Thousands of tourists flock to Turkey’s Aegean Coast each summer for sun, pleasant beaches, and great history. But, if you choose to cycle along this dramatic coastline, you will experience Turkey in a way, unlike the majority who stick to their resort.
Where the Adventure Begins – Cycling Through the Aegean Coast
The 800km stretch of coastline between the relaxed student cities of Izmir and Antalya makes for the most enjoyable cycling. Part of the joy of travelling by bike is its simplicity. Navigation along this section is as easy as hugging the coast as closely as possible. While I had maps and phone apps, these were largely unnecessary as the roads were easy to navigate.
Big tourist towns are conveniently dotted at regular intervals, making it easy to restock food or water, and reduce the amount you carry. Finding accommodation is also a painless as there is plenty. I was surprised by how much English is spoken and even saw prices listed in pounds.
Despite the initial enjoyment of these tourist hubs for the above reasons, I quickly found the locals to be less forthcoming and hospitable, and didn’t feel like I was experiencing authentic ‘Turkey’.
When I left a tourist area, I was amazed how abruptly everything changed. Just a short distance away people were living difficult lives, far removed from the glitz and glamour.
Hours were long, bent double nurturing their crops, or sitting by the roadside, cowering in the shade, patiently hoping someone will buy some of their wares. Everyone helped; elderly ladies squinting at me through sunken eyes paused from their labour to offer a toothless grin while children waved shyly as I passed, some daring to venture a ‘hello’.
Locals here seemed unused to seeing tourists and I was regularly called over for çay (tea) and gözleme (pancakes). In that way, this trip offers an eye-opening juxtaposition between two extremes of how people live here.
Lesson learned: Don’t assume the coastal road will be flat! The mountains and cliffs seem to fall straight into the sea, posing challenging climbs, compounded by the intense heat. Even having been cycling for three months by this point, the road proved tough.
This sort of trip is a test of mental willpower as much as physical fitness; if strong-willed, it is entirely possible for someone of average fitness.
If you’re worried about fitness, take it slow, and enjoy long breaks and sightseeing en route. This adventure is far more enjoyable when as free from time constraints as possible; I averaged just 50 miles a day allowing myself the flexibility to stop cycling when I wanted. Long, leisurely lunches and refreshing swims became daily pleasures, as did stopping to talk to interesting people, or explore nearby places.
Where to stay when Cycling the Aegean Coast
As mentioned above, there are plenty of hostels and hotels where you can find a warm bed and a shower at the end of a day’s cycling… but, I found camping and staying with locals more enjoyable.
With lots of open space, finding a spot to camp was unproblematic and I was rewarded with a mesmerizingly clear star-studded skies and the lullaby of gentle waves soothing me to sleep.
I also spent many nights with strangers, thanks to an active and hospitable warmshowers community. Warmshowers is a couchsurfing-style hospitality site, with bike tourers in mind. Be sure to join ‘Warmshowers Türkiye’ on Facebook, where locals can answer specific questions, and offer accommodation.
Through these locals, I benefited often with cyclists joining me for cycling, telling me the best routes, and about Turkey, and feeding me delicious local food. It’s a great community that you need to check out if you are thinking of doing this route!
When Cycling Don’t Miss out on:
While you are there, don’t forget to visit these ‘must-see’ attractions!
Over 8,000 years old, Ephesus was once the world’s second most important city after Rome, and once home to one of the 7 wonders of the world, the Temple of Artemis. Despite its decay, you will feel a strong sense of grandeur, and have a great experience, whether you are a history buff or not. The closest town is Selçuk, directly en route.
During my trip, I met a few solo female travelers in Turkey which speaks about the general safety of the country.
Pace of life in Dalyan is peaceful, much like the river gently meandering through the town from Köyceğiz lake to the sea. There are river cruises shuttling between the many sights along the river. Be sure to gawp at the Ancient Burial Tombs excavated high into the cliff wall, and wonder how and why they were made.
Iztuzu Beach is just a short distance from Dalyan; 4.5km long of pristine white sand forms a narrow spit between the fresh Dalyan river, and the warmer Mediterranean Sea. If you’re lucky, you will spot a turtle, as they come here to breed!
The Eternal Flames of Chimera
My personal favourite! Just a few kilometres off the road are the eternal flames of Chimera. For a nominal $2 entrance fee you can hike up a mountain which has been burning for thousands of years as methane escapes through dozens of vents.
The flickering flames are a magical attraction, particularly as I was lucky enough to visit during a religious festival with trance-like chanting and sacrificing things in the fire.
Costs of Cycling the Aegean Coast:
- This adventure can be very cheap. I spent only $5/day ($60 for 12 days).
- I saved money by not paying for a single night’s accommodation, and eating out only occasionally.
- The tourist attractions were cheap and great value; the Eternal Flames of Chimera costing $2, and Ephesus just $9.
- Food is affordable; A restaurant meal will generally cost $5-$10.
- Two factors which can raise the price are; accommodation and the initial buying of gear.
- Accommodation (cheaper in winter) costs around $15-$20 for a hostel/night, whereas a hotel will push the budget to $40+/night.
What do I Need for this Epic Adventure?
- A bike. Bring with you on the plane, or buy one in Izmir or Antalya. This does not need to be expensive; comfort is key. Ensure it fits, and the saddle is comfortable. Extra money will make your life marginally easy but is not necessary.
- If camping, a tent, sleeping mat, and sleeping bag.
- Cooking Stove (Optional) – I had one, but didn’t use it on this section. I ate bread with a wide variety of fillings, cooked in my host’s kitchen where applicable, and ate in restaurants occasionally.
- 2/3 pairs of clothes. More than 3 pairs of clothes and you will regret it the moment you hit a hill or a headwind. I carried two, and washed them when necessary – they dried out instantly in the heat!
Editor’s note: Get to Know Josiah and read about his journey Cycling around the World!