South Africans are real die-hard travellers. Regardless of the weak rand, we always find a way to cross borders.
This is evident in the latest Tourism and Migration March 2016 statistics, which show an 18% increase in South Africans’ travels from the same month last year.
May I remind you, the rand was about R12 to $1 in March last year. In March this year, the rand hovered above R15 to the dollar throughout. And yet, 18% more Saffas travelled outbound.
One of the ways in which South African are making travel happen, is by finding more budget-friendly and accessible destinations.
Turkey deals in lira, a much more forgiving currency if you constantly have to fraction down your SA bucks. At about R5 to the lira, a holiday in Istanbul will cost you about the same as an upmarket city breakaway to Cape Town.
Apart from money, Turkey has recently been put on SA travellers’ radar through the inception of daily flights to its tourist capital, Istanbul. For travellers wanting to explore the Turkish Basilica Cistern, the Hagia Sophia or the Grand Bazaar, it’s as easy as jumping on a direct, 13-hour flight.
ALSO SEE: A time-strapped guide for transit travellers in Turkey
The single negative aspect worth mentioning in regards to travel to Turkey is that the country saw a spate of terrorist attacks earlier this year, causing a visible reluctance to go there.
The number of tourists visiting Turkey dropped by 10% in February 2016, compared to the same time last year - a worrying sign for the country whose economy relies on tourism revenues.
When seen in context, however, Turkey is about as dangerous as Paris, or Brussels, and even South Africa. And missing out on experiencing this second-most loved destination on the globe for 2016, would be a crime.
Turkey is one of the most incredible places on the globe - a place you’ll fall in love with and continue to fall in love with even after you’ve left... which explains why many travellers aren’t satisfied with a single visit only.
ALSO READ: Minaret Memoirs - A secret love affair with Istanbul
Quick guide if you're planning a budget break:
Average cost of high-end resort accommodation per person per night: Around R2 000. Although there are very expensive hotels like the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet, going for more than R6 000 per night, we stayed in the Radisson Blu Bosphorus, a five-star hotel, which cost only R1 050 per person per night, including breakfast and WiFi.
Compared to average cost of a budget guest house per person per night: For good quality budget offerings, you shouldn’t have to pay more than R500 per person per night. And on Airbnb, you can find incredible spots for less than R300 per night.
Average cost of dinner for two and basic activities: The average cost of a three-course meal for two is around 60 lira, or R320. Activities aren’t expensive either. A cruise on the Bosphorus, for example, will cost only R65.
Currency: Turkish Lira. Currently, 1 Turkish lira costs R5.35*
Climate: The coastal areas of Turkey bordering the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea have a hot-summer Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild to cool, wet winters, while the coastal areas of Turkey bordering the Black Sea have a temperate Oceanic climate with warm, wet summers and cool to cold, wet winters.
When to go: The best time to go would be in the mid-seasons, from April to June and again from September to November. In April, the climate is perfectly mild, and tourists weren’t as plenty.
Time zone: Turkey is one hour ahead of SA.
Getting there: Turkish Airlines flies between Istanbul and Cape Town, Durban or Johannesburg daily. Flights are also increased over the South African summer season.
Visa: Turkey issues e-visas at no cost to South Africans. Get yours here.
Useful phrases: Merhaba means ‘hello’. And tesekkür ederim means ‘thank you’. A useful phrase, especially in the bazaars, would be hayir tesekkürler, which means ‘no, thank you’ or senin en düsük fiyat oldugunu, meaning ‘is that your lowest price’.
Handy Tip: Book a guide to show you around the major cities like Ankara and Istanbul. These locals know so much about the history and culture, and can help you look a lot less than a clueless tourist. In Istanbul, contact Mehmet Cetinkaya via email to arrange a fun, insightful tour.
Food to try:
These round, sesame crusted breads are sold everywhere in Turkey, for 1 lira each. For a couple of lira more, you can also get them warm and toasty with melted cheese, or Nutella. Num.
Turkish Ice Cream or Dondurma
Like goats cheese? You’ll love Dondurma. Plus,Turkish ice-cream is an absolute MUST - not only is will the taste shatter any conventional ideas you might have of overly sweet dairy ice-cream, but the mere act of getting an ice-cream is an experience in itself.
Dondurma merchants are the ultimate pranksters – and love to woo tourists with their tricks when stacking you a cone. Because this ice-cream has a more pliable or ‘gummy’ consistency, the frozen goodness can be thrown around in the air like a well-kneaded pizza base!
Pida breads, fresh fish and meze
My favourite meal in Istanbul was enjoyed right on the Bosphorus at Yakamoz Restaurant. It was what I had imagined Turkish food to be like before I went there - tables laden with fresh bread, fresh seafood and a selection of dips, patés and pickles. The whole baked fish was so fresh and delicious. Although Yakamoz Restaurant might be a wee splurge, it’s certainly worth it if you’re after a true Turkish meal.
You can also opt for a fresh fish meal at Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn in Istanbul, connecting the Old City with its new, modern parts. Operating underneath it is where you'll find some of the most hip, sought-after seafood restaurants in the city.
You cannot go to Turkey and not have lamb. Doner kebabs, lahmacun and meatball dishes are all readily available at street cafes and small restaurants, so you’ll have more than enough chance to do so. The Turks use minced lamb in most dishes, but if you're looking for something spectacular, rather opt for the slow-braised, stewed dishes that are served with small bowls of spices on the side.
Turkish Delight is different from the conventional shop-bought Turkish Delight you know in that it is more chewy, less sweet and crammed full of ingredients like hazelnuts, real rose petals, pistachios and most prominently, pomegranate. It's not only worth a try, but worth bringing back to SA as a gift too.
This super refreshing national drink of Turkey is mainly the mixture of yogurt, cold water and salt. If you like the local Amazi, you'd like Ayran too. Typically enjoyed after dinner, it's certainly worth a try.
Turkish Coffee and Tea
Forget everything you know about coffee. Turkish coffee is thick, and so bitter it's almost sweet! But it's delicious and the perfect after-lunch kick you need to keep on exploring. Turkish tea is a little closer to home, but only drunk black. Prepare for tea tummy when you go to Turkey - everywhere you go everyone hands you tea... and it's impolite not to accept, so suck it up.
Do a boat cruise of the Bosphorus Strait
Landing in Istanbul, it might take some time to adjust to the new destination. And in a city surrounded by water, one of the easiest ways to familiarize yourself with your surroundings is by boat. A Bosphorus Strait cruise is a definite must.
Visit a Sultan’s Palace
Sightseeing from a ferry is one of the best ways to view the palaces of the Bosphorus from the outside, relative to their surroundings. Yet nothing beats being inside these palaces. If you’re a history boffin, a visit to the Beylerbeyi Sarayi should also be high on your agenda. And the world-renowned new and old museums and art galleries in Istanbul are certainly worth visiting too.
Take a hot air balloon over Cappadocia
Fairy chimneys, cave dwellings, vast underground cities and ancient Christian churches carved into the mountainsides - these are the unusual landscapes of Turkey's Cappadocia. It's an absolute must if you would like to marvel at Turkey's diversity.
The area is an hour by car from Kayseri airport and a bit closer to Nevsehir airport. Most visitors arrive the day before and stay overnight in a hotel because the balloons typically take off shortly after dawn. If you're heading there from Istanbul, take one of the multiple, daily flights to Kayseri and Nevsehir. READ MORE HERE: Up, up and away: Unique Cappadocia
Take a cable car up Eyüp
The Eyüp gondola or Eyüp–Piyerloti aerial cable car is a two-station gondola-type line, which takes you up to the best viewpoint of Istanbul. Pick a café and enjoy a glass of local Ayran under the shade of the trees up there.
For another viewpoint, Galata Tower also offers beautiful views of all major monuments of Istanbul's Old City.
See the Mosques!
Istanbul, and the rest of Turkey, is famed for its ancient mosques, so not dedicating a day to explore these old-world treasures would be sin. The intricate decorations seen inside the mosques are echoed in all other designs of Turkey – from fabrics, to ceramics to the pomegranate seeds embedded in the Turkish Delight. The mosques are the soul of Turkey, and stepping inside one is undoubtedly a spiritual experience.
Visit the Spice Bazaar, or Misir Çarsisi and the Grand Bazaar, or Kapaliçarsi
The Spice Bazaar in Istanbul smells of turmeric and Turkish Delight, where you can buy world-class spices, like real saffron, as well as sweet treats and teas at great prices. The Spice Bazaar, for me, was a more sincere experience compared to a visit to the Grand Bazaar. Both are equally marvelous, and worth visits, but the fact that locals still shop at the Spice Bazaar made it a little more authentic.
Pet the cats of Istanbul
Istanbul is famed for its many cats, so you need at least one selfie with one of these well-cared for strays.
Hang out in Istiklal Caddesi, or Independence Street at night
The only way to experience Turkish night life is to immerse yourself in the hippest street in Istanbul. During the day, Istiklal Caddesi is abuzz with trams and young professionals, who then frequents the pubs at night. Pick a bar, order a local beer and a hookah pipe and see the people come and go. Do yourself a favour and buy some of the hot roasted chestnuts as a snack from the street vendors when you head home.
Must-do family-friendly activities:
The Sapphire 4D Skyride with its 236-metre-high platform gives the perfect introduction to Istanbul’s iconic spots. And at Istanbul Sea Life Aquarium, kids can check out marine creatures like sharks and stingrays from a 80 metre underwater tunnel.
Miniturk is also great fun for kids and adults. The scale-modeled park is similar to Durban's Mini Town, but much larger. It shows Turkey’s most popular sites in miniature versions, and with automated audio information at the ready in English.
The historical industrial and engineering Rahmi M Koc Museum will surely keep the little ones busy for hours. Here, the history of all things transportation and mechanical is explained using the actual old artifacts – from trains to planes to submarines and wood presses.
*Currency conversion rate at the time of publishing
Disclaimer: Louzel Lombard for Traveller24 was hosted as media by Turkish Airlines in Istanbul, including flights and accommodation.
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