Turkey: Trekking the Lycian Way
Having been listed by the UK’s Sunday Times as one of the “World’s Top Ten Walks”, the Lycian Way trek is by no means an undiscovered trail. If you’re looking at budget holidays to Turkey and want to take an active trip through the countryside instead of the standard ‘beaches of Antalya’ holiday, hiking the Lycian coast is a great way to change things up and explore a different side of southern Turkey.
Aside from the obvious natural beauty of the Taurus Mountains and the Lycian Coast, the Lycian Way also tracks through a number of historic sites and ruins left behind by the civilization of Lycia that controlled much of the region in the 14th and 15th centuries BCE. There are centuries-old Lycian Necropoli, ruined Roman-era dwellings, and much more as you climb up and over the hills in the region.
On the Trail
The Lycian Way is a marked route of around 540km that starts near the town of Fethiye in the northwest and ends near the city of Antalya in the southeast. The guide book by Kate Clow breaks this up into 27 sections that should take no more than days to through-hike with no rest days. (Strong hikers can do it in 2/3 of that, or a bit less.) Along the way, the hike winds up and over mountain passes and occasionally to beach fronts on the Mediterranean. Elevation is not extreme, topping out at 1800m at highest unless you elect to take an optional side-hike to the peak of Mt. Olympos/ Tahtali Dag at just under 2400m.
The route is mostly well marked, with red/white rectangles along the path and red X’s denoting wrong turns. There are a handful of sections, however, that are poorly posted. One in particular outside of the village of Demre seems to cause confusion for quite a few hikers. Paired with the relatively large-scale maps available for the region, it really is a good idea to take a long a GPS just to be sure.
Of particular note is that the Lycian Way passes through quite a lot of settlements of varying sizes. This means that:
(1) The route is relatively convenient to walk as short dayhikes.
(2) There are few times you actually NEED a tent and sleeping bag.
The second point is worth considering, as it obviously means that you can get away with a lot less gear. The route south from Myra/Demre is about 15 hours between settlements, and the final stretch out of Goynuk towards Antalya (Hisarcandir, actually, and the bus stop there) is about 10 hours of hiking from sea level up to 1700m and back down again. For these, going it without a tent will be difficult.
The first point above is also something to take into account. Because many of these trail stretches are accessible immediately from civilization, there can be dayhikers on the some of the sections near popular holiday towns. Something about hiking allllll the way up Mt Olympos to see 100 people who just stepped off the cable car is a bit disheartening. If you do decide to hike the Lycian Way on short jaunts, make sure to carry food and proper emergency gear. Despite the proximity to settlements, some of the trails are prone to flash floods and you’d do well to be prepared.
When to Hike
The recommended months for hiking in Lycian Turkey are February – June and September – November. We were on the trail in early November, and even then it was cold and windy at higher elevations. In late November to late January the mountains are piled high with snow, and from late June to early September the weather is so hot (and fresh water so difficult to come by) that even if you do manage to hike it you may not have a very fun time of it.
For the aspiring Lycian Way trekkers out there, some practical considerations to think about before setting off to go trekking in Turkey:
Guides and Maps
The go-to resource for a trail guide to the Lycian coast is Kate Clow’s The Lycian Way: Turkey’s First Long Distance Walking Route. I tended to find the route descriptions quite good, though there were times when having a GPS device came in handy. The pull-out map included with this book, however, is quite lacking in detail if you actually hope to use it to navigate. To her credit Kate’s book includes information on where to download GPS track information to use on the trail. If you’re traveling without a GPS, though, I would definitely consider taking something like the Turkey: Mediterranean Coast Map from National Geographic Adventures. This is intended more as a driving map than for hikers, but it offers quite a lot more topographic information than the map included in the guidebook. A big bonus, however, is that the guidebook includes some basic Turkish phrases you can learn on the trail to help interact with the small communities you pass through. (Kate is, it should be said, actually the force behind the trail’s existence. It was through her hard work and continued petitions that the Turkish Ministry of Tourism allowed the trail to be marked in the first place – which was also done by her and volunteers.)
Where to Stay
If you’re planning to hike the entire Lycian Way trek, your best best for accommodation is to book your first night in Fethiye and then catch a dolmus minubus to the trailhead at Ovacik the next morning. (Though if you have the spare day, there are now trails linking Fethiye to Ovacik as well – about a 15km walk.)
The trail ends in Antalya, the main city of the region, where there are both hotels in town as well as a number of hostels there. For budget travelers in particular, I would recommend the Camel Pension in Antalya’s Old Town. You’ll be tired after the trek, so will probably want to stay somewhere central so you can explore easily.
If you’re too short on time to hike the entire trail or feel more comfortable leaving the logistics to someone else, the 8 day tour of the Lycian Way hike might also be a good fit.