By Jenna Berndt
Turkey is seeing remarkable visitor growth, consistently ranking high on the best-seller travel destination lists and tourism polls for the last few years. The destination’s varied delights haven’t waned in popularity. Here are just 10 reasons why Turkey keeps topping the travel charts.
Diverse and unique landscapes
Crossing both Europe and Asia (Istanbul is the only city in the world to fall into both continents) Turkey’s views are so different. Cosmopolitan cities meet island-dotted coastlines and forgotten-in-time towns. The fairy chimneys (rock formations) of Cappadocia and the terraced ‘cotton castle’ of Pamukkale (thermal waters that flow down white travertine terraces) are so unreal you’d be forgiven for thinking they were made by human hands, even though they are entirely natural.
“Cappadocia is really fascinating, beautiful and tranquil,” said Ashleigh Eales, a South African expat who visited Turkey with friends in December. “It is very relaxing with lots of things to see and do. We even did quad biking.”
Turkey is a great value-for-money destination for South African travellers.
“Turkey has been a bestseller of ours for years now,” says Teresa Richardson, Managing Director of The Travel Corporation South Africa. “It ticks all the boxes for multigenerational and family travel, adventure, sustainable and culinary travel. No matter what type of holiday you are looking for, it is extremely likely you’ll find it in Turkey.”
Turkey’s currency is the lira, which is far more rand-friendly than the Euro (1 lira costs approximately R2,43) and travellers can save further by opting for a guided holiday according to Richardson. “Costsaver’s Wonders of Turkey itinerary includes all the essentials – 10 nights accommodation with breakfast, five three-course dinners, transport and sightseeing highlights in six cities – and [it] allows travellers to tailor-make their itinerary by adding optional excursions, according to their interests and budget.”
With a flight time of under 10 hours from Joburg and the fabulous new Istanbul airport experience (when completed, the airport will be the largest in the world), Istanbul is one of the most accessible European/Asian cities from South Africa. The new airport’s Duty-Free Zone is also on track to be one of the biggest travel retail zones in the world.
Turkish Airlines operates daily direct flights from Johannesburg, five flights per week from Cape Town and four flights per week from Durban.
With its rich cultural heritage, food in Turkey is much more than just kebabs and Turkish delight (although these are delicious). Enjoy rich Turkish coffee, sesame-encrusted simit bread, pide (a Turkish pizza of sorts), syrupy Baklava and maraş dondurma (ice cream that’s a bit different from what we’re used to).
Free (and effortless) visas
For South African passport holders, any country with a no or free visa application process gets preference. Turkey’s visa application process for South Africans is blissfully easy – and it’s free.
Apply for your visa at least 48 hours before your flight at www.evisa.gov.tr. Travellers are issued with an e-visa via e-mail (print it out and keep with your passport) for stays not exceeding 30 days.
For the most up-to-date visa information, always contact the Turkish embassy before travel. And do note, as with most countries, passports must be valid for at least six months from date of arrival in Turkey.
Rich with Ottoman, Persian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine connections, Turkey has a rich and diverse heritage that is reflected in Turkish cuisine and the local way of life.
From nibbling on Turkish delight to learning about Islamic culture at the Blue Mosque, discovering the cultural joys of Turkey is a must on any trip.
Island dotted coastline
Did you know that there are more than 500 islands and islets dotted in the stunning, turquoise waters off the Turkish coast? A cruise in Turkey has all of the charms of popular Mediterranean itineraries at a far better price. Bodrum, Kusadasi or Fethiye are popular starting points for cruises and gulet (traditional sailing boat) excursions.
Unique and fascinating, Istanbul deserves special mention. Packed with historical attractions such as the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, with the Bosphorus dividing the city into the European and Asian sides, vibey restaurants and rooftop bars, you need at least a few days to take it all in.
“I love the buzz of cities and absolutely loved Istanbul,” says Eales. “Make sure to visit Istiklal Street, with its many restaurants, shops and attractions and plan at least a few days to explore – probably more than you think you need. The city is big so it takes time to get from one side to another, and there is so much to see and do in the different neighbourhoods.”
Shoppers must travel with an empty suitcase! You can buy everything from those trendy Turkish towels and carpets to colourful, hand-painted ceramics and Ottoman lamps, spices and coffee. Be prepared to bargain.
A traditional Turkish bath
Do as the locals do and visit a traditional Turkish bath or hammam. Choose from a variety of pools, saunas, massages and more but, for the authentic bathing experience, relax in a steam room before being scrubbed down (more of an exfoliation than a relaxing massage) by an attendant.
Travelling through Turkey, it’ll be easy to see why so many travellers opt to revisit time and time again. There is just so much to see and do. A single trip is hardly enough time and you’ll definitely be back for more.