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Turkey Travels: Planning your trip

Visiting Turkey has been on our bucket list for some years. So when Covid rules relaxed enough to allow for international travel we could not wait to book our tickets. July is a popular time to visit as it’s summer in Turkey and tourist season is in full swing.

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know we were visiting Turkey these last 2 weeks and spent Eid there as well. We just returned this week and if you’re planning a trip yourself I have a whole host of tips to share.

Everyone told us you can’t do Turkey in just one trip. And they were right. Situated between Asia and Europe and with a rich history spanning nations and religions including Christianity and Islam there is much to see and absorb. We visited 4 cities and I still feel like we just scratched the surface. I would do a few things differently the next time I go, so here’s my tips for planning your trip to ‘Turkiye’ as it has now been renamed.

Planning ahead

  1. Travellers from South Africa will need a Visa. Fortunately you can apply via their online e-Visa system and it won’t cost anything. For about 2 days early in July they had stopped the e-Visa portal and wanted people to travel to Pretoria to manually apply for the Visa. There was a huge uproar and the e-Visa system was quickly re-instated.
  2. If you plan ahead, buying direct tickets on Turkish Airlines is best. If you wait too close to peak travel in July the ticket prices skyrocket. We waited too long and were not prepared to pay almost R30 000 per person for flights on Turkish Airlines. We flew Emirates at about R11 000 per person with a stopover in Dubai. The layovers can be very long and quite exhausting. Plus the flight to Turkey from Dubai is from Terminal 2 which is the like the secondary terminal in Dubai airport. It is much smaller and less comfortable. There are only the old fashioned flat toilets, the floors of which are always soaking wet. I experienced this in 2018 as well on my Umrah trip. The flights for UAE such as the Umrah and Hajj flights, as well as for Turkey leave from here. The European flights all leave from Terminal 1 which is a stunning modern facility. Not sure what we should be reading between the lines here, but there you have it. There were also flights with Qatar Air and Egypt Air but not direct.
  3. If you enjoy coach tours with big groups you can get very good prices. We saw tours going from about R15 000 to R19 000 for 7 to 9 days with flights and accomodation all-inclusive. But you spend a lot of time on the bus driving from place to place. We were not keen on that so we booked our trip with an agent.
  4. South African agents are not allowed to book direct in Turkey, so they work with local Turkish agents to make the bookings. I found this process a bit frustrating as all my questions were delayed due to the local agent having to get feedback from the Turkish agent. I know of people in SA who worked directly with Turkish agents to make their bookings. Only do this if you get a recommendation you trust.

Hotels & Tours

  1. The standards for South African hotels are higher than in Europe or Turkey. Depending on your level of fussy or finance, I would recommend booking 5 star hotels. We had some 4-star hotels that were not great. Although our 4 star in Konya was very nice. The 5 star in Pamukale measured up and the 5 star Hilton Double Tree on the last leg of our trip was great. Communication in English is a challenge most of the time, while sight-seeing and shopping. Google translate was always on. But at the 5-star hotels it was much easier.
  2. Our agent added a tour to almost every day of our stay. Do not do this! Give yourself a day between tours. Going on full day tours every day is exhausting. And Turkey is very hot during July. While transfers and pick-ups were very efficient and on time, we found the communication about the tours was lacking. Most of the people we met on the tours were not properly informed what the tour would be like. So we had older people and asthmatics on walking tours in heat they could not manage. We found this on most of the tours we were on so make sure you enquire how strenuous the tours are, especially in Cappadocia when you do the cave visits. Take sunscreen and a hat always.
  3. If you book in Istanbul, do it in 2 parts, stay in Old Town for the one part and in Taksim for the second part. It gives you 2 very different experiences of Istanbul, which is split by the Bosphorous strait into the European side (Old Town) and the Asian side (Taksim). Old Town has more history. It’s where the Hagia Sophia, The Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace is. Taksim is where Galata Tower is. It’s more modern and you can head there for the latest food trends and branded shopping. Both parts of the city is bustling till late at night and you must experience them both.

Currency

  1. The currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira. As of July 2022, the exchange rate to the Rand is almost 1:1.
  2. When exchanging forex, avoid the airport. The rates are outrageous. In Istanbul there are many foreign exchange outlets on the street where you get much better rates. At the Grand Bazaar there is one as well.  You can also withdraw cash in Lira from atm’s using your bank card.
  3. At the airport you have to pay for trolleys and they only take cash. So, if you can get your hands on about 5 Lira before you leave for your trip that would be great.

Communication

Getting connected to wifi was not a problem. All our hotels had very efficient wifi. Just the cave hotels in Cappadocia can be intermittent. So if you want to take a real breather, just connect when you’re at your hotel.

If however the idea of not being in the matrix whenever you want gives you hives, you can pick up a Tourist Sim at one of the many cellphone shops in the city. We got a Vodaphone sim for R350 which comes with 20Gig data, 750 minutes talktime, and a crazy amount of sms’s. It was more than enough for our needs. The cellphone shop techie was happy to help us swop out our sims, as we had not brought the little gadget you need to pop out your sim on an iPhone. Also ask them to activate the sim for you, because the default language is Turkish when you try to activate and we needed help getting past this point and changing it to English. Cellphone covers and accessories were also very cheap.

Getting around

  1. Getting around is easy. They have the metro, trams, ferry and taxis. You will need an Istanbulkart which is an RFID “electronic wallet” card to be used in Istanbul, Turkey for all types of public transportation. The first and obvious use of the Istanbulkart is as a transit pass: you place the card on the turnstile sensor (say, at a Metro or ferryboat turnstile, or when boarding a city bus) and the amount of your fare is deducted from the card. Here is a detailed explanation for how to obtain and use the card: https://turkeytravelplanner.com/go/istanbul/transport/istanbulkart.html
  2. The BTaxi app works like Uber and is the preferred one in Turkey. The fares are quite cheap, about R60 for a R20 minute drive but we found the Btaxis were not always available. The yellow taxis which also double as Btaxis are quite expensive at about 3 to 4 times the price of the Btaxi fare. But always negotiate. Taxis drivers will drop their price if you haggle a bit.

We visited 4 cities in 11 days. Istanbul, rich in history, Cappadocia famous for ancient cave homes and hot-air balloons, Konya, the peaceful city of Mevlana Rumi and Pamukale, known for the beautiful calcium water terraces and hot springs. Our time was fast-paced and thrilling and we wanted to experience everything. In my next few blog posts I will go into greater detail about each city starting with Istanbul.

If you have any questions please drop them in the comments and I will try to answer them in the next post. Till then, I hope the above information helps you to plan your trip to Turkiye.

Related:

Exploring Istanbul Part 1
Exploring Istanbul Part 2

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