Trip Report    

Trek the Carian Way on Turkey's Southwest Coast

Istanbul - a magical city worth at least 3 days, and tour with a guide to plumb the depths of culture, history and food in the city! Selcuk, Ephesus, Aphrodisias - stunning repositories of history from the bronze age through Roman times. Walking the Carian Way - some gorgeous views from the ridgetops, lots of beaches and sunsets over the sea, fantastic home-prepared food, a few great historic sites; but trails are very rocky and overrun with prickly brush, and not extraordinarily rewarding for the hiking itself. You definitely need transport and preferably a guide to find the spots that are worth your while.

  • Road rough but passable
  • Istanbul is easy to find your way around with good public transport options.  It felt very safe to be here including a low sense of covid-19 risk.  April is a chilly wet time to be in Istanbul.

    Selçuk and Ephesus  are historic sites that can easily be reached from Izmir including public transport and are VERY much worthwhile.   Aphrodisias is further east but on a main road so easy to reach though I can't say anything about public transport options.  It was much warmer here than in Istanbul.

    Lake Bafa and Kapıkırı were also easy to reach by main roads, and trailheads for the other Carian Way trails in the Latmos Mountains were easy to reach though roads were mostly gravel.   Trails here, as on all of the Carian Way sections we walked, were only intermittently waymarked without a lot of signage but seemed to follow the routes we found on Gaia, and were extremely rocky with crumbly eroded limestone making up most of the routes.

    The road onto the Bozborun peninsula's eastern side was accessible but the area around was just decimated by last July's forest fires.   All the other roads around Bozborun were just fine (their forestry department does very intensive work and keeps their roads in great shape though some are gravel/dirt).   It was quite warm and sometimes even hot here in April and trails are highly exposed to the sun - good sun protection is essential.   Continued extremely rocky and often the prickly brush nearly closed in on the paths.    

    The  Datça peninsula had more resort type towns but they tended to be smaller and charming where we went.  Fewer small villages out on the peninsula and the roads were narrow and winding - we had to trade to a smaller bus!   Trails and towns were mostly deserted while we were there, though the weather was warm to hot.  Trail conditions extremely rocky with lots of prickly brush.

Istanbul:  We were reminded of the amazing breadth of history and culture across this city!  But also that it is cold and rainy in the spring!  We can highly recommend the Kybele hotel in Sultanahmet (right across from the Ayasofia), free-lance guide Ezel Erdogan who took us on an excellent guided tour of the old city, and our guided 'off the beaten track' tour of the Greek and Jewish quarters of the city, plus our Culinary Backstreets food tour of the east and west.   Don't miss a tour of Kadıköy on the Asian side with all it's street murals and lively culturally diverse neighborhoods.  We did sign up for an evening "Ten Tastings" tour of Beyoğlu which would have been great but was a bad idea on our first night when we were jet lagged and the guide kept wanting to take us to a 'couple more spots'!   Get an IstanbulKart and take the metro everywhere - very easy!

We met our guide from Middle Earth Travel (HIGHLY recommended!) in Ismir and spent the next two days touring around Selçuk, Ephesus and Aphrodisias from a very fun pension  Kırkınca Evleri in the little hillside town of Şirince (also highly recommended!).  A guide really helps to explain the historical context of everything you see in these places.  Aphrodisias is still my favorite historical site in Turkey outside of Istanbul - think amazing marble carvings and ancient dramatic structures standing in the middle of fields of wildflowers!

Next we traveled to Lake Bafa and the town of Kapıkırı, stayed at  Selene Pension, and hiked two days in the Latmos Mountains above the town.  A gorgeous area,  got to see some out-of-the-way paleolithic cave paintings, and the pastoral surroundings were lovely.  Trails were extremely rocky and sometimes hard to follow (though marked on Gaia);  waymarks painted on rocks and trees sometimes difficult to see;  much of the trails were on dirt roads;  plus our guide often wanted to take us off trail to see special things he knew we'd enjoy (this was great, no complaints!), so we didn't really get to ground-truth the trails.  This was the only place on the Carian Way where we saw a significant group of people hiking a part of the trail.

From Kapıkırı we drove south to the Bozborun peninsula.  Glorious views coming into Mamaris, after which we passed through the horrifying aftermath of a huge fire that consumed most of the forest in the northern section of the peninsula the previous summer.  Many hotels and lodgings along the sea only escaped the fire by the exceptional efforts of fire fighters and residents.  We stayed on the beach at Kumlubük Maris Hotel for our first night on the peninsula, which opened for the first time since the start of the pandemic just for our party (rooms were still being painted and repaired).  They made amazing meals for us!   Not much hiking the next day because the trails around us had been burned beyond recognition in the fires, but we did visit the hilltop ruins of Atmos and walked through the countryside to another beachside town before being transferred to the village of Söğüt and the AMAZING Suna House (owned by a chef and his family, best food we had in Turkey!).  Hikes the next two days were fantastic, on fairly well defined but still very rocky trails along ridges on the Bozborun peninsula, one with views east to the island of Rhodes (ending at Sardunya Hotel in Selimiye, a fun middle-sized resort town with artifacts in the inviting clear water of the bay, and swimming!) and the next one starting uphill to the ruins of Hydas (tiny theatre and huge hilltop cistern) with more views east to Rhodes, then following a forest road  to the seaside town of Turgut with more swimming, showers and great food plus views across to the Datça peninsula (are you starting to get the theme here?!)

From Turgut we transferred around to the  Datça peninsula and the really fun resort city of the same name, bustling with local Turkish tourists but still not spoiled.  Stayed at the high-rise Sapphire Hotel, well located though nothing to write home about.  On Datça the hikes got longer with fewer amenities (picnics instead of village lunches) but retaining the very rocky and brushy nature and the stunning views and pastoral countryside.   

We hiked three days on Datça.  The first was  a long walk along the south coast of the peninsula, undulating between small coves and coastal hillsides to the bay of Hayıtbükü where we stayed for 3 nights at the  Gabaklar Bungalows right on the sand on the picturesque bay of Hayıtbükü (more excellent food and hospitality, nearly no other tourists this time of year).  The second was a walk that followed the coast with views high and low before ending at another wonderful swimming beach.  The third (and best of the whole trip) was another coastal walk skimming above and then down to multiple beaches and through hills and valleys to the ancient city of Knidos with its lighthouse at the very end of the peninsula.  Each day we passed old cisterns, impressive limestone-block walls and ruins.  Trails continued very rocky and brushy/prickly and waymarks were spotty though our path seemed to follow Gaia routes pretty closely.

Overall, this experience was extraordinary not because of the trails and hiking by themselves, but about the combination of amazing panoramas from high ridges, hospitality, amazing views, beaches with beautiful clear water, ancient ruins scattered in the wildflowers, great local food, and a feeling of immersion in a pastoral land where life hasn't changed very much in centuries.  We met almost no one on the trail or at any of our lodgings in early April, the weather was mild to warm, and this was the perfect time to visit.  Our trip was greatly facilitated by our guide who took us to amazing lunches with friends in small villages and helped us find and understand the culture and history along the way.  The Carian Way still needs some work to be easy to follow but we found nearly all of our daily routes on Gaia.  An extended walk on the Carian Way by itself wouldn't have been nearly as amazing without these other elements.  You definitely need arranged transport - public transport is nowhere to be seen and you want flexibility!

Find photo journals of our time in Istanbul and along the Carian Way at this link and this link.