When you think of a summer’s holiday in Turkey, Dalyan is rarely the place that most people would consider. With resorts like Antalya and Marmaris ever popular, the small riverside town of Dalyan often falls under the radar. The resorts of the southwest coast are famous for their all inclusive hotels, sandy beaches, water sports, roads filled with restaurants with their hassling managers and strips of bars lit in neon. Dalyan could not be more different. Set upon a winding river filled with turtles and a magnificent delta that leads down to the most stunning and unspoiled narrow spit of white sandy beach, Dalyan is 85km east of Marmaris and 250km west of Antalya on the Mediterranean coast. Perhaps Dalyan attracts a less lively tourist, though the town certainly can party hard, but its more traditional feel and natural beauty is unprecedented.
The little town of Dalyan may only be 3 square miles and the tourist centre even smaller, but this charming little Turkish getaway destination has enough to offer from its doorstep to fill a fun packed two week holiday and that’s without even considering the surrounding areas. Later in the exposé, we will discover places of interest in the Muğla region which can be reached by dolmuş or by car, but for now, we find out why Dalyan is the perfect place to visit.
1) Dalyan Boat Trips
Being such a small town, you may be surprised to learn that Dalyan is home to an incredible 594 registered boats! Understandably, a Dalyan boat trip is the most popular activity for tourists. The majority of boats in Dalyan are managed by co-op and they can be found moored along the river front, most offering the same kinds of boat trips but many of the boat owners will let you choose your own itinerary if you wish.
Dalyan Boat Trips
The ‘Discover Dalyan’ is one of the most sought after day trips and is usually the one that first time visitors go for. The day begins by chugging you down the river through the town to the ancient town of Kaunos, then the boat winds its way down through the picturesque delta to the famous turtle beach where you are given time to relax and swim in the sea while your host barbecues your lunch on the boat. The day ends with a relaxing cruise back up the river, past the town to Köyceğiz Lake for a swim before a dip in the local mud baths.
Boat on the Beautiful Dalyan River
Another very popular boat trip is the night tour and various companies have different names for this, from “Moonlight Boat Trip” to “BBQ Night Tour”. Usually the trip includes a visit to the mud baths, swimming in the lake and dinner under the stars. On a clear night, the sky is lit up with hundreds and thousands of stars and is quite an incredible view. It is certainly the perfect evening activity for the romantics among us. One other local boat trip option is to ask your captain to sail you past Iztuzu beach and out along the coast line of the Mediterranean Sea where a few miles along the shore you can swim in ice clear cave waters.
Kaunos is an ancient Carian city, now of ruins that sprawl down the side of one of Dalyan’s towering hills towards the sea. The once city was an important sea port of the area which dates back to the 10th century BC. Interestingly, over the centuries as Iztuzu Beach has formed, effectively blocking the former Bay of Dalyan, Kaunos is now located 8km from the coast and could not be a port today. One of the ports on the south side became inaccessible at the end of the Hellenistic era as it dried out and became inaccessible. Another interesting story about Kaunos is that after Caria had been captured by Turkish tribes, during the 15th century AD, the city had a huge problem with mosquitos and eventually had a serious malaria epidemic. Consequently, Kaunos was completely abandoned.
Kaunos at Sunset
Excavations began in 1996 and are still continuing today. Research is also not limited to Kaunos itself, but is carried out in other locations nearby, such as the Sultaniye Spa where there used to be a sanctuary devoted to the goddess Leto. The ruins are mostly Roman and Hellenistic and you could easily spend most of the day exploring the site, starting with the city walls, which are officially outside of the main site but have a fantastic walking track, and the port agora which was functional until the end of the Roman era. There are six excavated temples to find and the old site of the Roman Baths is an interesting one. The Roman meeting place was destroyed in an earthquake at some point but the nearby domed basilica dates back to the 5th century AD and is the only remaining Byzantine edifice in Kaunos that still stands.
A day at Kaunos wouldn’t be complete without taking a seat in the impressive amphitheatre, which is mostly still intact and offers amazing views across the delta to the Mediterranean. A little further up the hill you will find the Acropolis which is situated on a 152m high rock and offers impressive views of Dalyan, the river, the delta and Iztuzu Beach. But is not just the ruined city that makes this an exciting day out. Kaunos is situated on “the other side” of the Dalyan river and the most practical way to get across the river is by rowing boat. Walk to the end of the riverside promenade until you reach the local park and you will find a family who will row you to the other side for 5TL. Kaunos is then a half an hour walk away.
3) Sultaniye Spa
Sultaniye is a small village set on the side of Lake Köyceğiz and became a popular tourist attraction in the 1990s when its bath ruin was restored. The thermal spring area ruins date back to the Roman era and it has been thought that there must have been a spa or treatment facility there from the very first settlements in the area. The hot springs are located on a fault line at the southwest bank of the lake on the slope of the Ölemez Mountain. The sulphurous waters measure at a temperature of 40 degrees celsius and seep out of a crack next to the spa’s domed thermal bath. The water is mildly radioactive and rich in Radon, sulphur, iron, calcium, potassium and a number of other minerals.
Today, the spa also has mud baths and the whole complex has been recently renovated. The complex is well worth a visit and can be reached by boat from Dalyan, sometimes visited on one of the daily boat trips from the town. The mud baths are said to rejuvenate the skin while the thermal waters are recommended for anyone with skin complaints, arthritis, muscle fatigue and rheumatism. Check back later in the exposé for a more detailed look at the Sultaniye Spa.
Köyceğiz is the quiet little town that gives its name to the great lake, which is spectacular in itself. The most popular day to visit is Monday, when the town hosts its local market. A short walk along the riverside path in Dalyan will find you plenty of boats that will take you across the lake to Köyceğiz on a Monday morning, some act as a taxi service and can take up to twenty or so people for a small charge per person, just remember to book in advance to ensure yourself a seat.
Köyceğiz View of the Lake
Other than the market, Köyceğiz has a magnificent water front which looks out across the lake. The promenade is scattered with restaurants which all have seats right by the water and serve a variety of food, perfect for lunch after shopping at the market. The view of the lake really is breathtaking and you can easily feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. Dalyan is but a spot on the horizon!
5) Lycian Tombs
Dalyan’s prime site are the ancient Lycian tombs which watch over the town. They date back to the 2nd century BC and resemble the fronts of Hellenistic temples with two Ionian pillars, a triangular pediment, an architrave with toothed friezes and acroterions shaped like palm trees. But the one thing that sets Lycian tombs apart from Hellenistic tradition is that whereas in Hellenistic culture the dead were placed outside of liveable areas, Lycian tombs are often integrated right into cities as is the case with these. The Lycians believed that the souls of the dead would be transported from the tombs to the afterlife by a winged siren-like creature and so their tombs will always be found along the coast or at the top of the cliffs. In Dalyan, they got the best of both!
The Lycian Rock Tombs
It should be noted however, that the tombs actually sit on the Köyceğiz side of the river and while they are widely known as the Dalyan tombs, they are in fact officially the Köyceğiz tombs! They are best visited on your way to Kaunos as you have to get yourself to “the other side”. If you are brave enough, you can even walk up to the tombs that sit on the left side and get inside one.
6) Iztuzu Beach
A holiday in Dalyan wouldn’t be complete without a day at the beach and Iztuzu is one of the most beautiful in the world. Locals have done well in the past to keep the beach protected and unspoiled due to the loggerhead turtle nests which have given the beach its nickname of ‘turtle beach’. The most you will find at the beach is a few sun beds and a temporary wooden restaurant with toilet and shower facilities at each end of the beach. One of the best things to do in Dalyan is to catch a boat to one end of the beach and walk the 4.5km of warm sand to the other end where you can catch a dolmuş back to town. Just be aware that in the height of summer, the sand can be extremely hot. You may have to take a very fast run from the boat to the water!
7) The Turtle Hospital
It would be a real shame to spend the day at Iztuzu and not visit the Turtle Hospital which saves and rehabilitates injured loggerhead turtles. The hospital sits just above the dolmuş stop and car park at the land end of the beach and is run by Muğla University in partnership with Pamukkale University. Inside the hospital you will find around 6 large tubs of water which become home to turtles who have been injured by boat propellors. They are incredible to see and their stories are sad, but the hospital do a fantastic job and the hope with every sick turtle is that they will one day be returned to the sea. There are plenty of student volunteers ready and waiting for any questions that visitors have and there is an incredible amount of information available as you walk around. If you decide to visit the hospital, a small donation would be very welcome as you leave.
The Turtle Hospital
8) Radar Hill
If you want to find an accessible view of Iztuzu Beach and the Dalyan delta, Radar Hill is the place to aim for. The road that winds its way up to the top of a mountain where there sits a radio transmitter is accessible from the road that winds down to the beach from Dalyan. Most people visit Radar Hill on one of the local tour companies’ jeep safari tours as you really need a 4x4 to get to the top. If you decide to drive it yourself, but be aware that the road is completely unmade and is not maintained. You have to avoid potholes the entire way up and the top part of the road is inaccessible in a normal car, but that’s nothing a short walk won’t fix!
The View From Radar Hill
9) Dalyan Mosque
The Mosque is the centre-piece of the town and the minaret serves as a landmark for the town centre. The original building dates back to the 18th century and it is believed that stones and rocks were taken from Kaunos to build it. In 1956, an earthquake that hit Dalyan damaged the Mosque quite badly and though the building was still usable, there were certain parts of the building that needed repair. In fact supposedly after the earthquake, the minaret used to sway in the wind making it particularly unsafe for the Müezzin to do the five calls to prayer each day. Luckily, thanks to some local support and fundraising, last year the Mosque was restored. A new minaret was built, the corner stones of the main building were restored and a new entrance porch was built, complete with new pebbles. It has been incredibly well done and they have saved as much of the original building as possible.
The Dalyan Mosque
Tourists and visitors to Dalyan are more than welcome to visit the Mosque, though non-muslims should respect prayer times. There is a wooden cupboard by the side of the entrance with contains headscarves for ladies to wear if they wish to go inside. If you would like to visit the Mosque, you will be warmly welcomed by Imam Mehmet, but remember to cover your knees, shoulders and ladies, your hair.
10) Turkish Hamam
You can’t very well visit Turkey and not give a hamam a go! It is one of the oldest Turkish traditions and is quite an experience. Advice is to visit a hamam at the beginning of your holiday to prep your skin for your tan. Have it at the end of your holiday and you risk losing any colour you may have got. A visit to a hammer involves a sauna, a steam room and in some cases a mud face pack too. You will then be asked to lie on a stone slab where you will be foam washed and scrubbed within an inch of your life, followed by a hefty massage! There are a few options in Dalyan for a Turkish bath. If you want a luxury, head to the BC Spa Hotel, for a more traditional experience try the Şahin Hamam which is a little further out of town but within walking distance.
So there you have it! As you can see, there is much to enjoy in Dalyan without ever really having to leave! Have you been to Dalyan? What is your favourite tourist activity? Or perhaps we have forgotten something!?
The Dalyan exposé has begun! The project will run until the 23rd of May and will include a lot of exciting articles and videos on our YouTube channel with interesting interviews with business owners and those who work in tourism in Turkey. We'll also be tackling safety issues and what terrorism means for Turkey and the beautiful riverside town of Dalyan.