Turkey

turkey essential Information

Visas

Turkey has a rather liberal visa policy. Citizens of many countries don’t require visa at all (Russia, France, Germany, Sweden, etc.), while others (UK, Poland, USA, Spain, Australia, etc.) can get a sticker-type visa upon arrival. The length of a standard tourist visa is usually 90 days.

In 2011 the visas cost us 15 € / 20$ (the exchange rate the checkpoint officers provide is not exactly up to date, so it’s probably better to pay in Euros)

For specific visa information for your country check here or here.

UPDATE from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara:“Beginning April 10, 2014, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs will no longer provide visas on arrival to foreign travelers.  All foreigners must obtain their Turkish visas from Turkish missions abroad or from the e-visa application system, depending on eligibility.  PLEASE NOTE:  The e-visa system is only usable for travelers entering Turkey for tourism or commerce.  For any other purpose of travel, the applicant must obtain a Turkish visa in advance from a Turkish diplomatic or consular post.”

 

Advantages

Turkey is a hitch-hiker’s heaven. Not only is sticking your thumb out in the hope of a free lift possible, it’s also pleasant. The concept is widely known, so the sight of a Westerner standing by the side of the road with their thumb up doesn’t surprise anyone. Getting a lift wouldn’t take you more than 30 min. There aren’t that many motorways, which generally makes your life easier in terms of finding the ideal hitch-hiking spot. What’s more, the roads are empty, so you can be sure to get to your destination relatively fast. But what’s the most important thing is the fact that Turkish people are hospitable and curious, which, from a hitch-hiker’s perspective, is probably the best host mentality combination. What I’m saying is that very often getting a lift would be just the beginning of a pleasant day, during which you might be invited for tea, dinner or even shown around by your driver.

Kind people we met while hitchhiking - On the road, Turkey

Disadvantages

Although hitch-hiking within the country is a piece of cake (not to say ‘piss’), crossing Turkish borders on foot, without a car or without being on a coach or train is rather tricky. Go to Main Border Crossing sections at the bottom of the page for more information.

Turks are usually very positively disposed towards Westerners and the lack of a language in common (since very few Turkish people speak English, especially in the east of the country) is not a (heavy) downside. But by smiling and pointing you will usually get by.

The ruins of temple columns - Ani, Turkey

Food & Drink

Turkish cuisine is among the finest in the world, descended mainly from the Ottoman cooking tradition and rich in Central Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Balkan influences. Dishes vary greatly across the vast country, in the Black Sea Region fish is used extensively, especially anchovy (hamsi). The south-east is famous for its kebabs, mezes (a sort of tapas) and dough-based desserts such as baklava, kadayıf and künefe.  Mediterranean regions, noted for its use of olive oil also relies heavily on vegetables, herbs, and fish. Central Anatolia has many famous specialities, including keşkek, mantı and gözleme. Put simply there is a world of wonderful tastes out there so don’t just stick to the kebabs.

Price-wise eating out in Turkey is generally not too expensive but prices are climbing every year. For about 7 TL you can get a filling pide (big, round and flat bread) and for 10 TL a donor kebab or köfte. Set meals cost about 25-30 TL. Simply look around for the best deal and if it’s the only restaurant in town, well, eat there.

Be warned that Turkish waiters, especially in the western tourist resort areas are adept at slipping things onto your table that you didn’t ask for. Enquire if its free, if they say no, ask them to take it away again.

BBQ party with new friends - Ankara, Turkey

Weather

Turkey is a huge country and within the climate can vary greatly. The coastal areas around the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas enjoy a temperate Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild to cool, wet winters. The Black Sea coastal areas have a temperate Oceanic climate with warm, wet summers and cool to cold, wet winters. It is also the wettest part of the country with rain falling all year round.  The areas surrounding the Sea of Marmara (including Istanbul) have a transitional climate with warm to hot, moderately dry summers and cool to cold, wet winters. Snow is also common during the winter months. In the more arid interior there is a continental climate with sharply contrasting seasons. Winters are especially severe with temperatures of −30 °C to −40 °C  not uncommon in eastern Anatolia, In the western interior, winter temperatures average below 1 °C. Summers are hot and dry, with temperatures climbing above 30 °C.

The sunset breaking through the clouds, over Kars Castle - Kars, Turkey (7)

Seating arrangements

In traditional Turkish culture a woman may only sit next to her husband or a member of her family. If you find yourself in a car with men and women, don’t be surprised if a complicated game of seat swapping takes place in order to sit males and females apart. If you are a girl, make sure to sit at the edge/end or next to other girls, both out of respect for their culture but also to avoid any unpleasant misunderstandings.

Turkey - gesture showing closeness / sexual relationship / marriage

source: maria-brazil.org

Women travel advice

Another thing you should remember while travelling in Turkey is that single women travelling on their own are a very rare sight. In general young women in Turkey are expected to be married or engaged, so if you are a girl travelling with your boyfriend or in a mixed group, you may cause astonishment among locals by saying you’re not married. The easiest way to avoid questions, strange looks or unpleasant situations is to say you’re actually married. If your Turkish is not fluent just yet, you can express it by rubbing your two index fingers together to show a close, usually sexual, relationship (as one of our Turkish readers has pointed out, it means “I’m f* her”) or by pointing at your ring finger to show that you’re married.

Can showing that you're married - Turkey

Ramadan

Although Turkey is a secular state, the majority of Turkish population are Muslim. Therefore travelling during Ramadan may be a slight inconvenience. During this holy for Muslim people month, they are not supposed to eat, smoke, have sex and, if you’re very devoted, even drink water before the sunset. In theory this rule should apply only to Muslims and Turks in general wouldn’t impose it on you, seeing your Western pink skinned face, but there are places (especially in the east) where you might be given strange or sometimes hostile looks while eating or smoking in public. If you stay off the beaten track it might also be tricky to buy anything to eat or drink during the day, so make sure you buy everything you need the previous evening.

One of our drivers - On the road, Turkey

Transport

As I said, the concept of hitch-hiking is generally well-known in Turkey and in most cases people would know what you’re doing. However, in more remote places (in the east, again), where there are not that many tourist, the cars you stop may actually provide a paid form of transport. Often they are not marked in any particular way and the locals just know which ones to stop using their local wisdom, but to an unaccustomed eye they would seem to be regular private cars. If you want to avoid paying for transport, you should make sure they don’t charge money before getting in, and if you find yourself in one of those cars, try to explain that you are hitch-hiking, put your apologetic face on and get off as soon as you can.

Our Russian cargo boat - Istanbul, Turkey

Political Situation

At the time of writing, travelling anywhere near the Turkish – Syrian border is not recommended due to the ongoing conflict in Syria and the numerous refugees flooding across the border.

Since the summer of 2013, following the Gezi Park protests, there have been a number of demonstrations in cities across the country. The police response has been severe, with tear gas and water cannons used on those demanding political change. Further problems cannot be ruled out.

The Kurdish question is a long running problem in Turkey with no end in sight. The KGK (formerly known as PKK) frequently carry out attacks throughout the country, in the name of Kurdish independence, although there has been a little progress since the launch of the Government’s peace process with the KGK in early 2013. It is also smart to take note of where you are in the country and if it is a Kurdish region. The people are lovely but do not appreciate being called Turkish!

Sign displaying 'tank outlet' - On the road, Turkey

Atatürk

One of the first things you notice in Turkey is the omnipresent fatherly figure staring down from pictures inside houses, cafés, bars, and any public space. This man is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Ottoman military hero and first President of Turkey. Ataturk, whose name ‘Father of the Turks’ is reserved solely for his use, is an extremely interesting and fundamental figure in modern Turkey. For many, he represents secular liberalism (well a Turkish form of it) and he is revered. The cult of personality is such that it is a criminal offence to insult his memory or to destroy images representing him. So, be careful what you say and who you say it to!

Bartering

In many establishments, and especially on markets, there are no fixed prices. Bartering is a must when there is no price displayed, and if you are not prepared to, you will end up paying far more than is necessary. Begin bartering at half the price, and go up from there. If you don’t like the price you are being quoted then walk away. Many times you will be called back and a price more to your liking can be agreed on.

Traditional market with circumcision celebration costume on display - Antakya, Turkey

Types of roads

Turkey’s road network is over 64,865 km long, 31,395 km of which are state roads, 31,390 km are provincial roads and 2080 km are motorways. Turkey motorway sign

1) Otoyol (motorways, O-roads) – motorways with a speed limit of 120 km/h. All are toll roads with costs based on the distance travelled. Hitch-hiking on them is illegal but by no means impossible.Turkey national road sign

2) Devlet yolları (national roads, D-roads) two lane main roads with a speed limit of 90 km/h out of town and 50 km/h in built up areas. They span the length and breadth of the country and hitch-hiking is legal and easy.

3) Provincial roads make up the rest of the system. If it’s not a motorway or a national road then it is a provinical road. The speed limit is 90 km/h out of town and 50 km/h in built up areas and hitch-hiking is legal.

Map of Motorways and Main Roads

road map of Turkey

source: ezilon.com

Speed limit on Turkish roads

Turkey Speed Limit Sign

Absolutely essential hitch-hikers phrasebook:

- hello – merhaba. (mehr hah bah)
- thank you – Teşekkür (ederim) (teh shek uer eh der eem)
goodbye - hoşçakal. (Hosh cha kal)
– hich-hiking –
otostopa (o-to-STOP)
- I don’t have money –  Param yok. (Pah rham yok) (useful in any language)
- we don’t have money – Biz para yok (Beez pahrah yok)
- money – para (pahrah)
– I’m going to… – …gidiyorum (…gee-dee-yoh-room)
– We are going to… – …gidiyoruz (…gee-dee-yoh-rooz)
– My name is… – Adım… (Ad uhm..)
– I am from… – …lıyım / …liyim
– Nice to meet you! – Memnun oldum (mem noon oll doom)
– I don’t understand – Sizi anlamıyorum (si-zi ann-la-ma-yor-um)
– now – şimdi (shim di)
– today – bugün (BOO-gurn)
– yesterday – yarın (YAHR-uhn)
– tomorrow – dün (durn)
friend –  arkadaş (arkadash)
→ Very useful when they ask you where you’re staying. The concept of Couchsurfing is often too difficult to explain, so just say you’re staying with a friend. You can also use this word to express the relationship between you and your fellow travellers.
– Turn left – sola dönün
– Turn right – sağa dönün
– Straight ahead – doğru (doh-ROO)
– here – burada (BOO-rah-dah)
– over there – orada (OH-rah-dah)
- tea – çay (chaay)
You should know this word, you will be often invited for some. Besides, you don’t need the work for coffee, as ‘Turkish coffee’ is a myth, no one drinks coffee in this country.
- bus station –  otobüs istasyonu  (otobuers eestasyonu)
→ You should know this word and listen out for it to avoid situations when your driver, in their best intentions, takes you off the road and drives you to a station.
- train station – gar (GAHR)
– Help me – İmdat! (Im Daht!)
– Look out! - Dikkat! (Dick kaht!)
– street – cadde (JAHD-deh)
– road – sokak (soh-KAHK)

Main Border Crossings

Turkey – Georgia

There are two border crossings between Turkey and Georgia

→ Sarp / Sarpi – is the main land border crossing between Turkey and Georgia, located about 12 km south of Batumi, Georgia and about 20 km northeast of Hopa, Turkey. It’s possible to cross on foot, however it’s rather difficult due to the total chaos and lack of information, signs, organization. For more information about this border crossing read our story.There is no public transport going from the border crossing to Hopa (Turkey), however it’s possible to get a local bus going the other way to Batumi (Georgia).

→ Vale / Posof-Türkgözü - is located further inland on the European highway E691.

Turkey – Iran

There are three border crossings between Turkey and Iran

→ Bazargan / Gürbulak - is the northern most crossing and is located on the 32 highway.

→ Razi / Kapıköy - is located to the east of Lake Van and in the middle of the other two crossings. It is located on the D-300 national road.

→ Serow / Esendere - is the southern-most border crossing and is located on the 16 highway.

Turkey – Bulgaria

There are three border crossings between Turkey and Bulgaria

→ Kapıkule / Kapitan Andreevo – is located on the European route E80 and according to Wikipedia it’s one of the busiest border crossings in the world, and the busiest in Europe. We have only tried to cross it in a coach and I seem to remember it took bloody ages.

→ Lesovo / Hamzabeyli – can be found a little further to the east then the main border crossing at Kapıkule on the 7 highway / D-535 national road

→ Malko Tarnovo / Dereköy – is the most easterly crossing the Vitanovo national park on the Bulgarian side. It is located on the E87 / 9 highway.

Turkey – Greece

There are two border crossings between Turkey and Greece

 Ipsala / Kipoi – located on the European route E84. Theoretically it’s forbidden to cross on foot due to the large no-man’s land filled with Greek and Turkish soldiers. For more information about this border crossing read our story.

→ Kastanies / Pazarkule – occupying an area near the tripartite border between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece it is the northern-most crossing and is located on the O-3 highway very close to the city of Edirne

Turkey – Iraq

→ Zakho / Habur – is the only border crossing open at the time of writing and forms a connection with Kurdish Iraq. It is located on the E90 / 2 highway.

Turkey – Syria

→ There are a total of ten border crossings between Turkey and Syria, however due to the current political situation in Syria not all are open, with some permanently closed and others open only during Muslim holidays. The busiest crossing is the Bab al-Hawa Border Crossing / Cilvegözü and is the route taken by all cross border buses. More information can be found here.

All border crossing with Armenia are closed

If you could share your personal experience about any other border crossing in Turkey, let us know!

Most Beautiful Natural Spot

Turkey is a big country abundant in astonishing natural sites and it was really hard for us just to choose one. Therefore we’ve chosen two, which cannot (I repeat: cannot!) be missed.

Whether you come to Turkey as a member/participant of a package tour or as an independent backpacker or hitch-hiker, Cappadocia is the place to go for its natural beauty. This breathtaking volcanic landscape, which is unique for its rock formations, lies on 1000m high plateau in Eastern Anatolia.

You should definitely come here also if you are a history buff, for this region contains several underground cities, tunnels and temples, where early Byzantine Christians used to hide from Persian and Arabic invaders in the 6th and 7th centuries.

The main city in this area is Nevşehir. The best towns to stay is are: Göreme (with its National Park, added to the UNESCO World Heritage list) and Ürgüp (pronounced: ÜÜÜrgüüüüüp).

View over the landscape, taken from the village of Üçhisar - Cappadocia, Turkey

The dream-like Pamukkale is located in Western Anatolia and consists of hot springs that formed sedimentary rock terraces and the bluest warm water pools . Hard to describe if you are not a scientist, but most definitely one of the most extraordinary geological phenomena you can find on this planet.

And not only is it beautiful, but also relaxing, as you can soak yourself in this blue water and white mud.

Beautiful, crystal clear water pools with plains in the background - Pamukkale, Turkey

There is also a little something for amateur historians, as above the pools there is a Greco-Roman ancient city of Hierapolis dating back to the 2nd century BCE.

Ruins of Roman columns - Hierapolis, Turkey

Best City / Town

Unquestionably the best Turkish city is Istanbul, which is the only city in the world situated on two continents. By population it’s the second biggest metropolitan area in Europe and you can definitely feel its grandeur in the air.

Istanbul is a place where you can find jaw-dropping historic buildings (like the famous Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia or Topkapı Palace, to name just a few),  as well as western bars and clubs which will make you feel at home. If you are going to be in Turkey only for a short while, you should definitely go via Istanbul. It’s one of those cities you have to see before you die.

The Blue Mosque, taken from Sultan Ahmet Cami - Istanbul, Turkey

If your time in Turkey is less limited you should also visit Mardin in Southeastern Anatolia. It’s a picturesque town with narrow alleyways, soaring minarets and a bustling traditional market. It’s also a melting pot of Turkish, Kurdish and Syrian culture.

View over the rooftops - Mardin, Turkey

We also have a soft spot for the capital of Turkey, Ankara, but that might be because we had a really good time there, stayed with a great CS host and met some top people. Ankara is not an obviously beautiful city, but it has its own unique charm, so if you’re around you should pay it a visit.

View over the city - Ankara, Turkey

Best areas for hitch-hiking

If you are looking for empty roads and stunning landscapes, Northern Anatolia is a must go place for you. It’s mainly a mountainous area with narrow, often single-lane dirt winding roads overlooking dramatic precipitous gorges.

There aren’t that many tourists there, so out of novelty value alone you are bound to get a lift. People are more conservative here, but much friendlier than in the tourism-spoiled west part of the country.

Dramatic canyon with overcast sky - Northeastern Anatolia, Turkey

The main city in this region is a sleepy town of Kars. The main tourist attraction are the ruins of the medieval Armenian capital of Ani

Beware: The roads in this region are not in a very good condition and are often closed for a number of hours.

Tourist Trap

Depends what you like, but we found some cities/towns in the west (e.g. Kuşadası) to be overflowed by drunk Westerners, full of cynical and fed up locals sick with tourists and everything being slightly shinier and devoid of its real character. The beaches in those places are obviously beautiful (but again filled with people you wouldn’t like to spend time with), but the culture you encounter there is not the true Turkish culture. So if you want to see the real Turkey, as opposed to Turkey seen through a travel agent’s brochure, go to the east!

Sunset on the beach - Kuşadası, Turkey

Our Experience

We have visited Turkey twice. Once, just after we’d met in 2007, we stayed in Istanbul for a week. The second time, in 2011 we hitch-hiked across Turkey as a part of our ‘Caucasus-Turkey-Greece’ trip. We entered the country crossing the Georgian-Turkish border in Sarp (Northeastern Anatolia) and left it, crossing the Greek-Turkish border in Ipsala.

Travelling across Turkey took us around a month and we covered 4233 km by hitch-hiking. We didn’t spend a penny on accommodation either thanks to the widespread use of Couchsurfing.

This was our route:

This article was also published on: vagobond.com on 30th March 2012.

written by: Ania

19 comments

  • What an awesome guide! Thanks for sharing!

  • Here is my two cents, since you basically traveled mostly in eastern cities what you told could hold true. However myself, a Turkish is native, is surprised to read some of what you have written. Though interesting to see another perception of the culture, some might be misleading. Especially the gesture, rubbing two fingers, simply mean “i’m f* her” especially if you point a girl right after it. As you could imagine hitchiking is a part of Turkish culture too, especially among young university students. There are tons of travel diaries written by all turkish women university students travelling in their summer holidays etc. So I don’t see there is a gap between Europeans or Turks (apart from eastern influenced people in the east) and I don’t think we could be wrong to call Turks western too. I’ll keep reading your stories. But Turkey is hard to perceive, as it’s very mixed and cosmopolitan. I’m sure your story would be different if one of your hosts were an atheist or a manager etc. You know, you can’t know everything about a culture without touching all levels of it

    • And I want to add that your statement “the culture in Kusadasi is not the true Turkish culture, head to east” is kind of wrong. Turkish culture is a union of what you saw in Kusadasi and plus in eastern parts of Turkey. I feel more like home when I’m in Northen, Western and southern parts of Turkey than in Eastern. So could it be true that Turkish culture is “supposed to be” eastern-er and what you experienced in the east is more of a real experience? I don’t think so… I hope these humble thoughts of mine, from another native Turkish, about your Turkish insight would make sense. Thanks!

      • We have never claimed we know everything about Turkish culture of course, but in a month we managed to meet very different kinds of people, atheists, managers and academics too; and we have many Turkish friends as well, but of course we must have misinterpreted a lot since we don’t speak Turkish and are bound to focus on the differences rather than similarities between our cultures.

        What you’ve said about rubbing fingers is very interesting, as it shows that people very often (almost in every car!!) asked us if we’re sleeping with each other, which in our culture doesn’t happen, so obviously we took it as something else.

        And about the terminology of calling Turkish people western or not. This matter was, has been and will be discussed by many and we are not to judge that. And we can all be politically correct and say that everyone is western and there are no cultural differences between us, but that’s not really the point. From our (possibly very limited) perspective there are cultural difference between Turks (you) and us; but at the same time there is a culture difference between Poles (where I come from) and Brits (where Jon comes from), and we have often discussed (and haven’t solved) the matter whether Polish people belong to East-, Central or West-European culture.

        But I can agree with what you said about Kusadası. Of course it’s still a Turkish city and there is Turkish culture, however different from the eastern one. What I meant is that everything around Kusadası revolves around tourism and it was hard for us to distinguish what was real and what was a show for tourists’ sake. When we travel to places we want to see places as they are (and this is what I call “a true culture”), rather than how natives want them to be seen (and this is what we encountered in Kusadası).

        When you are a visitor to a country, you view things from a completely different perspective than if you lived there and we’re sure that if you hitch-hiked across Poland or England you would have noticed things we’ve had no idea existed. Such is the nature of travelling, I guess, encountering differences and comparing yourself to what you have seen. And we believe that what our readers come here for is exactly that subjective perspective of a traveller, as they are themselves, rather than a native’s point of view.

        Nonetheless, thanks a lot for all your comments; let us know if you have any other suggestions! x
        Ania

  • Very nice guide, thanks! Do you think it’s safe for two 20-something women to hitch-hike accross Turkey towards the Iranian border?

    • It’s never entirely safe to hitch-hike, especially for girls. We’ve never had any problems and never felt intimidated in Turkey, but the example of that Italian woman who got killed in 2008 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7344381.stm) proves that you can never be 100% safe. Besides, we hitch-hike as a couple, which is probably the best combination.
      You have to be aware that hitch-hiking is a risky business ;)

  • It is really good page about Turkey! Congrats for that. I think every hitch-hiker should read your website. And also, if there is anyone who wants to come to Selcuk, Ephesus or Aegean side. I also recommend this page http://www.travelselcuk.com . Has more information about aegan coast of Turkey. And, thanks to giving people information about Turkey!

  • a very interesting guidelines… thanks for sharing.
    CAppadocia and Pamukkale are really my next target when i visit again Turkey.
    the hitch hike tips are very helpful as traditions and culture differences are really important too

  • Great info. From Kars did you hitchhike to Ani, or pay the exorbitant car hire cost? Would love to htich, but can’t find anyone saying they’ve done it..

    • Hey Dave! In fact we hitchhiked to Ani on the way to Kars. We got a lift somewhere between Ardahan and Kars and we told our driver we were planning to visit Ani and he was so nice to go out off his way and take us there. Then we hitchhiked back to Kars on our own. It’s definitely doable. When we were there it wasn’t completely deserted, there were some local tourists in their private cars, so pick a day and time when you think there might be some people going and give it a try!
      Good luck!

      • Nice. I actually tried hitching yesterday and also got lucky. Got picked up by a wedding caravan on their way to a village wedding, and went along to watch the festivities. Got another ride from there to Ani, then a ride back to Kars while walking along the highway back.

        Was surprised to see villages along the road to Ani, making it not so hard to find rides. Somehow thought it would only be tourists, who seem to rarely stop. Anyway, hopefully word will get out to other hitchers, as the taxis and tours really overcharge for such a smooth (highway), not so long (45km) ride.

  • Just traveling. With the high price of transport in Turkey and the friendliness of drivers I may hitch the whole way too. Hitched down to doggy biscuit today, free and friendly vs. 28 lira for cramped vans.

  • Thanks for sharing! Really helpful as I am going to visit turkey this year :)

Your Thoughts