10 Underrated Coastal Destinations in Turkey
Just inland from the Aegean, salty Lake Bafa was once a part of the sea itself. A strong Aegean feeling is still alive in the region, despite dramatic boulders and rounded rock formations clearly distinguishing the area from classic coastal hotspots. Rising from the calm waters of the lake sits a Byzantine castle, overlooking the many small fishing boats chugging along throughout the day. The history around Lake Bafa doesn’t stop there; the area is also home to everything from Neolithic wall paintings, to Pre-Roman cities, and an early Christian monastery. The landscape is like nothing you’ve ever seen before, and the opportunities to explore it are endless. Hiking is the most popular activity in the area, with easy-going walkers strolling along the nearby, ancient stone-paved road, and more adventurous hikers heading all the way up to the summit of the Latmos Mountains. Of course, no self-respecting Aegean village would be complete without fresh and delicious food; Lake Bafa truly has something for everyone.
For tours featuring Lake Bafa, please click the links below.
Nestled in a quiet landscape punctuated with seemingly exotic pine-nut trees, the ancient site of Labraunda remains unrightfully devoid of tourists most of the time. The emptiness of the area adds to the mystery of its impressive ruins. Once an important holy site for the cult of Zeus Labraundos, this area was used in religious rites and festivals; a 14 kilometer road running from ancient Mylasa (modern day Milas) led believers to the site. While this road no longer exists today, the area is full of good hiking as the Carian Trail running right by Labraunda. Those who appreciate not only good ancient history, but also modern village culture should strap on their hiking boots and head out to explore the nearby settlements as well.
For tours featuring Labranda, please click the links below.
Stuck way out into the Aegean Sea, the ancient city of Knidos seems about as far away from Turkey as you can get, while still being in Turkey that is. This jaw-dropping ancient site is located on the westernmost tip of the Datca Peninsula. Its inaccessibility has allowed the region to preserve both its culture and its history, and escape the crowds brought by mass tourism. You’ll find little more than a visitor or two during your visit to Knidos, despite its stunning location and impressive collection of ruins. The city was once a center of art and culture, and one of the most powerful in the region. The size and grandiose of its buildings certainly attests to that. While here, make sure you swim in one of Knidos two ancient harbors, before heading to arguably the best place to watch the sunset along the entire coast: the Knidos lighthouse. An easy 1.5 km walk takes visitors out into the sea, closer to multiple Greek islands than to the hustle and bustle of any settlements. Water, ruins, views, peace, and quiet: that’s Knidos.
For tours featuring Knidos, please click the link below.
While in our opinion the entire Bozburun Peninsula is worth exploring, one of our favorite places there is Cumhuriyet, a district of the village of Sogut. The water on this pebble coastline is crystal clear and perfect for swimming, but what really makes this place special is the view. All of the ins and outs, capes and bays, of the winding coastline make for a magical panorama that just gets better and better as the sun sets. Enjoy it while partaking in a drink or dinner at one of the delicious and authentic seafood restaurants that line the coast; this hidden destination is quiet enough that you’ll feel like a local yourself. One of our favorite hikes on the Carian Trail runs from Bahceli to the sleepy farming village of Taslica before descending down to Cumhuriyet across from that unforgettable view, making it one of the best ways to experience the region.
For tours featuring Saranda, please click the link below.
Just far away enough from Marmaris to have escaped the expansion of mass tourism, Kumlubuk remains mostly unknown and is all the better for it. Known just as much for its calm waters and beautiful view than its history, this beautiful stretch of pebble beach is also just below the hilltop ruins of Amos. While the ruins themselves are far from extensive, the stunningly scenic location of Amos and its vicinity to the beach make it a must-see. In addition to the ancient city, all you’ll find here are a few beach-going locals, some quaint hotels, and the calming sound of the waves against the coast. The best thing to do in Kumlubuk is just relax, swim, and soak up the sun. However, there are also several nearby hikes for those who like to earn their afternoon swims. Kumlubuk is the perfect place for an active, or relaxing holiday.
For tours featuring Kumlubuk, please click the links below.
Near the bustling yacht hub of Gocek, Sarsala is one of many picturesque beaches that make this area so popular among sailors. Best visited during the week as many local families come down to enjoy the warm waters and picnic on weekends, Sarsala still remains relatively unknown among foreign visitors. In addition to its stunning location, Sarsala is in close proximity to many other beaches accessible only on foot or by boat. A short hike proves that the bays in this area are both unbelievably beautiful and veritably undiscovered. Possibly the best thing about Sarsala Bay, other than the turquoise water and lack of crowds, is its proximity to so many quaint and lively towns. You can spend the day on the beach, or exploring the nearby forests and coves, and still make it to Gocek, Dalyan, or Fethiye for dinner.
Overshadowed by its popular neighbors of Patara, Letoon, and Xanthos, the ancient city of Pinara is under-visited and underrated. Located just off the highway between Fethiye and Kas, which is traveled by many a tourist, this secret site sits on a scenic hillside covered in classic Mediterranean vegetation. Little is known about this small, unexcavated settlement, other than its role in the Lycian League. Today, the area seems more like a magical forest peppered with undiscovered ruins than a well-planned ancient tourist attraction, making it that much more exciting to explore. With its close proximity to so many popular holiday towns, the quiet ruins of Pinara offer a welcome break to vacationers looking to escape and experience something new and off the beaten path.
Perched high in the mountains which tower over the plains of Finike, Arykanda’s remote location means that the ruins in this impressive ancient city are even better preserved than most. Said to be a place of gambling, drinking, and a party-loving population, Arykanda’s location helped keep its happenings a secret even back in ancient times. Today, those structures still lie in wait to delight the few who hear about the city. In addition to its massive marble stadium, theatre, and other buildings, Arykanda is home to wildlife like deer and mountain goats, free to roam without too much disturbance from crowds of tourists. I’m sure the local wildlife enjoys the stunning mountain views as much as visitors to the city do. After a good wander through the ruins and lots of pictures, be sure to stop at the market stall right near the entrance to indulge in some fresh fruit or other simple local products.
While further inland than the other destinations on this list, the city of Elmali is worth the 1.5 drive from the coast. It’s situated between stunning forested hills deep in the Taurus Mountains. But in addition to its natural beauty, the town is the most culturally interesting destination on this list. Its beautiful stone architecture and historic houses and monuments make walking through its narrow streets irresistible. Strolling along its newly renovated market street, you’ll be enticed into buying local products like the roasted tahini and dried fruits the area is known for. In addition to their dried version, grapes also play an important role in the economy, both historically and today, in the form of wine. No trip to Elmali is complete without a visit to the local vineyard for some wine tasting in the most scenic of settings. Not only will your taste buds thank you, you’ll learn a lot about local culture after a trip to Elmali, not to mention escape the heat and crowds of the coast in summer.
The only protected area to make our list, Termessos is actually located within a small national park, just a 40 minute drive from Antalya. As is common with many remote, mountain cities, the ancient ruins of Termessos are incredibly well-preserved. The city is also surprisingly under-visited, all the better for you! The quiet sound of the cool breeze rushing through the pines adds to the mystical atmosphere of the already mysterious ruins. Perched in a high mountain valley, Termessos’ theatre in particular is located in an especially scenic area; that being said, the entire city is in quite good condition with easy to follow paths connecting most of the ruins. The national park where Termessos is located is also ripe with canyons and mountains; there’s just so much to explore! Located in such close proximity to Antalya, Termessos deserves a place as a must-see coastal destination.
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Photographs © Altay Özcan
Our tours are run by Adventure Roots Travel
a member of TURSAB (Association of Turkish Travel Agencies)
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