Is It Safe?
Not surprisingly, personal safety is a pretty important consideration for anyone traveling to somewhere that is, for them, remote and unknown. It is entirely reasonable (and prudent!) to look into just how safe it is.
Crime: The Lycian Way is generally quite safe. Crime can happen anywhere, of course, but robberies or violence against hikers on the trail is incredibly rare. If you are going to run into problems, it is much more likely to happen in one of the larger communities along the way, though even there you’ll be quite safe (certainly in comparison to most ‘western’ cities).
In general, use the same common sense you’d use anywhere else and you’ll be fine — resist the admittedly compelling urge to hang out with drug dealers in dark alleys, or to get into heated political arguments, or to attempt to convert the populace to your personal religion, or to get mind-blowingly drunk in a local bar while telling everyone about that secret money belt you wear, or, worst of all, to admitting publicly that you secretly love, just love, Justin Beiber’s ‘music’. Resist all of that (especially the disclosures about Justin Beiber’s music – Turks have a reputation for being tolerant of the beliefs of others, but there are limits to everything…) and you should be fine.
Hitch-hiking: Some things that you might normally be leery about will actually be much safer in Turkey than you would normally assume. For example, you’ll find it is very easy to hitch-hike in southern Turkey (and eastern Turkey, too) — especially as a foreigner. Indeed, you’ll often get offers of rides just by walking alongside the road. Incidents are quite rare, even for women traveling alone. Again, use common sense and don’t be shy about turning down a ride if anything doesn’t feel right. But in general hitch-hiking is a safe and convenient way to get around, especially if you are in an area with infrequent dolmuş service.
Suspiciously friendly people inviting you into their homes: Another counter-intuitive example is invitations to people’s homes (especially up in the mountains) – you’ll be merrily hiking along and see a shepherd or farmer working in the fields so you wave like the courteous person that you are, and maybe you bravely shout out a good-natured ‘merhaba’ (‘hello’). Next thing you know, the shepherd is hustling over to you with huge smiles, waving his arms excitedly, and you’re in the middle of an intense, deep back-and-forth conversation involving all five of your Turkish words and all three of his English words (one of which is probably “Obama”), and minutes later he is all but dragging you back towards his house telling you through gestures that you must, absolutely must, have lunch with him and his family.
Now, right about at this point, your carefully honed westerner survival instincts are screaming ‘No!’, certain that the moment you step into that farmhouse you’ll be wacked upside the head, robbed of your $275 L.L. Bean Genuine Safari Jacket (with Optional Velco-Sealed Hidden Pockets), among other things, and then probably fed to the goats. Anywhere else in the world and this instinct would almost certainly be correct – after all, who among us doesn’t know someone who knows somebody who has a relative that got fed to the goats by some crazed shepherd? You can’t be too careful! However, this is rural Turkey. You aren’t going to be fed to the goats. The goats are going to be fed to you. Your biggest danger is that you’ll have such an amazing time talking through gestures, making frantic, gleeful references to your little Turkish phrase book, enjoying good food happily served up to you by a family that earns in a year what you probably make in a week or two, and generally enjoying so much true, heartfelt hospitality that you’ll utterly forget that you aren’t supposed to accept invitations to the homes of strangers… Of course, if you do get fed to the goats, please have a relative let us know so that we can update this information.
Injuries: A more practical safety concern is simply injuries – falling off cliffs or exposure to other natural hazards along the trail. With only a few exceptions (which can all be avoided through alternate routes), the Lycian Way is not a dangerous or technically challenging trail. There are lots of ascents and descents which can certainly tire you out (author’s note: and play havoc with your hips and knees if your body is as battered and falling apart as mine!), but you aren’t exploring the caldera of an active volcano, climbing the North Face of Mount Everest, or escorting your 15 year old daughter to a Darren Criss concert. You’ll be fine! Use suitable caution, take your time, and pay close attention to your footing. As with any hiking trip, twisted ankles and similar injuries are the biggest risk. There are many places where the trail runs high up and along moderately steep and rocky hillsides, but the trail itself will typically be quite safe and easily navigable — short of being outright reckless, you aren’t likely to put yourself in outright danger.
Critters: Wildlife risks are relatively minor. Southern Turkey does have scorpions and they are definitely present along the Lycian Way. Caution should be used when sitting down on rocks and, if you are camping, around your campsite. Shake out your boots before putting them on. Don’t leave pockets of your backpack open. And so on. Dogs can be a nuisance and are occasionally aggressive, but just wave your hiking poles at them menacingly and they’ll usually leave you alone (most are usually just warning you off from the livestock they are supposed to be protecting). Beyond that, there isn’t really much to worry about – Bigfoot and Yeti are not indigenous to this part of the world.
Drinking water: Perhaps the most serious danger you can, easily, run into along the Lycian Way if you are not suitably cautious is running out of drinking water. This is a very legitimate and deadly danger that should not be treated casually. There are several remote stretches of the Lycian Way that have little or no drinking water available (even where water sources are listed, they may be dry much of the year). This is especially the case during the hot summer season, but should be treated as a possibility any time of the year. Water is rarely an issue if you plan ahead, take plenty of water with you, and estimate your requirements conservatively.
On most of the Lycian Way, water is regularly available and there are towns that you pass where it is easy to refill your water bottles. However, some stretches, such as through the mountains to Finike, might have absolutely no water at all. Take extra on such stretches — always keep in mind that your timing might be wildly off due to getting lost, from a twisted ankle, or some other problem. Water is heavy, of course, and nobody wants to carry more weight than absolutely necessary, but a simple mistake regarding water can have incredibly serious consequences — error, always, on the side of safety! If your water starts to get even moderately low (relative to the distance remaining) treat it as an immediate emergency. Look at our notes for possible water sources. Look at the maps for nearby roads and see if they can be reached. Look on the maps for any steams in the area. Look around you for any signs of shepherds. And so on.
Political stability: Turkey has regrettably had some issues with political stability over the last few years. There has been unrest and an uptick in political violence. However, we have not heard of any serious issues along the Lycian Way (indeed, we haven’t heard of any issues) and foreigners are generally very warmly welcomed in the region. Turks are well known for tolerance and openness to outsiders. That said, it is always a good idea to stay alert to current events. Read / watch the news. Check in with your embassy and see if they have any travel alerts for Turkey. And so on. If you see any political protests, rallies, or similar events then leave the area (no matter how peaceful it may seem). Avoid discussions of local politics. Of course, these are things you should be doing in any country when you travel!
Standard safety precautions: Note that there are some stretches of the Lycian Way that are very isolated and where you might not see another person for hours (or, during the winter months, for the entire day). Use common sense hiking precautions — in particular, travel with someone else if possible. If you have to travel alone, make sure someone knows where you are and when you’ll be checking in with them and what to do / who to contact if you don’t check in. Take spare water – if you twist an ankle your pace is going to be considerably slower and you’ll need more water than you had anticipated. Have an emergency Mylar blanket with you (yes, even in summer – it can get chilly at night, perhaps dangerously chilly if you’re injured, and that tiny little lightweight Mylar blanket can keep you alive!). Have a first aid kit with you. And so on.
Road safety: You’ll be forgiven if you think that all dolmuş drivers are simultaneously insane, incredibly lucky, and amazingly skilled. Their ability to navigate hairpin turns at impossibly high speeds on roads running along the very edge of 100m+ high cliffs that drop straight down to the rocky Mediterranean shore below while weaving in and out of traffic and barely dodging the on-coming vehicles in whose lane he frequently swerves, while talking to the pretty lady two rows back whose mother’s older sister he once dated, and while dealing with fares and change being passed from and to the passengers is, frankly, astonishing.
That these guys (and they are pretty well always guys) have a fairly low accident rate is downright impressive. Still, there will likely be more than once where you silently say your goodbyes to your loved ones and just close your eyes to wait for the inevitable… If you survive, though, you will at least have gained the ability to never again be afraid of something as mundane as roller coasters and other amusement park ‘thrill rides’. A dolmuş on mountain roads is the ultimate thrill ride. As you watch your dolmuş swerve directly in the path of yet another on-coming truck just sit back in your seat, sigh contentedly at living a life of excitement, and know that your next meal, if you survive to have a next meal, will taste all that much better…
The biggest danger of all: All joking aside, the biggest danger on the Lycian Way is that you might find yourself hooked on the beauty, hospitality, and great food of southern Turkey and refuse to go home, necessitating one of those embarrassing ‘interventions’ by your confused and mildly annoyed family. Think that is an exaggeration? Take a look around Fethiye, Kaş, Demre, or Antalya and take note of the incredible number of expatriates there… southern Turkey can be a hard place to willingly leave! 🙂