey
We're now high up in remote mountains

The Shepherd Dogs had been an inconvenience all along but this particular stretch after Cirali was known for even more aggressive dogs. So we skipped that section and started the hike a bit high in the mountains. Turkey finally changed its time and switched on DST. Some confusion in the morning again when we realized we gained an extra hour. This is the fourth time this happened during our hike here, confused about the time.

Anyway, we now started the climb at 8 am on a bright sunny day. All in all, it was a long walk. We ascended 1000m to reach an 1800m high pass in brilliant pine and cedar forest. Then we descended back 1000m and hiked 25kms in all to reach the next village. This was the difficult stretch most hikers on this trail avoid, so we didn't have much information going in, even in our detailed guidebook. This was the stretch I freaked out about, in the first three days of the hike and even put forth the idea that we should skip this section. But good sense prevailed and we took it one day at a time, now we're here. The hard part is done and dusted.

Day 17: Fall colors, half marathons in the mountains and fierce guard dogs! (Gedelme to Goynuk | 25 km | 540m ↑ 350m ↓ )

Lycian Way, Turkey
Lost in the jungle, figuratively that is!

So the day before, we hiked in pristine pine and cedar forest to cross a 1800m high pass and then walked down to a little one-hotel village in the middle of nowhere called Gedelme.

And today, we walked another long long long walk through the forest down to the canyon in a remote place known as Goynuk. It was a very long descent and through really dense forested area, we were actually inside a national park and civilization seemed so distant and the forest so remote that it was slightly scary, to be hiking just the two of us.

Continuing the long hike, we arrived at the outskirts of the village into an ecopark just as it got dark and were relieved to find a man standing there for us. He tells us, we just got saved from a possible dog attack because the guesthouse owner had called the ecopark's owner and asked him to have his guard dogs reigned in till we arrive!

Phew! These dogs are fierce and the area super remote. So glad to have missed that bullet. Meanwhile, we just realized that we had covered 50kms in the high mountains over 2 days with plenty of ups and downs!

That's like 2 half-marathons in 2 days in the mountains. ;)

Day 18: The remotest forest yet and camping next to a grave! (Goynuk to Goynuk National Park Camping Area | 6 km | 500m ↑ )

Lycian Way, Turkey
Melanie nervously grinning in the picture coz we camped next to a grave!!!!

It was funny that the last leg of the 3 week hike would be the most remotest and difficult too. They hike was too long, we had to walk 22kms to reach the village where we were ending our hike, and it between climb to 1400m from 0 and then get down to 900m again.

Understandably, with our heavy backpacks and slow pace doing this in one day was impossible. The only other alternative was to camp inside the national park early on because this is winter and it is pitch dark by 5.30 pm! So we hike inside the gorgeous forest full of fall colors and flowers to reach this amazing grassy campsite in the middle of big trees. Happy to have found a place before nightfall, we set up tent and everything.

Then I noticed the wooden grave markers 2 meters away from our tent, it was an old unmarked grave and we were camping right next to it in the most remote stretch of the trail yet! We quickly shut the tent door after super early dinner and stayed in all night long.

It was both spooky and hilarious!

Day 19: Here it ends, on this bench! (Goynuk Camping Area to Hisarcandir | 16.5 km | 910m ↑ 510m ↓)

End of Lycian Way, Turkey
Here it ends for us, on this random roadside bench!

300kms. 3 weeks. 12000m ascent. 11000m descent. One beautiful coast and lots of ancient Lycian Ruins!


Here ends the trail for us, in the tiny nondescript village of Hisarcandir. It felt a bit anticlimactic because we were expecting to see the Lycia Trail end signboard but last year, the trail was extended by 22kms and looks like the signboard has been shifted too. The end felt too quick and abrupt, after 3 weeks of slog.

When I began the hike 3 weeks ago, it felt impossible. But here I am, at Antalya, done and dusted after walking what could possibly the longest hike so far in my life!

***
Lycian Way, Turkey
You know how they say magic happens outside of your comfort zone? Let me just tell you I was way outside that zone here but couldn't have been more happy to be there! 

Self-supported long distance hiking? ✓

Come along with me, on a virtual journey! Find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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6 comments

  1. Stunning, glorious and proud to follow you....all of the above to say the least! You go girl...

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  2. Loving the images! Thanks for sharing your story. :)

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  3. The pictures are truly stunning @Neelima

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  4. Very interesting adventurous trail & trek, wish you all the best.

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  5. One Hindistani :) Amazing stuff..

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