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Over Kekova Island – A Boat Tour Of The Sunken City

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Across the sheltered Mediterranean waters of the Kekova region, opposite the villages of Kaleköy (ancient city of Simena) and Kaleüçağız, lies Kekova Island sunken city.

A rectangular entrance made from rocks sits by the water at Kekova Island.
The ancient ruins of Kekova Island are visible above and below sea level

Kekova Island – The Sunken City

The only way to reach the island of Kekova is by boat.

And whatever your chosen vessel – gület, small boats, daily boat trip, sea kayak – you will be in good company.

This area, known locally as Kekova Roads, is one of the best places and most popular for all who sail, paddle or row.

A close up of an in-focus bell in front of a blurred background of the sea at Gökkaya near Demre.
Awake at dawn and ready to sail to Kekova

For our part, we visited the famous sunken city of Kekova Island as part of a ğület cruise.

Between the small town of Demre and the village of Üçağız is a series of sheltered bays known as Gökkaya.

We’d anchored there overnight and awoke to catch the sunrise and dawn on this beautiful part of the Turkish Riviera.

Still waters, blue skies, countless rocky islets, the sun’s blinding reflection, a smattering of other gülets…Dreamlike.

And then we set off to make the short journey to sail over the famous ruins.

Gülets and small islands of Gökkaya in front of forested hills.
The natural scenery around Kekova is quintessential Turquoise Coast

Ever since our first visit to Turkey, we’d always wanted to visit Kekova Island.

It’s one of those places that everyone seems to have heard of when you mention the top attractions in this country.

And now, it was our turn to see it for ourselves…

As we approached the oh-so-famous Kekova sunken city, the noise of the engine was reduced to a murmur as we drew slowly closer to the rocky coast of the island.

An ancient stone doorway surrounded by scrub.
There’s a certain eeriness to the ruins of Kekova

And we fell in line with day trip boats, dinghies, kayaks and other gülets that were also slowly gliding by.

Hugging the coast; faces peering over the sides of the boats towards the clear turquoise waters below.

A stone staircase leads down to the sunken ruins of Dolichiste, modern day Kekova.
A stone staircase of the partly sunken ruins of Dolichiste

The ancient town on Kekova Island clung to rock faces and became partly submerged following a major earthquake in the 2nd Century AD.

As our captain expertly steered our hulking gület by the shallow, rocky waters, we could see steps curving first down the cliff faces and then down below sea level.

Ruins of a Byzantine Church surrounded by wild thyme.
The ruins lie at the north of the island

In the Lycian era, Kekova Island was known as Dolichiste.

Even following the earthquake which destroyed and partially submerged the town, the island has still been inhabited at various periods, throughout the centuries, including the Byzantine era.

The Arab invasions put pay to much more full time habitation of the island.

Ancient ruins visible above and below sea level.
Parts of the town are submerged whilst others are visible along the shoreline

Chances are, when you’re sailing along, taking in these ruins of ancient times, it’s going to be a hot sunny day.

And the Mediterranean Sea will look very tempting indeed.

But maybe that’s a case of forbidden fruit. Because it is forbidden to swim over the ruins in this particular area.

Kekova is a specially protected area and has been since 1990 when the Turkish government department, Ministry of Environment & Forest banned swimming, snorkelling and diving so as to protect the ruins and their artefacts.

A small boat sails over the ruins of the Quay at Kekova Sunken City.
The quay at Kekova is perhaps the most visible of the sunken ruins

So, visitors to the sunken city content themselves with keeping afloat in boats, dinghies and sea kayaks, all of which can be hired locally.

Swimming At Tersane Bay

Two Turkish people row a small boat in the sea at Tersane Bay.
Our view as the gület anchored at Tersane Bay

And don’t worry about the fact that swimming is forbidden amongst many of the ruins of Kekova sunken city.

In more recent times, this ban has been lifted for the area at the northwest part of the island.

A continuation along the shoreline brings you to Tersane Bay.

‘Tersane’ means boatyard or dockyard and, in ancient times, this was the dockyard for the ancient city of Xera.

An elderly Turkish couple sell their wares from a small white wooden row boat.
Ahh, so that’s why amca and teyze go ‘fishing’ at Tersane

These days, it’s a popular place for boats to anchor so that those on board can dive (or gently ease themselves) into that tempting water.

It was mid-October when we visited Kekova Island and, apart from a few early morning rowers and a couple of day trip boats, we were in the bay alone.

Except for this local couple doing what we thought was some pleasant early morning fishing.

Turkish entrepreneurial spirit knows no bounds.

Fishing aborted.

Their boat did an about turn and headed straight towards us so that this lady could show – and hopefully sell – her colourful handmade shawls.

This is the place where we were able to swim ashore and spend a little (shingle) beach time amongst the ruins of a Byzantine church.

A small gület anchored at a bay on calm sea.
It’s possible to swim ashore at Tersane

The whole experience of sailing over the top of the ruins and of being in the Kekova region, generally, is most definitely a wow!

We’re in a sprawling, sheltered strait of turquoise waters.

Our opposite shoreline is home to ancient Simena and Üçağız.

Harbours, marinas and more Lycian tombs than we have ever seen in one place.

All of it is just so picture-postcard pretty.

Kekova Island – Useful Information

  • We visited the sunken city on Kekova Island whilst on our gület cruise. The well known ‘Blue Cruise’ from places like Fethiye has the Kekova region as part of its 3-day itinerary.
  • Kekova Island is also a popular day trip by boat from Kaş, Üçağız and Demre – most trips will also give you some time at Simena village. Sea kayaks are also popular.
  • The area is popular stopover with sailors because it is so sheltered – it is known to sailors as Kekova Roads.
  • It is forbidden to swim amongst the ruins of the north shore of Kekova Island but swimming is possible at Tersane.
  • If you visit Tersane by boat, take some footwear with you that you can use to swim and explore. When you swim ashore, it’s possible to explore the Kekova ruins there but the terrain is rough for bare feet.
  • Visiting the Kekova region by gület is special because you get to anchor in the quiet sheltered bays at night, and, if you want to, sleep outside under the stars.

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Krista

Wednesday 23rd of March 2016

I love all your pictures, but that sunrise one makes me swoon just a little. :-) How blissfully peaceful.

Turkey's For Life

Thursday 24th of March 2016

Ahh, yeah, the sunrise around Gökkaya and Kekova was just so lovely, Krista. A really perfect place to catch the beginning of a whole new day. :)

Alan

Wednesday 16th of March 2016

. . one of our favorite 'peace-and-quiet' bolt-holes - albeit in the winter when there are no tourists/visitors. It's a magical little corner of Turkey.

Turkey's For Life

Thursday 17th of March 2016

Yeah, the whole Kekova region was lovely and quiet when we were there, Alan. Keep seeing summer photos and feel fortunate to have seen it when all was peaceful. :)

BacktoBodrum

Tuesday 15th of March 2016

One of my favourite places. Everyone should get the chance once in their lives to sail into Kekova. It is truly magical.

Turkey's For Life

Tuesday 15th of March 2016

Yeah, we loved this area in particular, BacktoBodrum. Our boat crew were from Deme so we stayed around the Kekova area for a couple of nights. :)

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