“You’re going to Turkey? Is it safe to travel to now?”
The first time someone asked me that when I mentioned I’d be visiting Turkey, I was surprised. Are people still concerned about Turkey travel?
Then it happened again and again, effectively answering my question: people are afraid of visiting Turkey.
As someone who stays up-to-date with global news, I was a little surprised by this. I’m based in the US and know the United States has a travel advisory warning travelers to reconsider Turkey travel, but it’s for areas in Eastern Turkey, along the border with Syria. It’s easy for tourists to avoid these small pockets of instability and enjoy the beautiful country.
How do I know? I’ve visited twice – once in 2015 with a friend and again in 2018 on the Turkey Encompassed tour with Intrepid Travel. I made sure to add in a couple of days in Istanbul completely solo as well, so I could truly experience what it’s like to be a solo female traveler in Turkey.
Let’s just say that I enjoyed my solo wanderings so much that I would easily spend the rest of my twenties living in Istanbul if I could.
My conclusion? You will feel safe in Turkey. In fact, from the minute you wander the streets of Istanbul and get your first glimpse of the epic skyline, all your fears will go out the window.
Anyone who asks you if Turkey is safe hasn’t been fortunate enough to experience Turkish hospitality.
They didn’t drink hundreds of cups of complimentary Turkish tea or attempt to grab ice cream cones from magicians disguised as ice cream vendors.
They didn’t watch as hot air balloons rose with the sun, covering the unique and rocky landscape with a rainbow of colors.
They didn’t bask in the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea, wondering how there could be so many shades of just one color.
If there’s one thing people don’t tell you about the “unsafe” destinations, it’s that oftentimes their reputation is born out of a few isolated incidences. Don’t let that stop you from seeing the truth for yourself.
Here’s the real truth about traveling to Turkey:
The landscapes tell a story
If two weeks in Turkey taught me anything, it’s that every town and city is different, but each is more charming than the last. In Cappadocia, the hot air balloons taking flight at sunrise are delightful, but that’s not all. The unique rock formations are shaped by thousands of years of wind and history – stories that locals are eager to share.
In Pamukkale, I witnessed how the climate and natural resources have combined to create a stunning cotton castle with bright blue pools. I later learned that the pools are made up of a combination of water and minerals, which locals believe have healing properties.
You’ll need a local guide
One thing that surprised me about Turkey was that most locals spoke Turkish and only Turkish. Although this made for often-hilarious attempts at communication when I went the first time around, it certainly made some basic travel and dining tasks difficult.
On my second visit, I decided to book a tour, and it made the experience much more enjoyable. Not only was I able to visit way more small, local towns, but I was also able to eat at little mom and pop restaurants that I would have never found on my own. When I told my guide, Fatih, that I wanted to try local food, he made sure to point out the best street food and restaurants in every city, something I really appreciated.
One of my favorite meals was at this small house off the highway. They were serving gözleme (Turkish crepes), and our group watched the entire process from start to finish. We would have never had access to this experience without our local guide.
You’ll hear countless myths and superstitions
In Turkey, like in many destinations, you can get your fortune told. But did you know that it isn’t tarot cards or your palm that reveal your fortune, but rather, the grounds of your (Turkish) coffee?
I was equally surprised to find that many Turks strongly believe in the evil eye. Nearly every town we visited had a tree with evil eye pendants hanging from it and souvenir shops were filled with various eye-shaped trinkets. It is said that these items can help ward off bad thoughts from others.
You’ll encounter friendly animals
I encountered a large amount of friendly strays throughout Turkey. However, what really surprised me was that most of them had ear tags on them. Our local guide, Fatih, explained that the animals are fed and cared for by locals and that an animal care organization ensures they’re vaccinated.
What’s more, some cities (like Canakkale) have vending machines that dispense pet food in exchange for recyclables. Not only do Turks love and care for animals, but they also incentivize people to recycle. I’d love to see some of those machines in every major city one day!
Turkey will enchant you
It’s hard to put a finger on what makes Turkey so enchanting. Is it the people, who cheerfully welcome you to their shops and restaurants with a hot cup of a tea? Is it the astonishingly diverse landscapes, which impress even the most well traveled visitor? Is it the flavorful and hearty food that continually delights your taste buds? More likely it’s the combination of all of these and more that makes Turkey so captivating.
So let yourself be seduced and immerse yourself in the culture and the country. You’re guaranteed to fall in love.
Ready to experience the wonders of this incredible country? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours in Turkey.
(All images taken by Sally Elbassir on Intrepid’s Turkey Encompassed trip.)