Turkey is known for its many beautiful summer resorts on Southern (Mediterranean) and Southwestern (Aegean) parts which generally become instant favorites for foreign visitors. There are super popular, superexpensive places like Bodrum, in which some shops even charge in Euros, rather than the native currency Lira. The night life is -or was, before the pandemic – electric as well, since there are countless night clubs and other entertainment options. There are many others like Bodrum.
Obviously there are cheaper options for budget travelers as well. Rather than 5-star hotels with private beaches and pools and all-you-can-eat buffets, some people may prefer to be away from crowds and stay at bungalows or do camping. People also may want tranquil places for their families or simply want a calm spot just to rest and relax, while enjoying a beautiful scenery, sunbathing and swimming without rushing for anything at all. Well, I don’t dare to call there a hidden gem, – I am hardly an expert on summer vacations – but Çıralı is one of those places where you can check both of these.
Yes, Çıralı is not generally mentioned first when people would speak about their vacations in Turkey, or future destinations. But just make sure that Çıralı might be one of the best towns for the group of people I described right above this paragraph.
Why Çıralı is relatively overlooked? Because there isn’t any nighlife in this very small town at all (there are not pharmacies or hospitals either). You have to settle with bars and restaurants. There are not five-star hotels encapsulating the beaches. Because Çıralı beach is one of the nesting areas of the sea turtle caretta carettas, it’s not even allowed to light a fire or an electric bulb during nights at the beach after 9 pm. So, just like Dalyan and Olympos, sea turtles kind of save this place from being occupied by crowds and loud discos.
In this article, I would like to bring this place to people’s attention a little bit. The prices are up to date as of September 2020.
How to get to Çıralı
The fact that Çıralı is a calm place can also be attributed to its location. This town is relatively hard to reach. The closest airport to the town is Antalya International Airport (AYT). The distance is less than 100 km, but if you haven’t arranged a private transfer, or rented a car, you have to change several transportation means. First, you have to take the tram or buses (#600) to get to the main coach station of Antalya from airport (timetable for #600 bus) Then you would switch to minibuses at the main coach station going to Western Antalya i.e. to Kemer, Kumluca and Finike direction. One major company on this route is called Batı Antalya Tur (Batı means ‘west’ in Turkish). Unfortunately the website is only in Turkish.
After getting on this bus, you spend another hour on the go and get off at Çıralı turn. You precisely have to tell that you’re going to Çıralı while buying your ticket. If you fail to leave the bus the right time, you would find yourself in a very unpleasant situation.
But once you leave it at the correct spot, simply -and carefully- cross the highway and find the minibus (in Turkish, generally called as ‘dolmuş’) waiting for its time to start moving. They generally leave once in an hour. You will go another 7 km until you reach the center of the town. The road is very curvy and steep, but let the drive worry about that and just enjoy this scenic end to your challenging journey.
What to do in Çıralı
Well, there are not too many to do in Çıralı, honestly, other than swimming and relaxing. There is a long strip of coast and there isn’t too many land which are occupied by private enterprises. The beach is mostly sandy, but the actual shore is a little bit rocky. And the seabed gets deep fast after a very short shallow shoreline. So, you can simply enjoy this shore, eat fresh fish at restaurants (lagos or grouper fish has been recommended by many) or join daily excursions by boats and visit the neighboring bays.
This town has been squeezed by a relatively long sea shore and high mountain series behind (Olympos, or Musa Dağı in Turkish as well Tahtalı Dağı). There are two main roads that connect the edges of town, one is close to the beach, the other one is around the mountains and residential areas. These roads connect each other and create a circular shape. Since there are not too many shortcuts (because all the small alleys meet someone else’s garden, they practically become dead ends), you mainly have to walk through these roads, and if you stay somewhere far from the center, you might want to rent a bike. There are several bike rental shops in Çıralı (we hired one for 35 TL/day).
If you want to visit so many historical and natural assets. But there are a handful of places worth visiting.
Yanartaş is the sight completely surrounded with ancient history and might even be the source of Çıralı’s name (“çıra” means firewood in Turkish). This site is located on a steep, rocky hill which hosts several methane-rich gas leaks and they have been burning – for the last 2500 years and counting.
The myth behind this site is intriguing. It’s been told by Homer. Son of Ephyra King Glaukos, Hipponoes kills his brother Belleros by an accident during a hunt and named as Bellerophones (killer of Belleros) after that unfortunate incident. He is eventually sent to Lycian King and assigned to complete three extremely difficult duties by the king. One of them is killing Chimera, a powerful, fire-breathing beast. But Bellerophontes, who is riding the mighty Pegassos, is able to stab Chimera to its death with his spear and buries it well deep under the ground. However, its breath continues to leak from several cracks on rocks and creates a site with ever-burning flames (Bellerophones eventually completes all three missions successfully and is rewarded by the King).
To commermorate this victory, a running event is organized in which the runners carry the torches lit by Chimera’s flame and they run to nearby Olympos city. This ritual is attributed to the contemporary Olympic flame torch run and maybe we can conclude that Chimaera is the place where this centuries-old ritual was born.
Before visiting the site, we heard that many visitors bring marshmallows and sausages up to the hill and cook them with this fire coming from many centuries ago. At the entrance, we are again adviced against bringing those and having some sort of a picnic up there, but the garbage left behind by others told us a different story.
All I can say is, even if you intend to bring some food to grill as part of this natural barbecue party, at least collect your trash before leaving and throw it into bins, which have been placed throughout the trail.
The entrance ticket is 8 TL. Do not miss this beautiful site which gives an incredible scene of the sea, mountains and the forest at the same time.
Olympos Ancient City
Several hundred meters away from Çıralı Beach, the beach would become Olympos Beach and you’d see the entrance of Olympos Ancient City. This city goes back to 300 BC, and the partially intact remains display a full scale city with temples, streets, baths, very interesting necropolis and other buildings. It was founded by Lycians, thrived as an important trade and religious center and was included in Lycian League. Then it was used as a shelter by pirates, including Zeniketes, until it was conquered by Julius Caesar and become part of Roman Empire.
As of 2020, entry fee of this ancient city is 30 TL. But I’d like to give a brief notice, that it’s possible to enter this ancient city with MüzeKart+ (A museum pass valid for select sites throughout Turkey for a year) If you will visit other places in Turkey, including Cappadocia or Ephesus) you must definitely buy one. Here is a map of the places that you can visit for free with this card, which costs only 60 TL as of 2020.
Speaking of Lycians, I should mention Lycian Way. This is not a place to visit, but I wanted to mention it regardless. Çıralı and Chimaera are located on a famous hiking trail, Lycian Way (Tr. Likya Yolu). It starts from Fethiye on the western side and ends at Antalya on the eastern. Çıralı lies in the middle of it. The total length of this trail is over 500 km, even if you don’t intend to walk all of it, you can find extremely scenic hiking routes around Çıralı.
Where to stay in Çıralı
As I told earlier, there are plenty of camping areas which can host tents as well as caravans. There are hotels, however don’t expect too much of luxury from them. Keep in mind that Çıralı has been somewhat protected from huge enterprises, so most of the places have been run by the native people of the town and their families. But just make sure that you’re going to enjoy your time regardless. Especially if you don’t mind boutique hotels, bungalows or tents. There is even one ‘eco glamping’ spot called Campo Portakal, in which I spent several fine days with my girlfriend and I can definitely recommend there.
Çıralı is not a hidden gem, as I mentioned earlier. You can see more Russian and Ukrainian people than Turkish people, which proves that it has a certain popularity among these former Soviet countries. But if you’ve never heard of this beautiful town, just make your Google research and decide yourselves whether you’d like to select there as your next destination.