When on holiday I find I get itchy feet quite quickly and whilst I appreciate that some tourists like nothing other than staying in their resort, with the only movement being the walk from their room to the pool and back again, I am not one of them. I like to see the surrounding area and countryside so I can really soak up the culture.
I don’t mind driving abroad, in civilized countries, but there are some countries I would not even contemplate driving in, whether on two wheels or the extra protection of four, and Turkey is one of those countries. The locals are mad and their driving habits appear very dangerous to me, although I am sure it is me being a bit OTT.
You can’t get very far on foot, especially in the heat and the mountainous terrain, so a vehicle is the only option. I am not a great fan of buses so this method of transport is not really an option for me. Luckily, most tourist destinations offer a jeep safari and Dalyan is one of those places. A jeep allows the ‘al fresco’ experience, and with the capability of going both off and on road it is a great way of seeing the sites.
There are many different operators offering the jeep safari in Dalyan, including Kaunos Tours (who we went with), Ertac, Brilliant Tours and Ozalp amongst many others.
On our tour, we saw many of the other operators at various places throughout the day, therefore suggesting that the route around Dalyan is pretty standard. This is good since it means that we did not miss out on any of the “best” places or have to go on a another safari with an alternative operator to ensure we saw everything.
How good the tour operators are varies and, in my experience there are some that I would definitely avoid at all costs (I have had a single bad experience with each of them), however of those that are reliable and will actually turn up, the deciding factor of whom to go with is personal and up to the individual. I like guides with a bit of character and willing to have a laugh and a joke, hence I use Kaunos Tours every time, however, I got speaking to a couple in the same hotel as us who preferred a more sedate and ‘quiet’ tour hence they went with Ozalp.
The Jeep safari officially commences at 9.00 a.m. although if you are the first pick up then you get to ride around and pick up all the other people from their respective hotels before going back to the tour operator’s (in this case Kaunos Tours) HQ.
Once all the jeeps arrive, there is a convoy of four that are full of different people from numerous hotels in the resort, you set off from the centre of Dalyan town and head out (on the main roads) to the Amber forest.
You travel through the Amber forest and over rough terrain/through rivers/on tarmac lanes etc and head out towards Lake Koycegiz and on towards the stop off point for lunch.
After lunch and a bit of swimming the tour continues over the mountains and around Dalyan before stopping at a traditional family home (it was the residence of one of the guides) where you stop for tea (normal Turkish, apple or strawberry) and the chance to have a look around the house.
After tea you carry on up the mountains and head towards the infamous Turtle beach. First stop is the mountain overlooking Turtle beach and the Dalaman delta, where there are some great photo opportunities. The tour then travels down to the beach, where you are given the opportunity to swim or have a look around the turtle sanctuary before taking to the jeeps once more and heading back to the hotel.
The whole route is approximately 160Km long and involves travelling over all terrains and through numerous small villages.
The price of the tour includes lunch but excludes drinks. Lunch comprises of different meze starters (a green salad with onion and tomatoes, a potato salad dish, humus, a spicy tomato and garlic salad and a yoghurt and mint salad) served with as much fresh bread as you can eat.
There is a choice of main courses including trout (the holding pool, and all the fish, can be seen), chicken kebaps or meatballs, all of which are served in a traditional clay pot with a grilled pepper (very spicy), a bit of onion and a large slice of tomato.
Desert is a fruit salad consisting of melon, watermelon, fig and plum.
All ingredients are extremely fresh and taste absolutely fantastic. In addition, it is traditional Turkish cuisine and there is no English alternatives available, meaning you get to experience proper Turkish food and have a cultural experience.
As well as excellent food the eating experience is further enhanced by virtue of the restaurant (if you can call it that) and its location. The restaurant is not your typical building and consists of a bridge over the river with a canopy over the top. There are wooden barriers around the perimeter, obviously for safety reasons, and the canopy is covered with polythene (to keep out any rain), which in turn is covered with large leaves to give the authentic look.
The restaurant is located in a very quiet and secluded spot right in the back end of nowhere. Other than the local wildlife and the gushing of the river running through it is absolutely silent. I can only really describe it as so quiet and such a wonderful place.
The river running under the restaurant is crystal clear and very drinkable. Everyone on the tour was invited to take a dip whilst lunch was cooking and Rammi said there were only two ways to get to the river. The first was a short walk around the restaurant, down the bank, over some rocks etc. and the second was to jump in from the restaurant, a height of around 3 metres. “The thing is not to think about it too long otherwise you will bottle it” continued Rammi, and with that he leaped over the barrier and plunged in to the river below. Everyone instantly followed suit, even me who is not great with heights or jumping in to water. Looking back it was a bit stupid since none of us knew how deep the river was, if there was any particular spot or plunge pool we need to aim for, or how to get back out and up to the restaurant. We were all caught in the moment and had the “when in Rome” attitude. Although the river was lovely to swim in I must stress that it was extremely cold and entering from the 33 degree outside temperature from that height in to the cold water was a bit of a shock to the system.
I should note that drinks are not included in the price, which is not really surprising. There was a wide variety of soft drinks and alcoholic drinks available and they were very reasonably priced (about the same as most restaurants/bars/cafes etc around Dalyan) despite us being a fully captive audience. In England, the restaurant would have fully exploited the tourists because of the heat (and the need to drink) as well as the fact there were no other outlets to compete against, however this is not the practice in Turkey and I fully respect the Turkish people for this and thank the way in which they look after their visitors and we were treated more like guests. It is a shame British people in the tourism industry do not have the same values.
The jeep safari cost us 80 YTL (approximately £33) each. Whilst this may seem like a lot, I think it represents great value for money since it provides all day entertainment (we were out from 8.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m.), an excellent lunch and an afternoon cup of Turkish tea as well as picking you up, and dropping you off at your hotel. The hourly equivalent is £3.33, which is absolute peanuts and I am struggling to think of anything that you can do in the UK (that provides the same level of entertainment) for that amount.
In Dalyan there are plenty of touts or agents that provide the jeep safari experience, although there are only a handful of actual tour operators. Going through a tout is more expensive, after all they take their cut, but since all tour operators are accessible directly it pays cutting out the middleman. All tour operators offer the jeep safari experience for around the same kind of money (obviously there are some very slight variations) so I would not recommend spending a long time shopping around for a cheaper price.
I would advise sourcing a reputable tour operator and, probably more importantly, one you are comfortable with and actually like (some of the guides are much more fun than others) and stick with them. This is what we ended up doing with Kaunos Tours, even though they are slightly more expensive than many of the others, but the extra £1 or so is easily justified.
Once the convoy had all convened at Kaunos Tour’s HQ we were all issued with a blue poly bag. As expected some wannabe comedian (later on I discovered his name was Colin) in the front started harking on about sick bags, although we were advised by Rammi, our guide, that all personal belongings should be put in it as we would be travelling through some rivers and dusty tracks.
We were also presented with a list of “Dos and Don’ts” along with a disclaimer at the bottom that needed to be signed before the safari commenced. I did not bother reading the document as there is a standard policy of “no signature, no excursion” so I quickly signed the document and passed it on. Other people on the safari did not share my approach and proceeded to read the document word by word, and even started to argue some of the points. I have to applaud Rammi since he looked at them and sternly said if they were unacceptable then we could get off the jeep (without a refund) and join a more suitable tour, such as to the carpet shop. Once again Colin started the obvious “signing your life away”, much to the delight and amusement of his wife (some people think they are just so original and funny but it is all stuff we have heard loads of times before. Yawn). With all the procedural stuff and pep talk out of the way we set off toward the Amber Forest.
We had got no further than a mile down the road when we turned in to a garage and was met head on with a group of young Turks and a large hose. Being in the back of the jeep my other half and I and the two Dutch girls who were staying at the same hotel as us, got the brunt of the attack and got absolutely drenched. We found it hysterical, although the older people (including Colin and his wife) in the front seats did not share our enjoyment, although Colin was not grumbling at the wet bikini clad girls in the back of the jeep. From this moment on it was clear that we were going to get very wet and this is the reason for the protective bags given to us.
After the soaking and the apologies from Rammi, who clearly found it funny, we carried on to the Amber Forest where the terrain changed from nice asphalt/tarmac roads to rough, bumpy tracks. Entering the Amber Forest we pulled over where Rammi gave us a quick talk on the Amber trees, how the liquid was extracted and farmed etc. along with detail on the orange, lemon and fig plantations as well as other pieces of flora and fauna that are found in the Amber Forest. I must admit that I did not understand all of it due to a combination of Rammi’s broken English (although he tried very hard and I applaud him for this) and Colin’s incessant chatting and useless attempts at being the “class clown”.
Being in a jeep with people who know the area, and having the ability to travel places that are inaccessible by car is the best way to really get a feel for the Turkish countryside, and it was absolutely fantastic. As well as the views you get to soak up the sun (being in an open top jeep allows for this), breath in the fresh and un-polluted air and smell the wonderful odors of nature, such as the natural pine.
Exiting the Amber Forest we approached a river. The jeep was put into four-wheel drive and in we went, closely followed by the other jeeps in our convoy. Once all jeeps were in the river the games began. All the jeeps hurtled upstream, four abreast and had a bit of a drag race. There was a cat and mouse game as some drivers slowed down allowing the other drivers to overtake, splashing the water all over the jeep being overtaken, soaking the passengers in the process. Some of the driving was a bit erratic and we did get very close to the other jeeps, although I did feel safe since all the drivers were skilled and seemed to know when enough was enough. Most of the convoy enjoyed this “river experience”, however Colin and his wife did not, which didn’t surprise me. Whilst in the river one of the jeeps broke down and the guides spent a good forty minutes trying to get it started. As the plugs and distributor was wet, and the engine was totally waterlogged there was no way it was going to start with a turn of the key so it was towed to “bump” start it. I became quite concerned that our safari would be cut short since the tour was for a finite time, however all fears were alleviated as Rammi confirmed that the original route will still be followed and warned us that we were going to be dropped off at our hotels later than originally expected.
With all the jeeps in fully working order, we carried on and once we reached Lake Koycegiz and commenced a climb to get “better” views. Once at the top of the mountain we stopped, and entertained by Rammi with a bit of detail about the lake, the surrounding town and countryside, and a history lesson on the formation of the lake and what lies beneath. How much of it is true is anyone’s guess since Rammi is the sort of character who likes to sensationalize things. Whilst this may not be a 100% factual it is more entertaining so it does add to the day.
The safari continued through small villages and towns, the mountains and over a variety of terrains and we received several more soakings along the way. In some villages Rammi would stop the jeep by the water supply and the local kids would throw buckets of water over us, or drench us with a hose. Every time we reached a garage we would hear the words “Oh you have all messed up my jeep. I think we need a car wash” and we would proceed through the wash bay for yet another soaking. If Rammi wasn’t driving under every water pipe en route, or the locals weren’t drenching us then it would be the kids in the other jeeps throwing bottles of water over us. Basically the whole day is one large water fight and whilst this was not to everyone’s taste (i.e. Colin the clown and his wife) everyone else really got in to the spirit of it.
What made it even better is the guides would not only give a soaking but also take it, and all with a smile on their face. There was one water pipe sticking out of the side of the mountain where there was a constant stream of water. It wasn’t a trickle, it was a powerful stream and when Rammi reversed the jeep under it (so the four of us in the back got a soaking) the power of the water actually hurt but it was refreshing. After our soaking Rammi reversed the jeep further under the pipe so he too got a soaking and just sat there laughing. The bloke is actually quite tapped, but he is great fun and all of the other guides were exactly the same, but without the demonic laugh and English speaking capabilities.
Afternoon tea was held in the garden of a private family home. Whilst it is interesting to see how the locals live, I found this very uncomfortable since I think it is quite intrusive, even though the family has obviously given their permission. The family also allowed all those on the tour the opportunity to go in and have a look around the house. We obviously refused and remained seated in the garden, although all of the other people on our tour did have a look around, which surprised me somewhat. The main purpose of stopping at the house was not to allow us to have a drink, but to sell some souvenirs at highly inflated prices. For example a small jar of olives was on sale at 15 YTL (approx £6.25) and a small jar of honey for 20YTL (approx £8.33). There were other items such as pashminas, beads, bracelets etc, all of which were available in Dalyan for much less. Despite the extortionate prices the tour group bought a fair amount of items although this was down to feeling obliged for the drink, the ‘nose’ around the house and the use of the toilet. It is a shame this event happened as I think it ruined the day, and the jeep safari experience, quite a lot.
After tea we continued to Isutzu Beach, commonly known as “Turtle Beach”, a place where the rare loggerhead turtles lay their eggs. The convoy set off up the mountains over-looking the beach, as well as the Dalaman delta, in order to get a good view. “Good” view does not do this justice. The views are simply amazing and absolutely breathtaking. Despite taking several pictures, it is impossible to capture the true beauty and the only way to fully experience it is to go and have a look yourself.
The safari continued down the mountain to Turtle Beach where we were given 45 minutes to have a stroll or a swim (as if we hadn’t been wet enough during the day already!). The other alternative was to take a walk up to the Turtle sanctuary for injured turtles. Even though there are two types of turtle around Dalyan (being the Loggerhead or the green sea turtle) I did notice that there were only Loggerheads in the sanctuary. Is it green sea turtles are more intelligent than loggerheads or is it local people don’t care as much about green sea turtles (since there are loads of them) as much as the loggerheads and don’t report injured ones?
Once we had looked around the sanctuary, had a swim etc. it was time to head back to the centre of Dalyan where we were all dropped off at our respective hotels.
The jeep safari is a very long day and even though the majority of the excursion is spent sitting down it is very tiring. Being out in the fresh air and sun, as well as staying alert to take in the magnificent views along the way, really does take it out of you but it is well worth it and I have to confess this was the best excursion during my trip to Dalyan. In my opinion, there is no better way to see the countryside and soak up the culture than doing it on a jeep safari. The fact that it was also a day long water fight added to the experience, and it was a nice way to keep cool since being in the back of an open top jeep in the midday sun and 33 degree plus heat is likely to lead to a bit of heat stroke.
This is one tour that others cannot ruin (even when there are idiots like Colin), unlike many some other excursions. Being in a moving jeep means you do not have to socialize with the others as much, and you can keep yourself to yourself and just take in the views and experience. I often found myself in my own little world watching the scenery flash by and I really enjoyed it.
The jeep safari represents great value for money since it not only provides all day entertainment but also lunch. Drinks are extra, but the locals do not fleece you for them so the additional costs are pretty minimal.
Having spoken to other guests in the hotel where we stayed I am glad I chose to do the jeep safari with Kaunos Tours. I heard stories of non English speaking guides that were so dull and boring many people couldn’t wait to get off the jeep. I also heard some horror story about one operator who even failed to show and despite trying to get a refund the operators were not being very forthcoming. I met many Kaunos Tour guides during the various excursions and I must say that all of them were great. Others, such as Rammi, were more likable than others, but all of them were easy enough to get on with and have a laugh with, which is a big positive in my book. I can’t recommend Kaunos Tours highly enough and even though you are likely to find cheaper tour operators their prices work out at a mere couple of pounds more than the others which is nothing in the grnad scheme of things. Besides, I always knew that Kaunos Tours were going to turn up since they called you if they were running late (this did happen on one excursion but it only turned out to be 15 minutes so it was no big deal).
When I booked the jeep safari I had no idea that it would be an all day water fight (involving numerous soakings) with a bit of off road driving thrown in for good measure. I appreciate that some people will love it (like the Dutch girls, my other half and I did) and others will not like it as much (like Colin and his wife) so I think that Kaunos Tours should place a warning on their literature. This information should be given verbally when booking the safari at the very least. Luckily, Rammi and all the other guides, took our wallets and cameras, put them in an airtight container and then in the glove box out of harms’ way.
The only thing that ruined the day for me was the afternoon tea, and pressure selling of products at over inflated prices, at the Turkish house. I would like to have a look around a typical Turkish home (they look tiny and so different to houses in the UK) but I would only ever do this if I was invited as a guest to a Turkish home. I would never have a look around a strangers’ home on an excursion. I suppose I should count myself lucky that I only had to endure 20 minutes at a house since one hotel guest I spoke to had to endure 2 hours at a carpet shop (where the pressure selling is hundreds of time worse and the salesmen are very aggressive and intimidating) whilst on a jeep safari with another tour operator.