Destinations

Cirali Turkey: A mythical beach paradise

Cirali is a quiet village on the sun-soaked Mediterranean coast of Turkey; a peaceful spot with heart-stopping views in every direction.  The air is perfumed by pine forests, sea breezes, and night-blooming jasmine. The atmosphere glows with magic, myth and miracles.

Cirali Beach, Turkey
Cirali Beach is  like a living postcard, but the real Cirali attractions are the ancient wonders that still deliver daily magic.


The Eternal Flames at Yanartas

An easy hike up a nearby mountainside takes you to Yanartas, where you’ll see the eternal flames known as the Chimera. These bonfire-sized flames have been burning mysteriously among the rocks since ancient times. Before seismic activity scattered the single giant flame into a score of campfires, the flame was a natural lighthouse for passing ships. According to Homer’s epic poems, the fire-breathing monster Chimera was buried alive here, under seven layers of earth, by a hero on the back of a winged horse. Today’s explanation for the flames is methane gas deposits, but either way the flames seem miraculous. Hike up at dusk and bring a flashlight to find your way back (or visit on a moonlit night). The entrance to the site is well-marked. Riding a bike is a great option if you don’t want to walk an hour to the entrance. Most resorts have bikes to lend, or you can rent one in town.  Tip: Bring marshmallows or sausages to roast over the fire.

Cirali Turkey flames of Chimera at Yanartas
The flames at Yanartas have been burning continuously since ancient times. There is no wood, no visible source of fuel. The flames just emerge from beneath the rocks.

An unspoiled beach

On moonless nights, the sea is sometimes lit by an ancient miracle as well. Bioluminescent plankton drift close to shore, lighting up wherever swimmers disturb the water. It’s like swimming in the Milky Way, or inside a Glo Stick.

During summer months, night swimming is forbidden. Volunteers patrol the beach to ensure the safety of the giant Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta Caretta) who have been coming to lay their eggs on this beach since long before humans arrived here. Volunteers place cages over the eggs to keep them safe. The babies hatch and toddle into to sea in late summer, delighting visitors and locals alike. Contact Caretta Research Project if you’re interested in helping to patrol the beach. 

(Click this link to see a short documentary about the turtles and the village)

During the day, Cirali beach is a peaceful place for humans to relax. The water is quiet and impossibly blue, the beach is very clean and rarely crowded, and the surrounding mountains provide food for the soul. Patronize one of the open-air beachside restaurants and you’re welcome to lounge under their umbrellas, or visit one of the less developed rocky ends of the beach if you prefer to be alone.

cirali beach turkey


The ancient city of Olympos

Olympos ruins near Cirali Beach, TurkeyOlympos ruins near Cirali Beach, Turkey
Olympos ruins near Cirali Beach, TurkeyOlympos ruins near Cirali Beach, Turkey

At the north end of the beach, behind a rocky outcropping,  lie the ruins of the ancient Lycian city of Olympos. A $2.50 ticket lets you enter the forest, where you will encounter random ruins along wooded paths. Roman temple columns lie in pieces among the underbrush, a castle emerges from the foliage like an archeologist’s dream, and sunbleached stone walls line the placid creekbed that divided the ancient city.

Olympos was once home to Lycian pirates, until Rome took the city to stop the pirate seiges. Later, the city was inhabited by Cicilian pirates and in the Middle Ages, the Genoese, Venetians and other Italians build fortifications. This rich history means you can see everything from a Roman gate dedicated to Marcus Aurelius to Italian castles. Someday, these ruins will be protected and you’ll be led through the forest by a tour guide, but for now the site is wild and you can discover the ruins on your own as you wander. Climb up to the Acropol at the top of the hill for an extraordinary view of the Olympos valley.

Someday, no doubt, the ruins will be roped off and you’ll be led through the forest by a tour guide, but at this time the site is wild and free. There is a town of Olympos, as well, which caters to tourists who enjoy lively nightlife and partying. The town of Cirali is preferred by families and vacationers looking for a quiet retreat.


Other Turkish delights in Cirali

cirali turkey

It’s very easy to connect with local tour companies at their walk-up locations in Cirali. Tour operators can arrange boat tours, scuba diving, and visits to other sites around the area. It’s possible to ride a Teleferico to the top of [one of the] mountains, although locals consider it a tourist trap and prefer to hike up.

One of the best ways to see Cirali is to come across it as part of a trek along the Lycian Way. This trail weaves together beautiful seaside views, the Taurus Mountains (where Poseidon watched Ulysses sail away from Calypso’s island in Homer’s Odyssey), and ancient historical sites connected to Lycia, Greece, Rome, and the Ottoman Empire. The trail passes by homes and villages, so if you speak Turkish or aren’t afraid to communicate through gestures, you’ll have lots of opportunities to meet local folks. The entire trail takes 4-5 weeks to complete and is best tackled in the spring, but it’s possible to hike smaller sections as well.

Cirali Turkey


Where to Stay

The most popular style of lodging in Cirali is the Pensiyon, which is usually a self-catering cottage or bed and breakfast arrangement. 

Visitors looking for a family holiday can do no better than Akdeniz Bahcesi (literally Mediterranean Garden). Guests stay in comfortable self-catering cottages with wi-fi in the midst of an organic garden, among orange and pomegranate groves. The family retreat offers a bed and breakfast plan, with dinners available for purchase. Homestyle meals of the highest quality feature organic produce and fruits grown right on the property and freshly harvested. Breakfast might feature homemade jam or freshly squeezed orange juice made from just-picked oranges. Families love the quiet location, the painting, crafts and playground for the children, and the chance to learn handcrafts and traditional weaving. 

Akdeniz Bahcesi, self-catering  family holiday in Cirali TurkeyAkdeniz Bahcesi, self-catering  family holiday in Cirali Turkey
Akdeniz Bahcesi, self-catering  family holiday in Cirali TurkeyAkdeniz Bahcesi, self-catering  family holiday in Cirali Turkey

Campers, hikers, and other nature-lovers who like to rough it can rent a cabin, treehouse, yurt or tipi in the forest. A Greek/German woman, Diana, who has settled in Cirali, offers charming woodsy rentals, on AirBnb. The properties are quite rustic — the treehouse walls are made from reclaimed doors, the kitchen is outdoors, and there’s no air conditioning. You will live among chickens, ducks and cats and may encounter snakes, spiders or even a scorpion. The plumbing is modern, though, and the beach, restaurants, and shops are within a twenty-minute walk. Diana speaks English, German, and Turkish.

Cheap camping cirali turkeyCheap camping cirali turkey
Cheap camping cirali turkeyCheap camping cirali turkey

Olympos Lodge has been the standard-bearer for luxury in Cirali — even Charlize Theron opted to stay at Olympos when she visited Cirali.To be sure, the resort has the most perfect beach location imaginable. Insiders and reviewers say that the service at Olympos has become erratic and the facilities are beginning to fray around the edges. The emerging choice for an upscale Cirali vacation is Arcadia Holiday Resorts. A quiet beachfront location, swimming pool, and lovely villas make Arcadia a great choice for a relaxing stay.


What to eat in Cirali, Turkey

The menus among the Cirali restaurants are remarkably similar, and prices don’t vary much. The food is good at all of them, because Turkish food is just good. Nearly every restaurant takes credit cards and has wi-fi. You can choose a restaurant because it has a great view, or slightly lower prices, or a really nice person who talks to you while you’re looking over the menu in front. 

Tourist food in Turkey is healthy and delicious, featuring grilled meats and fish without sauces, lots of fresh vegetables, and yogurt. Often your waiter will ask you to look at the meze (appetizers) that are available and choose from the cabinet. These will be mostly vegetable-based as well.

Grilled fish in Cirali Turkey

The local fish are mostly sea breem and sea bass, served grilled and whole for you to fillet on your plate. Grida Baligi, or white grouper, is a local treat. Calamari is one of the few fried foods on offer. Along the beach are several restaurants that feature more seafood, including lobster, shrimp, and grilled octopus. 

Be sure to try the local juices and produce. Strawberries, melons, plums and pomegranates are all succulent and sweet here. Watermelon with ice cream is a local dessert worth noting.

Not all restaurants serve guzleme, but it’s worth finding one that does. Guzleme is a crepe-like pancake, stuffed with anything from feta and spinach to bananas or honey.

There is a bakery, called Patisserie, along the beach road that serves sweets, pastries and coffee.

Cirali Turkey pastry and coffee
Pastry and coffee at the Patisserie

A few restaurants to try: Simge is a popular restaurant that serves delicious Turkish-style pizzas. Azur is a nice place for fish. Karakus on the beach has a nice assortment of standard dishes, good service, nice prices, and a lovely view. Oleandro also offers the typical dishes, but in an enchanting garden setting for romantic dining, and with better-than-average service.  Ceylan is a favorite for gozleme (turkish crepes) and Lemon Restaurant has the best stuffed grape leaves in the village. Merhaba has a secluded location on the undevloped side of the beach. Ask a local to help you find it.

Restaurants typically have dirt floors. Expect a few cats or even a chicken to beg for scraps. The food is delicious across the board, though, and nearly every restaurant accepts credit cards and has free wifi.

Cirali, Turkey
The view from Karakus, on the beach
DSC05847
Merhaba is secluded and shady
DSC05683
Wathc your meat being grilled at Lemon Restaurant.

What to bring

Don’t bother bringing dressy clothes to Cirali. The usual advice about dressing modestly in Muslim countries doesn’t apply, either. The local women are often traditionally dressed and wear headscarves, but they’re used to seeing tourists in Speedos, too. Casual resortwear is the uniform. Swimsuits, shorts, sundresses, and t-shirts are everywhere. 

cirali beach, turkey
Casual is the word of the day at the beach.

Footwear for the beach (swim shoes or sport sandals) is essential. Sturdy walkingshoes will get you to Olympos and the Chimera flames, boots are unnecessary unless you’ll be trekking. 

The sun can be very strong and very hot. A wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, long-sleeved lightweight shirt, and sunscreen are important. Carry a water bottle and stay hydrated.

Bring cash. There are no ATMs in town. Most restaurants and some shops accept credit cards, but you’ll need cash for tipping. 

Camera. Every moment in Cirali is a Kodak moment. 

Simple beach toys, pareos, sunglasses, flip flops and other items are available in the local shops, but the selection is limited. There are only a few shops and they are not large by US standards.


Getting In

Cirali is a wonderful place to relax after a whirlwind tour of Istanbul and Cappadocia, Turkey’s most popular tourist destinations. The nearest airport is Antalya, which is 82 km away, or about a two hour drive. Both Pegasus and Turkish Airlines offer good prices from within Turkey. 

From Antalya, experienced travelers can catch the dolmus (combi van) toward Kas or the Antalya tur, Bati Antalya, Cicek tur or Kumluca Seyhat for about 10TL.  Ask the driver to drop you at the Cirali junction, where you can catch a dolmus van for the last 7km into town (5-6TL if you wait for the van to fill. If you don’t want to wait, you can negotiate a price with the driver for a private ride, usually 25-35TL). 

Dolmus drivers don’t typically speak much English. You may be more comfortable arranging for an airport transfer before you arrive. Your pensiyon will gladly help you make the arrangements and fill you in on costs.

Taxis are not a good choice, unless you speak excellent Turkish and have killer negotiation skills. 


Getting Around

Cirali Turkey
Anywhere you want to go around Cirali is just a gorgeous walk away.

Cirali is very small and you can easily stroll from one end to the other. Most pensiyons have bicycles available, or you can rent one in town. A car is unnecessary, but if you’ve driven into town, you’ll find parking available almost everywhere.

Cirali is just touristy enough to be easy (English-speaking waiters, picture menus at the restaurants) but isn’t yet ruined by chain hotels or big resorts. The beach is still a heavenly expanse of sand rather than a chaotic sea of bodies. Most visitors are Turkish families who come in for the weekend, but there are German, Russian and British visitors as well, and an occasional American. Come fall in love with this Turkish paradise while it’s still relatively undiscovered.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *