Adventure sports in Turkey: climbing, trekking, mountain biking, canyoning, and rafting
Turkey has become a Mecca for adrenaline junkies. In order to make the impossible possible, we met with the people who chase the most natural high of all. Read on for our complete guide to Turkey’s most adrenaline-inducing adventure sports.

Climbing

Mümin Karabaş

Perhaps the most rock ‘n’ roll of all the adventure sports, climbing attracts old-school daredevils, fuelled by the thrill of the climb and the sense of satisfaction at having reached the top. Scaling rock faces may be the name of the game, but there are many different disciplines of climbing. The following are the most common:

  • Trad (traditional) climbing – working in pairs, the lead climber fixes some kind of secure protection to the rock face as he ascends, and the second climber removes it as they follow.
  • Sport climbing – similar to trad climbing, but generally safer, as the protection is pre-secured in the wall, allowing for more acrobatic and gymnastic moves.
  • Bouldering – a type of ‘free climbing’ (without ropes) practiced on low walls, where climbers can usually jump back to safety in case of difficulties.

Where to do it

  • Geyikbayırı: Turkey’s largest sport climbing area, Geyikbayırı has more than 1,000 routes divided into 43 areas of different types and levels. It’s been described as one of the climbing world’s best-kept secrets and has been included on National Geographic’s Ultimate Adventure Bucket List.
  • Olympos: This is already a popular holiday destination for backpackers and alternative types. There are more than 300 routes for climbers, covering all levels, some just a few hundred meters from its beautiful pebble beach. There are also walls suitable for deep water soloing, in which the Mediterranean Sea acts as the daring free climber’s safety net.
  • Akyarlar: Located on the seafront close to Antalya, Akyarlar contains around 20 routes in a beautiful secluded bay, acting as something of a climbers’ hangout.

Useful contacts

If you want to get a bit of practice in before you head outdoors, why not pay a visit to one of these indoor practice centers Istanbul?

  • Boulderhane in 4. Levent offers bouldering areas, workshops, indoor competitions, and climbing trips to outdoor locations.
  • Boulder İstanbul in Kadıköy includes nine climbing walls suitable for all levels, equipment rental, a café overlooking the walls, and climbing courses for every age group.

What they say

Five-time Turkish national climbing champion Mümin Karabaş:

How did you get into climbing? I started climbing 15 years ago in Adana. When you are young, you are always looking for new things, and often end up trying lots of new stuff to see which is the best fit for your heart. When I tried climbing for the first time, I found what I was looking for.

What makes Turkey a good country for climbing? The south of Turkey is one the best destinations in the world for climbing during the winter period. We have such good weather here that you can climb outside throughout the winter months. The nice weather, good food, good quality climbing, nice people, and different culture all add up to make it a great destination.

What goes through your mind when you are tackling a difficult climb? You don’t think when you climb. There’s no past, no future; you live in the moment. You have to focus deeply on what you’re doing.

What advice would you give to beginners? Everyone needs to try climbing at least once in their lives. There are usually many different climbing levels in one climbing area, so you should always try some hard routes to try to improve your skills. One of the best things in humans is the ability to constantly improve yourself, so do something good for your body and reach another level of climbing. Push hard, work hard, and be happy! 

In some countries there is a movement against bolting natural surfaces. What do you think about this in relation to rock climbing in Turkey? We have the same ethic; we don’t bolt a face that you can climb with the tools of trad climbing. We only bolt the walls that you cannot secure yourself to using traditional climbing gear. 


Trekking

Photo from Culture Routes in Turkey Archive

Whether trekkers are in the mood for a coastal jaunt or mountainous slog, there’s something for everyone in Turkey. The Culture Routes Society has worked tirelessly to open up themed routes across the country, getting themselves covered in red and white waymarking paint in the process. Don’t feel put off by the length of these walks – just choose a section that suits you and take it day by day. There are pansiyonlar (guesthouses) and campsites along parts of the Lycian Way and some of the most popular routes, but the most adventurous can always find a spot to wild-camp.

Where to do it

  • Lycian Way: The most famous (and the most popular) of Turkey’s long-distance walks, this runs some 500 kilometers along the turquoise coast between Fethiye and Antalya. It’s easy to do short sections, and there are plenty of ancient sites and beautiful beaches to enjoy on the way.
  • St. Paul’s Trail: This connects the Mediterranean coastline around Antalya to the Lake District in the mountains to the north, and follows the journey that the man responsible for spreading Christianity in Europe took on his first journey into Asia Minor.
  • Kaçkar Mountains: The northeast of Turkey is dominated by the Kaçkar mountain range that towers over the Black Sea. With alpine lakes and wildflowers a plenty, this is one for real nature lovers. But beware – the walking here can be quite challenging at times, and the weather can quickly take a turn for the worse, so make sure to go prepared.
  • Evliya Çelebi Way: Following in the footsteps of the eponymous legendary Ottoman traveler, this reasonably gentle 330-kilometer route connects Istanbul with the interior of Turkey, going via Kütahya and Afyonkarahisar and finishing in Simav.
  • Carian Trail: Another one for the beach lovers, this 820-kilometer trail links the Aegean to the Mediterranean in the southwestern corner of Turkey. Named after the Carian state that existed between the 11th and 6th centuries BC, there’s also plenty to keep history lovers entertained.
  • Cappadocia: If all that sounds a bit heavy, you could also visit one of the country’s most popular and unique regions. Cappadocia is full of marked walks through its stunning valleys, more suitable for day hikers.

Useful contacts

What they say

Nicola Huxley, who spent 11 months walking solo from the UK to Istanbul:

How was walking in Turkey, compared with the other countries you walked through? The day I walked over the border from Greece to Turkey it started snowing – sideways, because of the freezing wind. It may have been December, but this was not what I had expected. Happily, the weather got better soon after, and I found that the warmth of the hospitality in Turkey could make up for any cold weather; it really put Western Europe to shame. Any time that I stopped somewhere I was offered tea, often food as well, and there was never a problem finding a spot to put my tent. As trekking is not so common in Turkey, it was sometimes difficult to explain my journey to people, but they were always very kind even when they seemed convinced I was totally crazy.

Would you recommend long-distance walking to other people? I would definitely recommend people try long-distance walking. It gives you so much time and space from which to see the places you pass through. You move at the same pace as nature and see so many details that you can lose yourself for hours in unknown parts of your mind or fixated on a point in the distance. People asked me what I thought about for all those hours walking, and my answer was, “Sometimes absolutely nothing, sometimes everything.” The first few days or so can be very hard on your body, especially your feet, but as you get used to it a natural rhythm sets in, as does a new appreciation for food, sleep, and taking your boots off at the end of the day. Another aspect is the people you meet, the insight you get into everyday life, and the lovely little moments and precious conversations you share with people you would never meet otherwise.

How did it feel when you finally reached Istanbul after 11 months of walking? Actually, when I reached Istanbul I felt very mixed emotions – bewilderment, sadness, nervousness, and pride, but generally a bit lost. After so long, I was coming to the end of this huge personal journey, and it felt strange that I wasn’t walking to Istanbul anymore. I had played scenes in my head in the months before of a group of friends waiting for me at some pre-determined finish line with hugs and celebrations. But when it came to it, there was just me, the Bosphorus, and a lunch snack of börek and ayran. I ate it by the water, took a selfie in front of the bridge, got up and carried on walking along the shoreline. Which was actually quite fitting – it had been a personal journey, and completing it warranted a personal moment. Later in the evening someone asked me what I was doing in Istanbul – and I told them I had just walked here. Then I had a big smile on my face and I started to be able to enjoy it, and celebrate it with the drink they bought me! Follow Nicola on her latest trip around Turkey on www.razistan.wordpress.com

Outdoor shops in Istanbul


Mountain biking

Just as learning to ride a bike can be an integral stepping stone in most children’s development, learning to ride a mountain bike down a near-vertical trail should be part of every thrill seeker’s sporting education. Whether downhill, cross-country, or trail riding, mountain biking is an exciting version of cycling that heads off-road into (sometimes) rough terrain. Endurance, balance, strength, and agility are all required to keep riders from ‘stacking it’. Once the basics are mastered, riders can move on to learning the tricks, style, and technique exercised by mountain bike freeriders.

Where to do it

This is one sport that is truly free. While there might not be trails everywhere, if riders are truly prepared to go off-road, Turkey is one giant mountain biker’s playground. Besides the coastal or mountainous areas around Antalya, Kaş, and Bodrum, there are several options close to Istanbul too, such as Belgrade Forest, Yalova, and Şile. 

One of the most unique options, though, has to be Cappadocia. Jon Bawn of Biking in Turkey told us: “Cappadocia has world class, easily accessible singletracks that suit all abilities. Combine these smooth, free flowing trails with awesome cave hotels, delicious food, and a wealth of historical and geographical interest, and you have your answer. We offer MTB holidays to complete beginners, although most of our customers have at least some cycling experience and basic fitness. Although mountain biking in Turkey is an adventurous activity, we have had riders from 8 to 72 years old hit the trails! It’s also super social. People on our tours make friends and share experiences. In addition, it’s a great opportunity to learn or develop your trail skills – we offer expert tuition in all of our holiday packages and always see great progress over the course of the program.”

Useful contacts

What they say

Ercan Akın, sport director at Role Street, Antalya:

Where are your favorite places to mountain bike in Turkey? That’s a tricky one. Turkey has so much of climate, vegetation, and geographical diversity that it’s a real blessing for outdoor sports. Whether you’re into rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, trekking, mountain climbing, snowboarding, or skiing, there’s something available.

What advice would you give to beginners? As part of the Downhill Freeriders community, I have spent 15 years on the trails. For the last seven years, I have been taking part in what is considered high-level and big jump mountain bike riding, as well as concentrating on riding and landing techniques, meaning freeriding. All I can say is that it’s important to always be learning and trying to develop new skills.


Canyoning

Kıbrıs Canyon – Bougainville Travel

If walking, abseiling, climbing, or swimming alone doesn’t seem quite high-octane enough, adventurers might want to try a sport that combines the lot! Sometimes referred to as canyoneering, it’s the popular activity of making one’s way through narrow gorges, led by expert guides. Wearing safety gear, such as lifejackets, helmets, and wetsuits, canyoneers place all their trust in a fearless leader and jump when he says jump, abseil when he says abseil, and climb when he says climb. There are options for complete beginners and for the experienced outdoorsy type. The only provision is that they don’t mind getting a bit wet!

What they say

Barbaros Özdoğan, owner of Lukka Outdoor:

What makes Turkey a good place to go canyoning? Not only are there the beautiful Taurus Mountains to explore, but with no other groups in the canyons, you can really enjoy the silence and unspoiled nature. Also the canyons are close to the coast, meaning transfers from many of the holiday resorts are relatively short.

What is it that people normally enjoy about canyoning? Many things: remoteness, scenery, crystal clear waters, rappelling, waterfalls, jumps, and last but not least, the adrenaline rush.

Where are the best places to go canyoning in Turkey? The best places in Turkey are on the south coast, because the adventure companies here have nearly 20 years’ experience of guiding people. Running east to west, here are a few of my favorites: 

  • Ahmetler: this canyon is close to Manavgat-Side and only reachable via a two-hour hike. The tour takes five-six hours with a lot of jumping and swimming on the way.
  • Göynük Canyon: this is an easy-access hike with a 5TL entrance fee. There is a mid-section where you have to rent helmets to enter further into. There are no daily tours offered here, instead our company organize tours for private groups.
  • Kuzdere Canyon: recommended as a very good canyon for beginners, this has several jumps and a nice waterfall abseil. Tours take about four hours. 
  • Kıbrıs Canyon: tours take about six hours in this medium-level canyon. There are several exciting abseil points and jumps, and it’s about 90 minutes from Kaş and Kalkan. 
  • Hacıoğlan: this is a pretty little stream above Kaş with a lot of jumping and nice pools. 
  • Kaputaş: both beautiful and technical, this canyon has a big hike to approach and five waterfalls to abseil down. The last one is 40 meters high. The tour finishes at the famous Kaputaş Beach.
  • Saklıkent: this canyon is a great 16 kilometers long. This includes two days of canyoning with an overnight stay in a bivouac inside the gorge. Technical rappels and climbs make this canyon difficult and advanced. 
  • Butterfly Valley: there are two big waterfalls here, each one over 60 meters. It’s technical, with a lot of adrenaline, but finishes on the beautiful beach. 
  • Toparlar: close to Dalyan and Dalaman, this is a pretty stream with non-technical climbing and jumping. The tour regularly takes three hours. 
  • İçmeler: this is a technical canyon near Marmaris with several abseils and jumps. Various tours are offered by companies based in Turunç.

Top tips

Besides a sense of adventure, make sure to bring a good pair of sports shoes, ideally with high ankles and a strong grip. Don’t bring the snazziest sneakers in the closet, as they will get mucky.

Useful contacts


Rafting

This has to be one of the most thrilling adventure sports that a novice can partake in. However, it’s important to remember that when people are this exposed to the elements, there are real risks involved. Always go with a reputable company and check them out before you sign up. Don’t be put off by safety warnings though, as hurtling down the river is also a real buzz. Rafting involves working as a team to safely steer an inflatable dinghy down fast-flowing water, with everyone doing their best to stay afloat and prevent the untamed river from capsizing the raft.

What they say

Gökhan Pehlevan, an outdoor sports activity guide at Loryma Outdoors:

What are the best places to go rafting in Turkey? 

  • The most popular ones are those with easy access from holiday destinations. The busiest river in Turkey is Köprüçay in Antalya, as it is in the middle of the most touristy area of Turkey. It is a medium-volume grade two river sitting in a beautiful valley. As it’s technically easy and a low-risk route, the quality of the service should be questioned before you choose a guide. Make sure you go with a professional company, otherwise you could end up in the river with a cigarette-smoking guide wearing a gold necklace telling you what to do!
  • Another popular spot is Dalaman River in Muğla, although it has lost some popularity due to the dams built on it. The main rafting section is now underwater because of the dam, but there are still other available sections. Companies from Marmaris or Fethiye can arrange transferred trips. Dalaman is more technical, with a higher grade river of three-four, reaching up to five depending on the water levels, so the guides and overall standards are higher compared with Köprüçay. There is also a grade two section available on Dalaman River. 
  • The next river to talk about is Melen River in Düzce. The river mostly serves people in Istanbul, as it’s a day trip away from the city. A few companies from outside Düzce operate there, but they’re mostly local. The river is grade three-four and is good early in the spring and also after rain in autumn or early winter. Cold weather and water conditions require neoprene wetsuits in high seasons; summer rafting is also available, but the water level drops dramatically. The companies there are quite successful, and the overall standard is good. 
  • Çoruh River is a large-volume river with massive grade-five sections and great multiday courses, but since the dams built there, it’s been divided and lost some of the great gorges. Rafting is still available in different sections of the river, and you can find local companies in Yusufeli to go with.
  • Fırtına River in Rize is a grade three-four river with rising water levels and fast and continuous sections. Fun rafting is available all year round in the Ardeşen district.
  • Zamantı River of Cappadocia is also a grade three-four river and has a beautiful valley right at the start of the Aladağlar Mountains. There are no daily tour operations on the river, but multiday trips can be easily organised by rafting companies on demand.
  • Karasu/Fırat is a grade-three river, but it goes up to grade five with high water levels in spring. Daily trips are available from Erzincan on demand. 

These are the most well-known rafting rivers in Turkey. There are some other rivers as well, but as they are away from today’s tourism areas, they are not known yet!

Is there much of a rafting scene in Turkey? The rafting scene is mostly dependent on tourism areas, and the majority of rafters in the south are foreigners. Melen River is mostly used by Turkish rafters, as it is close to Istanbul. Köprüçay, Dalaman, Melen, and a little bit of Fırtına are rivers with daily operations. The rest of the rivers are not busy and can be rafted on demand. The overall quality of the services and guides is lower than it should be for a country like Turkey, which has a lot of tourism going on and owns beautiful rivers all over. The first initiatives in terms of guide training and standards were civil and led by federations for some time, but the Ministry of Tourism banned the federations in order to licence guides by a court decision, and then didn’t do anything about it for a while. Now there are International Rafting Federation training programmes running here and there, but still not enough to license and train everybody on the river. The law is quite complicated and centralist – it should be more localized and common so it can cover the guides more effectively.

What advice would you give to beginners? I’d say, ask for a professional company, speak to your guide if possible, and see what they know and what they say. Don’t go if you don’t trust them, because even if you don’t know much about rafting, if a professional speaks to you, you will feel confident, and your head will be clear about what’s coming next! 

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