Jill is a former Turkey Peace Corps volunteer who fell in love with Turkey. She travels back and forth between Washington, D.C. and Istanbul, assisting at BarefootPlus with whatever needs to be done, from handling inquiries to planning itineraries to working on the website. Reach her with your questions at info@BarefootTravelPlus.com.
This is a worthy concern. From a statistical standpoint the risk of terrorism in most of Turkey is probably similar to that in London or New York.
But, it really depends on your tolerance for risk. Turkey is a big country. It’s border with Syria is almost 1,000 miles from Istanbul.
At this time the Syrian border areas near Harran and Sanliurfa appear unaffected by the situation in Syria. And, although safe at this point, we continue to monitor the situation. We do, however, recommend staying away from the entire border area with Iraq and with the Turkish-Syria border area south of Antakya.
We also recommend that you check your government’s foreign affairs department. And, if you are a US citizen, we strongly recommend that you register with the US State Department’s STEP program, both to inform the US Embassy in Turkey of the dates of your travel so they can contact you if the need arises, and to receive their ‘Alerts’.
US Department of State https://step.state.gov/step/
UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/turkey
Canada Department of Foreign Affairs http://travel.gc.ca/travelling/health-safety/travel-toolkit
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade http://smartraveller.gov.au/
Violent crime, including assault and rape, is not common in Turkey. But, what may happen to anyone person is not predictable. If you take common sense precautions and observe local norms, you should be OK.
In general terms, you need to be alert to pickpockets and petty theft. However, this kind of crime against tourists is far lower than in many European and North American cities. You should always keep your passport or a photocopy of your passport with you. Show it to police whenever asked, although this is unlikely to occur very often, unless traveling in the south east.
Is it safe for a woman to travel alone in Turkey?
Yes. However, women should take the same precautions they would anywhere in the world; i.e., use only licensed taxies, don’t accept drinks from strangers and dress appropriately. Although a developed country with a Westernized outlook, Turkey is still a Muslim country. Women should be more formal in social situations, dress neatly and conservatively, and be more reserved. Do things in public with groups. Note that Turkish men may misinterpret a Western woman’s normal friendly small talk as a come-on.
Turkey has an e-visa system that eliminates waiting in long queues at the airport. The process is simple. The fee is $20. Complete the application, pay using Visa or Mastercard and submit. You will receive your e-visa via e-mail within 48 hours. Your passport must be valid for six months from the date of your application. Here’s a link to the e-visa website: https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/
Bring several photocopies of all important documents in case anything goes missing, including extra passport photos for Visas and border crossings.
Also, copies of credit cards, passport, bank numbers, important phone numbers etc. written down and stored in a safe location. Preferably in more than one location in your luggage.
Are vaccinations required?
There are no official requirements for specific vaccinations to enter Turkey.
As to whether you need or require vaccinations based on your personal medical history, please consult your general practitioner. You should start any vaccination regimen at least one month before your travel date.
Some doctors recommend a typhoid vaccination if you plan to visit Southeastern Turkey. And, most doctors recommend a Hepatitis A and B vaccination wherever you plan to travel. Malaria is not a problem in Turkey, but carrying mosquito repellent is advised.
For complete information, check the travel destination section of the CDC Website. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/turkey?s_cid=ncezid-dgmq-travel-single-001
This depends on the region you plan to visit. In the summer along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, women wear bikinis on the beach. The southeast of Turkey is more conservative so your clothing should reflect that: long sleeves, high necks, long skirts or pants, no exposed midriffs. In Istanbul, clothing standards are more relaxed for women, more modern and European. However, to prevent unwanted attention, cover your cleavage and legs. If your travel plans include visiting a mosque, you should ensure that your cleavage, midriff, knees, and shoulders are covered. You will also need a headscarf.
This depends on where you are planning to travel. Spring and Fall are the best times for most of the country, although it’s off season for the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. Spring and Fall are high season in Istanbul.
Tourism in Turkey does not stop for religious or public holidays. Banks, schools and offices may close, but restaurants, hotels and bars will be open for business.
The timing of two religious holidays, Seker Bayram and Kurban Bayram, changes every year according to the Islamic calendar. You should avoid road trips during these periods as traffic will be heavy because many Turks will be traveling to visit their families in their hometowns. Banks and offices usually close for the duration of these two holidays. Tourist attractions and historical sites may close for the morning of the first day and open for normal business in the afternoon. The two holidays are:
Ramadan is a 30-day holy month in Islam. It is a time of fasting — letting nothing (food, gum, tobacco) pass your lips from sunrise to sunset, prayer and celebration. The end of each day’s fast is celebrated with Iftar, a ceremonial meal to ‘break the fast’. Most Turks, whether strictly observant or not, fast during Ramadan. It’s polite to refrain from eating and drinking in public during daylight hours during Ramadan. Especially in small towns and in Central and Eastern Turkey, restaurants may be closed until Iftar, when they may offer a special Ramadan meal. And, tea may be less ubiquitous.
Restaurant and cafe staff, who may be fasting themselves, will understand if you are non-Muslim and will be happy to serve you.
Ramazan (Ramadan): Islamic holy month
Seker Bayram (Eid – al – Fitr): A 3 and ½ day festival marking the end of Ramadan
Kurban Bayram (Sacrifice Holiday): Known as the Sacrifice feast, this is a four-day festival honouring the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his youngest son to Allah. Families buy sheep to be sacrificed with the meat to be given to the poor.
The Blue Mosque remains open during religious holidays but with greater attendance at prayer times because of the holiday, re-opening to visitors may be delayed.
Both the Grand and Spice bazaars of Istanbul are closed for the duration of Seker and Kurban Bayram.
Unrelated to holidays, Friday mid-day is the main prayer time, so some mosques are closed to during that time.
Will public holidays affect travel in Turkey? If so, which ones?
Banks and offices are closed for the following public holidays. Touristic attractions usually remain open. Note that May 1st is a popular day for demonstrations, particularly in the Taksim area of Istanbul. Thus, you should probably avoid the Taxim area on May 1, despite a heavy police presence.
Both the Grand and Spice bazaars of Istanbul are closed on Republic Day, October 29. The Grand Bazaar is closed on Sunday. The Spice Bazaar is now open on Sunday, as is Hagia Sofia.
Many museums around the country are closed on Mondays. In addition, they may close for half a day during religious holidays. This can limit the amount of time left to visit these attractions, so plan accordingly.
If you are traveling in Turkey on voting day for a general election, most tourist attractions will be open but it is against the law for restaurants and bars to serve alcohol, until voting has officially ended.
THY, Pegasus and Atlas Jet have inexpensive and frequent flights to and from all the major tourist destinations in Turkey. As a rule, Pegasus and Atlas flights are less expensive than THY’s. Note that all flights originate in Ankara or Istanbul. E.G. you cannot fly directly from Antalya to Goreme (Cappadocia). You have to fly from Antalya to Ankara or Istanbul and then from there to Goreme. For specific flight information click here: Add Link to baris@BarefootPlusTravel.com.
Trains in Turkey are excellent – clean, convenient, on-time – usually. The train stations are in the center of the city so easy and inexpensive to get to. Plus, you get an unparelled view of the Turkish countryside on a train. The Turkish State Railroad website, TCDD.gov.tr is only marginally helpful. It’s English pages are still under construction. But, you can get an idea of the train schedule from city to city.
The high speed train between Istanbul, Eskisehir, Ankara and Konya is up and running, if not fully high speed yet. Plus, to board it in Istanbul requires a long Metro ride from Kadikoy to Kartal and then a public bus, 17B, or a taxi to the train station in Pendik. It’s an adventure, but the train itself, with spacious seating, free wifi, a snack cart and a cafeteria car, plus the ride through the Anatolian countryside is lovely. There is no smoking on the train. For further information or to ask a specific question about a route or schedule, click here. Add Link to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Traveling from city to city by bus in Turkey is also an excellent choice. There are many bus companies, large and small, Kamil Koc, Metro, Varan, to name just a few. Bus travel is usually the cheapest, with low to moderate fares and frequent departures. The buses are modern, comfortable, air conditioned, with on board entertainment, and even a steward who serves snacks and drinks from a little cart. Some buses have free WiFi. Not all buses have on-board toilets. However, on long-distance routes (over three hours), there are frequent rest stops (every two – to two and a half hours), with toilets, drinks and food available. No smoking is allowed on public buses. With so many bus companies, departures are frequent. A reservation is a good idea, but not necessary, except around Turkish holidays.
Buses run cross-country. However, with a long trip, breaking it into short legs, taking a plane or a train with a sleeping car, is recommended.
Istanbul has four main forms of public transportation: the Tram, public buses, the Metro, the Marmaray, and Ferries. There is also the Funikuler and the Tunel.
The Tram connects the main areas of Istanbul from Bahceliver to Kabatas. It’s frequent, easy to use and inexpensive. You can buy ‘jetons’ from the machines at the Tram stops. However, it’s a better idea to buy an Akbil, or fare card because you can use the Akbil on the public buses, the Mamaray and most ferries. So, with the Akbil you can get almost anywhere in Istanbul. The card costs 5TL (about $1.72) and you load TL on it. Once you have the Akbil, you can add TL to it at many newspaper kiosks or at the fare machines at the Tram stations.
NOTE: Istanbulkart is about to supersede the Akbil as a transit pass. The IstanbulKart works just like the Akbil but is an RFID “electronic wallet” card. The plan is for it to be used to pay parking fees, taxi fares, admission to museums, cinemas, theaters and other cultural venues, and even for personal identification. There may be other ways to use it for small payments to other vendors. (Thank you to Tom Brosnahan for the IstanbulKart information.)
The IETT Public Buses are omni-present, frequent, go everywhere, and are well-labeled. They are easy to use, but tend to be slow (they have to contend with Istanbul’s traffic, after all) and are usually crowded. The IETT has a website, but it is marginally useful. It’s a better idea to consult the bus transportation section and maps of your guidebook and/or find a bus that has the name of the area you want to go to and ask the driver by just saying the name of the area.
Istanbul’s Metro is a system of underground and surface rapid-transit trains. Its routes cover much more of the city than the Tram does. Here’s a map of both systems. Link to map of the Metro/Tram System. http://www.istanbul-ulasim.com.tr/media/24900/ag_2200px_1546px-01.jpg
The Marmaray is a train that connects European and Asian Istanbul via a tunnel under the Bosphorus. Sirkeci and YeniKapi are the stations on the European side and Uskudar, Ayrilik Cesmesi are the stations on the Asian side. There are easy connections from all the Marmaray stations to the Tram, Metro, public buses and ferryboats.
The Funiculer connects Taksim Square and Kabatas on the Bosphorus shore. Kabatas is a major connecting point for ferries, the Tram and public buses.
The Tunel is two-station underground train. It is the second oldest in the world. It connects Karakoy (Galata) on the Golden Horn with the southwestern end of Istiklal Caddesi. It’s a fast and convenient way to get from Karakoy to the lower end of Istiklal Caddesi.
You can’t come to Istanbul and not take a ferryboat. In fact, the best and most enjoyable way to travel within Istanbul is by ferryboat. In addition, to the traditional ferries that crisscross the Bosphorus, there are the Bosphorus cruise ferries and ferries to the Prince’s Islands. The major ferry docks in the central area of Istanbul are Eminonu, Karakoy, Kabatas, Besiktas, plus Uskudar and Kadikoy on the Asian side. Not all ferries go to all docks and it can be confusing to figure out from which dock ferries go to where. Here is some basic, but far from inclusive, information about Istanbul ferries.
From EMINONU, ferries go to: Bebek, Besiktas, Bosphorus Cruises, Hydarpasa, Kadikoy, Up the Golden Horn, Uskudar
From KABATAS, ferries go to: Bosphorus Cruises, Bursa, Kadikoy, Prince’s Islands, Uskudar
From BESIKTAS, ferries go to: Bebek, Bosphorus Cruises, Eminonu, Uskudar
From KADIKOY, ferries go to: Besiktas, Eminonu, Kabatas, Karakoy, Prince’s Islands
There is a fast ferry terminal at Yenikapi. Ferries from Yenikapi cross the Sea of Marmara to Yalova (Bursa), Mudanye (Bursa), and Bandirma.
Finally, there are the International Cruise Ships which dock in Karakoy or Salipazar, near the northern terminus of Galata Bridge.
However, when all is said and done, walking is frequently the best, fastest and most efficient way to get around Istanbul’s central area and old city. With traffic almost constantly gridlocked, you can often walk somewhere faster than with either public transportation or taxi.
Turkey does not have the infrastructure to support disabilities that many countries do.
The hearing impaired should employ a professional sign language interpreter for guided tours. Those with mobility issues should be aware of challenges ranging from uneven pavement, lack of railings, no elevators, no curb cuts, no wheel chair ramps.
Airports in larger cities are usually navigable. In small cities deplaning is usually by staircases rolled up to the door of the plane.
Newer, better hotels are usually equipped to handle travelers with physical disabilities. Not so older, smaller, less expensive hotels.
Local Transportation (Istanbul)
The Internet is widely available in Turkey. Most hotels offer free WiFi to guests. But be sure to check. You get the pass code from Reception. Sometimes there is an information card in the room with the pass code. Most major cities have internet cafes.
Unlocking your cell phone will allow you to purchase local Sim cards. However, not all companies will unlock your phone for international travel. So be sure to check with your carrier before you leave.
Local Sim cards are surprisingly cheap with no monthly contract and include plenty of data usage. You can buy prepaid SIM cards at Istanbul Ataturk airport – after you pass through the arrival doors. There are many, many usage plans. The three mobile companies, Turkcell, VodaPhone and Avea, all offer a variety of starter packs, the description of which can be complicated and obtuse.
Turkish authorities want foreign phones in Turkey to be ‘registered’, even those with a local Sim card. You can have an unregistered phone for up to 60 days. After that, they are likely to discontinue your service, whether or not you have any minutes left. You can register your phone at the Turkcell counter at the airport or at a Turkcell shop anywhere in Turkey. You will need your passport with the arrival stamp and your local address. At the airport, depending on what time you arrive, and who’s on the counter, the clerks may feign no knowledge of the issue, in which case there’s not much you can do. The level of English at Turkcell shops in Istanbul or elsewhere in Turkey may not be as high as at the airport.
A Juice Pack will extend the charge of your I-Phone. The Mophie Juice Pack is just one of many that are available. However, the Mophie attaches directly to the I-Phone eliminating the need to carry extra charging gear.
You can also buy a camera lens for your I-Phone that will allow you to take better quality photos with your I-Phone. If you decide to buy one, and also have a Juice Pack, be sure to buy a camera lens that works with both.
You can also purchase a Turkish cell phone. This is a good idea if you are planning to stay a long time (more than two weeks), or to make lots or long calls. Turkish cell phones are already registered so you won’t have to register it. Basic cell phones are not inexpensive. Prices start at about 100TL. A Smart Phone is very expensive.
Turkey has three purveyors of cell phones: Turkcell, VodaPhone and Avea. Turkcell has the best coverage. Voda phone has good coverage in areas of over 10,000 people. And, it has a good ‘Holiday Plan’ for foreign tourists. Avea has the least expensive roaming plans for foreign tourists. Figure out what you need (voice minutes, texts, Internet) before you shop so you can buy the package that best fills your needs.
The Mac 13″ or 15” Retina Pro is an excellent laptop for travel. You may also want to bring a Mouse. A silicone keyboard cover is also recommended. For some travelers, an external hard drive is also a must, depending on what you plan to do during your trip – work, blog, download, save and send photos, etc. An extra USB cable or two is also a good idea.
Skype: A Skype account or the What’s App both facilitate staying in touch back home.
VPN: A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. It helps protect you against hackers when you connect to the Internet when traveling abroad. You register with a VPN company, download its app and arrange for payment. Basic services are usually free. Connection may be slower than via regular WiFi, so you may want to use your VPN connection only when transmitting personal or sensitive information, i.e. passwords, credit cards, bank info. There are many good VPNs. Hotspot Shield, Safer VPN are just two.
Turkey uses round, two-pin plugs, the same as those used on the European continent. You should bring your own adaptors with you. Electrical outlets are recessed, so be sure your adapters can fit into a recessed wall socket and operates on 220 volts, 50HZ. You will need both adapters to fit the plug into the wall socket and converters to convert Turkey’s 220V current into 100V or 125V that US appliances operate on. Electricity is not always reliable and there are occasional to frequent power outages. It is also best not to use more than one electrical appliance at the same time. For example, if you are staying in an apartment, turn off the air conditioner when you use your hair dryer. This is particularly necessary if you have a high wattage hair dryer.
A typical seven day tour would include three days in Istanbul (not nearly enough to do the city justice), a half day each in Ephesus and maybe Pamukkale, and two days in Cappadocia, again the bare minimum for that incredible area.
The place I want to visit is not on your tour list?
That is not a problem. Just tell us your wish list and BarefootPlus Travel will develop an itinerary for you, whether you’re going as a group or an individual. We will arrange it all: transport to and from, guides, hotels in any destination in Turkey. Contact us with details and we will get back to you with arrangement details and prices. Click here info@BarefootPlusTravel.com.
Most vendors in Turkey accept credit cards. However, you should inform your credit card company of your travel plans. You should also inquire about having a chip installed in your card to facilitate credit transactions. Far fewer vendors accept Diners and American Express cards than Visa or Mastercard. If a vendor does accept Amex, it may impose a hefty surcharge.
It is customary (but optional) to tip your housekeeper in the hotel, perhaps 1TL/per day stayed. You can tip taxi drivers a few lira or round up to the nearest 5TL or 10TL. The same goes for waiters in restaurants. If it’s a more formal restaurant, and no service was added, then 15% is appropriate.
You might want to tip tour bus and car drivers 5 or 10 lira each, particularly if they have helped with heavy luggage. Alternatively, you can just give a tip to the guide on a day tour and s/he will share with the driver.
It is usual (but optional) to tip your guide at the end of each tour according to how you found his/her information and communication. On a one day tour, you might tip 10-20 lira to the guide. If you have the same guide for several days, a similar rate may apply on a per day basis.
On a standard gulet cruise, around EUR5 per passenger per day is a good starting point, more on a deluxe cruise. On a chartered vessel, the crew as a team would hope to receive at least EUR50 per day from your group. Please remember that gulet crew only work six months a year, and often have a family to support year round.
A supply of Zip Lock Bags. These are handy to separate clothes, keep things dry, store daily snacks, etc.
EyeGlass Repair Kit – Not only for prescription glasses but for sun glasses too. Plus that little screwdriver can come in handy for other small jobs.
A flashlight – for if the power goes out and to keep by your bedside.
Clothesline – Travel Laundry Clothesline – Fleboline is fantastic. Even if you have access to a washing machine, frequently there is no dryer. Or, if you do a hand wash, you need something to hang things to dry.
Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism: https://www.kultur.gov.tr/EN,35054/culture.html
Turkish Embassy, Washington, DC: http://vasington.be.mfa.gov.tr/
Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs: List of Turkish Embassies around the world by country: