Seeing just a few images of Lake Bafa and surroundings was enough to lure us there. Even without the climbing potential it is a mesmerizing place. The lake, which in olden days was part of the ocean shoreline, is surrounded by divers oddly shaped boulders that seem to have rolled of the impressive backdrop that is the Besparmak mountain range. The area is lively with 200 bird species ranging from the omnipresent black-winged stilt to the majestic pelicans and flamingo’s. To top it all off the center of the climbing unfolds itself around the ancient ruins of Heracles. Think temples, castles and old city walls.
It is actually this video from Petzl that made us look into bouldering at lake Bafa.
Today the ancient city of Heracles shares its breathtaking location with the contemporary farmers and fishers town of Kapiriki (population 300). Here, the only traffic jams are still caused by stubborn cows and donkeys or even the odd wandering turtle. But it is also the place to stay if you want some of the best bouldering in lake Bafa quite literally in your backyard.
The sleepy village gets some interest from tourists (mostly Turkish) that stop and spend some time here before they head to the Aegan coastline (Bodrum or Didim for example). This made it easy for us to hitchhike here and they are also the regular source of income for the handful of pensions in Kapiriki. We stayed at Karia Pension. This place is recommended in the guidebook and lets you camp in the garden for 10 lira/day/tent. The sympathetic owner Emin also caters to climbers in other ways: there is a campus board and for another 10 lira a day you can rent a lofty bouldering mat. The huge three-section Black Diamond crashpad sure came in handy for some of the highball boulders that are just to unique to resist.
We arrived late at night but right in front of our destination thanks to a friendly duo that picked us up and changed their plan from going to beach town Didim to joining us all the way to Kapiriki. We pitched our tent in the dark and were happily surprised to wake up between the donkey and the chickens. Emin served us a great typical Turkish breakfast: homemade bread and a table full of tiny plates with regional specialties (25 lira). We set up a little yoga session for our self on a pillow bed on the top balcony, which like many of the town buildings is build in between some boulders and overlooks the lake.
We met with our neighbor camper and one of the only other climbers we would meet during our stay. Since not many people are crazy enough to climb in the hot weather that is common for September in Turkey, we seemed the only ones bouldering here except for some weekend visitors and our equally crazy new friend Cağatay.
We started climbing on the boulders that are just behind Karia pension (area Ilk Bahce). We entered the area through the neighboring farm (hello cows and bear-sized but friendly dog). This is the way the topo suggests, but it turns out you can enter the area to a gate in Karia’s garden. The area hosts a wide range of grades and the lower grades seemed to be less stiff then some of the other area’s we tried later on (such as Hannuman?). Since we were only planning to stay here for a few days, our goal was to onsight as much as possible while exploring the area. It worked out pretty well: the granite (and some gneiss) boulders have a limited amount of features, so the line is obvious most of the time. Be warned though: some problems see little traffic and holds do snap sometimes. A good spotter and a well placed bouldering mat are no luxury here.
The next day we went bouldering at sector Kale. Kale translates to castle and so this was our first close encounter with the ancient ruins. At least if you don’t count the numerous old columns and stones scattered across the town and even used in farmers fences. We found some great technical problems on a vertical wall which made the climbing totally different from the day before. Unfortunately Annelies slipped off a dirty hold while topping out and strained her ankle, which brought us back to the camp for some ice and a cold beer.
Apart from the rest days we sampled one or two area’s each day. Among our favorite locations were the beach side Sahil and the Avrupa sector. In the first you can climb on the beach as you were in Thailand. The water even covers the landing of some of the boulders in winter. Be warned though that in the summer the water gets low and smelly and is not so inviting to swim.
In the latter we found a beautiful hollow boulder overlooking the town with its picturesque blue topped minaret tower.
While we were planning on only staying a couple of days, we ended up climbing, hiking and relaxing at Lake Bafa for a week. If you have been following us our extended stay probably won’t surprise you at all :-). But the atmosphere and the setting was just too good. Next to the nice collection of problems in the guidebook, there is still a lot of potential for new problems. But the true beauty of bouldering at lake Bafa is not in the number of problems or concentration of high quality boulders. It’s the surroundings that make Bafa unique. Where else can you climb navigating the sector by the ancient guard towers? Or top out while you notice a flock of flamingo’s pass by? Or perhaps stumble upon prehistorical cave paintings?
When you are staying in Kapiriki, the closest peak of the Besparmak mountain range looks tempting. The ridge leading up to the top is covered with ancient guard towers. And next to providing a perfect viewpoint of the lake and its surrounding the top also has ancient structures where they once worshiped Zeus (note that the mountain was called mount Latmos in ancient times). The only problem is that the maze of donkey paths leading up can be very confusing. Higher up the path fades and is covered with prickly bushes (long pants recommended). We set up quite a few stone towers (called “Baba” by the Turkish) that can help you find your way, but be sure to ask the locals or Emin at Karia pension for some help. We started the walk by continuing uphill from the start of the … bouldering area. We got lost several times and ended up running out of water. Only recommended if you are in for an adventure. If you are looking for an easier walk, consider visiting the Yediler monastery (monastery of the seven brothers).
The perfect way to explore the lake is a boat trip. Emin arranged a private trip for us with a local fisherman. We saw Pelicans and visited the twin islands with a castle and monastery. We also had a swim there. If you go in the morning there are less smelly algae. The trip took about three hours, although there seemed to be no rush while we were swimming and exploring the islands. We payed 100 lira (about 25 euro).
The Monastery of The Seven Brothers (Yediler Monastery)
This is the biggest monastery of the region located on the eastern slope of the Latmos mountain and dates back to the Byzantine period. In order to defend against raids, the monastery is build in different levels including a castle on top of a giant boulder. But the highpoint of our visit was definitely the fresco’s depicting Jesus found in the roof of another boulder.
To get there go to Golyaka village. You can walk there along the main road, but it is easy to hitchhike. Once in the village you will see an official sign on the left. This is 200m before you reach the market on your right side (where you can buy water). Walk all the way up the village to the ridge leaving the mosque on your right side. When the road ends there is an obvious sign. From there on follow the red and white markings on the rocks and threes. When you come up to a y-junction, don’t go left (marked with a red cross). The walk is easy and should only take you about an hour one way. It’s about 6 km there and back (to Golyaka).
To find the fresco’s, leave the Monastery to your left and walk on till you see a white sign on your right. The boulder with the fresco is just right of this sign.
There is only one market in Kapiriki. It has basics, but no vegetables. On Tuesdays you can find women selling fruits and vegetables behind the mosque (although when we where there they also came on Thursday, check with the locals). The next market is in Golyaka, about 5 km further. It is a little bit bigger and has some vegetables in stock. If you want a big market go to Milas.
Off course there are also a number of pensions that serve food. We really liked the food at Karia Pension. Weather it be köfte (Turkish meatballs) or fish, it was always really good. Portions could be bigger, but that seemed to be a problem for us almost everywhere in Turkey. It’s 25 lira (around 6 euro) for Turkish breakfast or dinner.
We tried one other restaurant, Pelikan Pension across the street. But we wouldn’t recommend it since it is quite expensive (45 lira for our fish dish) and not that good. It is good for a drink with a view though.
We can’t help but to be really positive about Karia Pensyon. You can camp or stay in one of the well kept rooms. The surroundings are great (you can see Emin working on the garden everyday). And his wife Cennit uses the products from their garden to prepare great food. It is also really close to the Ilk Bahce climbing area and the place to meet other climbers.
Camping: 10 lira/day/tent
Room: 80 euro for a 2 person room with breakfast and dinner (according to the website, but please contact them. This seems a lot compared to what we payed for camping)
Breakfast or dinner: 25 lira
An other nice option if you have a car is Silva Oliva. It is 10 km away from Kapiriki, but it seems really nice and it’s right next to the water. A room is € 35 including breakfast according to booking.com. If you want to access booking.com you need a VPN, since it’s blocked by the Turkish government due to a tax discussion. Opera VPN on your phone or Opera browser on desktop is an easy and free solution.
Getting there and around
The nearest airport is Bodrum, 85 km by car. Cars can be rented in the airport. Bafa Lake is reachable via the D330 road that leads to the town of Milas, and from there via the D525 road to the village of Bafa, where it meets the turnoff for the village of Kapikiri. Getting there by bus is hard, since the village of Kapikiri is not served by public transport. By request you can get the buses that go from Bodrum to Izmir to stop in Bafa, but then it is still another 10 km to Kapikiri.
Alternatively you can hitchhike, which is still very easy in Turkey. We seldom had to wait longer than 10 minutes.
You do not need a car to reach 80% of the boulders, which is more than enough to keep you busy for weeks on end. Although a car can be handy for your shopping.
Nearby is another great boulder area: Sakarkaya. Connections to Kalymnos are insured by two direct shipping lines: one in Bodrum, and the other in Turgutreis.
When to go
Anything but summer: October to April should be fine. We were there in September and where restricted to climbing in the morning up till 11 am or after 5 pm.
Bafa Gölü Bouldering (Zorbey Aktuyun, 2014) is a very complete guide with more than 550 boulder problems in Turkish and English. It is hard to come by though. Consult with your accommodation or contact the guys at Dagevi. They have an online shop and a physical shop in Izmir.
Since guidebooks weigh to much to carry around for us we left our guidebook with a Turkish climber and friend staying in Karia Pension. Knowing him our guidebook is probably still there for everyone to consult. Check with Emit at Karia if you book.