Linking Europe and the Middle East, suspended between the new and the ancient, Turkey typifies an amalgamation of east and west. Modern city boutiques and exotic bazaars clamour for customers, the weekly tolling of church bells interrupts the daily call of the muezzin, and Roman ruins and the beginnings of Christianity compete for attention with the history of the Ottoman Empire and modern secularity.
The different regions of Turkey offer an assortment of landscapes, activities and characters. No matter travellers’ inclinations, be it history or archaeology, sun worship, sailing, or cities, there is something on offer for everyone. Istanbul, with one part in Europe and the other in Oriental Asia, is a fascinating city with its frenzied market places, imperial residences and minarets, and lively ambience of contemporary art and musical entertainment.
Out of the city, Cappadocia in Central Turkey offers an astounding landscape of eroded volcanic rock cones and fairy chimneys, remarkable subterranean cities and rock-hewn houses that merge harmoniously with the ochre-coloured landscape. Further south, the ‘Turquoise Coast’ is a haven for boat cruises. Here visitors can enjoy a variety of water sports, sunbathe on golden sands, or explore the wonderful ancient cities of Troy and Ephesus along the shores of the Aegean Sea.
Most visitors concentrate on Western Turkey, with its picturesque seaside resorts along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, scenic and recreational attractions, well-preserved archaeological sites and fascinating museums that bring its rich history to life. Wherever one ventures in Turkey there is certain to be a warm welcome and traditional hospitality, making this a deeply satisfying corner of the world in which to travel.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. The European two-pin plug is standard.
Turkish is the official language, but English is widely understood in the main tourist areas.
There are no vaccination requirements for travelling to Turkey. Mosquitoes can be an irritation in mid-summer but malaria is not considered a risk in the main tourist areas (in the west and south-west of the country). Most tap water in the larger towns and cities has been chlorinated, but bottled water is still recommended for drinking. Food from street vendors should be treated with caution unless it is obviously fresh or hot. The standard of health care is not high in state hospitals but the private health sector is well-regarded and modern facilities exist in private hospitals in Ankara and Istanbul. Travel insurance is recommended.
Tipping is a way of life in Turkey and it is customary to give some small change for most services, or a small percent of the bill. In bigger hotels and restaurants if a service charge is not added to the bill, it is customary to tip between 10 and 15 percent. For taxi fares it is enough to round up the bill. Attendants at Turkish baths expect to share about 15 percent of the total bill if service has been good.
As in many Western countries, there is a threat from terrorism in Turkey and there have been a number of incidents, including explosions in Istanbul, the capital Ankara, and in the coastal tourist resorts. The Istanbul Ataturk International Airport has been the most recent target. There are also continuing incidents of local terrorism in eastern Turkey, particularly the southeast.
Visitors should avoid any public demonstrations. Street crime is relatively low although visitors should guard their valuables at all times. Many parts of Turkey lie on a major seismic fault line and are subject to earthquakes and tremors: several fairly recent earthquakes have shaken eastern Turkey, the southwest, and southeast.
While it is difficult to make sweeping statements about a country that runs from Armenia to Greece, the Turkish people are generally welcoming and hospitable. Most visitors will stay in modern Istanbul or in one of the popular holiday resorts where locals are likely to be fairly open-minded; however, tourists should respect religious customs, particularly during the month of Ramadan. Dress modestly when visiting mosques or religious shrines. There is a smoking ban on all forms of public transport and in outdoor venues.
In Turkey, business associates are addressed by their first names. If the associate is male, then his name is followed by ‘bey’, and ‘hanim’ is used for females. A formal, conservative dress code is observed in Turkey, and women should be careful to dress particularly conservatively. Gifts are common and are usually something the associate would use in business such as a pen or other office stationary. Business hours throughout Turkey are generally 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken over lunch.
The international country dialling code for Turkey is +90. Mobile phone coverage is good with networks covering most of the country. Internet cafes are available in the main towns and resorts, and wifi is increasingly easily available.
Travellers to Turkey do not have to pay duty on the following items: 200 cigarettes, or 50 cigars, or 200g tobacco. Alcohol allowance includes 1 litre or 700ml bottle of wine or spirits. Other allowances include 5 bottles of perfume up to 120ml each; gifts to the value of TRY 500, tea and coffee for personal consumption, jewellery and guns for sporting purposes. Tape recorders, record players and transistor radios have to be declared on arrival. Restricted items include playing cards, which are limited to one pack.
The Aegean and Mediterranean coasts of Turkey have very hot and dry summers. Winters, between October and April, are mild and wet, and Turkey’s coastal towns more or less shut down. Winter in Istanbul and Cappadocia can be very cold, sometimes with light snow cover. The peak tourist season is during high summer, roughly between July and September, and this is the ideal time for a beach holiday in Turkey.
The spring and autumn months are also a good time to to visit, with warm days, cool evenings, and no mosquitos. Eastern Turkey should be visited during summer as roads and mountain passes may close due to winter ice and snow.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS FOR SOUTH AFRICANS
South Africans must hold a valid passport for duration of stay. A visa is required and can be obtained online or on arrival. Visas are valid for 30 days.
All passports must be valid for at least the period of stay. All travellers to Turkey are required to hold return or onward tickets, documents for the next destination and sufficient funds for the period of their stay. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
The official currency is the Turkish Lira (TRY), which is divided into 100 kurus. Currency can be exchanged at banks, exchange booths, post offices, airports, and ferry ports. Note that banks have the worst rates but will exchange lesser known foreign currencies. Banks open mainly Monday to Friday, but some are open daily in tourist areas.
ATMs are widely available in major cities and tourist areas, but Turkish ATM keypads usually do not have letters of the English alphabet on their keys. Major credit cards are widely accepted; the most popular are Visa or MasterCard, but American Express is also accepted in some areas. Some hotels in the most popular destinations accept US dollars as payment.
The splendid city of Istanbul has many unique and fascinating features. It is the only city in the world reaching across two continents, with its old city in Europe and modern Istanbul situated in Asia, separated by the Bosphorus Strait. It is also unique in having had capital status during two successive empires, Christian Byzantine and Islamic Ottoman, and the legacy from both is visible in the modern city today.
Istanbul’s location on the water made it a much coveted site as a commercial shipping port and military lookout, and as capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople, as it was known, became extremely desirable as a centre of world trade, until Mehmet the Conqueror claimed it for the Ottoman Empire in 1453 and it became the imperial seat of the sultans. After the War of Independence the capital was moved to Ankara, but Istanbul still remains the commercial, historical, and cultural heart of Turkey today.
The charm and character of Istanbul lies in its endless variety and jumble of contradictions. Its fascinating history has bequeathed the city a vivid inheritance of Byzantine ruins, splendid palaces, ancient mosques and churches, hamams (bath-houses), and exotic bazaars. Modern Istanbul exudes trendy bars and nightclubs, western boutiques, office blocks, and elegant suburbs.