Best of Southern Turkey

My husband and I quit our jobs to travel around the world for seven months and our first stop was in southern Turkey. Whenever we travel to a new place, be it a new city in the U.S. or visiting a new country, we always ask ourselves whether we could live there. What would our daily lives be like? What’s the cost of living? What’s the food like? After spending just few days in Antalya we are seriously considering living there for a year or at least a few months after we are done touring the world. Antalya is the fourth most visited city in the world according to US News ; this is higher than Hong Kong and even Istanbul! However Antalya is just one of many cities and towns to see in the south, and if I were to vacation for seven days in southern Turkey rather than the nineteen days we spent, I would also hit Cappadocia, Fethiye, Ephesus, and Pamukkale.

Antalya has so much to offer and the cost of living is the same as Medellin, Columbia. Your average meal will cost you $3 to $10, a one or two bedroom apartment will rent for about $300/month, and the Turkish national beers (Efes and Tuborg) are about $3 to $4. It’s hard to put a price tag on the fresh quality of the food, laidback lifestyle and the stunning mountain and sea landscapes.

Harbor in Antalya

We were lucky to have a friend, Amit, to shows us around and I think Antalya only needs two-days to get a sense of what the city is like. He first took us to Perga, ancient Greek ruins east of Antalya. The entrance fee was 15TL ($8). I could tell that at one time one Perga must have been one of the most beautiful and wealthier cities of its times. There were huge columns still standing upright. Greek immigrants from the northern Anatolia originally inhabited it and the site is famous for its Artemis temple.

Perga Ruins

After spending about 45 minutes here, we then drive to Aspendos. I was struck by how large and well-preserved amphitheatre was. It’s considered one of the largest ancient Roman amphitheatres in existence today. I badly wished we were there in September to see the Madam Butterfly opera performance inside Aspendos. I mean, can you imagine seeing one the most beautifully choreographed and touching operas in an amphitheatre built thousands of years ago by the Greeks?

Aspendos Amphitheatre

We drove further east after seeing the ruins to the waterfall of Manavgat. The river received its icy cold waters from the melted mountain snow. The majestical river had random trees growing in the middle and had the most beautiful aqua color hue. The prickly sensation from the piercing cold water felt therapeutic. There were tables strewn everywhere for people to put their bare feet into the water while eating lunch.  Loved it.

The following days were more relaxing. We spent the day at Lara Beach, one of the sandy beaches of Antalya, and in the evening had dinner at Kemer Beach. It was frustrating that as touristy as Antalya was, many people didn’t speak English but a ton of people knew some Russian or German, the predominant tourist groups. In fact Kemer felt like a mini Russia.

Cappadocia Chimneys

We then headed off to Cappadocia for four days, however you can comfortably see the main sites in two days. Cappadocia was about an eight-hour bus ride from Antalya. I highly recommend finding a hotel in Goreme and not in the surrounding towns (unless you have a car). Most tourists do the hot air balloons over Cappadociabut we opted not to after hearing of the $200 price tag. We rented ATVs instead and got to see the Fairy Chimneys and other famous rock house caves. We also hiked through Sunset, Red and Rose valley. The two-hour hike in the heat exhausted us but It was worth every minute of it (despite my complaining about the weather and dizzy spells). The highlights of our Cappadocia trip were visiting the underground city of Kamakli and eating at the Old Greek House. The underground caves dating back to 18th century B.C. were used as hideouts from invaders. The Hittites and Christians used to live below ground for months at a time and the caves were fully equipped with kitchens, food storages, ventilation shafts, underground water supply, and living quarters. If you’re not claustrophobic, then I would not miss this site for the world.

Kaymakli underground cave

From Cappadocia we headed to Konya to see the Sufi Whirling Dervish ceremony, however you can also see it in Cappadocia. After spending a day there we headed to Fethiye. I highly recommend staying in a hotel at Ölüdeniz Beach, and like Antalya and Cappadocia, two days should be sufficient to see the main sites. Ölüdeniz Beach was by far the most beautiful beach in Fethiye (we also went to Calis Beach, Patara Beach, and Butterfly Valley Beach). The water temperature and color, the mountains, activities and amenities were exactly what you would need if you were staying for only two days.

Calis Beach in Fethiye

Even though I don’t like rocky beaches, it still ranked high in the wow factor. The highlight of our Fethiye trip was doing the nine-hour Jeep Safari that we booked through Cadianda Tours. We were very skeptical at first. It sounded super cheesy to ride around in an open jeep with other tourists doing water-gun fights the whole day while sight seeing….but we had a blast! We connected with the other tourists on our jeep using the little German I knew. It was an efficient way of seeing the main highlights of Fethiye too. We visited the ancient city of Tlos, walked inside Saklikent Gorge (stunning), did a mud bath, and then relaxed at the sandy (yay) Patara beach. Worth every penny.

Ölüdeniz Beach view from paragliding

With the same tour company we also booked a guided trip to Ephesus and Pamukkale. You can see both places in a day and only need to stay overnight for one day at of these towns. Ephesus was by far the most impressive Roman ruins I have ever seen in my life, and that’s after seeing the ruins in Rome and Antalya. As we walked around the Library of Celsus, Bascilica of St. John, the Temple of Artemis, and the hot-water bath complexes, I could truly feel what life must have been like back in the day—even the toilets were still intact. We pretty much saw the whole area in about two hours. The city also had one of the most sophisticated aqueduct systems during the Roman period. One of the Irish tourists on our trip belled out an opera song while standing in the middle of the amphitheatre—I kick myself for not capturing that on video.

Library of Celsus

After riding on the bus for another three-hours, we arrived at Pamukkale- the Cotton Castle. From a distance, the mountainside looked like it is covered in snow, but it was actually covered in travertines. I thought it was fascinating how the Romans built an entire spa city, Hierapolis, above the travertines in 2nd century BC; they believed the natural hot springs waters in the pools and travertines had healing powers. Hierapolis has not been lived in since 133 (a major earthquake destroyed the city and forced the inhabitants to abandon Hierapolis). I think a solid three or maybe four hours will give you enough time to walk around in the travertines, swim in Cleopatra’s pool and walk around the Hierapolis ruins.

The white travertines were made of calcium carbonate left behind by the warm mineral waters (there are volcanoes underground) coming from below. There were in fact close to twenty hot springs in the area. Unfortunately, the tourists ruined the pristine white bluish color of the travertines from overuse. Since becoming apart of the World Heritage site, Pammukale is highly regulated now. We had to take our shoes off before coming near the travertines and were only allowed to walk in a sectioned-off area; the guards whistled at tourists who trying to sneak into the closed-off sections.

Pamukkale Travertines

Pamukkale was worth the trip, but I would not stay overnight. Other than the visiting Hierapolis and the travertines, there’s very little to do in the town. I am so glad we got there in the morning, because the continuous line of buses kept bringing in more tourists as the day progressed.

We loved southern Turkey and can’t wait to go back. In many ways I enjoyed our visit to the south more than to Istanbul. Antalya with it’s fun and laid back lifestyle, Cappadocia with its mysterious landscapes, Fethiye with its numerous beach towns and Ephesus and Pamukkale with their impeccably well-preserved ruins and hot springs gave this journey the perfect harmony between beauty, relaxation, history and fun.


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