Kaunos, opposite Dalyan in Turkey, is famous for its image of the Lycian Rock Tombs that can be viewed from the famous river cruises. It is an amazing sight. The monumental and well-decorated temple tombs are carved out of the rocks dominating the Dalyan River. They are the main attraction of the many boat tours packed with tourists all summer. Unfortunately, only a few people leave the boat on the other side of the river to go and explore the ancient site of Kaunos to which the Rock Tombs belong. A shame really, as the site is painstakingly beautiful and unquestionably worth a visit. Our advice? Visit Turkey out of season. Negotiate a price with a boat owner to take you across the river and explore the area at your own pace instead of joining a packed boat tour. Private tours are less than half of the announced price if you walk away from the central pier, and negotiate a little. Your reward will be a pleasant boat trip with plenty of photo opportunities offering a far more relaxing and more personal experience.
Natures’ & antiquities’ WOW-factors
Kaunos is one of these places that seem to have it all. It is not hard at all to imagine why people decided to settle down here as early as the 9th century BC. Set aside a natural harbor in a grandiose setting with the mountains and the sea as a backdrop, it almost feels like paradise. Of course, the current delta making Kaunos easily accessible for traders of all kinds wasn’t there in ancient times. Nowadays, the sediments of the Dalyan river make it impossible for big boats to reach Kaunos. Only shallow bottom boats like the ones used by the river cruise companies can get there. The entrance of the site is at mid-level. As a result, exploring it all includes a climb up to the Acropolis and following the wooden steps down to the harbor area.
The central area includes a Byzantine Basilica church with a gorgeous mosaic floor right next to it. Other structures are a Roman Bath and, a bit more elevated towards the Acropolis, the Greek theatre. Because this is the entrance level, many organized tours do not leave this area due to time restrictions. Consequently, those visitors miss out on the most distinct part of Kaunos, the harbor area. If you are taking part in a tour, please insist on visiting the lower area too.
The theatre has some olive trees growing in it, making this the perfect spot to enjoy the stunning views towards the delta while sitting in the shade. Apart from offering a multitude of photo opportunities of the view across the delta, it also has a well-preserved vaulted staircase that adds a dramatic touch to your entrance to the theatre.
If you feel up to it, walk up to the Acropolis. It’s a small but very manageable path with pleasant views that will give you a good insight into the layout and vastness of Kaunos.
The harbor area of Kaunos is unlike any other ancient site we’ve ever visited. Other sites in Turkey have partly submerged area’s or are situated next to water, but Kaunos has a unique feel to it due to its setting. Surely the Circular Altar and the Hellenistic Fountain are fascinating, but so is the backdrop of silted land and water, a sea of reeds and the Taurus mountains. For that reason, Kaunos is a historical site that will appeal to non-history fanatics as well. Even children, who tend to dislike visiting too many old stones, find venturing around Kaunos to be pleasant.
How to prepare your visit to Kaunos
Most people visit Kaunos from Dalyan. Alternatively, you could make Köyceğiz your base and plan your trip from there. Köyceğiz has a relaxed vibe with mainly Turkish tourists and, as a result, very affordable prices. Several people are offering boat trips departing from the small harbor in Köyceğiz. If you want to make it extra special, you can even ask for a moonlight trip! Check out this beautiful vacation rental quite near the hidden mosque in Eski Köyceğiz.
The nearest airport is Dalaman with regular connections to Istanbul airports. You’ll find cheap flight options here. If you are exploring the wider area, make sure to include a day in Marmaris where the old town will charm the hell out of you, and Nimara Cave will probably be the coolest place you’ve visited in Turkey. Also, we have compiled all you need to know about visa applications, transport, and more on a single page to help you prepare your trip to Turkey.
If you are keen on visiting Kaunos from one of the nearby coastal resorts, these are some good options: