Southern Sailing off Turkey’s Turquoise Coast

I miss the sunshine.
I miss Turkey’s sunshine.

It’s a dreary and rainy autumn day in northern Japan. Rain, snow, and even hail has fallen intermittently all day, and the chilly wind and clouds, cinereous and heavy with rain, have only reinforced the fact that winter is coming. And as much as I love the grey, cold weather – perfect for readings piles of books, drinking endless mugs of coffee, and burrowing under my cozy kotatsu – I can’t help but dream of the sunny days and blue waters I saw in Turkey this summer.

The Turquoise Coast
The Turquoise Coast

Turkey’s got its fair share of gorgeous coastlines, but none are as beautiful as the aptly named Turquoise Coast. It has the sort of white sand beaches, craggy cliffs, and crystal waters that you’d associate with Santorini or Mykonos, and once or twice I found myself wondering aloud if we’d taken a wrong turn and somehow ended up in Greece.

The sunken ruins of Kekova
The sunken ruins of Kekova

“Turquoise” is a fitting word to describe the waters surrounding Kekova, the name used for both the largest island in the region and the waters surrounding it, but that’s not the only shade of blue you’ll see. Sapphire, cerulean, aquamarine, indigo, cyan, azure, cobalt…you’ve got it all, from brilliant pavonine to pale chrysoberyl. If Mother Nature assembled a color palette consisting only of blue, every hue could be seen on the Turquoise Coast.

Crystal blue waters
Crystal blue waters
Sailing under the Mediterranean can get a little hot...thankfully, this guy has taken it upon himself to load up a huge cooler with frozen treats and sell them to boats sailing around Kekova. I'm willing to bet he makes a killing.
Sailing under the Mediterranean can get a little hot…thankfully, this guy has taken it upon himself to load up a huge cooler with frozen treats and sell them to boats sailing around Kekova. I’m willing to bet he makes a killing.

Many of the beaches, inlets, and coves are inaccessible by land, so the popular thing to do is hop aboard a boat captained and run by a local family and sail around the area for a few days. And that’s exactly what we did for two days, which turned out to be some of the most relaxing I’ve ever experienced. Our home base was a tiny town called Üçağız, whose name means “three mouths” in Turkish and refers to the three paths to the open waters.

Boats ready and waiting in the Ucagiz harbor.
Boats ready and waiting in the Ucagiz harbor.
Somehow fifteen people spent two days on that little boat, and not one murder was committed.
Somehow fifteen people spent two days on that little boat, and not one murder was committed.
Our captain and his wife.
Our captain and his wife, both of whom were incredibly hospitable and welcoming.
Not to mention the fact that the captain's wife was some sort of culinary wizard. She wrangled incredible meals out of the boat's tiny kitchen, including these zucchini fritters.
Not to mention the fact that the captain’s wife was some sort of culinary wizard. She wrangled incredible meals out of the boat’s tiny kitchen, including these zucchini fritters.

We had an easy routine: wake up at sunrise, head out to an isolated cove for a pre-breakfast swim, eat breakfast…find a new cove, swim, eat lunch…find a new cove, swim, eat dinner…return to the harbor to sleep on deck under the stars. Lots of eating, lots of swimming, and – above all – lots and lots of marveling at the perfectly blue water that surrounded us.

Waking up at the crack of dawn isn't so bad when this is the scene that's waiting for you.
Waking up at the crack of dawn isn’t so bad when this is the scene that’s waiting for you.
Yes, this'll do for a morning swim.
Yes, this’ll do for a morning swim.

And when I say the water was perfect, I do mean it. It was some of the clearest I’ve ever seen. Sometimes we’d drop anchor in water nine meters (around thirty feet) in depth, and you could see straight to the bottom. As much as I love the ocean, I also have a very healthy respect for everything (especially the stuff with sharp teeth) that lives in it. That often translates into me happily cavorting in the water until I start hearing the Jaws theme song in my head and book it back to the beach for a few minutes, until I’m convinced that whatever wanted to have me for lunch has moved on to some other unfortunate swimmer. In Kekova, that was never an issue. The water is so clear that you could easily see everything surrounding you. (That doesn’t mean that I’d have made it back to the boat in time if Jaws had decided to make an appearance, but still…made me feel a bit better.)

The sun setting behind Ucagiz.
The sun setting behind Ucagiz.
Put me on a boat with a decent prow and I'm guaranteed to reenact Titanic...no Jack necessary.
Put me on a boat with a decent prow and I’m guaranteed to reenact Titanic…no Jack necessary.

The clarity of the water has another advantage, too. In ancient times, the area was known as Lycia, and the remnants of the extinct culture can still be seen. Most famous is Kekova’s “sunken city.” No diving or swimming is allowed in the areas surrounding Kekova in order to preserve the stone ruins beneath the water’s surface, but boats still sail over them, and if your eyes are keen, you can pick out the angular lines and boundaries that mark where houses, roads, and walls once stood before the rising water submerged them.

Some of the ruins are barely a meter beneath the water.
Some of the ruins are barely a meter beneath the water.
The ruins of Simena. The castle was built for protection from invading pirates.
The ruins of Simena. The castle was built for protection from invading pirates.
The view from above Kaleköy.
The view from above Kaleköy.
It was worth the hike.
It was worth the hike.

Other ruins still exist on the islands themselves. You can hike among crumbling walls and hollowed shells of houses long abandoned, but the most impressive of them is the castle that sits atop Kaleköy, a village about a kilometer from Üçağız. Simena, as the town was known in Lycian, clings to the steep bluffs, and you wind your way through its narrow alleys canopied by heavy bougainvillea to the top of the hill.

The Turkish flag flies above Kaleköy.
The Turkish flag flies above Kaleköy.

It’s a steep climb, but the ruined castle – and the view from it – that awaits you makes it worth the aching calf muscles. The Turquoise Coast’s stunning blue waters, underwater ruins, and picture perfect islands are lain out in front out you in all their sunny glory.

I was more than pleased with the view.
I was more than pleased with the view.
And to top it all off, fresh peach dondurma (Turkish ice cream) awaits you on the way back down.
And to top it all off, fresh peach dondurma (Turkish ice cream) awaits you on the way back down. That should soothe away any lingering muscle pains.

One thought on “Southern Sailing off Turkey’s Turquoise Coast”

  1. The turquoise color of the sea is just perfect. It looks like a destination for a real dream holiday. Thanks for sharing your amazing experience and the awesome photos 🙂

    Like

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