A Guide to Gulet Cruises on Turkey's Turquoise Coast
The southwest coast of Turkey is stunning; hillsides covered in olive groves and pine forests rise steeply above sandy beaches that are lapped by seas that are endlessly captivating.
A wonderful way to explore this stretch of shoreline in detail is to take a gulet cruise. You can spend lazy days swimming in pretty coves and sunbathing on deck, or head ashore to visit ancient sites and relax over long lunches in coastal towns. And because a gulet provides both transport and accommodation, you can have a hassle-free holiday that will live long in your memory. Some of our deal experts who've been describe it as the most relaxed they've ever felt...anywhere.
What is a gulet?
A gulet is a traditional wooden sailing boat built along the southwest coast of Turkey. While they were once fishing and cargo vessels that plied the surrounding Aegean and Mediterranean, today gulets are used as tourist charters for exploring the Turquoise Coast, which includes the resorts of Bodrum, Marmaris, and Fethiye.
The gulet, along with the similar aynakic and the much smaller tirhandil, are made from materials including pine and mahogany. They range in size from around 15 to 35 metres in length, so can carry varying numbers of passengers, from small family groups up to around 30 people. Although gulets have masts, they usually travel using a motor rather than sails.
Why go on a gulet cruise?
Turkey's beautiful Turquoise Coast (also known as the Turkish Riviera) offers hidden coves, pretty seaside villages, bustling resorts, and ancient sites. A gulet cruise allows you to explore this gorgeous coastline at a relaxed pace, and because the boats are small enough to get into most bays and reach isolated beaches, you can visit places you might not be able to on a land-based tour. Plus, if you get somewhere that's crowded, you simply float along the coast to the next cove, which you'll have to yourselves.
Furthermore, your gulet acts as your transport, accommodation, and dining room, meaning you don't have to check in to multiple hotels, constantly get in and out of a tour bus, or decide on which restaurant to visit. Because of the small size of the boats, you can easily get to know your fellow group members — if you are joining a scheduled sailing — or spend quality time with friends or family if you opt for a private charter.
What to expect on board
Gulets feature areas that are used for different purposes. The foredeck is usually the sunbathing area, and often features sunbeds. At the rear of the vessel, the aft deck is usually covered with a canopy and features couches on which you can relax with a drink, plus a dining area where communal meals (often featuring delicious local cuisine) are served. There is also usually a music system and a TV on the boat, plus many gulets have board games. Meals are served family style, and if the idea of eating with strangers isn't overly appealing, by day two, everyone relaxes into it and enjoys the conversations.
Gulets are designed to allow plenty of space for passengers, and have up-to-date facilities. You can expect 6-10 cabins, which may feature bunk or twin beds, or a double bed, as well as a private toilet and a shower, and a chest of drawers or wardrobe, plus blankets, bedding, and hand towels. Boats carry safety equipment such as radios, flare guns, first aid kits, and life jackets, too.
Types of gulet cruise
There are many types of gulet cruise on offer in Turkey, and voyages typically last between four and seven days. You can join a scheduled cruise — some are aimed at specific age groups, while others have mixed groups. There are cruises with set themes, such as taking shore excursions to ancient ruins, historic towns, and cultural events, while others are more dedicated to relaxation or watersports — although you can add on optional shore excursions to these.
You could also charter your own gulet to celebrate a special event or just spend time with friends and family. They include all crew, and you can tailor your own itinerary, or let the company arrange everything for you. There are small gulets catering for couples or families, while if you are planning something bigger, medium-size boats take up to around 12 guests, and larger ones can carry 30 or more passengers. They also range from simple, traditional gulets to modern vessels that are packed with everything from fishing gear to Jacuzzis, jet skis, and stand-up paddleboards.
Places to see on a Turkish gulet holiday
The route along the Turquoise Coast, on Turkey’s southern Aegean and western Mediterranean coasts, is known as the Blue Voyage. You can cover a lot of it in a week, although shorter or longer trips are also available.
Destinations that gulet cruises often visit (or depart from) include Bodrum, one of Turkey's most popular resorts. In spring and summer, Bodrum's narrow streets fill with floral blooms that seem to float from bright whitewashed houses. The harbour is watched over by the city's Medieval crusader castle, which today hosts the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, dedicated to artefacts retrieved from ancient shipwrecks in the Aegean. The town has boutique hotels, and great nightlife, with plenty of restaurants, nightclubs, and bars.
Knidos, an ancient coastal city dating back to the 13th century BC, is one of the region's most important archaeological sites, and is home to an impressive amphitheatre. Further east, the seaside resort of Marmaris is much louder than Bodrum, but it's a good place to visit if you are looking for a big night out — it does have a thoroughfare called Bar Street, after all.
Rebuilt after being flattened by an earthquake, Fethiye is another holiday spot whose port is a gulet cruise hub. It is in a bay that surrounds an archipelago of 12 islands, where you can swim in small coves — cruises usually call in at these. Above the town are the impressive façades of tombs cut into the rock faces; these are the only remains of the ancient city of Termessos. Another popular excursion is to the ghost town of Kayaköy, just south of Fethiye. By the end of the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922, Kayaköy's Greek population had all been exiled, and the town has lay ruined ever since.
Nearby is Ölüdeniz, home to Turkey's most famous beach, a lovely sandy peninsula that protects a blue lagoon, all surrounded by a national park of tree-covered hills. Unsurprisingly, it is a popular spot in high summer, so best visited outside of July and August. Nearby is Butterfly Valley, a scenic spot for swimming and lunch breaks. There is a waterfall you can hike to, and if you’re lucky, you might spot some of the more than 100 species of butterflies that inhabit the area.
The pleasant, relaxed harbour town of Kaş is a great base for adventure sports; it offers plenty of opportunities for trekking, canyoning, paragliding, scuba diving, and horse riding. You can visit some great beaches there, while there are also ancient ruins including tombs, a temple, and an amphitheatre, to explore.
Best time for a gulet cruise
Most cruise operators run trips between April and October. April, May, and October are quieter, more affordable months, and you can take part in many outdoor sports, including hiking and cycling. It is also an ideal time for sightseeing, as the weather is warm but not stiflingly hot, and the crowds are fewer. Daytime temperatures tend to be in the 20-25°C range, although the sea temperature is usually less than 20°C (it's possible it'll be decently warm in October, though), so it's not the best time for swimming. Resorts are quieter, so nightlife is low-key compared to the height of summer.
The high season of July and August brings the best weather, with daytime temperatures reaching the 30s, and the seas tend to be calm, clear, and warm. It is an ideal time for watersports, while nightlife in seaside resorts is at its busiest. If you don't like crowds and prefer to explore ancient sites without a scorching sun, it might not be the best time. Prices are at their highest, too, and spaces on gulets go fast, so you need to book early for the best choice.
June and September see pleasant temperatures (25-30°C by day), while at night you might need a sweater. The sea is warm enough for swimming, and the area is lively, but not as busy as peak summer, so visitor attractions and restaurants are not usually crowded. You'll also get more choice of gulets, with some good deals available.
What to take on a gulet cruise
Large suitcases are unlikely to fit comfortably in your cabin, so take a smaller bag or a duffel-type bag that is easy to squash somewhere out of the way — you won't really need a lot of stuff anyway. The coastline of this part of Turkey is stunning, and you’ll undoubtedly want to take plenty of photos. However, you wouldn't want to drop your phone in the sea, so consider taking a separate camera (perhaps a waterproof one, or use a waterproof case). You could also buy a floating strap for your sunglasses; in case you drop them overboard.
Other useful items to take include walking shoes, a spare bathing suit, a beach towel, (loooots of) sun cream, insect repellent, and a hat. Check whether your cruise offers snorkelling equipment — if not, you can usually pick these up in the port before you depart. It may be possible to sleep out on deck, so you may want some extra layers.
You'll have plenty of time to chill out on deck or on the beach, so bring plenty to read, and load up your phone with music and podcasts for when you feel like you need your own space. Playing cards and board games are great ways to break the ice with fellow passengers. Many gulets are air conditioned, but a small hand fan can be useful if you want to take a siesta in your cabin on a hot day.
Before travelling, be sure to check out our travel guide to Turkey.
Then read about what to do in Istanbul
Indulge in Turkey's best foods
Study up on customs and safety in Turkey
Be sure you know when to visit Turkey
Find out what to take in along the Turquiose coast
Plan what to see in Marmaris
And see our tips for the best archaeological sites in Turkey
Feeling inspired? Check out Travelzoo’s latest deals on holidays to Turkey.
Nick Elvin contributed to this post.