All hail mighty Olympos – Turkey’s beach haven on a budget…
This setting feels awfully familiar. The beating sun (which my pasty white skin embraces wholeheartedly), perfect blue beaches complimented with stunning cliff landscapes aligning the coast, chilled out vibes and lazed people enjoying the simple life. Oh and let’s not forgot to mention Bob Marley tunes in the mix, quintessential for that ultimate laid back beach destination. It feels like I am in South East Asia alright except I’m not, I’m in Turkey. I’m at the local favourite and the backpacker haven Olympos and I have been taken aback by its’ setting. Not ever did I envision that there would be a little slice of South East Asian beach life found in the world’s melting pot of cultures. Actually, it’s what I needed more than anything. Back to basics and off the beaten track surrounded by not much other than the beauty of the surrounding landscape.
On a side note, I am joined with my sister Carla on a Turkey adventure for the next few weeks!
Where is Olympos?
Olympos is a tricky one to get to. It is on the south coast of Turkey along the Mediterranean Sea. I flew into Antayla, a place with all the hotels and resorts – not my kind of scene. From Antayla, it’s one bus and two shuttles taking over two hours to get to Olympos. So it’s a bit of an effort to say the least but well worth it!
It reminds me of…
A typical off the beaten track, backpacker beach haven in South East Asia. There was hardly much there in terms of infrastructure – simple restaurants, wooden bungalows and tree houses for accommodation, a handful of convenience stores (nothing like the 7-Eleven’s that are on every street corner in main tourist areas of Thailand) and of course a few bars. Basically, the sleepy town of Olympos is pretty much made up of a few dirt roads. It kind of reminded me of an other backpacker favourite, the river side town Vang Vieng in Laos as both consist of a few roads, towering cliffs and both placed in the most magical natural setting.
So what’s cranking in Olympos?
Plenty of rauncho relaxo times at the beach! Add in some diving, exploring of the ancient Olympos ruins nearby the beach, beach hoping via boat and a trip to the see the natural phenomenon the Chimera Flames and that’s a pretty decent itinerary for a few days don’t you think? Think yes because that is pretty much what I did!
What’s the Chimera Flames all about?
The Chimera Flames are naturally lit fires that have been burning on Olympos Mountain for thousands of years and wait, here is a fun fact – it is actually where the Olympic flame derives from! The best time to see the small flames burning is at night under a blanket of brightly lit stars. It took roughly a 20-minute nighttime trek to the top of the mountain. Once there, you will see many people huddled around the sparsely located fires, cooking marshmallows and also (which I thought was impressive) Turkish sausages (somewhat similar to a chorizo)! Ha how European, I was definitely salivating over that than over the smurf marshmallows I got offered to toast! Really this little night mountain trekking adventure has been a highlight for me so far!
More Olympos more!
It is quite common for people to extend their stay in this gem of a beach side town and it’s easy to understand why. I would have if I had the time! In this sleepy backpacker or hippy town as locals refer to it as, I found plenty to occupy my time besides lazing around from hammock to hammock and lapping up the rays at the pebble covered beach.
The beach itself is part of Olympos Bey Mountains (Beydaglari) Coast National Park. It will cost you either 5TL or 7.5TL for a 10 time access pass or it is free after 7pm. In the national park itself, there are various ancient Olympos ruins including a few tombs surrounded by jungle en route to the coast. I love it when you see ruins as is and not prettied up or reconstructed. Intertwining with nature, the ruins left exposed to natural elements and are just that; ruins.
There was no tourist fanfare and no cheap and tacky souvenirs for sale in sight either. There are even small lagoons, refreshing cold I must add, that you can plonk yourself in without the crowds and bask in the sight of the ruins around you. I had a bit of a splash with a few locals in a little natural pool right next to the remnants of a wall ruin.It is in those moments I truly want to indulge in.
After doing a quick round of the ruins, it was time to hit up the beach. When I first saw it, I laughed to myself. It was a dream. Stunning cliff faces aligning the coast, the water was blue and perfect with no waves and the beach wasn’t overpopulated either. It was a pretty low key affair with a few umbrellas doted along the coast. I like the fact also that in certain countries you go to, there’s always something completely different on offer from vendors who walk up and down the beach as if they are patrolling it. In this case, it was Mussel Man.
Mussel Man? Who’s Mussel Man?
He sells a special Turkish mussel rice dish called Midye Dolma. My mind was ticking away, I was thinking a dish somewhat similar to Paella but it wasn’t. It was even better!
My new found Turkish friend, that I met at my bungalow accommodation previously, told us of this beach snack and flagged down the Mussel Man at once for my sister and I. The Mussel Man stopped for us, got down to open his tub of mussels and started opening the shells to reveal mussels stuffed with aromatic flavored rice. Whoa! In all honestly, in all my times trying all sorts of street food, this was by one of the best street eats’ I have had. Big call I know. Served with a pinch of lemon juice and it was just amazing. I couldn’t stop raving about it and kept saying the name Mussel Man to the beach vendor because he literally became my best friend in that point in time. And in general, I just like saying and spreading the word of Mussel Man. Ok enough about escapades with Mussel Man.
Sail the Turkish seas on the cheap
As Olympos is known for its’ stunning beaches, of course I had to explore them. A good way to get your ‘Dora the Explorer’ on is by cruise which was 50TL pp and took you to four beaches. Whilst on the boat, you seriously just lap up the beautiful coast line of blue turquoise waters and the mountains towering over by the sea.
It was roughly an hour at each stop but that was enough time to soak your skin in refreshingly warm waters, explore a cave and swim to the shore. A BBQ fish lunch was also provided which wasn’t a stock standard mediocre buffer affair, it was actually really good! In a nutshell, possibly one of the best boat cruises I have had and I have been on a lot!
Diving in Olympos
I had been told of the amazing dives you can do in Turkey. Any chance of diving and I am straight in there, although I have to admit, every time I go diving I always struggle with the equalizing of the ears and they hurt – well they hurt real bad and I always curse myself for choosing to go diving in the first place but after a while, my ears equalize and it’s fine.
Diving is one of the most relaxing things you can do despite the first bit of turmoil I mentioned. I get to live out my inner little mermaid dream (after all if I were a Disney princess it would be Ariel) and just swim and discover life under the sea. I did two dives the second day I was in Olympos to the dive sites Pirasali Adrasan and Yarasali Adrasan. I have to say I enjoyed the Yarasali Adrasan as I had the chance to swim through caves and alongside underwater cliffs. I didn’t see too much marine life however I did see a Grouper fish which is my favourite sign language action to do under water which is basically you honking breasts under water to signify you have seen a Grouper fish!
Plenty of gözleme to be had! What is that you may ask? It is a Turkish pancake stuffed with a filling of your choice cooked on a hot plate. Stuffings can include minced meat, aurbergine, feta, spinach, sesame oil and potatoes. Watching them being made by a local Turkish woman or man from scratch right in front of your very own eyes is a cool experience in itself, well for a big foodie like myself it is! It is a super cheap, quick and easy Turkish dish. The prices vary from 5 to 10TL depending on how much toppings you have inside. My pick would be the aurbergine mixed with feta.
Time to drink!
One of the most popular bars in Olympos is Cactus Bar which is known for its’ live music, in particular reggae. Half indoor, half outdoor, this bar pretty much had the population of holiday party goers on its’ premise come Saturday night. Sitting at a white table for two under the night sky outside (how very romantic for my sister and I), it was a low key affair watching a solo set by a man that was singing the likes of Audioslave and Stone Temple Pilots in which the rocker in me enjoyed greatly. Once the Turkish reggae set got going inside, that is when the bar became lively with people dancing and having Eefes (local Turkish beer) aplenty.
Sunrise over sea
The last day was something special, my sister and I went to watch the sunrise over the sea. We weren’t alone with this idea as many others were on the peaceful beach waiting patiently for the new day to start. It was truly beautiful as one could imagine. Also present at sunrise was a modern day pirate we stumbled upon the popular bar Cactus. These things never seize to amaze me.
If there was a gold medal for hidden gems of Europe, Olympos wins the race by a mile.
From Antayla airport, catch the 600 or 800 (Red or black bus) to the Antayla Bus Station (4TL) . From the Antayla Bus Station, catch a shuttle ( many companies) to Olympos (15TL) and last stop, from Olympos, catch a shuttle to your destination (5TL), in this case I was staying at Bayrams.
I stayed in a simple bungalow at Bayrams, the closest accommodation to the beach with the beach being 500 metres away.
I choose to do my scuba sue diving adventures with Olympos Diving.
Chimera Flames Tour
It is a wise choice to book this as a tour as it would be very costly to do it by yourself considering the distance traveled. It can be booked at various travel booths in Olympos. Tour includes return transfers to Olympos mountain (which is a two hour round trip) as well as an entrance fee ( which is normally a stand alone price of 6TL). I paid 25TL for this tour.