Hiking in Turkey: Lycian Way and Saint Paul Trail
In the spring of 2011 we (Amy and Jim) spent 17 days through walking the Lycian Way in Turkey. Immediately after completing that route, we spent 12 days walking on the Saint Paul Trail (SPT). Then, we flew to another region and hiked for 7 days in the Kackar Mountains. This report covers the Lycian Way and Saint Paul Trail walks. A second trip report provides information about our experiences in the Kackar.
We enjoyed the trip very much, and heartily recommend Turkey as a hiking destination. The scenery is well above average; archaeological sites are abundant; logistics are easy; costs are reasonable; and above all, the Turkish people are gracious, generous, and outgoing.
Link to full annotated Lycian Way photo show.
Link to full annotated Saint Paul Trail photo show.
Here are a few images to whet the appetite:
The Lycian Way is located in southwest Turkey and connects Olundeniz (near Fethiye) to Hisarcandir (20 K west of Antalya). The route is usually within 15 kilometers of the sea, sometimes right on the coastline, and other times climbing into the coastal mountain range.
The SPT starts east of Antalya and runs north to Yalvac. Along the way, it passes through the western reaches of the Taurus (Toros) Mountains and alongside Lake Egirdir, the fourth largest lake in Turkey.
The Lycian Way and SPT were designed and developed by Kate Clow, a British ex-pat living in Turkey. She has written guidebooks for these routes as well as a guidebook for the Kackar Mountains in northeast Turkey. The Lycian Way was completed in 1999; the SPT in 2004. It is clear that a lot of work went into laying out the route and it is unlikely a hiker could have anywhere near as good an experience walking a random route of one’s own. The routes follow existing paths, but she and others did an enormous amount of work to scout the best route, clear brush, install, and subsequently maintain waymarks.
Link to Kate Clow’s website for more information.
The Lycian Way was an enjoyable walk with a lot of diversity. Being a Mediterranean climate, the weather pattern and plant life was very reminiscent of central California where we live. The walk offers rugged coastal scenery, ancient ruins, beaches, small hill villages, and coastal tourist towns, some fine forests, canyon and mountains.
The SPT is an interesting route traveling through rural and semi-wild country. There is no true wilderness as humans have used the area for thousands of years. However, on long stretches of the SPT, we encountered few people. The route passes by ancient ruins, small villages and a couple of mid-sized towns (a few thousand people). Almost all of the SPT is quality walking with lots of visual interest and a wide variety of habitats and geological features. A good bit of the first day, the 15 miles from Aksu to the regulator (a small dam), is not particularly nice walking: much of it is on paved roads through flat agricultural areas infested with aggressive dogs. Persevere however, because the rest of the route is quite fine.
The Lycian coast is a major tourist destination for Europeans and many of the coastside towns are geared to provide services for these visitors, and the Lycian Way passes through several tourist towns. During our walk, these towns were mostly empty and we were told that the tourist influx starts in early to mid May. Even without many tourists, the towns definitely have a very different character than the areas a mile or more from the coast. We actually found it fun to have the diversity of tourist towns in the mix, but hikers looking for “authentic” rural Turkey might not care for it.
Unlike the Lycian Way, the SPT does not pass through any tourist towns except Egirdir, and we saw very few non-Turks.
At a strategic level, both routes are well laid out with logical choices about routing. At a more micro level, the routing sometimes takes convoluted paths to avoid walking on roads (often dirt roads that have little to no traffic). We were occasionally frustrated at walking over very rough terrain or contending with confusing way-marking, following a route that was within a couple hundred meters of a straight-forward alternative. This frustration is a personal preference; while we often take hikes on very rough or tough routes, we don’t seek out tough terrain or confusing convoluted paths when there is a nearby more reasonable alternative.
During our trip, the area was lush and green and the wildflowers were superb. The temperatures were mild. It is hotter, drier, and browner in the summer, so going in April has many advantages.
Both the Lycian Way and SPT offer variants so the hiker can accommodate the season or special interests.
Lycian Way: We followed the route as described in the guidebook. We walked the beach between Finike and Mavikent instead of taking a bus as the guidebook recommends. (We found the beach walk to be quite pleasurable and added to the diversity of the trip.) At Cirali, we followed the coastal option instead of climbing over the north shoulder of Mt. Olympos, figuring we would have plenty of interior mountain walking time on the subsequent St. Paul Trail.
SPT: The trail has two southern legs, one starting at Aksu and the other near Aspendos. The legs are routed northward roughly parallel to each other and join near the ruins at Adada. From Adada, the route continues on to Yalvac. There are several variants described in the guidebook and the updates published on the website include additional route changes. We walked the western and northern branches: Aksu to Adada to Yalvac. It is not practical to walk all three legs in one trip (assuming no use of buses), since they radiate out from Adada: one leg goes north, one goes SSW and one goes SSE. Instead, we suspect that most people who through walk the route choose any two of the three legs.
We found the walking to be straightforward, with only occasional moderately strenuous sections. Both routes include a substantial amount of altitude gain and loss. The area is mostly limestone, so the trails are generally quite rocky and often covered with loose stones. Some of the walking is on unpaved roads, and a small amount alongside pavement. Generally, traffic was light to non-existent on the roads, except near major tourist centers.
On the Lycian Way, prior to reaching Kalkan, there is a tedious section of off-trail climbing over and around sharp edged limestone boulders that requires much care. There is one section on the SPT where the route follows a rocky stream canyon with numerous obstacles; this stretch will be harder or easier depending on water levels. If the water level is high, it is not passable, but can be avoided by following a described alternate.
In our opinion, any reasonably fit walker should be able to complete the walks. You should have some experience in cross-country navigation and route finding and be prepared to be completely self-sufficient for a couple of days or so.
Duration and Distance:
We completed the Lycian Way in 17 days (16 full days plus 2 half days), and the SPT in 12 days. We generally walk at a leisurely pace from sunrise until late afternoon or early evening, with no layover days. We spent time birding as we walked along.
Lycian Way Profile. 449 km and 14006 meters of gain.
Saint Paul Trail Profile. 304 km and 8604 meters gain.
The accuracy of the distance, elevation gain, and profile data is determined by the resolution of the mapping program we used (BikeRouteToaster).
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 welcome and at ease with the local people. In the tourist areas, the interaction with locals is like every other tourist destination in the world: there are people who want to sell you something. But otherwise, people we encountered seemed genuinely outgoing and friendly. Shop keepers, 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.
On the Lycian Way we met quite a few groups of Western and Central Europeans (and one group of Turks and one American) backpacking portions of the route, most of them spending about a week on the trail. We only met one other through-hiker. We encountered many recreational day-hikers near the major tourist towns.
On the SPT, we met only two other hiking parties, and neither group was through-hiking the entire route. We encountered no recreational day-hikers.
On both routes, there were lots of 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, particularly on the SPT.
We birdwatch as we walk. We identified a total of 196 species of birds while in Turkey. Walking the Lycian Way, we identified 104 species; on the SPT, 139 species. There is overlap on the lists for these two trails. We were surprised by the paucity of gulls along the coast and generally very low numbers of raptors throughout the trip. However, passerines were quite abundant and we had a good time meeting old friends from previous European walks. We added 28 species to our life list during the trip.
Maps and gpx files:
There are no decent commercial topographic maps of Turkey available: apparently the Turkish military won’t allow them to be published. The internet has made their efforts moot in that you can now access terrain maps with 10 meter contour lines from OpenStreetMap.org by using the CycleMap view of the map.
The maps that come with the guidebooks are conceptually useful, but not detailed enough for navigation and often do not match what is on the ground; for instance, towns might be misplaced by several kilometers. Neither of the maps have scales.
Kate Clow provides gpx files of the routes. Be warned that the published GPX track appears to mix at least two different datums, so some waypoints are a couple hundred meters off. Even with the mixed datum problem, the gpx files were extremely useful.
We used an iPhone4 with maps and Clow’s gpx files preloaded into two applications: Gaia GPS (OpenStreetMap topos) and Galileo Offline Maps (satellite images) [Dec2011 edit: Galileo no longer works for satellite images, use GPS Kit instead]. Using the iPhone as a mapping/GPS device was extremely successful. By preloading all the information we did not need WIFI or cell phone service. Instructions on how to use iPhone as GPS/Mapping device.
Most of the Lycian Way has been added to OpenStreetMap; the Saint Paul Trail had not as of April 2011. This means that the Lycian way actually shows up as a trail on the map, so if you have a gps device loaded with OSM maps, navigation on the Lycian Way is very straight-forward.
By using her gpx files and an iPhone with OpenCycleMaps preloaded into Gaia GPS we had very few navigational problems.
You can download our gpx or kml (great view in google Earth) files of the routes we took. Note that these show our route, which did not always exactly follow the described route, and do not include other variants described in the guidebooks.
Lycian Way gpx file
Lycian Way kmz file
Saint Paul Trail gpx file
Saint Paul Trail kmz file
The guidebooks are critical for overall trip planning. However the text in the guidebooks is not thorough or clear, and not adequate for route finding.
The guidebook does have lots of helpful cultural information and also provides useful context for the archeological sites you will encounter, as there is rarely information at the site itself.
In the end, we agreed to give Kate Clow an A+ for conceiving of the idea of long distance paths in Turkey, and for designing two interesting, scenic routes; but not high marks for the quality of the guidebook instructions. Ideally, one of the major presses (Cicerone?) will take on the project and have a professional editor work on the details of the text.
It’s likely that somebody attempting either route using just the book and accompanying map would have some tough spots. The book and map would be adequate until you lost the trail, at which time it could be tough or time consuming to relocate it. In particular, there was one location on the Saint Paul Trail that we would have never sorted out without the OpenCycleMap and gpx data; there were no waymarks, and there was a rather substantial wade across a river which was not mentioned in the text.
Both routes are way-marked with red and white paint using French Grande Randonnée iconography. Way-marking a route like this requires a large amount of work; we believe Kate Clow used a lot of volunteers to help her do this. The quality of the way-marking varies from excellent to confusing to occasionally absent. In some places, the way-marks, while present, are very weathered and faded. In other places, the way-marks are painted on the top surface of rocks embedded at soil level and are frequently covered with grass and cannot be seen until you are standing on them. The on-the-ground routing can be confusing as the trail takes seemingly quite arbitrary jogs and diversions and does not always follow the natural lie of the terrain. We found using binoculars to visually scout ahead for the next set of way-marks to be very helpful. Use the way-marks when you can, be thankful that they are there, but realize you must take personal responsibility for not going astray.
Internal flights. Turkey has several low cost airlines that offer internal city to city flights. The two flights that we took were very inexpensive (booked in advance), on time, on new aircraft, and were professionally run. Antalya has a major airport with many flights per day to Istanbul and direct flights to other European cities.
Buses. Bus transport was easy and reliable. Long distance buses are modern, run on schedule, comfortable, and include complimentary snack and beverage services. Small buses make frequent runs between nearby towns. Bus agents were very helpful in making sure we took the right bus. Hitching was easy on the one occasion we needed to do so (although it took an hour before the first car came down the road we were on).
Ferry across Lake Egirdir: The SPT is routed to cross Lake Egirdir via fishing boat. We found only one person willing to do this, Mustafa. He was not home when we arrived at his house, so we had to wait five or six hours for him to return. We negotiated a fee for passage, which ended up significantly higher than what was described in the guidebook: we paid 90 TL (about $60.00 @ $0.66 per TL exchange rate) for the boat crossing, including lunch for the two of us. You may be able to do better at bargaining. Your only other option is to leave the route and either walk or hitchhike around the north side of the lake and rejoin the SPT where you can.
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 towns and villages along the route; the guidebooks and updates on the Lycian Way website provide some listings. Many of the shops are small and have 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 don’t exist. The restaurant meals were always at least palatable and were often quite good and we appreciated both the variety and the opportunity to mix with other people.
We ate anything, and we drank untreated spring and tap water throughout the trip with no problem.
Camping and Lodging:
On the Lycian Way we stayed in pensions at Kalkan and Kas. We spent a night in Antalya between the two legs of our trip. And we spent a night in a pension in Egirdir. The remaining nights we camped. Culturally, camping seems to be quite acceptable and we felt welcome to set up anywhere. When we set up camp in view of a village, people came out to say hello and offer us tea, meals, or accommodation. We didn’t plan sites ahead of time and simply searched for a nice site in the late afternoon or early evening. The terrain is quite rocky and hilly and finding a tent sized flat and level site sometimes took a bit of searching.
In the tourist areas, we were often overcharged. Restaurant bills would not add up; total price of groceries at small shops would be suspiciously high. Grocery stores and most restaurants didn’t list prices, and we learned to ask the price of dishes before we ate, so that we weren’t subjected to random bills at the end of the meal. This seemed less to be an issue outside of the areas that commonly serve tourists. To give a sense of the travel costs, here is a summary of what we spent. For two people, we spent a total of $3500 for our entire trip (including all flights and the week in the Kackars not covered in this report):
$ 1915 airfare (international + 2 domestic flights)
$ 65 for books (3 guidebooks plus iPhone dictionary application)
$ 225 for six nights in pensions
$ 160 for bus fares
$ 1135 for food and misc.
English, or lack thereof
Outside of Istanbul, most people we met spoke very little or no English. I completed five lessons of Pimsleur’s Turkish Language program, which was very helpful. In hindsight, I wish I had invested the time to complete all 30 lessons. It’s possible to do the basics (shopping, bus tickets, pension 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 “please”, “hello”, “thank you”, and “very beautiful” and to understand nothing other than “Welcome!”, “Obama, very good” (which we heard frequently) and “tea”.
We were surprised that even most university students we met did not speak any English. Occasionally, men in their 50s or 60s spoke French or German (having worked abroad) and I had more luck with French than with English. There’s a chance that when you stop at a tea-shop, at least one of the men in the crowd may speak French or German.
Here are a few critical phrases you should know. Use Google Translate to learn the Turkish phrase and pronunciation. (In this case “welcome” means “welcome to this place” and is accompanied by a big smile and handshake). You can just copy the block of text below to Google Translate, works like a charm!
“Güle güle” is the common way people will say goodbye.
People will try to ask where you are from by guessing at your country. The first guess is usually Alman (German), so if you hear that word you can state your nationality to clear up that confusion. Alternately, just say your nationality when you shake hands.
Pimsleur’s Turkish Language course (free from library).
Collins English-Turkish Phrasebook & Dictionary with Audio iPhone Application ($13, I tried several free or cheap apps and they were not worth the effort).
Hand Gestures are different in Turkey and worth learning. Here are two useful links:
List of Turkish Gestures
Short Video Tutorial Turkish Gestures