What: thru-hike of the Lycian Way.
Where: southwest Turkey.
When: April 8-25, 2011 (18 days).
Distance: about 276 miles.
Highlights: habitat and geographic diversity; amazing archaeological sites; friendly, kind people; good coastal scenery.
Why we went
We enjoy hiking in locations that are new to us, and as soon as we learned about the existence of the Lycian Way it became an obvious choice. It is in a part of the world neither of us had ever previously visited, we had heard great things about traveling in Turkey, and the trail itself was reported to be to be both scenically diverse and culturally interesting.
Kate Clow’s The Lycian Way: Turkey’s First Long Distance Walking Route is a useful guidebook. The most recent edition was published in 2014.
There is a 1:50000 annotated Topographic map of the route published in 2017. As we have not seen it, we cannot comment on its usefulness.
TrekRight: Lycian Way is a 2018 downloadable navigation app. It is not free, but based on looking at its demo mode, we believe that it may be a useful tool.
As for all our trips, we used our two favorite mapping tools: CalTopo.com to prepare gpx data and printed maps, and Gaia GPS while hiking. We used WeatherSpark.com‘s excellent climate summaries to choose the best months to visit the region.
First, I offer my assessment of our entire trip in Turkey. I profoundly enjoyed our three hikes in Turkey. I did not know what to expect and was a bit nervous as it would be our first hiking trip in a country in which we did not speak the language at all. My concerns dissipated within 15 minutes of our arrival at the Istanbul Airport when I had the first of hundreds of encounters with local people who were gracious, friendly, and helpful.
In all of our travels people have been polite and, when asked, have done their best to help us. Turkish hospitality, however, is an entirely different category. People were consistently proactive rather than reactive in their offers of kindness and hospitality. As we walked out of the airport another traveler asked if we needed help finding anything; rather than pointing us in the right direction he escorted us to the proper bus stop. During a rainstorm a child came out of a home to lead us by the hand to shelter. Agricultural workers immediately vacated the only table at a roadside kiosk so that we could sit, and then offered all of their food to us when they saw our paltry lunch. We completed the Lycian Way on a very remote road where we waited an hour for the first vehicle to pass; that driver picked us up and drove us to a location where he flagged down a passing bus and explained to the driver where we needed to go. A proprietor of a tea shop refused our payment, indicating that he was honored we stopped. While walking on a remote country road up into the mountains each of the five vehicles that passed in the course of a half day stopped and offered a lift. Whenever camped in view of houses, people brought us food. When we visited shops the proprietor would bring out three chairs, shake our hands, and sit down with us.
A few hundred people invited us to tea or offered us a place to sleep. I think it is fair to say that if I total all invitations to share a beverage on all other hikes we have taken, those will not add up to the number of invitations we received on any single day in Turkey.
This proactive friendliness and hospitality set our hike in Turkey apart from all other hikes we have taken, and for this reason Turkey is on my Top Ten List.
My assessment of the Lycian Way as a route is all positive. Even without the extraordinary Turkish hospitality, I would have thoroughly enjoyed the route. The scenery is grand and diverse. The architectural ruins are astonishing. The logistics are easy enough that we were able to relax and just enjoy the walk.
This was my first experience in Turkey and I enjoyed it immensely. The biggest win were the friendly people; almost everyone we met was kind and gracious and even if we could not communicate with them beyond a very basic level, we always felt welcomed.
The walking was always interesting and the route included a lot of variety and diversity. I was never bored by another day of the same old stuff. The scenery was usually at least pleasant and at times was outstanding. Encountering yet another set of unnamed ruins was fascinating; in the US, these would all have had signs and fences protecting them, but in Turkey, they are just part of the landscape and generally ignored. We had some five-star campsites, including one on a rickety platform at the Gelidonya Feneri lighthouse with fabulous views out over the Mediterranean Sea.
Which of the three walks was the best? I honestly could not chose; all were wonderful, each in its own way. For most other people, I would recommend doing the Lycian Way first, as it would be the easiest introduction to walking in Turkey. There is more infrastructure and the risks are much lower. The route is easier to follow and the consequences of getting lost are minimal.
I happily would go back to Turkey again if the current political situation were not so unsettled. All three of our walks there were memorable, fun, and trouble-free.
In the spring of 2011 we spent 18 days in Turkey thru-hiking the Lycian Way. Immediately after completing that route, we spent 13 days walking on the Saint Paul Trail (SPT). Finally, we flew to northeastern Turkey and hiked for eight days in the Kaçkar Mountains. This report has some general information about walking in Turkey and details specific to the Lycian Way. A second report discusses the Saint Paul Trail and a third covers our experiences in the Kaçkar Mountains.
Walking in Turkey: General Information
We traveled in Turkey in 2011. Since then, the internal political situation there has noticeably deteriorated. The current Prime Minister is an autocrat and personal liberties within the country have been significantly curtailed. We have no idea what this might mean to a foreign tourist, but it is likely that Turkish citizens are more careful about what they say and do in public. A significant high point of our travels in Turkey was the open and rewarding interactions with people we met along the way. Hopefully, the situation will improve in the future.
We find this immensely sad, as the Turkish people we met on our trip were as friendly and welcoming as we have encountered anywhere. We have traveled in rural areas in about 20 countries, either hiking or bird-watching, and have never been to a place where we felt more at ease with the residents. In the tourist areas, the interactions are like those in every other tourist destination in the world: people want to sell you something. But otherwise, folks we encountered seemed genuinely outgoing and friendly. Shopkeepers, villagers, shepherds with their goats, women working the fields, kids in the school yards, and tomato wranglers working at the greenhouses, nearly everybody was welcoming, often indicating with hand gestures and words an invitation to stop for tea or a meal or a place to sleep. Big smiles, outstretched hands, and a warm reception were the norm.
Turkey has several low cost airlines that offer internal city-to-city flights. The two flights that we booked in advance were very inexpensive, on time, on new aircraft, and were professionally run. Antalya has a major airport with many flights per day to Istanbul and other Turkish cities and direct flights to other European destinations.
Bus transport was easy and reliable. Long distance buses are modern, run on schedule, are comfortable, and include complimentary snack and beverage services. A dolmus is a small, local bus, and make frequent runs between smaller towns. These buses are found everywhere. Bus agents were very helpful in making sure we took the right bus.
Hitching a ride was easy on the one occasion we did so, although it was an hour before the first car came down the road. The driver picked us up, drove us out of his way to a location where he flagged down the appropriate bus, told the driver where we needed to go, and sent us on our way.
Food and Water
Developed public springs are found in all inhabited places and along many roads and paths. Ground water was also frequently available from streams, wells and cisterns. It may be much dryer later in the year.
Food is available in many, but not all, of the small towns and villages along the routes; the guidebooks and updates on Clow’s website provide some listings. Many of the shops were small and had a very limited selection of items for sale. We did not carry a stove and our staples were bread, cheese, nuts, dried fruit, crackers, yogurt, and chocolate. Occasionally we added olives, canned stuffed grape leaves or tuna, and, if we were fortunate, fresh fruit and vegetables. Flexibility is paramount: if you are fussy or have strict dietary requirements, you will probably be unhappy.
Bigger towns have restaurants; selections may be limited and menus often did not exist. Proprietors always helped us to figure out what we needed to order to get a complete meal. The restaurant meals were always at least palatable and were often quite good. We appreciated both the variety and novelty of foods and the opportunity to mix with other patrons having a meal.
We ate anything served to us, and we drank untreated spring and tap water throughout the trip with no problems.
In the tourist areas, we were occasionally overcharged. Restaurant bills would not add up correctly; the total price of groceries at small shops was sometimes suspiciously high. Grocery stores and most restaurants did not list prices, and we learned to ask the cost of dishes before we ate, so that we were not surprised by the bill at the end of the meal. This was much less of an issue outside of the areas that commonly serve tourists.
In 2011, for two people, we spent a total of $3500 for our entire trip, including all flights and the week in the Kaçkars:
- $1915 airfare: international from SFO + 2 domestic flights
- $65 for three guide books plus an iPhone dictionary application
- $225 for six nights in pensions
- $160 for bus fares
- $1135 for food and miscellaneous other stuff.
English, or lack thereof
Outside of Istanbul, most people we met spoke very little or no English and we met only a few who spoke enough English to have more than a rudimentary conversation. Amy completed five very helpful lessons of Pimsleur’s Turkish Language program. In hindsight, she wished that she had invested the time to complete more of the lessons. It was possible to communicate the basics for shopping, bus tickets, and booking rooms with no language overlap, but we found it extremely frustrating to have a cup of tea with somebody and have no ability to say anything in Turkish other than “I don’t speak Turkish”, “please”, “hello”, “thank you”, and “very beautiful” and to understand nothing other than “welcome!” and “tea” and “Obama very good”.
There is a chance that when you stop at a tea-shop or market that at least one of the men in their 50’s or 60’s will have worked abroad and speak some French or German. We had more luck with French than with English. We were surprised that even most university students we met did not speak any English.
People will often try to ask where you are from by guessing a country. The first guess is usually Almanca (German) so if you hear that word you should state your nationality to clear up any confusion. Alternately, just say your nationality when you shake hands. Güle güle is the common way people will say goodbye.
Pimsleur’s Turkish Language course; free at many public libraries.
We used the excellent Collins Turkish Dictionary with Audio iPhone Application. We tried several other free or inexpensive apps and found they were not worthwhile. Collins still sells a Turkish Dictionary iPhone app but it appears to be different than the one we used.
Hand gestures are different in Turkey and worth learning. Here’s one list of gestures; a quick Google search will turn up many more articles and videos.
Free-ranging dogs are abundant in Turkey. A lot of these are working dogs guarding flocks of domestic animals or houses. Many barked and growled at us as we passed, but never actually got close enough to us that we felt directly threatened. Shaking our sticks or stooping to pick up some rocks to throw was usually enough to get them to leave us alone. On a few occasions we actually had to throw stones at the animals to make them back off.
Notes for Lycian Way and Saint Paul Trail Hikers
The Lycian Way (LW) and Saint Paul Trail (SPT) have many things in common, and the notes in this section apply to both trails.
We used the 2009 edition of Kate Clow’s LW guidebook and the 2004 edition of her SPT guidebook. We found the books extremely useful for overall trip planning, however they not completely adequate for on the ground navigation. We found some of the route descriptions confusing and occasionally incomprehensible. New editions of the LW and SPT guidebooks were published in 2014 and 2013 respectively; we have not seen them.
Both guidebooks did include helpful cultural information and also provided useful data about the archeological sites we encountered. In the end, we agreed to give Kate Clow an A+ for conceiving of the LW and the SPT and for designing interesting and scenic routes, but lower marks for the quality of her written instructions.
It is likely that somebody attempting to walk the LW or the SPT using just the book and its accompanying map would occasionally have some uncertainties as to exactly where the route was supposed to go. The book and its map would be adequate until the trail was inevitably lost, at which point it would be tough and/or time consuming to relocate it.
Maps and gpx files
There were no decent commercial topographic maps of Turkey available when we did our trip; apparently the Turkish military did not allow them to be published. The internet made the military’s efforts moot because good terrain maps with 10 meter contour lines were available on Caltopo and Gaia GPS.
The paper maps that came with our guidebooks were conceptually useful, but not detailed enough for navigation and often did not match what we found on the ground; for instance, the location of some towns were off by several kilometers. The maps also did not have a scale. There is a newer LW map available now, listed in the Resources section. We do not know if the newer editions of the guidebooks include improved maps.
Clow provided access to her gpx files of the LW and SPT to purchasers of the guidebooks. Her GPX tracks appeared to mix at least two different datums, so some waypoints were a couple of hundred meters off. However, we did find that Clow’s gpx files were useable during our walk and we never became lost in any significant way.
Clow’s LW iPhone app displays the LW track on a very basic topographic map; it does not show other paths, roads or additional navigational information. The LW app does include hundreds of waypoints such as water sources, accommodations, and archaeological site information that should be very useful to a hiker. Clow is working on a new SPT iPhone app, which was not yet available as of late 2018. In either case, we encourage using Gaia GPS in conjunction with the apps.
We carried an iPhone with the relevant OpenStreetMap tiles and Clow’s gpx files loaded into Gaia GPS. By preloading all of this data we did not need WIFI or cell phone service. This technique was quite successful and we had very few navigational problems. The LW has been labeled as such in OpenStreetMap; the SPT is labeled as far north as Eğirdir. A smartphone running Gaia GPS loaded with the any of the available OpenStreetMap sources should help ensure that navigation is very straightforward.
You can also download the Caltopo gpx files of the routes we took. Note that this file shows our routes, which did not always exactly follow the described routes, and does not include other variants described in the guidebooks. Both the LW and SPT have been rerouted in some places since our trip in 2011; therefore we recommend against using our gpx data as your primary navigation tool.
Both the LW and SPT have been waymarked with red and white paint using French Grande Randonnée iconography. Waymarking a route like these was a huge effort and we greatly appreciate the efforts of Clow and other volunteers who worked on it.
The quality of the waymarking varied from excellent to sometimes confusing to occasionally absent. In some places, the waymarks, while present, were very weathered and faded. In other places, the waymarks were painted on the top surface of rocks embedded at soil level and were frequently covered with grass and could not be seen until we were standing on them. The on-the-ground routing was sometimes perplexing as the trail took seemingly quite arbitrary jogs and diversions and did not always follow the natural lie of the terrain. In a few places, local entrepreneurs have painted their own waymarks so that the trail is re-routed to to their cafe or pension. Often we found it very helpful to use our binoculars to look ahead and locate the next set of waymarks.
Use the waymarks when you can, be thankful that they are there, but don’t assume they will be sufficient for all navigational needs.
We also encountered a number of trail specific yellow signposts with directional arrows and estimated walking times to various locations. In 2011, there were not enough of these to depend on them as primary navigational tools.
At a strategic level, the LW and SPT are well laid out with logical choices about routing. At a more micro level, especially on the LW, the routing sometimes took convoluted paths to avoid any walking on roads, even dirt roads that had little to no traffic. We were occasionally annoyed at walking over very rough terrain or following a route with confusing waymarking that was within a few hundred meters of a deserted farm track.
Time of Year
We were quite happy we went in April. We rarely experienced any truly hot weather, surface water was available, and the hills were green and carpeted with flowers. Summer tourists had not yet descended in large numbers. Life felt relaxed in the towns and villages. We had occasional grey skies, but no significant rain at any time.
Summer is much hotter; so much so that the walking may be decidedly unpleasant away from the immediate coast. Interior regions may be very hot. In autumn the weather may be fine, but the hills will be mostly brown. In winter, there is more rain and there may be some snow in the higher mountain regions.
Camping and Lodging
While on the LW we spent nights in Kalkan and Kaş in small pensions. Between our LW and SPT hikes we spent a night in a hotel In Antalya. On our SPT hike we spent a night in a pension in Eğirdir. The remaining nights we camped.
Nobody we encountered while we were camped ever caused us any problems or concerns. Often people who passed by us offered encouragement, food or invitations to sleep in their homes.
We never had a significant problem finding a place to set up our tent. Portions of the LW are rough, rocky, and/or hilly and so would not provide suitable campsites, so as much as possible we planned ahead each day using maps and satellite imagery to identify potential sites well before it was time to camp. Locating good campsites on the SPT was a bit easier than on the LW, as there were fewer settled areas to contend with and on average the topography and ground surfaces were less challenging.
Notes for Lycian Way Hikers
The LW is located in southwest Turkey and connects Ölündeniz, near the coastal city of Fethiye, to the tiny village of Hisarçandir, which is about 20 kilometers west of the major coastal city of Antalya. The route stays mostly within 15 kilometers of the sea, sometimes right on the coastline, and other times climbing high into the coastal mountain ranges.
The LW was designed and developed in 1999 by Kate Clow, a British ex-pat living in Turkey. She wrote a guidebook for the route as well as guidebooks for the Saint Paul Trail and for the Kaçkar Mountains. It is clear that a lot of effort went into designing the LW and it is unlikely a hiker unfamiliar with the region could do as well developing their own route. The LW follows existing paths, but Clow and others did an enormous amount of work to scout and document a viable route, clear brush, and install, and subsequently maintain, waymarks.
The LW was an enjoyable walk with a lot of scenic and cultural diversity. Southwest Turkey has a Mediterranean climate and the weather patterns and plant life were very reminiscent of our home region near San Francisco. The walk offers rugged coastal scenery, ancient ruins, beaches, small hill villages, coastal tourist towns, and some fine forests, canyons, and mountains.
The Turkish coast is a major European tourist destination and many of the coastside towns are geared to provide services for these visitors. The LW passes through a number of the tourist towns. We were told that the significant tourist influx starts in early to mid May, so during our walk, the towns were mostly empty. Even without many tourists present, the towns definitely had a very different character than the areas a mile or so inland from the coast. We found it interesting to have the diversity of the tourist towns on the walk but hikers looking for “authentic” rural Turkey may not care for them. However, even the tourist towns felt Turkish and the quantity of truly tacky stuff was minimal. Tekirova was the exception; it was filled with claptrap and about as authentic as any typical low budget tourist trap anywhere in the world.
The LW passes through or near numerous archeological sites, some of them quite large and well preserved. Small ruins and stone artifacts are scattered everywhere, most without any identification signs. Many of the sites date back thousands of years and encompass numerous different cultural eras. We greatly enjoyed this feature of the walk, especially the casual nature of all the stuff lying around with nobody making a big deal about it. At one point, we walked for a couple of kilometers alongside an operating aqueduct that had been constructed during the Roman era.
Along the route there are numerous clusters of industrial scale plastic greenhouses. Here vegetables are grown year round with much of the produce being exported to Europe. Working in the greenhouses is a major source of employment along the coast and we saw many busy people at these sites.
The LW includes a number of variants to accommodate the season or special interests. We followed the primary route as described in the 2009 guidebook. The guidebook recommended taking a bus between Finike and Mavikent instead of walking along the somewhat developed shoreline, but we found the beach hike to be enjoyable and doing it added to the diversity of the trip.
Since we would be walking in the interior mountains on the subsequent St. Paul Trail, we followed the coastal option from Çirali instead of climbing over the north shoulder of Tahtali Deǧi (Mt. Olympos) which has a cable car to its summit.
We found the walking to be straightforward, with only occasional moderately strenuous sections. There were about 18,000 meters of elevation gain and loss on the route we walked. The area is mostly limestone, so the trails were often quite rocky and sometimes covered with loose stones. Some of the walking was on unpaved farm roads, and a small amount was alongside pavement. Generally, traffic was light to non-existent on the roads, except near the major tourist centers.
Just prior to reaching Kalkan, there was a tedious section of off-trail scrambling over and around sharp edged limestone boulders that required much care.
In our opinion, any adaptable, reasonably fit walker with a bit of experience in cross-country navigation and route finding should be able to complete the walk.
On the LW we met quite a few groups of western and central Europeans, one group of Turks, and one American backpacking portions of the route; most of these people were spending about a week on the trail. We only encountered one other through-hiker. We saw numerous recreational day-hikers near the major tourist towns. There were many Turks out in the hills tending animals or crops, although it was not unusual to hike for several hours or most a day without seeing anybody.
We birdwatch on all of our trips. We identified 196 species of birds while in Turkey. On the LW, we saw 104 species including 13 new life birds. There were very surprisingly few seabirds on the coast when we were there, but we were happy to find a few Audouin’s Gulls, a long sought after life bird. Among our favorite new birds were two nuthatches, Rock and Krueper’s, and the Fire-fronted Serin.