I put together this starter guide for anyone wanting to know how to begin planning a trip to Turkey. I will be doing posts with guides to each city we visited too, but there was so much general information to know first based on FAQ that I decided to break it all up.
Our recent Turkish escape was a very last minute decision and we booked everything less than two weeks before departure as opposed to the recommended three to six months before departure. We were meant to go to New York, but found out we wouldn’t be able to get US visas in time. However, we were still determined to travel in that time and heavily-influenced by my cousins’ recent trip to Turkey. From flights to accommodation we pulled this three week trip together ourselves in three hours one Saturday night!
How We Booked
We never used a travel agent at all, although I recommend going with STA Travel for your flights, but go into one of their stores and sit down with an agent. They also allow you to pay off your tickets, an option we’ve used in the past that really works out! (To learn more about this and other ways to save on trips, watch this video for 9 Ways To Make Travel More Affordable).
If you’ll be travelling to multiple cities in Turkey, I recommend booking your primary flights, ie: from your home city to Istanbul, with a travel agent, and to book all internal flights with local airlines yourself. It works out cheaper and leaves you more flexible with your itinerary. The reason you’d generally fly from your home city into Istanbul is because it’s the travel and tourism hub of Turkey.
When booking the tickets ourselves, I simply typed “Cape Town to Istanbul Flights” into Google. I played around with different date combinations, factoring in price variations AND layover times.
From agencies to airlines, Google shows you who’s giving you the best rate. In our case, it was Travelstart offering a good deal with Qatar Airways, which stops in Doha. These tickets costed about R11500 each; a whole R4000 less than the average price per person on other airlines. This process can take quite a bit of time but it’s super important to shop around. Turkish Airlines offers direct flights to Istanbul, however they are notoriously expensive if you don’t book significantly in advance.
Istanbul has two main airports: Istanbul International Airport (IST) and Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (SAW). You can fly to either one, it doesn’t really matter, however if you’re going to need to take a connecting flight to another Turkish city straight, make sure it departs from the same airport you landed at!
We also made sure Istanbul would be our last stop on the trip because we wanted to shop there and local airlines only allow you around 20kgs of luggage, while Qatar/Emirates allow about X2 23kg checked-in luggage pieces per person. In other words: you can’t shop up a storm in Istanbul first and then try and get on a smaller local carrier to proceed with the rest of your Turkey tour.
As I mentioned earlier, when it comes to local flights, ie: from one Turkish city to another, it’s better and way cheaper to book directly with the local airline, which would be either Turkish Airlines or Pegasus Airlines. These flights generally cost between R450 – R900 per person one way, which is seriously well-priced! We decided how long we wanted to stay in each city and once again googled flight options, in this case “Istanbul to Oludeniz flights”, then “Oludeniz to Cappadocia flights” then “Cappadocia to Istanbul flights”. Then we booked and paid for each of these directly, all on the Turkish Airlines website. It was super quick and painless.
When planning a multi-leg trip like this, it’s super important to factor in layover times, as they can be tedious and even expensive because you’ll need to eat or maybe head to a lounge. It’s also important to make sure you have ample time between connecting flights (minimum of two hours between the two to be safe).
Overall, for Abdul Malick and I, all our tickets came to a total of about R27 000 (R13 500 per person). Because of all the connections in Qatar and internal flights, for a last minute booking that included 8 different flights for two people, I’d say it really wasn’t that bad.
Where we stayed:
I wrote an entire blog post on this alone, and you can read reviews of each place here.
1 Turkish Lira = Roughly R2.60.
When we were there, we multiplied everything by three to be extra safe. Also remember, local banks charge about R70 to swipe your card internationally. Otherwise, it was great going to a country where the rand actually can get you some bang for your buck.
Language & Communication:
Turkish is the primary language there, and despite what a major tourist destination the country is, not everyone speaks English. You will often find a major language barrier, or limited English. To make things easier for yourself, download Google Translate. You can save the Turkish language offline so you’ll still be able to translate even when you’re not in a wifi zone.
Cost of a meal:
This varies depending on the city you’re in. For two people in Istanbul, on average it would cost us 70 – 100 TL. But it all depends on your appetite. You can get decent takeaways for 20 TL (around R55). As a point of reference, a McDonalds meal on average is 29 TL (R75). However, we walked so much and often felt like sitting down at a restaurant. I wanted whole foods and less bread and we ended up paying more, especially because we both eat a lot and you have to factor in a tip. Tipping is VERY important in Turkish hospitality (seriously there are tip boxes everywhere) and we tipped around 15% on average. This often took our bill to between 90 – 120 TL.
Food was also significantly more expensive and often of poor quality the closer you are to Tourist sites and areas like Sultanahmet in Istanbul, but this is generally the case in cities all around the world.
Pretty much everywhere, the food is halal and you won’t really find pork (we only saw places offering pork in Ölüdeniz, because there are so many Brits who frequent the little beach town throughout summer). However, many restaurants still serve alcohol, but there are places that don’t, so you’ll have to look out for what you’re most comfortable with.
Turkey is very liberal and diverse in this sense. There’s a major modest fashion demographic there but it’s not practiced by all locals nor is it at all expected from tourists the way you will find it is recommended in many countries in the Middle East.
Modesty is only mandatory when entering the actual mosques’ buildings, however, I strongly advise still dressing somewhat conservatively for the grounds/gardens of mosques. I’m not judgemental when it comes to others’ showing off their bodies at any given time but as a Muslim, I found it disrespectful and uncomfortable when I saw some people (yes, men too) in tiny shorts/dresses, well into the mosque’s grounds and right outside the actual prayer entrance. If you’re not a practicing muslim, remember these religious heritage sites are a place of worship first, and have chosen to open their doors to you. By choosing to visit, them you should try to respect their customs both in behaviour and dress code.
South Africans need to apply for their free visa on evisa.gov.tr. It’s an instant download with very little information needed and a very painless procedure.
Using the Havas Buses & Airport Shuttles
The Havas buses are found in some Turkish regions and are generally the cheapest way to get to and from the airport. They are incredibly comfortable, often even with wifi on board and run on a frequent schedule. I’ll be discussing these in more detail when I do the breakdown of each city.
A slightly more expensive but more direct option is ask your hotel to book you an airport shuttle. These will cost 50-70TL per person maximum. They are usually mini vans that will pick-up/drop-off directly at your hotel, but will also include other passengers who stay close by to you.
Unless you’re travelling at a really odd hour or are in a small town, there’s mostly no need to use a cab to go to and from the airport.
There’s no Uber
But some places do use Bi Taksi, which is basically like a Turkish Uber. We used these in Istanbul and there was no need to add your card details, we just used cash. It was nice to be able to calculate the fare beforehand too.
Staying in Touch – Vodacom RED or Vodafone
As a Vodacom RED subscriber, I needed to stay connected to my home number and their roaming rates are really good, so this worked out for me! For R299 you can get a 500mb 7 day bundle and pay R2.50 per minute for calls. If you’ve ever paid for regular roaming rates while travelling, you’ll know how and appreciate how cost-effective the RED plan is in comparison.
Alternatively, Vodafone Turkey offered had a simcard deal costing 170 TL (R445) and included 7GB data and 100 minutes of call time. They have stands in Istanbul airport and will set it up for you there.
And that’s about it for now!
If there’s something I’ve forgotten that you want me to add in here, let me know in the comment section so I can slot it in. Otherwise, this was by far the best trip Abdul Malick and I have ever been on, and we can’t recommend it enough. If you haven’t watched our Turkey vlogs yet, check them out here.