The growing but still beautiful riverside resort of Dalyan, 24km west of Dalaman, is home to around five thousand people. It makes a good base for visiting nearby attractions like the ancient site of Kaunos across the river, İztuzu beach at the river mouth, and the beautiful freshwater lake of Köyceğiz with its shoreline hot springs.
Dalyan first came to prominence in 1986, when controversy erupted over a proposed luxury hotel on nearby İztuzu beach, a hatching ground for loggerhead turtles. Conservationists succeeded in halting the scheme, and now the beach is statutorily protected between May and October, when eggs are laid. In the wake of this campaign, the town styled itself as ecologically correct, but with its mess of identikit restaurants, trinket shops, T-shirt vendors and loud bars, it’s now, riverside location apart, little different from other mainstream resorts. You’ll notice the turtle motif everywhere, from the turtle statue in the main square to restaurants and pansiyons being named after the creatures.
Life in Dalyan revolves around the Dalyan Çayı, which flows past the village between Köyceğiz lake and the sea. Many choice pansiyons line the river’s east bank, and the boats that put-put up and down it are the preferred means of transport to the major local sites. Craft heading downstream pass a series of spectacular fourth-century BC “temple” tombs in the west-bank cliffs.
Renting a mountain bike in Dalyan is an appealing option in the cooler months; they’re available at better hotels and certain travel agents for around TL15 a day, or from the Lindos Pansiyon at TL25 for a quality machine.
The best local ride is to İztuzu beach: there’s one nasty hill en route, with ayran and gözleme stalls to pause at for refreshment in the village of Gökbel. This land route is recommended at least once, as you loop around the Sulungur lake and get glimpses of marsh and mountain not possible amid the claustrophobic reed beds of the Dalyan Çayı. Alternatively, bikes can be rented on the far bank, with various attractions accessible on both paved and dirt roads.
Tourism and turtles have been made to coexist uneasily on the beautiful hard-packed sand of İztuzu beach. Be sure to look out for turtle nests, which can all too easily be trampled on. Turtle tracks – scrapings where the creatures have hauled themselves up onto the beach to lay their eggs – are visible in the sand during June and July. The marshes immediately behind are often alive with other wildlife too, while the approach road is lined with flowering oleander bushes, as well as trees deformed by high winter winds.
Lack of shade is a problem, though at the river end of the beach you can rent a couple of sunbeds and an umbrella for TL9. The two identical and expensive snack kiosks, at either end of the beach, only sell crisps, ice cream, gözleme and sandviç, so it’s best to bring some food. Umbrellas, whose masts damage the turtle nests, are not permitted from a line of squat marker-stakes down to the sea, and all access to the beach is banned at night in summer. Thanks to wind exposure, the water can be choppy and murky, but the gently shelving sea bed makes İztuzu excellent for children.
You can also be ferried across the river mouth (don’t swim, there are dangerous currents) to a smaller, more peaceful beach, shaded by some pines.
Excavations at ancient Kaunos began in 1967 and still take place each summer under the aegis of Başkent University. While the ruins are far from spectacular, they’re well labelled with CGI reconstructions, and the site is among the least deservedly overlooked archeological sites on the Mediterranean coast. It’s alive with herons and storks in summer, flamingos in winter, plus terrapins, tortoises, snakes and lizards in all seasons.
Passengers arriving by tour boat disembark either at the fish weir (dalyan means weir) or at another jetty at the base of the outcrop supporting Kaunos’s acropolis. The fish caught are mostly grey mullet and bass, and a Kaunos ancient inscription suggests they’ve been part of the local diet since ancient times. From either landing point it’s a seven-minute walk up to the fenced site.
Although Kaunos was a ninth-century BC Carian foundation, it exhibited Lycian cultural traits, not least the compulsion to adorn nearby cliffs with rock tombs. Kaunos was also closely allied to the principal Lycian city of Xanthos; when the Persian Harpagos attempted to conquer the region in the sixth century BC, these two cities were the only ones to resist. Kaunos began to acquire a Greek character under the Hellenizing Carian ruler Mausolus. Subsequently, the city passed to the Ptolemies; then to the Rhodians; and finally, after fierce resistance to Rhodes, it came under indirect Roman imperial administration. Besides its fish, Kaunos was noted both for its figs, and the prevalence of malaria; excessive fig consumption was erroneously deemed the cause, rather than the anopheles mosquitoes which, until 1948, infested the surrounding swamps. Another insidious problem was the silting up of its harbour, which continually threatened the city’s commerce. The Mediterranean originally came right up to the foot of the acropolis hill, surrounding Kaunos on all sides apart from an isthmus of land to the north. But the Dalyan Çayı has since deposited over 5km of silt, leaving an expanse of marshy delta in its wake.