Two different worlds joined together by a land of colorful contrasts, Turkey is the planet’s only country spread on two continents. A crossroads of civilizations, not quite European and not Asian either, sprinkled with ancient ruins at every step, oriental flavors filling the air, it never ceases to amaze its visitors.
For the active tourist, Turkey has plenty of adventure-packed activities to offer, as sweet as Turkish delight and as invigorating as Turkish tea. It is the real-world mystical land where you can go mountaineering or skiing at noon and head down at the beach for a swim in the afternoon, all on the same day!
The 2014 Petzl RocTrip, an annual climbing community gathering, traveled for a whole month through Eastern Europe, making its last stops in Turkey, some of the most exotic and culturally rich destinations ever featured on the trip. First, the team and all the climbers who joined along the way went for some world-class bouldering at Bafa Lake, a large plain dotted with boulders of all shapes and sizes with enough problems to last you a lifetime.
When the sun kisses your skin, turtles wander carelessly on the paths, squirrels hop on the orange rocks and climbing gear jingles in the distance, there’s only one place you can possibly be – Geyikbayiri. Turkey’s biggest sport climbing venue and one of Europe’s finest is set at the foothills of the rocky mountains near the small village of Geyikbayiri, some 15 miles (24 km) from Antalya.
Get ready to meet an international assembly of climbers, all here for the same reason – the spectacular three-dimensional climbing!
From Geyikbayiri, the Petzl RocTrip moved to Olympos to climb by the beach and do some Deep Water Solo on Mediterranean-bathed crags, a stone’s throw from ancient cities and the mythical eternal flames of Chimera.
Mountain biking in Cappadocia
We’ve all seen those postcard-perfect pictures of hot-air balloons strolling over the “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia, those chiseled mushrooms and cone-shaped towers home to monasteries and houses still inhabited today. How about a different approach? There are 36 known underground cities in Cappadocia, new ones being unearthed as we speak. If you wish to explore these ancient man-made treasures and surreal lunar landscape, you can’t go wrong with a mountain bike.
Climbing Mount Ararat
According to the Old Testament, Mount Ararat is where Noah’s Ark came to rest. It actually consist of two snow-covered volcanic cones, Greater Ararat (16,854 ft – 5,137 meters) and its little brother, Lesser Ararat (12,782 ft – 3,895 meters), dominating Turkey’s eastern border. Due to their sensitive location, the Turkish government requires special permits and a Turkish guide to accompany the climb on these fabled dormant volcanoes. Arrangements should be made at least two months prior to the expedition.
Mount Ararat, Turkey’s highest peak and Armenia’s national symbol, is not a very difficult climb, but it is a fairly demanding summit. There are no alpine huts and the height does require proper acclimatization. Summit day is an average ten-hour round trip.
It is the last thing anyone thinks about when in Turkey. After all, it is mainly a beach destination. Sure, the country’s top-notch resorts pale in comparison with the Alps, but they are worth a visit if you want a change of scenery and escape the crowds. And they’re cheap too.
Uludag in Bursa province is Turkey’s biggest ski resort, excellent for beginners and intermediates, great for snowboarding as well, with heli-skiing on the neighboring Zivre Peak (8,343 ft – 2,542 meters).
Saklikent, near Antalya, is better suited for seasoned skiers, its highest lift reaching 7,004 feet (2,134 meters). The best thing about it is that you can head for a dip in the Mediterranean at midday and return just in time for some Turkish-style apres-ski.
Kartalkaya resort, in the Koroglu Mountains, is only an hour’s drive from Istanbul. Surrounded by picturesque pine forests, the highest lift is set at 7,874 feet (2,399 meters).
Palandoken, to the far east of the country, is home to Turkey’s most coveted ski resort with the longest-lasting season, running between October and May. The highest lift reaches 10,472 feet (3,191 meters) and opens to the country’s widest, longest and steepest slopes.
Turkey is as big as it is geographically diverse. Its countless sparkling rivers bathing its massive mountains and fruit orchards have some high-speed world-class rafting to offer.
Near Antalya, the nine-mile (15 km) long Koprulu Canyon is Turkey’s longest and one of the most sensational rafting spots.
The Coruh River, to the northeast of the country, is one of the fastest flowing in the world and one of the planet’s top ten white-water rafting rivers. Running from the Mescit Mountains (10,580 ft – 3,224 meters) all the way to the Black Sea, it passes through canyons and valleys, past orchards, ancient castles, ruins and rugged mountains. It takes around five days to raft the Coruh River, each section revealing different natural wonders.
With roughly 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of coastline opening to not one, but four seas – the Black Sea, Aegean Sea, Sea of Marmara and the Mediterranean, scuba diving is the most popular water sport in Turkey. Underwater cities, submerged relics, reefs, rich marine wildlife, wrecks and caves await divers in warm waters with excellent visibility, up to 130 feet (40 meters).
The biggest concentration of wreck dive sites can be found near Gallipoli Peninsula, where the 216 shipwrecks of the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign can be explored in their fullest.
The west and south coast of the Mediterranean are home to the best dive sites. Kas is Turkey’s diving capital, with over 30 dive sites that include anything from wreck-diving, cave-diving, underwater canyons and submerged relics to night diving.
The old fishing town of Kalkan has around 20 dive sites, the highlights being the Sakarya Reef, a 1893 North Sea trawler, and a Turkish-built trawler wrecked in 1940, its deck and cargo of lead ballast still intact.
Think of any beach in Turkey and you can bet you’ll find at least one water sport to quench your craving for adventure. Thanks to the brisk winds, sandy bottom and shallow waters, the Aegean shore becomes a windsurfing paradise between May and September.
At the tip of the Cesme peninsula, Alacati is Turkey’s windsurfing capital. Its dramatic backdrop, with rugged cliffs and intimate coves, earned it the nickname of “The Saint Tropez of Turkey.”
Caving, or spelunking, the urge to explore the darkest depths of the earth, gained ground in Turkey over the last years. How could it not, with over 40,000 caves and caverns to explore? However, only a handful are open for tourism, the rest are only accessible to visitors with proper equipment or require special permits. Any caving enthusiast will agree this only makes them even more interesting.
The biggest concentration of caves is found in southeast and central Anatolia. Damlatas Cave, to the south of Antalya, is the country’s most visited. If it’s off-the-beaten-path adventure you seek, the Pinargozu Cave is the country’s longest – ten miles long. The deepest is the Peynirlikonu Sinkhole to the southeast of the country – 4,688 feet (1,428 meters) deep.
The world’s third largest underground lake lies in the Altinbesik Cave in Antalya, is 400 feet (121 meters) long and is adorned with natural bridges and karst formations.
Getting lost in Istanbul
This is not the kind of adventure you can book or plan in advance. It just happens, no matter how good you are at reading maps. Istanbul is dynamic, pulsing, crowded, loud and colorful, so easy to get lost in. Just look at the numbers – 14,2 million people living on two continents, not counting tourists of course, 99 percent of which are Muslims, 3,113 mosques, 39 districts and only two bridges over the Bosphorus connect the European and Asian side of the metropolis (come to think about it metropolis is an understatement). Sounds overwhelming, right? It is.
Getting lost in Istanbul might be a good thing, as long as you don’t have an appointment, in which case you might be a a day or two late. It can show you sides to the city you might have otherwise missed if you just stuck to your travel brochure. So go ahead, allow yourself to get lost on the cobbled streets of old Istanbul on the European side, put your Turkish and sign language skills to the test, get in touch with local culture on the Asian side, and top it all off with a hamam session, traditional Turkish bathhouses where steam rooms, massages and body scrubs guarantee a new and rejuvenated you ready to embark on new adventures.
Scouting the bazaars
My personal favorite when it comes to urban adventures, bazaars are the best way to get close and personal with Turkish culture. Getting lost and found in one of these, vendors stalking you and offering tea and coffee on the house just to get you to have another look at their stuff, make this a demanding, quite extreme sport. So make sure you sharpen your bargain skills before venturing in and arm yourself with patience because it might take a while to find your way out.
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is a city within a city, the world’s biggest and oldest covered bazaar, with over 4,000 shops selling anything from colorful ceramics, handmade soap and carpets to antiques.
A visit to Istanbul’s Spice Market is definitely a must, that is if you wish to bring some of those Turkish flavors back home with you.
Every city has its own bazaars. Even villages organize bazaars on Sundays. It is a splendid show you quickly find yourself part of. Merchants will do just about anything to sell their products and will engage in lengthy conversations and almost grab you if you show signs of leaving. This might seem intimidating and rather annoying at first, but you have to accept it’s all part of the trade and just play along.
In between drinking apple tea, smoking nargile (Turkish water pipe) and swinging in a hammock, adventure addicts are in for a treat. Turkey is delicious. And I’m not just talking about its cuisine, although that is enough reason to come here. Each and every corner is either a history lesson or a natural wonder, inviting travel junkies to explore its secrets at a slow, Turkish-style pace.