Discover the mesmerizing allure of Kekova Island, a Turkish gem brimming with history and the captivating Sunken City. Explore the enchanting ruins submerged beneath crystal-clear waters, and delve into the charm of Kalekoy’s ancient fortress. Uncover the secrets of this Mediterranean paradise in our comprehensive guide to Kekova, where history and natural beauty intertwine.
Hidden beneath the tranquil, turquoise waters of Kekova, Turkiye lie the remains of a once-flourishing city. The Kekova sunken city, remnants of which can still be seen on the shorelines of Kekova Island and the surrounding area, was a Lycian city, is just a short drive from the idyllic towns of Kas and Demre along the famous Turquoise Coast in southwestern Turkiye.
Kekova, or as it was previously known “Dolichiste,” was a trading hub on the Mediterranean routes between Andriake and Aperlae. The sheltered waters made Kekova a popular stopping point during rough seas. But this all changed in the 2nd century CE when a massive earthquake hit the region causing much of the city to slide beneath the waves.
Today, Kekova Sunken City is one of the top places to visit in Turkiye. There are ancient ruins that lie beneath clear waters, and evidence of temples and buildings on the shores of the islands provide evidence that there was, once, much more to this beautiful area. Visitors, who usually arrive by boat, spend hours coasting along the historic shoreline or paddling kayaks among the ancient sunken buildings, stopping from time to time for a swim in the glorious water.
Across from Kekova Island lies the historic town of Kalekoy. This town sits on the mainland but is on a peninsula that juts out from the mainland toward Kekova Island. There is no road that leads directly to this tourist hub.
Lycian sarcophagi jut from the water, offering a glimpse back into the fascinating burial practices that can still be evidenced in the cliffside tombs of towns such as Dalyan and Fethiye. While much of Kekova is now buried beneath the waves, Simena Castle, otherwise known as Kekova Castle, stands proudly atop the central island offering majestic views of the surrounding area.
I visited Kekova Island and the Kekova Sunken City on my family road trip along the Turquoise Coast. We began our drive near the ancient ruins of Ephesus after a week-long Aegean Sea cruise through the Greek Islands.
The area was one of our absolute favorite things to do along the route thanks to the combination of incredible history and active experiences like kayaking, swimming, and walking through the ancient ruins. My boys, who were aged 9 and 12, couldn’t get enough of the crystal clear waters, and Christina and I were mesmerized by the ruins and natural beauty.
Things To Do In Kekova, Turkiye
The small, rocky island of Kekova, which is typically visited from the small town of Kalekoy near the city of Demre is a fascinating place to visit. And it’s not just the island itself that is magical. There are a series of islets and islands that make up a network of the former city of Kekova. Much of this area was once part of the mainland until an earthquake struck around 1800 years ago, causing much of Kekova to slide into the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Kekova Island is the main gathering point in the region. Because the area around the Kekova sunken city is all islands, most people arrive by boat tour, which they board in Kalekoy. The small rocky island runs parallel to the mainland and is dotted with historic buildings, small schools, and green trees.
Simply walking around the island is a wonderful way to get a taste of the history of Kekova. One of the most picturesque parts of the island, Tersane Koyu, is a beautiful bay where many kayakers end up visiting. Here, you’ll find the remains of a triumphal arch on a rocky beach.
Tersane Koyu was my favorite part of the island. It’s also one of the few places on Kekova Island where swimming is allowed.
Most of the ruins are found on the northern side of the island, close to the mainland. Those taking a boat tour or paddling along the island will see evidence of stairs and buildings that drop dramatically into the clear waters of the sea.
The town of Kalekoy, also known as “Simena” is a tiny town sitting at the peak of a rocky peninsula overlooking Kekova Island. The village is unique, with historic buildings stretching up the steep hills away from the sea towards the impressive Kalekoy Castle at its peak.
The village is dotted with homes, schools, and shops, all lined with fragrant flowers, and the shallow waters at the town’s base are one of the best places to go swimming in the area. You can actually swim around a gorgeous Lycian sarcophagus.
Along the edges of the water are small shops and restaurants serving the town’s famous Turkish ice cream.
There are no cars in Kalekoy, and the only way to reach the town is by boat. That’s one of the reasons why this small town has preserved such an authentic atmosphere. Most boat and kayak tours of Kekova make a stop in Kalekoy.
One of the most popular side trips from Kekova and Kalekoy is the small town of Ucagiz. If you’re looking for a similar feel to historic coastal Turkiye without the crowds and tourist focus of Kalekoy, this is the town that you’ll want to hit.
Ucagiz sits in a natural harbor not far from Kalekoy. In ancient times, Ucagiz was known as “Theimussa.” It was actually connected to Kekova Island before the earthquake in the 2nd century CE caused the land to sink beneath the water.
Like Kalekoy, the swimming here is amazing. And you’ll also find sarcophagi poking above the water. Because it’s connected by road, you’ll find larger sailboats and yachts moored here, but the water is clean and calm.
Kayaking and Boat Tours
What drew my family to Kekova Island was the paddling. We love to get out on the water, and back home in Canada, we’ll take any chance that we can get to go canoeing, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding around our country’s countless lakes and rivers.
While many visitors to Kekova opt for the many boat tours that cruise the coastline of Kekova Island and make stops in the beautiful towns of Kalekoy and Ucagiz, we opted for a kayak tour that would take us into Kekova Island’s most beautiful cove, Tersane Koyu. It was here that the boys.
Paddling along the shores of the island also gave us a chance to get right up to the old stairwell and walls of the Kekova sunken city. From the island, we paddled our way across the bay to Kalekoy, where we had the chance to hike up to Kekova Castle, swim in the picturesque cove, and enjoy some of the town’s famous ice cream.
One of the advantages of taking a traditional boat tour of Kekova is the chance to make a stop at Pirate’s Cave. This fascinating cave on the north side of Kekova Island can’t be entered now, but it’s rumored that pirates once used to dock here while waiting for ships to pass.
Tour boats and yachts often anchor out in the open and venture inside the cave by kayak. It’s a fascinating experience, but be warned, there are many bats inside Pirate’s Cave.
Kekova Castle (Simena Castle)
At the peak of Kalekoy sits one of the most notable features, Kekova Castle, also known as Simena Castle. The castle holds a majestic presence over the surrounding area. And those who make the climb up the steep hills of Kalekoy will find a small theater inside as well as incredible views over the surrounding area.
The castle was once the heart of a Lycian settlement and still remains largely intact. The whole area offers a fascinating contrast between the ancient and the historic as villagers go about their modern 21st-century lives around the Byzantine-era structure.
Enjoy Your Time In Kalekoy and the Kekova Castle and Sunken City
Kalekoy, Kekova Castle, and the Kekova Sunken City make for an absolutely unforgettable stop on a family trip to Turkiye. There are few places where you can experience so many incredible attractions in such a small area. The combination of active adventures and epic history is truly awe-inspiring.
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