It’s tough, you’ve gone over your budget while backpacking in Europe. Travelling is more tiring than you expected and even though spring is around the corner, the sidewalks are still icy in the morning. Chilly breezes, loud hostel nights, and so much pure newness has given you a mild head cold. The sniffles keep you inside, buying coffees in the morning and beers in the afternoon. If only there was somewhere close by you could go…somewhere warmer and inexpensive. Perhaps somewhere with blooming flowers and a sparkling sea.
Datça sits on the peninsula that divides the Aegean from the Mediterranean. The town is comprised of a smattering of south-facing, whitewashed houses. It’s a visual twin of the quintessential Greek island town, but outside of the Euro and Schengen Zones and with the daily call of the Muezzin.
I spent 9 weeks in Datça in the fall of 2016, commuting daily on a rented scooter to Can Baba, a massive cave named for a famous drunk poet Can Yücel. To me, one of the best things to do in Datça is to climb. Though I spent 80% of my time on the peninsula rock climbing, the town and the surrounding countryside offer a wide variety of activities from beach-side relaxation to multi-day hikes through ancient ruins. What’s more, the flowers, sunshine, almond and mandarin orchards, and fresh caught fish can be yours even if you’re feeling nervous about your bank account. A short flight or ferry ride from Europe-proper, western Turkey is an accessible and affordable destination.
We first hitchhiked in to the old town from the cave above Hızırşah, the village nextdoor. We wandered through the alleys, plucking ripe mulberries as we went. We stopped to sip a classic cup of Turkish black tea and play with the cats lazing about on the warm stones. If I were to return, I’d stroll again through the cobblestone streets with a little bit of extra cash in my pockets because I have a weakness for earrings and pretty patterns. Old town Datça is two kilometers east and uphill of the city center. It’s idyllic and calm, an excellent spot to start off a day of relaxing and recovering.
Without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Datça is to eat. While the restaurants may not offer exactly what you want, the town provides a dozen ways to help you feed yourself. Even if you are in charge of the meal, bread, ekmek, is one of the pillars of Turkish culture and shouldn’t be missed. The first time we stopped at the Karadeniz Bakery, I pulled off my motorcycle helmet and asked: “İki ekmek alabilir miyim?” May I have two breads please? “Ve bitane Tahinli Ekmek.” And one tahini roll please. The large, grumpy man’s frown broke, if only for a second, to see Turkish phrases roll of the tongue of a very blonde female foreigner.
It’s not a sit-down cafe or eatery, but an express counter to pick up bread and pastries that will get you through the next 24 hours. I would stop by the Karadeniz Ekmek Firini on my way back from the Old Town to pick up a loaf of bread to eat with dinner and a pastry for later. Many Turkish meals are eaten with bread as the primary cutlery. It doubles as a dishwasher too!
A quick lesson in the Turkish language and Turkish geography:
Kara – Black
Ak – White
Deniz – Sea
The country is sandwiched between the Black Sea (Karadeniz) to the north and the Mediterranean (Akdeniz) to the south. Though Datca is on the coast of the white sea, a family from the Black Sea region moved to this warmer coastal town on the Mediterranean, bringing their family recipes with them.
Insider tip: Tahinli Ekmek is the Turkish version of a cinnamon roll, twice as big and three times as delicious. It’s made with tahini, sugar, and… probably… love.
CLIMBING IN CAN BABA
Just fifteen minutes from the seaside is one of the most impressive limestone caves in the world. The golden walls streaked with blue are outstanding. For less experienced climbers, the surrounding walls have well bolted easy and moderate routes. The creme of the crop is in the steep cave, where anyone with a stronger upper body and a bit of technique will fall in love with this overhanging tufa paradise. Climbing on the peninsula is world class, no matter your level.
STROLL THE PROMENADE
If you don’t feel up to climbing, windsurfing, or hiking, perhaps reading a book by the seaside will appeal to you. Pick up a new book at the amazing multilingual bookstore on the same street as Dulcinea, to the right of “A” Jazz Bar, and walk along the shore until you find a cozy place to read.
This is my favorite place in town, I always felt welcomed and warmed by the friendly smiles and gorgeous views. One of the best things to do in Datça is to come here in the evening to watch the sunset over the sea with a drink or dinner.
The entrance to La Dulcinea is between the Roll Coffee Bar (more of a bar than a cafe) and a silversmith. A small sign with a wine glass and steaming coffee mug points towards some white steps. The slightly cramped feeling in the staircase is misleading. Once you step into the cafe, light floods in from every direction. Walls of windows open up to the calm waters of the harbor. Yachts and sailboats below gleam like white teeth on the turquoise sea. The menu includes sweets, of course, as well as savory items. But, La Dulcinea is also a wine bar curated with care by the matriarch, Özlem.
Insider tip: I once doubled my music library by handing my flash drive over to Özlem, after I complimented her music selection. Bring your flash drive, she has a wild and wide taste.
Datça Climber’s House
Datça Şehir, Datça/Muğla Province, Turkey (email hosts for exact location!)
I believe I owe my overwhelmingly positive experience living, traveling, and climbing in Turkey to the Turks. The nation is steeped in cultural traditions, thick history, and current political turmoil. By living and climbing with locals, I was blessed with the opportunity to learn, discover, and live these features of life.
I’ll let the Turks speak for themselves:
“We’re two climbers, Furkan and Mert, and we would like to share our house and climb together. We can host two guests at a time. We have a car and are happy to carpool, which means you don’t have to rent a car. There’s a furnished, shared kitchen, so we can cook all together.”
At 15 EU a night for one or 25 for two, these two offer an amazing price for anyone interested in climbing. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for details such as the exact address and to arrange your arrival. For larger groups, they can arrange for another apartment nearby. There’s a cap on the house, so email them as soon as you can.
The vegetable, spice, and knick knack market is on Tuesdays and Saturdays near downtown. My routine was to come to the market once a week for a big shopping. We’d arrive on a mission to buy all of the fruits, veggies, and dry food staples needed to keep our ever-hungry stomachs satisfied throughout the week.
Even if you’re not planning on cooking fourteen homemade meals a week, the pazar is full of life (and snacks). Join the heavy flow of foot traffic bustling between the stalls and wander to your heart’s content, sampling local fruits and veggies. Mandarins, pomegranates, almonds, carob beans, and much, much more all grow locally here.
INSIDER TIP: Keçiboynuzu (carob beans or literally goat horns) make an excellent local snack. Either chew on the pods, spitting out the hard beans, or buy Keçiboynuzu Pekmez (carob molasses).
The Karia Yolu is an 850 km hiking trail through the former territory of the Carian civilization. Don’t worry, you don’t have to hike the whole thing. Though this trail is relatively new, Turks have a legacy of long walking trails. The Likya Yolu (Lycian Way) is the most travelled hiking path in the country.
A finger of Carian Trail extends out along the Datça peninsula. It passes through scrubby and rocky forested hills, rising up so you can see the seas on either side, and then falling again until the trail nestles between grey, blue, and golden limestone mountains. It’s lynx territory, though these felines are both stealthy and smart. While I once thought that wildflowers only bloomed in the spring and summer, the peninsula is carpeted in flowers year round.
INSIDER TIP: Start in Eski Datça (Old Town Datça) and hike towards Knidos, an amazing ancient port city. The trail is well-marked, but guidebooks are available with maps and more information about the significance of the archeological sites you’ll pass by. Follow leave no trace principles and be sure to bring enough water. Spring water is potable!
BASICS BUDGET: ~$35 PER PERSON
While this budget does not include windsurfing, jewelry purchases, or boat rental, it definitely includes beer, tea, full meals, and desserts
Check out our Eat + Drink guide for an added bonus on how to enhance this experience.