When it comes to travel destinations, Turkey may quite possibly be the most appealing juncture of the Eastern and Western worlds. It's true; with worldly marvels like the Hagia Sophia, ancient ruins like Termessos and Perge, and bucket-list landscapes like those experienced at Pamukkale and Cappadocia, there is little doubt that this is a country that sells itself.
For thousands of years a crossroads between cultures and a coveted frontier for vast empires, Turkey's many influences (from Rome to Greece to Anatolia and the Ottoman empire) provide a range of cultural experience that are hard to match anywhere else in the world. Add to this the monuments of its Muslim heritage and a boundless adventure environment and it's pretty obvious why Turkey is always among the ten most visited countries in the world.
There's no city that better exemplifies this than Istanbul. Shedding its status as capital once the country gained independence in 1923, Instanbul has since turned its sphere of influence toward the world stage as the symbol for all things Turkey, with travelers arriving in droves to take in the unique performances of the whirling dervishes and traditional relaxation of thehamams, the elegant mosques and consumerist enclaves, and a general sense of urban liveliness on the same scale as a London or New York.
Then again, just as New York City is hardly representative of the United States (or New York State, for that matter), Istanbul is hardly all there is worth experiencing in Turkey. The capital, Ankara, has grown in the last century into city nearly five million strong, boosted by the presence of the central government and an influx of large universities. Anıtkabir, the tomb of the most widely revered figure in Turkish history and the country's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is the biggest draw here. Although most travelers tend to skip over this destination, the history of its old city and its place along the way from Istanbul to Cappadocia make it a likely short-term stop.
If you continue to follow the line of tour buses south you'll eventually reach the Meditteranean Sea, where the colloquially termed "Turkish Riviera" greets its visitors with a dizzying number of beach resorts, incredible Lycian ruins, and a topography that begs you to see the world from a mountain-top or splash in a picturesque waterfall... or canyon... or the sea. The main hub in the region is Antalya, although a true estimation of authentic Turkish culture, adventure, and beauty may be best encountered via uber-lengthy local footpaths like the Lycian Way and the St. Paul Trail.
And to think we haven't even mentioned the markets and bazaars you'll encounter in every community, the modern cafes and bars that have infiltrated the major cities, and the reliable transportation infrastructure that crisscrosses the country. And even with younger generations that are savvy to our substantially electronic world, hip to contemporary fashion, and continually distanced from the rigidity of their Muslim upbringings, there are still the insulated communities and breathtaking landscapes of the Kaçkar Mountains or small towns that live in the shadow of historic peaks. Long story short? An open mind and a sense of adventure are really all you need when visiting Turkey; this amazing country will take care of the rest.Mount Ararat
Visa Requirements:Travelers may stay within the country on a tourist visa for up to 90 days within a 180 day period. The most efficient way of obtaining a $20 sticker visa is at the point of entry into the country or by purchasing a visa online before traveling. If you are looking to stay in Turkey for longer, you will have to pursue a Turkish residence permit from an embassy, consulate, or local police station within the country.
Currently, 1 Turkish Lira (TRY) equals .47 USD/2.9 CNY/.35 EUR. For the most up to date currency exchange information, go here.
Turkey's government is a multi-party representative democracy. The President is the head of state and is elected via direct vote every 5 years with an opportunity to also serve a second term. Although largely a ceremonial position, his duties do include the choosing of the prime minister, who shares executive power with the Council of Ministers. Legislative power is in the hands of the 550-seat Grand National Assembly of Turkey, which represents the country's 81 provinces. The judiciary system is constitutionally separated from the other branches of government and operates with the use of a single judge as the decision maker in court cases. There are also a number of Supreme Courts established to deal with the spectrum of legal proceedings and the legal system in general is considered quite sound.
Turkish is spoken primarily in Turkey, although you'll find that in high-tourist areas like the resort areas along the Mediterranean and in Istanbul you can get by fairly easily if you don't speak the language. Then again, we do urge Embark travelers to do a little bit of language preparation by learning some basic phrases and have a dependable way of translating (app or dictionary) when necessary. Kurdish is also frequently spoken by communities in eastern Turkey as you near the borders with Armenia and Iran.
Crime and Safety:
Turkey is an incredibly safe country to visit, especially if you're worried about serious crime. Even a huge city like Istanbul is considered quite secure, in large part because of public camera security and a well-trained police force, although it behooves you to take proper common sense precautions against petty crimes (purse snatching, cons, etc.) in any crowded or busy areas. Also be sure to exercise caution when driving on or crossing roadways, for there are a high number of accidents recorded annually; otherwise chances that you'll be kidnapped, shot, or assaulted are about as slim as having a piano dropped on you from above. Find further details in this current report.
Modes of Transportation:
Turkey has a modern transportation infrastructure, so whether you want to drive from one corner of the country to the other (a 30-hour trip) or if you just want to hop between airports (Istanbul to say, Batman Airport), then you can easily do so. Popular methods of big city transportation include the subway and bus system, while the often crowded, fixed-route minibuses called dolmus are another cheap alternative. If you are going to rent a car, be aware that the majority of vehicles are manual transmission, so be sure inquire ahead of time if you aren't knowledgeable. Also, if you'd like to get to Istanbul, Ankara, Konya or Eskişehir quickly, there are currently high-speed train lines connecting these cities.
When talking about a country larger than the massive state of Texas that borders three seas (Black, Aegean, and Mediterranean), it only makes sense to expect a variety of climates. A temperate Mediterranean climate reigns in the Aegean and Mediterranean coastal areas, while the Black Sea coast to the north has more of a temperate Oceanic climate. The interior of the country tends to be far more arid, with the majority of the Anatolian Plateau experiencing a continental climate with winters that can get particularly brutal, especially in the eastern inland. For more on climate and temperature averages in different regions, look here.
Eating and Tipping:
Tips, or "bahşiş" in Turkish, are generally expected to a lesser degree than in service industry jobs in the United States. Tips in restaurants can range from 5%-10% of the bill and should usually be handed in cash directly to the server, otherwise the money will just as likely be going into the restaurant owner's pocket. Dolmus drivers aren't usually tipped, taxi tips are typically rounded up, and tour guides are tipped at your discretion. One place where tips are always expected is the hamam (Turkish bath); quite often in tourist places the service staff can actually get pushy if you don't tip, so be prepared to do so.
In Turkey, you must be 18 years old to consume alcohol. Although a secular state, the strong Islamic faith of its people regularly place the country among the lowest in consumption in Europe; this has also led to stricter regulations on purchasing alcohol. Advertising and promoting alcohol is illegal, while retail sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited outside of tourist areas between 6am and 10pm. Despite these restrictions, nightlife options abound in Turkey's biggest cities (Istanbul, Antalya, and Ankara among them) and the pursuit of late-night options is quite popular among younger generations of Turks.
Interesting Cultural Fact:
Turkey is the birthplace of a number of famous historical figures, including Homer, Aesop, Santa Claus, St. Paul, and (of course) Erden Eruç, the first person to completely circumnavigate the globe by human power alone.
If a historic mix of machismo and bravado is your style, then the longest continually running sporting event in the world, Kırkpınar, may just have to be on your traveling agenda. Think a tournament of leather-panted men doused in olive oil and set free to wrestle until a victor is crowned. Yeah, it's that simple and yeah, they take it really seriously. A 4,000 year old tradition that was once the official pastime of the Ottoman Empire, this oil wrestling festival held on the island of Sarayiçi (near Edirne) has an anti-doping commission, Turk-only entrance policies, and a yearly event that dates all the way back to 1360. Held in late June, the tournament attracts hundreds of hopeful pehlivan (champions) from all over the country to compete over three days in a grassy, fan-filled stadium. Check the included links for further information.
One Love Istanbul
Located at Parkorman, a venue on the edge of Belgrad Forest to the north of Istanbul, is the premiere alternative music festival in Turkey, One Love Istanbul. From popular DJ's like Bonobo to world famous bands like Blur, the music is eclectic and exciting for two days in the middle of June. Follow the included link for more on what to expect from the upcoming festival, including line-up, tickets, and more.
Camel Wrestling Festival
Walking through the ruins of Ephesus to sit in a classical theater thousands of years old (the same place where Paul was said to have preached in Christian lore) so that you may watch male camels follow their territorial mating instincts into saliva-spewing battle is quite an interesting proposition. Although an event like camel wrestling may seem barbaric, the wrestling itself is often quite tame, for as soon as a camel yells, falls, or runs away the match is over. Held every January near the town of Selçuk, there is plenty of tradition and showmanship that goes into such an event (the colorful head-dresses of the camels, for example), while the excitement of crowds in the tens-of-thousands creates a truly electric atmosphere. Check out the included links for more information.