Turkey. (Photo: iStock)
With a blend of middle-eastern and European heritage and influences, historic and modern architecture and cultures, and rich in heritage sites and natural wonders, it's no wonder that Turkey is fast becoming a popular travel destination.
While there are travellers who fear visiting the country due to some of its neighbours currently under political turmoil, there are ways to safely visit Turkey and enjoy the fruits of this land.
SEE: Turkey: Budget-friendly escapes for South Africans
Filled with mystery and so much to explore, try out and learn, the country boasts iconic sites and experiences that offer South Africans a taste of something different.
If you're planning a trip to Turkey, here's what you need to know to ensure smooth travels:
Visa requirements: Visa on arrival/ e-visa for South Africans, with no cost associated to the application. Click here to make the application.
Medical requirements: Vaccines for Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Rabies and routine vaccines are recommended.
National Carrier: Turkish Airlines.
Airport Hub: Istanbul Atatürk Airport.
Flight Route: Turkish Airlines flies between Istanbul and Cape Town, Durban or Johannesburg daily. Flights are also increased over the South African summer season.
SEE: A time-strapped guide for transit travellers in Turkey
Currency: Turkish Lira - 1 Lira = R2.97
Travel adapter: Type F.
Time Zone: Turkey is one 1-hour ahead of South Afraica (GMT +3).
Public Transport: There are huge public transport system in Turkey such as local buses, taxis, minibuses, tram and metro. Your choice of transport will depend on how quickly you need to travel. Uber is also available in Turkey.
Climate: The coastal areas of Turkey bordering the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea have a hot summer Mediterranean climate. Summer is hot and dry, while winter is cool and wet.
Best time to visit: The best time to visit Istanbul and the inland regions is April to June (spring) and from September to November (autumn) when the climate is mild.
Useful Phrases: With Turkish being the common and official language, it's best to learn a few phrases in the language:
- Hello – Merhaba (pronounced mare-ha-ba)
- Good evening - Iyi aksamlar (pronounced ee ak-sham-lar)
- Good-bye (said by person leaving) – Hosçakal (pronounced hosh-cha-kal)
- Good-bye (said by person staying) - Güle güle (pronounced guu-leh guu-leh)
- How are you? - Nasilsin? (pronounced na-sel-sin)
- I am fine, and you? - Iyiyim, sen nasilsin? (pronounced ee-im, sen na-sel-sin)
- Thank you - Tesekkür ederim (pronounced te-sh-qu-err ed-err-im)
- Please - Lütfen (pronounced lut-fen)
- I don’t speak Turkish - Türkçe bilmiyorum! (pronounced turk-jeh bill-mi-yor-um)
- Is that your lowest price? - Senin en düsük fiyat oldugunu?
Food to try:
- Simits: Round, sesame-crusted breads sometimes served with melted cheese or Nutella.
- Turkish ice-cream or Dondurma: This will the taste shatter any conventional ideas you might have of overly sweet dairy ice-cream.
- Pida breads, fresh fish and meze: Fresh bread, fresh seafood and a selection of dips, patés and pickles are a must-try when visiting Turkey.
- Lamb dishes: Doner kebabs, lahmacun and meatball dishes are all readily available at street cafes and small restaurants. 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: Turkish Delight 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.
- Ayran: Refreshing national drink of Turkey is a mix 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: Turkish coffee is thick, and so bitter it's almost sweet! Turkish tea is only drunk black.
What to pack:
- Your passport, arrival and return tickets, adequate money.
- A camera, notebook/ tablet or smartphone, power-bank to stay charged on the go.
- Comfortable, lightweight, and casual clothes.
- Comfortable sandals, sneakers and strong shoes if you decide to go on hikes.
- A hat, sunscreen, sunglasses.
- Hand sanitiser, tissues, wet wipes, insect repellent, prescription medication.
- Binoculars for safaris/sightseeing, waterproof bag to store personal belongings when on boat cruises/ water activities.
Tips while exploring:
- Learn the common phrases in the local language and about local culture, and respect cultural norms.
- Turkey is a Muslim-majority country. While people are free to dress as they please, if you plan to visit the east, it is a little more conservative, so ensure you are appropriately dressed and covered. When visiting a mosque you will be required to cover your hair, shoulders and legs and take off your shoes.
- You will come across squat toilets. When using one of these, empty out your pockets or secure them in advance. Keep a pack of tissues or wet wipes with you at all times.
- Book a guide to show you around the major cities like Ankara and Istanbul.
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.
See the Mosques
Istanbul, and the rest of Turkey, is famed for its ancient mosques. 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 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 buff, a visit to the Beylerbeyi Sarayi should be high on your travel agenda. And the world-renowned new and old museums and art galleries in Istanbul are certainly worth visiting too.
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.
Do a boat cruise of the Bosphorus Strait
In a city surrounded by water, one of the easiest ways to familiarise yourself with your surroundings is by boat. A Bosphorus Strait cruise is a must.