A journey to Marmaris, Turkey- beaches, history, water sports, and other things to do

A journey to Marmaris, Turkey- beaches, history, water sports, and other things to do

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This is a complex coastline of bays, peninsulas, promontories, and nearby islands. High mountains are rising over the seacoast, creating fantastic landscapes. The sea is clear, with turquoise waters, hiding a mysterious underwater world. And here, within this picture, you can find a city, full of life and a vacational atmosphere, but also with history and secrets. This is Marmaris, once a center of marble trade, now a famous Turkish resort, a starting point for exploring the nearby beaches, underwater world, the local history, and many other things to do. Let’s go on a journey to Marmaris and dive into its geography!

The first view of Marmaris
The first view of Marmaris

Basic facts about Marmaris

Look at the map of Minor Asia, and focus on its southwestern part. Here you can see many complex peninsulas and bays, but in general, the main coast from the Aegean Sea turns eastward. Here is the end of the Aegean, and the beginning of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Zoom at the southernmost peninsula of Aegean Turkey. It divides into two smaller sub-peninsulas- one large and one small. The large one is called Datça, and the small one- Bozburun. From Bozburun, the coast proceeds firmly eastward, following a complex coastline. And here, at the beginning of Bozburun, at the coast of a small, very closed bay, you can see Marmaris, surrounded by mountains.

This place has been noticed by the ancient people and they established a harbor here. A settlement grew around the harbor that passed through many historical eras until it turned into a flourishing city, a famous resort offering a lot of activities, adventures, relaxation opportunities, and more. But let’s see its history, how all of this has begun.

The Bay of Marmaris
The Bay of Marmaris

History of Marmaris

Marmaris has a long history, but to make it more simple, let’s described it by periods.

Ancient Caria (unknown, until 334 BC)

It is unclear when the first people established a settlement in this place. The area has been a part of local kingdoms from the Bronze Age and the following centuries. One thing is sure: there was a city here, in the 6th century BC. The city was called Physkos (today, you can see its ruins on a hill near Marmaris), and there was also a castle (fortress) and a well-established harbor.

Physkos was a part of Caria and Rhodes Island. It was under the control of Lydia and then was conquered by the Persian Empire.

Hellenistic Age (334 to 127 BC)

In 334 BC, Alexander the Great conquered Physkos. Its citizens escaped to the mountains and burned everything behind them. But Alexander repaired the city and Physkos flourished. In the following two centuries, it belonged to the Seleucid Empire, Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, and the Attalid Kingdom of Pergamon.

Classical Roman Age (127 BC to 395 AD)

Between 133 and 127 BC, the whole western and southern parts of Minor Asia became a part of the Roman Republic. Rome became an empire, and Christianity came to these lands through Paul the Apostle. However, Caria remained aside from the Gospel. Nevertheless, the area was prosperous.

Probably at the end of this period, another small town emerged on a rocky mound, more closely to the seacoast. It is known as Elik, and today it is located in the center of the modern Marmaris.

Byzantine Age (395 to 1080)

The Roman Empire was divided into Western and Eastern in 395 AD, and Physkos remained in the Eastern empire, called Byzantine Empire. The old pagan religions were abandoned and the Christianity firmly came here too. The area suffered during the invasions of the Arabs in the 7th and 8th centuries, but later the peace was back again. However, Physkos and Elik, like most of the other ancient cities started to decline.

Marmaris Castle
Marmaris Castle

Middle Medieval Age (1800 to 1512)

It was an age of wars and instability. The main powers of this period were the Byzantine Empire, the Crusaders and their descendants (mostly the Knights of Rhodes Island), and the Seljuk Turks. During their clashes, the area suffered a lot of destruction. The destruction by wars and earthquakes didn’t skip Physkos and Elik too. Finally, only ruins remained from the ancient cities.

Ottoman Age (1512 to 1923)

The Ottoman Turks conquered the area around 1512. And the first thing they did is to rebuild the ancient fortress completely from scratch. The result was the Marmaris Castle- one of the main places of interest in the city today.

Soon, a new settlement emerged beside the Castle, and it became what today is Marmaris- a city, called after the marble stone (“mermer” in Turkish).

Modern Age (1923 until today)

In 1923 the Ottoman Empire was replaced by the Republic of Turkey. And Marmaris was just a quiet fishing town. It suffered from the Fethiye earthquakes in 1957, but later it was quickly repaired. Soon, Marmaris started growing and was noticed by tourists due to its incredibly beautiful landscapes, diving opportunities, and ancient history. As a result, it turned into one of the most famous sea resorts, not only in Turkey but in the whole of the Mediterranean Region.

Our trip to Marmaris

All of the above was the reason why we included Marmaris in our Western Turkey itinerary. We came from Bodrum, the beautiful white city at the edge between the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean seas, and stayed here for a night. We explored some of the interesting places in the city and got some basic impressions of it.

So, here is what we did and saw, and what we would do and see if we stayed for a longer time in Marmaris.

Marmaris landscape
Marmaris landscape

Things to do in Marmaris

If you come to Marmaris from the north, traveling on the main road that connects the city with the rest of Turkey, you can stop at a panoramic point besides this road. And you can see it from above, the view is spectacular!

And what will you see when you descend? A well-arranged resort with restaurants, shops, hotels of all kinds, parks, and a lot of tourists, especially in the high season. There is also a beautiful seaside street with nice views of the Bay of Marmaris and the mountains around it.

Walking inside this picture is one of the things you would almost inevitably do if you visit the center of the city. And depending on your travel style, it would probably include shopping, dinner in an attractive restaurant, relaxing in a café, dancing at a DJ party, and other things like these that are normal for every resort and every vacation.

But of course, Marmaris doesn’t end with these activities. If you want not just to visit and relax here but to explore the city, there are several more interesting, unique, and essential things to do.

Visit the Marmaris Castle

Marmaris Castle is the most spectacular historical landmark in the city. As mentioned above, it was built in the 16th century by the Ottoman Turks on the site of the previous ancient citadel. Then, it was used for military purposes during the Ottoman era, but when the world and the wars changed, it was temporarily abandoned.

However, in recent times, it was revived by tourism. It happened in 1979 when the restoration works started. And in 1991, the government opened the Archaeological Museum of Marmaris inside the castle. Thus, the museum and the castle became one combined site.

Marmaris Castle is located in the old part of the city, on a small hill. It is not far from the Marina, you can reach it from there, walking on the narrow streets around it. And when you reach it, you start traveling back in time- to the Ottoman times in the garden inside it, and to the ancient times in the museum that presents artifacts from thousands of years ago.

Entrance fee: 50 TL

Working hours:
Summer: from 8:30 to 18:00
Winter: from 9:00 to 17:00 (closed on Mondays)

The Gate of Marmaris Castle
The Gate of Marmaris Castle

See the ruins of Elik and Physkos

This activity is for those who are interested in ancient history. Actually, Elik is an easily accessible place today (İyilik Kayalığı Antik Kent in Turkish), located within the urban area of Marmaris, among streets, houses, hotels, supermarkets, and other urban features. Although it is temporarily closed, you can see the ruins and the rocks above them just by walking beside the fence.

But if you want to visit Physkos, the other city that is older and the original birthplace of Marmaris, you have to go to Asar Hill, beside the north urban suburbs. Not much has left of it, only parts of the walls and several other remains. So, it is not an official tourist attraction with an entrance fee and working hours. It is just wild, abandoned ruins that can be reached and explored by more adventurous travelers. But for those who are interested, it is worth exploring!

Walk around the old town and Marina.

Let’s back to the center of Marmaris, and the area around the Castle. This is a small peninsula with a small hill. The Castle is on the hill, and it is surrounded by the most colorful part of the city- the old town of Marmaris. It consists of narrow curving streets, calm houses with yards, mainly in white, and a lot of flowers.

North of it, the buildings are newer and higher, but the streets are still narrow. This is the old market area of Marmaris- there are covered markets, a lot of small shops, cafes, restaurants, and other attractions, including some buildings from Ottoman times like Hafsa Sultan Caravanserai.

This is surrounded by the seacoast and the Marina- from west, south, and east. There is a walking alley along the coast where you can enjoy spectacular views of the Bay of Marmaris and around it. A lot of boats wait in the Marina- yachts, cruise boats, and even some larger ships.

On the old streets of Marmaris
On the old streets of Marmaris

And all of this- the Marina, the old town with the Castle, and the market area forms the most attractive part of Marmaris, a whole combined destination. You can walk around it, and you better plan at least 3 hours to enjoy it if you want to explore the Castle and its museum.

But now, let’s go out of the city.

Hike Marmaris National Park

Marmaris is surrounded by mountains. They are covered by subtropical forests of red pine, oak, plane tree, and more. The whole mountainous area is turned into a national park. And it is very close to the city- you can start hiking just from the last streets of Marmaris.

There are plenty of routes you can try, guiding you to various amazing places. In the south, the park territory stretches into the Bozburun Peninsula, where you can reach the ancient city of Amos, a lot of small resorts, and picturesque villages. Finally, if you proceed to the extreme end of the peninsula, you can see the amazing Bozukkale- a historical landmark in a cove.

Explore Paradise Island

Paradise Island is actually a peninsula, connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, called Fake Strait. It is also known as Yıldız Island or Nimara Peninsula- all of these names belong to the same place. It is located at the entrance of the Bay of Marmaris, and although it is a peninsula, it is still better accessed by a boat trip from the sea.

Here you can see the mysterious Nimara Cave with some ancient human traces, and ruins of another ancient wall.

However, the most spectacular place of interest here, called Phosphorus Cave, is accessible only by boat tour. And it is definitely worth visiting- it is a large grotto with a bottom sunk in the sea, a bit like the Blue Grotto in Italy. It is so large that boats can enter inside.

There are daily boat trips during the high season that start from the Marina, between 250 and 300 TL per person. They depart at 10:00 and return around 16:30. Their route includes Phosphorus Cave, Aquarium Bay, and other points around Nimara Peninsula, as well as the resort of Turunç, south of Marmaris.

Phosphorus Cave
Phosphorus Cave

Go scuba diving

Now, let’s go underwater! If you come to explore Marmaris, it would be worth adding the underwater world around the city as a part of your experience. The seawater here is quite transparent and clear. Although it is in the subtropical geographical zone and there are no coral reefs like in the tropics, you still can see a lot of wonders.

There are more than 50 identified scuba diving spots around Marmaris. Most of them present amazing terrain structures like caves, canyons, or just spectacular rock formations. And the marine wildlife is rich too- you can see cardinal fish, moray eels, octopuses, sea beams, and more. In addition, many spots present some ancient artifacts like pieces of amphorae and remnants of ancient ships.

These are the best diving spots around Marmaris:

  • Baca (Chimney) Cave. This is a fantastic conical cave- the most popular diving spot in Marmaris.
  • Sarı Mehmet Cape. Amazing underwater terrain with rich marine wildlife.
  • Keçi Adası (Goat Island) Lighthouse. Another place with a lot of sea creatures and remnants of amphorae.
  • Hayıtlı Cave. A cave-like terrain with fantastic landscapes, good for beginners.
  • Ince Cape Lighthouse. A place with diverse terrain, more proper for advanced divers.
  • Abdi Reis Cove. A place known as the “Aquarium” near the Phosphorus Cave, with the best crystal clear water around Marmaris.
  • Yazih Rock. Another incredibly beautiful spot, more proper for morning dives due to its location.
  • Aksu Cove. This spot features a massive wall with a hole in it. Here the watercolor changes with the depth.
  • Kütük Cove. A place with fantastic landscapes and diverse terrain, more proper for advanced divers.
  • Kadirga (Galleon) Cove. This is the best spot for observing ancient remains of amphorae and shipwrecks.

Scuba diving tours

The scuba diving tours start from the Marina. Most of them are about 7 to 8 hours long, starting in the morning and returning in the afternoon, with included lunch. Prices start from USD 30, and most of the tours are in the range between USD 30 to USD 50. But some luxurious exceptions can reach more than USD 100. If you are a non-diver anyway, usually for you the price would be half cheaper.

Scuba Diving Centers in the Marmaris Marina
Scuba Diving Centers in the Marmaris Marina

There are also some liveaboard tours for several days (usually for 6 nights/7 days) that follow the route between Marmaris, Dalyan, and Fethiye. In this case, Marmaris will be only one of the destinations on the route, and you will enjoy more diving spots. Prices are between USD 500 and USD 700.

Check for liveaboard tours from Marmaris!

Enjoy the beaches around Marmaris

Although Marmaris is a sea resort, the beaches are not the most notable things to present. But that doesn’t mean that there are no beaches. There are, and some of them are really fantastic!

The beaches around Marmaris are small. And this is normal for such a mountainous seacoast with a complex coastline. You can find a lot of them scattered and hidden here and there, some of them so small that they have remained nameless. But some of them are more outstanding, so let’s see them.

Marmaris Beach

This is the public beach of the city. It is definitely not the best. It is often crowded because the city center is located beside it. Also, it is not the cleanest- the water is not as crystal clear as at the other beaches.

But it is beautiful. You can relax and enjoy the fantastic landscape of the Bay of Marmaris, with the surrounding mountains and islands, and the floating yachts in front of you. And of course, if you love a party-like atmosphere, you can find it here. Finally, while you relax here, you can dream of a trip to the other, more distant, more pristine, and more beautiful beaches nearby.

Marmaris Beach
Marmaris Beach

Icmeler Beach

This beach is shorter than the Marmaris public beach and is located at the nearby resort of Icmeler, about 9 km south of Marmaris. The beach is not so pristine too, but because the resort along it is smaller than the city, it is still somehow better for those who are looking for something more remote. And the landscape is still breathtaking.

Turunç Beach

Turunç Beach is located further south of Marmaris. Like Icmeler, it is also located at a resort and has similar vibes. However, the landscape here is different- here you can see the open sea, where the water reaches the horizon. Also, visiting Turunç can be well-combined with some hiking in the nearby Marmaris National Park, and visiting the ruins of the ancient Amos- only 2 km south of the resort (about 30 min walk).

From here, the coastline proceeds further, forming Bozburun and Datça peninsulas. But if you cross to the other side of these peninsulas and their mountains, you can reach some fantastic beaches.

Let’s first cross to the beach between Bozburun and Datça. This area is located about 25 km west-southwest of Marmaris and is well-connected by a good road. There are several resort villages here- Hisaronu, Orhaniye, Selimiye, and more. The coastline is extremely complex, and you can find some stunning beaches at the bays in the area.

Girl Sand Beach (Kızkumu Plaji)

This is a unique place and a birthplace of a legend. In this legend, a girl who wanted to reach her lover on the other side of the bay tried to walk on the sea, putting sand on the bottom to make it shallow enough for walking. But before she reached the other coast, her sand ran out and she drowned.

So, this is a sandbar that starts from the coast of the small Orhaniye Bay and it is around 400 m long. There is a small beach at the beginning of the sandbar with a girl’s statue. From here, many people walk on the shallow water, but can’t reach the other coast. The sandbar ends just 100 m before the Palmiye Marina.

Kızkumu Sandbar from above
Kızkumu Sandbar from above

Cin Buku

This is one of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in the area. It is located at Selimiye. Unlike many other beaches, this one is wild, without resorts nearby, and only the road to Selimiye passes beside it. In fact, it doesn’t look exactly like a beach, but just a smooth coast, with almost no sand but pebble cover. Yet it is enough fine to walk without shoes on it.

And the water here is crystal clear, turquoise, and shallow. In addition, you can enjoy stunning landscapes- a great place to relax and much less crowded, even in the high season.

Now, let’s go north of Datça Peninsula. Here you can find again a lot of hidden mini beaches, scattered between the curves of the coastline. But two of them are especially beautiful.

Incekum Beach

Incekum Beach is a very narrow strip of reef rocks and fine sand between them. The land above it is covered by lush subtropical forest, and the sea in front of it is shallow, again with crystal clear water. And the landscapes here are as always stunning.

There are no resorts, but there are some clubs and a restaurant. So, the beach can be crowded during the high season. At that time, its entrance is restricted, with working hours. In general, it is great for relaxing and joining a party in one of the clubs after sunset.

Cleopatra Island

This is one of the most unique beaches in Turkey. It is located on a tiny island, just in front of Incekum Beach. Here the sand is fantastic- made of miniature balls. Such kind of sand can’t be found anywhere else on the Earth but only here, and on a beach in Egypt!

A legend says that this island has been a secret meeting place for Cleopatra and Marc Antony, and Cleopatra brought this sand from Egypt. Anyway, due to its uniqueness, today it is a protected area. And in the interior of the island, you can see the ruins of the ancient Kedrai city.

To reach Cleopatra Island, you have to travel westward from Marmaris to Çamlı Pier. From here, you can join a boat tour that includes the best of the island and the area around it. The tours usually include a transfer from Marmaris and start between 8:30 and 9:30. The price is between USD 25 and USD 30 and includes the entrance fee for the island, as well as lunch and transport.

The beach of Cleopatra Island
The beach of Cleopatra Island

Useful tips

So, how to reach and explore Marmaris? Here are some useful tips.

Transportation

Marmaris is a well-developed touristy place, a famous resort. So, it is well-connected to the rest of the world.

You can reach Marmaris by plane, bus, car, and boat (cruise or ferry).

By plane

If you want to come by plane, the nearest airport is Dalaman, about 100 km east of Marmaris (actually, it is the main air hub for tourists coming to Marmaris and Fethiye). There are only regular flights from London (Luton), Istanbul, and Ankara, but during the high season, there are seasonal flights from many European destinations.

By bus

If you want to come by bus, there are a lot of buses from the main big cities in Turkey- Izmir, Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya, and more. And there are also local minibusses (dolmuş), connecting Marmaris with the nearby towns, villages, and resorts- in fact, you can use them if you want to move slowly on a long route that includes Marmaris.

Check for transport options to Marmaris on 12Go!

By car

The best way to reach the city is by car. You have the freedom to arrive whenever you want and to move around at any time, wherever you want. And you can include Marmaris in your car route, as we did- from Bodrum, Antalya, Denizli (Pamukkale), or further.

Find the best rental cars in Turkey!

By ferry

Finally, you can come to Marmaris by ferry from Rhodes Island in Greece. There are one-two ferries daily during the high season. The ferry trip is about 2 hours and the price is 52 EUR. Alternatively, you can include Marmaris in your cruise or liveaboard trip.

Check for ferries from Rhodes to Marmaris on 12Go!

Once you arrive, you can travel around the city by taxi, by public buses, or just on foot- it is not too large and its main points of interest are around the center. But if you want to reach the attractions outside of the city, the only ways are by your own car, by local mini bus (dolmuş), or by local boat tour.

A Pirate Ship in the Marina
A Pirate Ship in the Marina

Accommodation

Being a famous resort, Marmaris offers a lot of accommodation options. There are a lot of hotels and guesthouses- from splurge to budget (including several hostels), and prices vary from USD 45 to USD 800 per night. You just take a look at Booking.com or Agoda, and you can enjoy plenty of choices.

Check for accommodations in Marmaris on Booking!

Check for accommodations in Marmaris on Agoda!

However, if you are a budget traveler, a better, cheaper, and more interesting option is Airbnb. The cheapest Airbnb’s are cheaper than the cheapest hotels (you can find Airbnb for only USD 20), and they are still with better conditions than the hotels. Besides, they can be a good opportunity to meet local people.

Check for accommodations in Marmaris on Airbnb!

You can also go camping. Most of the campsites are located in the bay between Datça and Bozburun peninsulas, but there are a few near Icmeler and Turunç, south of Marmaris. Most of them offer caravans (RV) or own tents, but you can also bring your own tent. For caravans, the average price is around USD 45 per night, for tents, it can be around USD 35-40, and with your own tent- about USD 8 to USD 10 per person.

Finally, you can go wild camping. It is generally safe (just avoid being too close to towns, villages, and ancient ruins!), and in fact, many travelers do it.

Evening walk along the seaside.
Evening seaside walk.

Seasons

The high season of Marmaris is from April to October. Summer is in the middle of this time. It is sunny, hot, and humid, and the temperature can reach 35-40°C, but at least there is some breeze from the sea that refreshes the air. At least springs and autumns are better, and cooler, although the water can be a bit chilling too.

Winter is the low season. It is during the rest of the time, and most of the rainfalls are during this time. They come from the Mediterranean cyclones and bring not-so-nice weather, but the time between them is pleasant- between 15 and 20°C. However, the water is cold and not proper for swimming. You can just relax, explore the historical ruins, go hiking or take a boat tour (boat tours are much less at that time, of course).

Take a look at some tours to Marmaris!

We explored the main sights of Marmaris and left it, heading to our next destination- the ancient tombs of Kaunos and the spectacular Dalyan River. In fact, there are some local tours and boat trips to Dalyan and Kaunos, but it still can be considered as another destination, being located between Marmaris and Fethiye. So, we proceeded further on our route, getting different and unique impressions from every destination, and Marmaris remained one of the best.

Check some travel books about Bodrum and around:

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This is a guide to Marmaris- basic facts, history, places to visit and things to do in and around the city, with some useful tips. This is a guide to Marmaris- basic facts, history, places to visit and things to do in and around the city, with some useful tips.

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