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.
For beginners, the first few breaths taken underwater have to be one of the weirdest sensations ever. But once we get past that initial surprise, a whole other world opens up to us. Gliding weightlessly through crystal clear waters, observing a myriad of sea creatures in their natural habitat, is an unforgettable experience and one that can be repeated again and again. Diving has come a long way since the spaceman-like suits of yesteryear. Today’s modern scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) gear doesn’t quite have the feeling of a second skin, but it is certainly a little less clunky. Freediving, on the other hand, takes diving to the next level by shedding the equipment and relying solely on the diver’s ability to hold their breath underwater for an impressive length of time.
Where to do it
- Kaş: This is the undisputed top destination for scuba diving in Turkey. Located on the turquoise Mediterranean coast between Antalya and Fetihye, it has a number of good dive sites. Emre Çevikel of the Diving In Kaş Team on the Bougainville Boat told us his favorite sites: Heybeliada (two islands where you can see a portion of a wreck, trigger fish, and turtles), Three Rocks (a reef with an incredible number of ancient amphora and underwater life), Canyon (descending into the narrow mouth of the canyon to around 25 meters with a variety of coral until you reach the wreck of a sunken cargo vessel), and Dakota Plane Wreck (a WWII C-47 Dakota aircraft, lying in under 20 meters of water, where you can encounter barracudas, turtles, jackfish, and more).
- Adrasan: The sleepy neighbor of the backpacker hotspot Olympos, Adrasan also has 20 different dive sites within a 40-minute boat journey.
- Kalkan: This is a boutique holiday destination not far from Kaş, with at least 15 dive sites that include reefs, islands, and walls. Like its neighbors, there’s a decent chance of seeing turtles, moray eels, octopus, squid, and even dolphin pods, with good visibility that often reaches down to 25-30 meters.
Always make sure to dive with a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) affiliated organization, where beginners can choose from a ‘Discover Scuba Diving’ experience or enroll in an ‘Open Water Certificate Course.’
What they say
World record-holding freediver Şahika Ercümen:
What is it that you love about diving? The feeling of gliding in the blue water, the feeling of being at peace submerged in this big vast liquid world, the feeling of becoming a sea creature, the feeling of belonging that makes us almost remember our real aquatic origins; all of this, condensed in a two or three-minute underwater experience, makes it very hard not to like freediving.
What advice would you give to beginners? I would tell them to start with swimming, then move to freediving. Freediving can be practiced in a swimming pool or at home but the best, of course, is in the sea. At home you can practice relaxation and breathing techniques. In the water you practice the actual diving and physical techniques.
- Bougainville Travel: Çukurbağlı Caddesi No. 10, Kaş; T: 0242 836 37 37
- Dolphin Scuba Team: Kamil Karayazı Dolphin Scuba Team PK 31, Kalkan; T: 0542 627 97 57
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a paraglider floating in the air above our heads. Taking to the skies has long been something that humans have sought to achieve. Even back in the early 17th century, intrepid Ottoman aviator Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi purportedly attached wings to his arms and flew from the top of the Galata Tower to Üsküdar on the other side of the Bosphorus. Exploiting natural lifts in the air, paragliding involves sitting in a harness suspended below a fabric wing. Beginners looking for a taster can try a tandem flight, which only requires 10 minutes’ training and is done in conjunction with an experienced instructor pilot. Once gliders have the taste, they can then embark on a solo course. Other aerial activities you can try in Turkey include hang-gliding, sky-diving, and parasailing.
What they say
Mehmet Dursan, Paragliding World Cup competition pilot and general manager of Escape 2 Olympos:
Where are your favorite spots to go paragliding in Turkey?
The most exciting spot is Tahtalı Mountain close to Kemer, Antalya, because of its high altitude (2,365 meters), which enables you to enjoy a long flight over the Mediterranean coast. This is also quite a new location and will no doubt be one of the best spots in the world in the future. Flight duration: 30-45 minutes.
The most popular is Babadağ, Ölüdeniz (1,965 meters). This has been Turkey’s best-known spot for paragliding for the past 20 years, with its famously beautiful view of the blue lagoon. Flight duration: 15-25 minutes
The most historic is Pamukkale, Denizli (350 meters) where you’ll fly over the ancient Roman cemetery and famous travertine rocks. Flight duration: 10-15 minutes.
What is it that you love about paragliding? Paragliding is the purest feeling of freedom and the most natural way of flying like a bird. With no engine and no fuel, it is also one of the greenest, most environmentally-friendly sports. You can fly for hours and hours, and you can fly really long distances in the right conditions. 505 kilometers is the current world record.
How would you describe it to someone that has never tried it? Just do it! You will feel as free as a bird. It is difficult to describe the feeling of freedom of flying; you need to experience this for yourself. Challenge yourself!
What advice would you give to beginners? Be patient, and train yourself well about all different types of flying. Always respect nature, never challenge it. In the end you will get the best reward.
- Escape Adventures: Belediye Halı Saha Yanı Escape Yamac Paraşütü Okulu, Tekirova, Kemer; T: 0242 821 41 18
- International Ölüdeniz Air Games: Çarsı Caddesi No. 2, Ölüdeniz, Fethiye; T: 0545 881 51 43
- Bougainville Travel: İbrahim Serin Caddesi No.10, Kaş; T: 0242 836 31 42
Surfing may be a sport we associate more with Hawaii or California, but in fact Istanbul has a long history of it. Local fishermen have been bodysurfing the waves of the Black Sea since the Ottoman period, a sport known as viya. It’s a tradition that is passed down through the generations, steeped in local legend and history, originating from the Greeks who have inhabited this region. To see for yourself, head out to Rumeli Feneri, just to the north of Istanbul, which has been described as an epicenter for the sport.
What they say
Danube Surf House’s Tolga Hadımoğlu:
Where are the best places to go surfing in Turkey?
You know Turkey is surrounded by water on three sides. And if there’s water, there’s surfing. There are differences in the conditions between ocean surfing and sea surfing, but if you want to surf, you can find a way. After eight years of experience, we’ve seen that the Mediterranean and the Black Sea have really good conditions for improving your surfing, and there are many places that are good for both beginners and advanced.
- Alanya: this area is perfect for high-level surfing in winter and fall, because it’s warm with good swells from southern winds. But the season there is just three months, as the summer can be calm and flat.
- Kerpe: located on the Black Sea, Kerpe is really good for surfing all year round, but winter is very cold. However, that’s just four months, and the rest of the year is warm and good for surfers of all levels. But you can also find so many undiscovered spots, even one the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts – they both need more exploration.
What is it that you love about surfing? I still don’t know, I just love the fact that surfing gives me a happiness I can’t explain – just a deep love with no words.
How is the Turkish surf scene? It’s growing fast, with no fixed rules. We just need a little more time to develop it further.
What is Danube Surf House? It’s the first and only surfing brand in Turkey that is trying to act more independently from others. It’s here to develop surfing and skating for the future of Turkey’s new generation.
Who are the best surfers in Turkey right now? I would say some of the best male surfers are Cihan Akça, Tunç Üçyıldız, and Ufuk Akıncı. The best female surfer is Aleyna Hadımoğlu – the first pro-female grom (young) surfer in the World Surf League from Turkey. She is still competing in the World Junior Tour.
What advice would you give to beginners? Just have fun and respect Mother Nature for what she gives you.
- Danube Surf House: Babalı Mah. Atatürk Caddesi No.314, Kocaeli; T: 0 532 248 40 54
- Istanbul Surf School: Suma Beach, Gümüşdere Mahallesi, Boğaziçi Kampus Yolu No.1/A, Istanbul; T: 0534 396 40 50
We’ve all seen the mini sails just offshore being effortlessly controlled by wetsuited types. Windsurfing is another sport that combines the elements. Like kitesurfing, wind is the driving force here that pulls windsurfers across the waves. Unlike kitesurfing, it uses a sail rather than a kite, and the sail is connected to a two to three-meter-high board with a mast and a two-sided boom.
What they say
Competitive windsurfer Melih Apaydın:
Where are the best places to go windsurfing in Turkey?
- Istanbul Kalamış/Caddebostan: this is a really hard place to learn, unless you are stubborn and have strong immunity. You have to go quite far from the shore because the water is so dirty, and it’s not advised to fall off frequently!
- Çanakkale/Kabatepe: this place has the cleanest seawater and most beautiful nature. Memories of soldiers who lost their lives during the Battle of Çanakkale have protected the area from human garbage invasion. Less people are aware of this little Caribbean-style paradise, and there is only one little school (Storm Windsurfing), so the prices are low and the people are sincere. But if there is high wind, it has really great conditions. This protected area only has one hotel to stay in, but if you have an explorer’s soul and are able to camp, you can ask around to find a place.
- Gökçeada: there are two spots on this island. The first is Kefalos Bay, which has calm water conditions and a beautiful sand beach that’s good for beginners. The second spot is Eselek Bay, which has more wavy conditions. For advanced wave riders, if there’s a good wind forecast, Eselek Bay is a pretty rocking place.
- Çeşme/Alaçatı: this place used to have clean water and wind before the yacht marina and summerhouses were built. There are many local and international schools here, and it has the best conditions for beginners. It is a pretty closed bay, so it gives you a feeling of safety if you are scared of the open sea, and it has a very big shallow area that you can walk in, which beginners need.
- Muğla/Bodrum/Fener/Bitez/Ortakent: these are all nice spots that suit people from beginners to advanced. It’s always important to find the right conditions that fit your skill level.
What is it that you love about windsurfing? If you are a freerider, there is a lot to love. You can think clearer, and feel a kind of harmony with the power that drags you, making you fly over the sea. You are a low altitude glider, working with the most complicated variables – even all the computers in the world cannot simulate an inch of it. Just trying it requires both muscle and technical work. But if you can get to the level of heading where you want to go, you feel that you have wings of an angel.
What is the windsurfing scene like in Turkey, and how is it developing? Turkey has always been a follower, so it makes sense that windsurfing was introduced to Turkish people by foreign windsurfing tourists. Some of the big spots like Alaçatı were discovered by them, and since windsurfing has become an Olympic sport, Turkey has started to invest in windsurfing at sailing clubs. Then it got really popular when passion drove people to the sport. Media interest and some popular names have made windsurfing into a big industry. Slalom racing then got more popular, and lots of races have been held. Unfortunately it is a really expensive discipline, so if you are not very rich or you don’t have a good sponsor, it’s tough.
How does it feel to windsurf in Istanbul? If you are pro-windsurfing in Istanbul, it can be very mystical. If you are a survivor and a wind-chaser going for long-distance rides, you’ll love the sunset, the view, and the peaceful times. If you are really lucky, dolphins might ride with you; a little piece of a nature in this big city. Or, if you catch a southwest storm and ride violent water with huge waves, you’ll always have an interesting story to tell.
What advice would you give to beginners? Choose the right equipment with right adjustments. Think then move; do not waste your power. Feel the wind and tango with it. Try to adapt, rather than fight.
- Alacati Surf Paradise Club: Alaçati Beach Resort; T: 0232 716 66 11
- Planet Windsurf Holidays: Offers combined Istanbul and seven-night holidays; T: +44 01273 921 001
- Fener Windsurf: Fener Beach, Akyarlar; T: 0252 393 84 14
Managing to combine a salty taste of the sea and the air, kitesurfing is a sport that’s been growing in popularity for some years, and Turkey is now firmly on the international map as a kitesurfing destination. A kite is attached to the surfer’s waist, who then controls it by using wind power to pull himself along the surface of the water with his feet on a small surfboard or wakeboard. Once a kitesurfer has mastered the basics, there’s then the opportunity to progress to freestyling, bringing in jumps, turns, and grabs. The beginner course takes around eight to 10 hours and provides a chance to learn how to control the kite and take to the water, as well as mastering the safety basics.
Where to do it
- Burc Beach, Kilyos: The choppy water means that while it’s a good place to learn to control the kite, it’s not the best place for beginners or those who are more used to flat water.
- Akyaka/Gökova: With a stable thermal wind from 12-7pm every day during the season, it’s a great place to start. There are two kitesurfing beaches; one is large and suitable for beginners, while the other is smaller and more suitable for freestyle (or advanced-level riders). There’s also a new park perfect for practicing tricks.
- Gökçeada: This sleepy island has countless beautiful spots, where your kites can take to the skies with various types of winds both on and offshore, 300 days per year. It’s also possible to surf in the lake within the island.
- Çeşme/Alaçatı: The charming town of Alaçatı close to Çeşme may attract boutique holidaymakers, but its beaches attract a whole different crowd. The flat waters and reliable meltemi wind paired with beautiful beaches and good nightlife options make this an enjoyable place to learn.
- Always Windy: Gökova, Ayvalık, Gökçeada, Alaçatı, and Urla; T: +44 1273 25 25 43
What they say
Turkey 2013 Freestyle Women’s Champion Nesligül Kocakıran and her partner, İlan Karaso:
How would you describe kitesurfing to someone who knows nothing about it? NK: Think about how exciting it was to fly kites when you were little. Well, now you’re a grown up, it’s time to play around with bigger kites! You’re smoothly gliding through the sea with your kite in your hand and your board under your feet. It’s up to you to speed up with the power of the wind or to taste freedom by hopping, jumping, and dancing with it. It may look like it’s a hard sport to learn, but actually anyone can manage it after just 10 hours of training.
Is there a lifestyle that goes along with this particular sport? İK: “Chillax, you are kitesurfing,” I guess this describes the lifestyle of kitesurfers – with long trips all around the world, no hurry, it’s timeless. You spend your day on the beach and the daily aim is to wait for the wind, so how can you be stressed?
How long does it take to get past that frustrating beginner stage, on average? İK: All you need to do is find yourself a kite school and register for a nine-hour course and afterwards you are ready to ride by yourself. That does not mean that you are fully controlling your kite or board but you know the main principles and can start practicing and enjoying it. The more you practice, the better you become. This is one of the sports where you can see your improvement much faster than with any other.
What’s your favorite kitesurfing memory? NK: I spent three days on a sand isle in the Philippines which was three hours away from the closest island. There was no electricity or water, and I just lost myself amongst the silence and the magic of nature while kitesurfing in the deep blue waters.