When it comes to most popular countries, Turkey consistently ranks in the top ten most visited every year. Last year saw nearly 50 million tourists alone, many of whom centered their visits around the many treasures of Istanbul.
Though while the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the thousands of stalls that make up the Grand Baazar receive most of the tourist hype, sadly, much of country’s natural landscapes go overlooked.
Straddling Europe and Asia, Turkey boasts one of the world’s most important natural biodiversity hotspots. Rich in flora and fauna, the country is home to bears, wolves, hyenas, and the highest number of threatened European bird species.
So, on your next trip to Turkey, why not go beyond the bustling cities and beautiful coastline to explore its floodplain forests, mountains, crater lakes, rivers, canyons, and waterfalls?
You’ll find important wetlands, dozens of national parks, and a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Check out these top places to experience Turkey’s diverse landscapes and wildlife.
Top Places to Experience the Nature and Wildlife of Turkey
Obtaining a Turkey Visa
The good news is that Turkey allows visa-free travel for nearly 80 countries. The bad news is that most major English speaking countries do require an e-Visa in order to enter the country.
This means citizens of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and South Africa will need to obtain a Turkey visa before they start visiting all the country’s incredible natural parks and reserves.
Getting an e-Visa for Turkey online is easy and the e-Visa Turkey program allows the citizens of around 40 countries to visit Turkey for up to 90 days. It takes less than 5 minutes and is a hassle-free way to ensure you won’t have any problems when you arrive.
After applying for your e-Visa online, you can expect your visa to be emailed to you within three days. Those needing an e-Visa more urgently may be able to submit an urgent application that can many times be processed in under an hour.
Print out your visa to present at the airport/border and save a digital copy on your phone in case you happen to lose or misplace the paper version. Your visa will remain valid for 180 days and will allow you to visit Turkey for up to 90 days during that period.
Manyas Bird Paradise National Park
Bird lovers will want to flock to Manyas Bird Paradise National Park. The wetlands found here attract millions of migrating and nesting birds each year.
Notable birds that can be seen here include threatened Dalmatian pelicans, greater flamingos, white-headed ducks, Eurasian spoonbills, and several species of egrets and herons. Manmade nesting platforms encourage the birds to nest here and an observation tower allows visitors to easily spot many of the bird species found within the park.
A small ornithology museum provides more insight into the birds that visit the park and has numerous stuffed specimens on display for closer examination.
The park can be accessed by taking a ferry from Istanbul across the Sea of Marmara to Bandirma and then getting a taxi or bus.
Camili Efeler Forest
The Camili Efeler Forest sits in Northeastern Turkey near the Georgian border and offers up the one of the most pristine forest ecosystems in Turkey. It offers a mix of boreal coniferous forests and deciduous forests that together offer an important migration route for birds of prey each fall.
During the fall migration, raptors such as black kites, golden eagles, honey buzzards, long-legged buzzards, and saker falcons may be seen. The forest is located within the Eastern Black Sea Mountains Important Bird Area.
The forest is also home to one of the world’s most important bee species. The Caucasian honeybee not only produces large amounts of honey in cold environs, but they are also mild-mannered and easy for beekeepers to work with.
Image credit: zolakoma (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Turkey has an abundance of waterfalls throughout the country and one of its finest examples is Düden Falls. Located on the Mediterranean coast in the Antalya Province of Southwestern Turkey, Düden Waterfalls is broken up into an upper and lower falls.
Both falls warrant a visit, however, Upper Düden Falls offers the chance to step inside a hidden cave behind its falls. The falls are around 15 meters high and 20 meters wide, with plenty of boardwalks to capture photos from different angles.
Most people visit the falls and gorge to escape the heat of the city and enjoy a picnic alongside the Duden River which runs from the Taurus Mountains to the Mediterranean.
Looking to the north along the Black Sea coast, Tatlıca Waterfalls sit in the Sinop Province. These falls were only recently discovered in 1997 during the construction of a local dam.
There are more than two dozen individual falls in the area that all flow into each other. Locals visit the falls from May to November to take advantage of camp sites as well as hiking trails, bridges, and staircases constructed alongside the falls.
Goreme National Park and Cappadocia
Central Turkey’s Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is most likely Turkey’s most well known natural site.
The park is known for its cave hotels, unusual rock formations, a collection of natural chimneys, cones, and pillars that were cut into the volcanic landscape. Much of the area was shaped by eons of natural erosion, but human hands also played a role in shaping the landscape.
During the early 4th century, Christian monks fled here to escape the persecution of Rome. They carved out dwellings and monasteries in the porous tuff rock. To this day, people still live in some of these dwellings and some have actually become hotels which visitors can enjoy a truly unique overnight experience in.
One of the best ways to take in Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia is by taking a hot air balloon ride over the landscape. Tour companies are plentiful and will happily pick you up from your hotel for an early morning flight to catch the sunrise.
Another incredibly popular natural site in Turkey is Pamukkale. Known as the “Cotton Castle” this bizarre yet beautiful natural wonder is in Southwest Turkey between the cities of İzmir and Antalaya.
The site features white travertine terraces that resemble waterfalls frozen in time. The “frozen falls” are actually made of rock which was formed by carbonate minerals from the local geothermal hot springs.
The area is home to ruins of the Ancient Roman city Hierapolis, which became a spa city for the Romans. To this day you can enjoy a dip in the very same thermal pools the Romans enjoyed all the way back in 200 BC.
There are over a dozen hot springs in the area, some reaching temperatures around 100 °C. The healing waters of Pamukkale are said to help people suffering from cardiovascular diseases, skin disorders, and arthritis.
For a truly epic adventure, try summiting Mount Ararat. The mountain is located in Eastern Turkey near the borders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran. Turkey’s highest peak, Mount Ararat is said to be the final resting place for Noah’s Ark.
The mountain consists of two major volcanic cones of which Greater Ararat is the highest in elevation. With an elevation of over 5,000 meters, Greater Ararat offers a high-altitude climb that may be arduous but isn’t very technical.
Anyone in good physical health and a drive for adventure can book the 4-day trekking experience which includes time for acclimatization.
The climbing season runs from June to September and requires you to obtain a permit and trek with a licensed guide. Local climbing outfitters will supply you with tents, sleeping bags, and the necessary mountaineering equipment.
It is advised that you secure your climbing permit well in advance as it can take several months to process your application. In the past, the climb has been prohibited due to it being classified as a restricted military zone.
Sarıkamış Forest – Allahuekber Mountains National Park
The forests of Turkey’s first designated wildlife corridor cover roughly 23,500 hectares. Located in Northeastern Turkey, the corridor includes the Allahuekber Mountains of the Kars Province.
The wildlife corridor is home to large carnivorous mammals including wolves, Eurasian lynx, brown bears, striped hyena, and possibly even leopards. They prey upon the area’s wild boar, roe deer, and ibex.
Consider this National Park to be the Alaska of Europe.
These are just some of the incredible natural wonders Turkey has to offer. I hope these places inspire you to look beyond Istanbul and the popular seaside resorts to discover wilderness areas not many travelers seek out.
While Cappadocia and Pamukkale may be well and truly on the main tourist trail, the more remote forests and national parks see little traffic and offer an authentic look at Turkey’s more wild side.