Enchanting Olimpos is a true backpacker’s town, one of the few budget spots along the Turkish Riviera. Olimpos brings travelers closer to the heavens by giving them the chance to sleep in a treehouse and make a nighttime ascent of the Chimaera, where a naturally occurring flame has burned since ancient times. Roman and Byzantine ruins are close enough to the beach that visitors can partake in nearly simultaneous cerebral and solar stimulation, but the ruins are remote enough to give a sense of forested isolation. But beware: like Homer’s Lotus-Eaters, travelers have been known to extend their stays indefinitely.
To get to Olimpos from Antalya, take a Kaş or Demre-bound bus and ask to be let off at Olimpos. From Kaş, take an Antalya-bound bus. Buses stop at a rest station on the main road. From there, dolmuş run down the 10km dirt road that leads to the treehouses (15min., every hr. 8:30am-10pm, $1.25), dropping passengers off at the pensions of their choice. From Olimpos, dolmuş return to the main road (15min., every hr. 8am-6pm, $1.25). Olimpos has no PTT, pharmacy, bank, or police station. Many pension owners accept US dollars, offer international phone calls, and arrange tours that include trekking or rafting. Postal code: 07350.
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The Turkish government has classified Olimpos as a “sit,” or archaeological site, banning the use of concrete. This means no asphalt roads (hence no direct bus service) and no comment building foundations, a potential kiss of death to tourism. Resourceful Olimpians have turned sit into gold, building back-to-nature tree- house pensions, which line the dirt road to the beach and ruins. Unfortunately, the question is not whether there are bugs, but rather how many and of wrhat kind. Most places also offer pension rooms and sturdy bungalows for an inflated price. Prices arc generally standardized, with exceptions noted. (Treehouses $7 per person; bungalows $10 per person; rooms $13 per person.) All prices generally include breakfast and dinner. For less rustic accommodations close to Olimpos and Chimaera, try the pensions in Çiralı village, 2km up the beach from Olimpos.
- Eli Bayram’s Treehouse Pension (892 12 43; fax 892 13 99). The ultimate Black Hole of Chill, with colorful bungalows and a friendly staff. Internet access $2 per hr. International phone, along with a book exchange and travel arrangements. Close to beach and ruins.
- Şaban Pension Bungalows A relaxed, family run pension. The dinners alone make a stay here worthwhile. Laundry $3. Internet $2 per hr. Camping $6.
- Kadir’s Yörük Treehouses (892 12 50; fax 892 11 10). The first pension at the bottom of the road. More like a sprawling Ewok village than a pension, Kadir’s is a posta dolescent summer camp. Guests watch movies and play volleyball. At night, Kadir’s bar becomes the focus of nightlife. Free shuttle to beach. Laundry $3. Beer $1.25; cocktails $3. Dorm $7; bungalow $12; treehouse $9.
- Türkmen Tree Houses (892 12 49; fax 892 14 02). Treehouses and sparkling showers, a clean kitchen, brand new bungalows, and a beautiful patio. Free çay and coffee throughout your stay. First beer free. Camping $5. Carreta Carreta, across the road from Şaban. This tiny pension has some of the largest, best-quality, and sturdiest treehouses in Olimpos.
- Green Point Camping (825 71 82; fax 825 70 94), about 1km up the beach from Olimpos. Great campground with clean toilets and shower. 100m from Çiralı beach. 1 person tent $3.50; 2-person tent $6; 2-person caravan with electricity $12.
CHIMAERA. During the 2nd century BC, Olimpos’s proximity (7km) to this perpetual flame inspired the residents to worship Hephaestos, god of fire and the forge. They believed the flame to be the breath of the Chimaera, a mythical beast that was part lion, part goat, and part serpent. Geologists have yet to produce a more exciting explanation. They suspect natural methane gas might play some role. In past centuries, the flame was even brighter than it is today; according to ancient reports, ships navigated by it. Chimaera is best seen at night, and bus tours leave Olimpos at 9pm (3hr., $3); ask a pension owner for details. Wear sturdy shoes and bring a flashlight since reaching the flame requires a tricky 20min. uphill hike through unlit mountainous terrain.
RUINS. The ruins at Olimpos are a jumbled pastiche of everything from ancient temples to crumbling walls of medieval castles. Follow the road from the pensions to the beach. The ruins tend to be overgrown with vines and dry’ bushes, and inhabited by snakes and scorpions, so be very cautious when exploring the site. About 10m beyond the entrance booth, you can cross the dry river bed to reach a row of tombs and one of the crumbling arches. If you continue on the main path about 40m farther, a small path leads off to the left, climbing uphill past the overgrown necropolis to a rather large but unimpressive archway. Beyond the archway it is easy to get lost in overgrown orange groves and reeds. The sign at the beginning of the pathway reads simply “temple.”
On the other side of the road across the stream are the decrepit theater and medieval walls. Though it is not unusual to see locals at the stream swimming and drinking, tourists should avoid doing so. Continuing along the main path leads to the Harbon memorial tombs just before the beach, where the best preserved group of ruins looms over the water on a rocky’ cliff to the right. (Open daily 8am-7pm. $5, students $2. Hold on to your ticket stub, as it will be good for multiple entry to the beach and site.)
The Turkish language is replete with multipurpose expressions. One particular favorite is “çok güzel,” literally “very beautiful,” which can be used in reference to pretty much anything one finds agreeable. Another is “buyurun,” from the verb buyurmak meaning “to order” or “to command.” “Buyurun” is a prompting word used in a number of different contexts. A waiter bringing food might use it to express “here you are,” or a shopkeeper might use it to express “what can i do for you?” The possibilities are endless. Sadly, the linguistic wizard charged with teaching English to generations of Turks decided that there was a direct English translation of “buyurun:” specifically, “yes, please.” Not only does “yes, please” make no sense in the contexts in which it is so often used by Turkish restaurateurs and hawkers, but the equivalent Turkish “evet, lütfen” is equally nonsensical. When you think you’ll turn murderous the next time you hear “yes, please,” keep in mind that the speaker is trying to find the equivalent of a friendly and welcoming-and untranslatable expression.