Nestled in a secluded valley close to the stunning shores of the Mediterranean is the backpacker haven of Olympos. This beautiful spot has long been a favourite for travellers, and it’s easy to see why; the valley is surrounded by forested mountains with numerous trails to hike and peaks to climb. Between the village and the beach lie the scattered remains of the ancient Lycian city of Olympos, which have a wild beauty as many of the ruins have been largely reclaimed by the forest. The beach itself is long and sheltered with calm waters. Best of all, the village has numerous treehouses and cabins in the woods to stay in, making it the perfect place to relax.
Olympos has increased in popularity over the years and has gentrified to some degree, but it’s still a fantastic place to stay. This guide will help you make the most of your trip here.
The Ruins of Olympos
History of the City
Academics are unsure exactly when the city of Olympus first developed, but it was probably before the 5th century BCE. It developed as part of the Lycean civilisation, though it frequently came under the control of outside powers including the Persians, Greeks and Romans. It was one of the six main cities of the independent Lycian League which controlled this region from around 200BCE until being fully incorporated into the Roman Empire in 44BCE. The city was also briefly controlled by pirates, who were defeated by a Roman army led by Pompey in 78BCE. The city reached it’s height under Roman control, when most of the current ruins were built.
Exploring the Site
The ruins are spread out around the head of the valley close to the sea, with the high, craggy mountains surrounding the site providing a staggering backdrop. Nature has reclaimed many of the buildings, making exploring the site a peaceful experience. Most of the buildings are badly damaged, but some like the Roman Basilica at the north of the site are intact enough to give you a sense of what the city used to be like.
There are several rock tombs on the mountain slopes on the south side of the valley that shouldn’t be missed, they are quite well preserved and offer good views of the site. There are two more tombs in the cliffs behind the beach, with one of them at the back of a cave. It’s possible to climb inside this cave and examine the remains of the tomb, which belonged to a Lycian king. It felt almost like going back in time after climbing into this cave from the beach below.
One area most visitors don’t go to are the Roman harbour and surrounding buildings. This part lies directly behind the beach and is covered in thick forest, making it seem like you are exploring a lost city. When I visited this entire area was empty, as most people just walk around the main ruins on their way to the beach.
Lets face it this is the main reason many people will come to this corner of Turkey, and it’s easy to see why. Circali beach is a long, sheltered crescent that looks over very calm, warm waters that were made for swimming. The beach is backed by high mountains, forest and cliffs instead of high rises, making a nice change from some other beaches in Turkey. The beach does get more developed at Cirali, but all of the pensions and hotels are low buildings and it still has a laid-back air. The lack of development is due to it being a national park, and to protect the loggerhead turrtles which nest on the beach. If you’re lucky you might seen one while swimming or snorkelling.
The main downside is the beach is largely quite pebbly, especially at the south close to Olympos. However, it’s still a very good beach and the perfect place to relax.
High on the slopes of Mount Olympos is a natural wonder that possibly inspired the ancient myth of the Chimera monster. The flaming rocks of Chimera (called Yanatanos in Turkish) are a series of flames sprouting from between the rocks on the slopes of the mountain. The flames are caused by natural gas being continuously released and igniting — surprisingly the exact composition of the gas still isn’t known yet.
The climb up to the flames is a good workout, with a series of steps leading up the very steep, densely forested slope to the site. The views from here are magnificent, with the valley of Cirali spread out below and the blue crescent of the sparkling Mediterranean beyond. There are also the ruins of a large ancient temple here, which was a cult centre dedicated to the fire God Hephaistos.
The flames weren’t quite as amazing as I expected, but it was still a special experience seeing flames which have been burning continuously for thousands of years. Once darkness had fallen the site is very atmospheric, and it’s quite meditative staring into the flickering flames; flames which people used to worship in this very spot over 2000 years ago. The walk back down the mountain in the almost pitch black is exciting too.
Olpympos National Park
Olpymos and Ciracli lie within the 700 square kilometre Olympos national park. The national park covers the beautiful eastern portion of the Tekke peninsula, where the western Taurus mountains plunge into the Mediterranean. It’s a superb area to explore, with numerous ruins, caves, beaches and valleys to discover. Not to mention plenty of mountains to climb if you want to admire the views. The forests are rich in wildlife, with mountain goats, boars, caracals and even wolves in the remoter areas.
The 311 mile long Lycian way passes through the park on it’s way between Fethiye and Antayla. It’s the first long distance footpath in Turkey. If you want a real challenge and have the time to spare, then you could walk the whole length of it and get a true feel for this ancient landscape. Alternately it’s good for short hikes from Olympos into the surrounding mountains — just watch out for snakes and scorpions.
If you want to get your adrenalin flowing it’s also possible to go canyoning, diving and rock-climbing in the area. If you fancy enjoying some amazing views but don’t have the time or desire to climb a mountain, you can take a cable car to the top of Tahtali mountain. Its costs 65 TL for a return pass and naturally has some incredible views. Paragliding is also offered from Tahtali mountain, which would be the most exciting way to view the national park.
Olympos is a special place in a country that’s full of them. I wasn’t expecting to be that impressed, but it ended up being my favourite area in Turkey. The scenery is breathtaking and there is a lot to explore in the area. Staying in the cabins surrounded by the sounds of nature is a very relaxing experience, and not much can beat walking a few minutes to an ancient ruined city then out onto a stunning beach. The area also attracts many Turkish travellers now, so there is a nice mix of people and it’s a good place to make Turkish friends.
It might not be quite as relaxing in the middle of summer, but in October it was perfect.
One of the reasons to come here are the charming pensions that offer a variety of options: including cabins, bungalows, tents and even ‘tree houses’. Many of the pensions are along the dirt road near the entrance to the ruins, which is the best area for travellers to stay in. Most of them offer breakfast and dinner as part of the deal.
This place opened just a few months before I came here, and the couple who run it take the famous Turkish hospitality to a whole other level. The cabins are large and come with huge double beds, and they are set back in the pine woods so are generally quiet. There are also two treehouses here which are nowhere near as nice as the cabins. They are cheaper and look comfortable enough though. The food is what makes this place really stand apart. They offered massive breakfasts and dinners that always included at least five courses! It was easily the best food I tasted in Turkey. Meryems pensions is next to Saban Pensions.
One of the oldest pensions here, this place is a firm favourite with backpackers. It’s a good place to stay if you want to meet other travellers, and is just a stones throw from the ruins. As the name suggest this place offers a few treehouses, though somewhat disappointingly they are not actually high in the trees! The pension also includes dorms, so if you’re on a tight budget it’s a cheap option.
Olympos Orga Bungalows
This attractive pension is set among orange trees and has a large, shaded outdoor area centred around a fire pit. There is a ping-pong table and numerous hammocks to chill in. The bungalows are well made and clean and there are also a couple of dorms here.
Getting There And Away
From Antalaya it takes just over two hours to get here by bus. From the northern bus terminal you need to take a local bus going towards Kemer, which will drop you on the side of the main road next to the turn off to Olympos. Here you can catch a mini-van to the village which is about 8 miles away. The mini-van costs 4 TL.