A journey to Dalyan, Turkey- exciting things to see and do

A journey to Dalyan, Turkey- exciting things to see and do

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A lazy river flows from a lake, gathering its waters, and proceeds through a large field of reeds until it reaches the Mediterranean Sea. Mysterious ruins and rock-hewn tombs can be seen around it. This is the Dalyan River, forming one of the most beautiful river mouths in Turkey. Let’s go on a journey to this amazing place with fantastic views and ancient history! This is a guide about Dalyan with information about things to do and see there.

Basic facts about Dalyan

The name “Dalyan” is given to a short, but wide and attractive river, a town at its eastern bank, and from that- the whole area around the town and the river. And the name itself means “fishing weir”.

If you zoom the map at Dalyan, you will see a large lake. This is Lake Köyceğiz, one of the largest coastal lakes in Turkey. And Dalyan River is a natural channel that connects the lake with the Mediterranean Sea.

Dalyan River is about 15 km long. It flows through a plain, surrounded by mountains on both sides. But how does it flow? It is wide, and curves and divides in beautiful meanders through reeds until it reaches the seacoast. And the seacoast is not just a “normal” seacoast, there is a beautiful lagoon with one of the most beautiful beaches in Turkey. The beach is called Iztuzu and it is a sandspit, separating the lagoon from the sea.

Dalyan River and Mediterranean Sea
Dalyan River and Mediterranean Sea

But let’s look at the mountains that rise west of the Dalyan River. They are higher, closer to the river, and more rugged. And if you stare at one of their hills, you can see ancient ruins. These are the ruins of Kaunos, an ancient Carian (but with high Lycian influence) city.

And that’s not all. Here you can see tombs, hewn in the rocks over the river. They are Kaunos Tombs- the most beautiful rock-hewn tombs in Turkey.

So, what do we have here? An incredibly beautiful river, an amazing beach, a lake, and unique ancient ruins- all of this in a spectacular combination. Needless to say, this is a place worth visiting and exploring. But to dive deeper into it, let’s first look at its history.

History of Dalyan

In ancient times, this part of Turkey was a place divided into two regions- Caria and Lycia. And today’s Dalyan River was the border between these two regions. I say “today’s”, because thousands of years ago this river didn’t look like what is it today- it was much shorter, Iztuzu Beach didn’t exist and the sea was penetrating much deeper into the land.

And here, probably around the 10th century BC, the local people called Carians (a non-Greek people with local Anatolian origin) built a city, called Kbid- known as Kaunos (Caunos). From the time of its foundation, the city would live during the next 2500 years of history.

Although Kaunos was located in Caria, because it was in fact near to Lycia, so the city’s inhabitants are considered unique in culture, something like a mix between Carians and Lycians. Therefore, today Kaunos and its tombs are often considered as “Lycian”. 

The main Kaunos Tombs
The main Kaunos Tombs

Early history (10th century BC to 546 BC)

Little is known about Kaunos during this period. There are no remains of constructions, but only some artifacts- parts of statues and tools. It was the time of the Dark Ages, Phrygia, and Lydia kingdoms.

Persian period (546 to 334 BC)

The Persians invaded this area in 546 BC, but after the defeat by the Greeks in the 5th century BC, they withdraw from the area. Kaunos became independent and joined the Delian league. This led to the gradual Hellenization of the city. It was reconquered by the Persians again in 387 BC and enjoyed growth under the Carian satrap-king Mausolus who enlarged it. This is the time when the Kaunos Tombs were built.

Hellenistic period (334 to 187 BC)

Alexander the Great conquered Kaunos in 334 BC. By this time it became a Greek city, in the Greek style- with agora and theater. It was ruled by the dynasties of Antigonids, Ptolemies, and Seleucids. And during this period Iztuzu Beach formed and the Dalyan River was prolonged, separating the city from the sea.

Roman period (187 BC to 314 AD)

The Romans added Kaunos to the autonomous Rhodes, as a part of the Roman Republic. Kaunos still flourished, despite the river and seacoast changes, and many new Roman constructions were built.

Early Byzantine period (314 to 625)

During this period, Kaunos became a Christian city and its name was changed to Caunos-Hegia.

Middle Byzantine period (625 to 1250)

Kaunos faced Arab invasions. After that, it still remained in the Byzantine Empire, but it started declining. It lost its significance as an important trade center.

Early Turkic period (1250 to 1450)

The decline of Kaunos proceeded. During that time, the Turks arrived and established a medieval castle in the city. But it has already lost most of its citizens. On top of that, in the 14th century, it was badly hit by a malaria epidemic. As a result, at the end of this period, Kaunos was completely abandoned.

Ottoman period (1450 to 1923)

When Kaunos became a part of the Ottoman Empire, it was already uninhabited. Its ruins were gradually covered by sand and vegetation. At the same time, the Turks established new villages in the area. One of them became what is today the town of Dalyan, on the other side of the river.

Modern period (1923 until today)

Dalyan and its surroundings were a quiet rural place until it was noticed by the tourists. They discovered the beauty of the meandering river, the beach Iztuzu, and the ancient remains, so the government started to develop the area for tourism. Today, the most popular activity here is the Dalyan River cruise, but that’s not the only thing you can do here.

Dalyan River and Kaunos Tombs in the distance
Dalyan River and Kaunos Tombs in the distance

Our trip to Dalyan

So, after we read some information and saw some incredibly beautiful photos and videos from Dalyan and Kaunos, we decided to include them in our Western Turkey itinerary. We traveled by car from Marmaris– one of the most popular Turkish city resorts arrived at Kaunos Tombs for about 1 hour and 30 min.

We explored the tombs and saw a bit more of the area, but not all. There is much more to see and do there, but it requires a much longer time. So, here is what we saw and did, and what more we would see and do if we had more time.

Things to see and do in Dalyan

In general, when you come to Dalyan and the area around, be prepared for a combination of the following: cruising, beach playing, ancient ruins exploring, maybe some hiking, and delicious food in the town of Dalyan and the roadside restaurants nearby.

Dalyan River

Dalyan River is enough wide and deep for cruising. It divides into more channels, then they merge again. In some points, the channels become wider and even form some lakes, like Ala Gölü and Sülüngür Golü.

You can walk on the river bank in the town of Dalyan. You can also enjoy the view of the river from the ferry boat river crossings (there are three boat river crossings), but the best experience of Dalyan River, of course, is by a river cruise.

Dalyan River and the town of Dalyan on the other bank
Dalyan River and the town of Dalyan on the other bank

Dalyan River cruise

The simplest way to enjoy floating on the Dalyan River is to go to the town of Dalyan and take a regular boat to Iztuzu Beach. It takes about an hour to get to the beach, for 10 TL per person (now, in 2023, the price may be higher). Then, you can back on the same route for another 10 TL, or walk to the southeastern end of Iztuzu Beach (about 4 km walking) to Kaplumbağa Hastanesi (Turtle Sanctuary) and get a bus (for 8 TL) back to Dalyan.

However, there are longer tourist cruises, for the whole day. Their itineraries include not only floating on the Dalyan River but also visiting Lake Köyceğiz and the Bay of Dalyan (in front of Iztuzu).

Lake Köyceğiz

This lake is about 13 km long and between 2 and 4 km wide. Its maximal depth is 60 m (here the bottom is below sea level), and it is abundant with fish. So, there are a lot of fishing villages and the small town of Köyceğiz.

Here the main points of interest are Köyceğiz Market and Sultaniye Thermal and Mud Baths. While the first one is just a local attraction, the second one is gradually gaining worldwide popularity.

Lake Köyceğiz
Lake Köyceğiz

Sultaniye Thermal and Mud Baths

This spot has been known for thousands of years. The ancient people of Kaunos have used its waters for healing effects. Nowadays, the baths were noticed by the government and turned into a spa resort. Its popularity increased further with some world-famous people like Jack Nicholson, Sting, and Prince Filipe De Carlos of Spain.

Here you can enjoy a thermal pool with 40°C hot water, and a mud pool, where you can coat yourself with mud for skin health and fun.

Other things you can do in Lake Köyceğiz are swimming (you can find swimming points at Sultaniye and the town of Köyceğiz), and kayaking- you can find rental kayaks in the same places too. And all of this can be arranged as a one-day trip around the lake. Today, there are a lot of 1-day boat tours that include these activities, for prices between 25 and 50 USD per person.

Now, let’s go to the other end of the Dalyan River

Iztuzu Beach

Iztuzu Beach is a 4 km long sandspit that separates Dalyan River and Sülüngür Golü from the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the most beautiful and spectacular beaches in Turkey. You can reach it by boat cruise on the Dalyan River (by regular boat or tourist cruise), or by bus from the town of Dalyan.

Once you arrived there, you can enjoy swimming and relaxing on the sand- just like on every normal beach. It is wide and open to the sea, so here you can see big waves and enjoy surfing too.

Iztuzu Beach from above
Iztuzu Beach from above

But there is more- at least three more points that offer some specific activities:

  • Turtle Sanctuary (Kaplumbağa Hastanesi). Dalyan turtles are one of the local attractions, and they deserve care and preservation. So, this is the center where you can see these amazing animals closely. It includes also a hospital for sick and injured turtles. There is no entrance fee, and the sanctuary is located at the southeast end of Iztuzu Beach.
  • Delikli Ada. This is a small island (about 380 m long and 90-100 m wide) with some fascinating rock formations, including a diamond-shaped hole in the rocks. It is accessible by boat only, and many cruises include it in their itineraries.
  • Çandır Seyir Tepesi. This is the best viewpoint of Iztuzu Beach and the estuary of Dalyan River, providing one of the most spectacular views in the whole of Western Turkey. However, you can’t reach this point from the beach, but from the other side of the river. There is a narrow paved road to the village of Çandır (if you come from the town of Dalyan, you have to cross the river by ferry and drive or cycle to Çandır), and from there- on a dirt road to the viewpoint. Otherwise, you have to swim from the western tip of Iztuzu Beach to the other side of the river mouth, and from there hike to the viewpoint.

Kaunos Ancient City

Let’s get to the ancient side of Dalyan. Kaunos Ancient City is located on a small hill that extends from the mountains west of the Dalyan River. Although its origin is local Anatolian, as mentioned above, it gradually became a Greek city, with all of the traditional Greek civilization features- amphitheater, agora, and acropolis.

In ancient times, Kaunos had two ports- one in the south, and one in the north. But when the sea withdrew to the south, these ports stopped functioning. At the same time, during medieval times, some new constructions have been built- churches and a medieval fortress. There are some remains of the city wall too. When the city was abandoned in the 15th century, these constructions gradually became ruins too, like the more ancient ones.

Today, the site of Kaunos Ancient city is arranged as a tourist attraction.
Entrance fee: 14 TL

The ruins of Kaunos
The ruins of Kaunos

Kaunos Tombs

The tombs are located about 1,5 km north of the ancient city, on the rock walls in the neighboring hill. Probably, they were built between the 5th and 3rd centuries BC. There are two groups of tombs.

The higher and the bigger tombs are made like ancient mausoleum facades, hewn in the rocks- their unique architecture can be seen only here (there are more rock-hewn tombs in this part of Turkey, but the other tombs look a bit different than those in Kaunos).

And the lower group of tombs, called “Small Lycian Tombs” are located almost at the foot of the rocky walls of the hill, and they are much easier to access. They are smaller and not designed like mausoleum facades, but more like just rectangle holes.

Currently, the tourist site is under renovation and it is closed. You can enjoy watching the higher tombs from the riverside village below. But the lower tombs are accessible- there is a dirt road that guides you behind the village, and when you reach the foot of the hill, just turn right on a small trail. In less than 100 m, you will reach the tombs.

The small Lycian Tombs
The small Lycian Tombs

Useful tips

So, as you can see, Dalyan and its surroundings are a destination that is worth visiting and exploring. At the same time, it is not overcrowded by tourists, because this part of Turkey is full of many other destinations that attract tourists too. But let’s take a look at some useful tips- how to get to Dalyan, where to stay, what is the best season, and more.

How to get to Dalyan

Dalyan is located between two famous city resorts- Marmaris and Fethiye. At the same time, there is an airport near the town of Dalaman that serves this area. But at the same time, Dalyan is not exactly on the main road between Marmaris and Fethiye, and you have to get on one of the smaller roads to reach the destinations. Not only this but traveling between the points of interest around Dalyan can be a bit complicated. So, let’s see the options.

By air

You can reach Dalyan by air. First, you have to take a flight to Dalaman. It is an international airport and is connected to many European cities, as well as with regular domestic flights to the major cities in Turkey.
Once you arrive at Dalaman Airport, you can take a taxi or a bus to the center of Dalaman. Then, you can find a dolmuş (local minibus, the main way of transportation between local towns and villages, like a shared taxi) to Dalyan.

Check for flights to Dalaman on 12Go!

By bus

Again, there are regular dolmuş and buses that travel between Marmaris, Dalyan, and Fethiye. So, if Dalyan is a point on your longer route, you can use this way to travel. It is cheap- usually between 15 and 20 TL, depending on where you come from.

By car

This is the most convenient way. Again, you can travel to the town of Dalyan, leaving the main road between Marmaris and Fethiye. If you come from Fethiye, it is 57 km (about a 1-hour drive). But if you come from Marmaris, you have two options: to reach Dalyan from the town of Köyceğiz (85 km), or to turn right on a small road to the western side of Lake Köyceğiz and Dalyan River (that’s what we did), first reaching Sultaniye and Kaunos.

Find the best rental cars in Turkey!

By water

Actually, this means joining a boat cruise. There are a lot of boat cruises from Marmaris and Fethiye that travel to Dalyan, and the Dalyan area is just a part of their itineraries.

By boat on Dalyan River
By boat on Dalyan River

Around Dalyan

How to proceed to explore the Dalyan area, once you reach Dalyan independently (by air, bus, or car)? Here you have to consider the following:

  • There is a long water corridor that consists of Lake Köyceğiz and Dalyan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
    This corridor divides the Dalyan area into two parts- eastern and western. Dalyan and Iztuzu Beach are in the eastern part, while Sultaniye Thermal and Mud Baths, Kaunos city and tombs, and the panoramic terrace of Çandır Seyir Tepesi are in the western part.
  • There are no bridges between these two parts- the waterway completely separates them. But there are three boat crossings.
  • If you travel by car, the northernmost ferry crossing is the only way to cross the waterway of the Dalyan River. There is a small ferry boat that allows four cars in one direction. It travels every 10 min between the two banks of the river. The price is 30 TL per car (including the passengers). The other two crossings, located near Kaunos city and tombs are only for tourists (not for cars).
  • The road on the western side of the Dalyan River is paved only to Kaunos, passing through Çandır village. If you want to reach Çandır Seyir Tepesi by car, you have to travel from Çandır to the panoramic terrace on a 2 km dirt road that requires only proper cars (SUV, 4×4)
  • Of course, you always have the exciting option to travel by regular boat from Dalyan to Iztuzu and to join local tours.
The ferry crossing on Dalyan River
The ferry crossing on Dalyan River

Tours around Dalyan

This is a bit expensive, but a very convenient way to explore Dalyan. As mentioned above, most tours include Marmaris or Fethiye, or just start from these cities. And the tours that are focused only on Marmaris and Dalyan are one day or half-day long. Let’s see some of them:

  • Dalyan: Private Half-Day Dalyan Riverboat Tour with Mud Bath. This is a 4-hour group tour between Sultaniye Thermal and Mud Baths and Iztuzu Beach. Unlike the regular boat service, this one stops at the main attractions on the way: Sultaniye, Kaunos ancient city and tombs, and Iztuzu Beach, including some time to play in the baths and on the beach (obviously for a short time). The price starts from 299 EUR for a whole group of 12 people. Lunch is not included.
  • Full-Day Dalyan Boat Tour from Marmaris with Lunch. This is the same cruise as the first one, but it starts from Marmaris. Also, they give you a longer time to enjoy the mud baths and the beach. The price starts from 28 EUR per person.
  • Marmaris: Turtle Beach Tour With Lake and Mud Baths. Again, this tour is like the first one, but the section between Marmaris and the first stop- Sultaniye is by bus (departing at 9:30 am). It arrives in Sultaniye around 10:20 am, and the travel proceeds by boat until 5:00 pm. Then, you back to Marmaris by bus again. The price starts from 20 EUR per person.
  • Dalyan: Full-Day Mud Bath & Turtle Beach Tour from Fethiye. This is the same tour as the second one but starts from Fethiye instead of Marmaris. The price starts from 55 EUR per person.

In addition, there are longer tours that include Dalyan. Let’s take a look at two of them:

  • Highlights of Turkey. This is an 8-day tour from Istanbul to Dalyan. On your way, you will explore Istanbul, Canakkale, and ancient Troy, the ruins of Pergamum (Pergamon) and Ephesus, the marvelous Pamukkale, and a full river cruise on the Dalyan River. The price starts from 940 USD.
  • Cycle Turkey. This is an adventurous biking tour. Most of the time you will cycle, but there is also a cruise section (between Göcek Beach and Fethiye). The tour starts from Dalyan and includes riding along the coast of Lake Köyceğiz. Then, it includes visiting some ancient cities, a local village house, Patara Beach (the longest beach in Turkey), and it ends in Kaş. The price starts from 1230 USD.

Accommodation

If you are an independent traveler or you want to join a tour that starts or ends in Dalyan, and if you have to stay there, you have to consider accommodation.

Most of the properties- budget, luxurious, boutique hotels, villas, guesthouses, and apartments are located in the town of Dalyan. So, Dalyan can be your starting or ending point for your trip around the area. You can find these places to stay in Booking or Agoda.

There are also a few properties west of Dalyan River, located in Sultaniye and Çandir, and even a bungalow exactly in the village under the Kaunos Tombs. So, although there isn’t too much choice here, if you find a good place to stay, it will be more convenient to explore this area the next day.

Check for accommodations in Dalyan on Booking!

Check for accommodations in Dalyan on Agoda!

Another good option is Airbnb. The price of the Airbnb properties is usually a bit lower than the hotel price (if we compare them by quality), and you could find a good opportunity to communicate with locals. However, all the Airbnb properties in the area are located only in the town of Dalyan.

If you are more adventurous, you can go camping. There are three campsites around Sultaniye, and one at the western coast of the Dalyan River mouth. Finally, you can even go wild camping, but be careful, don’t install your tent near the ancient ruins, and better stay away from the villages, resorts, and towns.

Iztuzu Beach from a panoramic terrace
Iztuzu Beach from a panoramic terrace

Seasons

The high season in Dalyan is from April to November. This includes spring, summer, and fall. In general, during these months you can swim in the waters of Dalyan, and at Iztuzu Beach. At the beginning of this period, the weather is nice, not so hot, but the water is relatively cool. And at the end of it- October and November, the weather is the same, and even the water is warmer.

Have in mind that July to September is the hottest weather here. It is not only hot, but also humid, and it makes hiking difficult (you would sweat heavily and there is a danger of sunstroke). If you go hiking during that time, bring as much water as possible!

The rest of the time is later fall, winter, and early spring. It is the low season. Water is too cold for swimming (at least for those who are not trained to swim in cold water), and this is also the wettest season. Due to the regular Mediterranean cyclones, it is often rainy (and it is cold rain). Sometimes, although very rare, snowfall is also possible. But there are cool and sunny days in this period too, and you can still have a nice time in Dalyan. Although not proper for swimming in the lake and the sea, you can at least enjoy the hot springs in Sultaniye.

We crossed the Dalyan River by ferry and proceeded on our Western Turkey route further east, to Fethiye and the fantastic Oludeniz- another marvelous gem at the Turkish Mediterranean seacoast. But Dalyan and the ancient ruins of Kaunos left unforgettable impressions on us, remaining one of the most spectacular spots for us in Turkey.

Take a look at this video for more impressions from Marmaris and Dalyan:

Check some travel books about Turkey:

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A guide about Dalyan in Turkey, including basic facts, things to do and see, and useful tips- how to get there and arrange your itinerary. A guide about Dalyan in Turkey, including basic facts, things to do and see, and useful tips- how to get there and arrange your itinerary.

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