The minarets are no longer alone on the skyline, and the Bosphorus is awash with megayachts gliding past creaky old boats. Istanbul, the beating heart of ancient Turkey, pulsates til dawn, only to do it all over again. The beaches in Bodrum sparkle in the Mediterranean sun, the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia turn pink in the morning light. And there are people everywhere. Travel to Turkey, a European-slash-Middle Eastern country once poised on the brink of all-out war, is back.
Tourism is cyclical; some destinations are popular for a while before ceding the crown to other, newer hotspots. Others remain in the limelight for decades, drawing return visitors who return once every ten, fifteen years to relive their memories. And some destinations, while ticking all the boxes, are inaccessible for one reason or another.
Recently, I participated in the Virtuoso Luxe Report, a survey sent to all Virtuoso travel advisors asking us to rank destinations by a variety of factors. Among the list were family destinations, solo traveler destinations, and destinations travelers are (finally) returning to.
Destinations to Return to
This last group is particularly interesting, highlighting the magnetic pull of re-emerging destinations. Destinations that, for terrorism reasons, health warnings, or other intangible grounds, are now seen as safer. Perhaps the threat is lesser, perhaps the tourism boards are promoting tourism once again. But the fact is, there are some places we are looking back at with renewed interest.
Just the other day, I received an email from one of my favorite suppliers, who focuses on North African and eastern Mediterranean destinations. The year-over-year growth numbers in this email were shocking. Travel to Turkey is up 310%, Egypt is up 264%, Morocco is up 144%, and Israel is up 88%. Some of my readers commented on my post about where to travel while the US dollar is strong, mentioning Egypt and Turkey as places to go. This series, on reemerging destinations, looks at some of the places where tourism is back. This week, why you should travel to Turkey.
Why You Should Consider Travel to Turkey
I remember my first trip to Turkey, in 2006. We toured Istanbul, explored Ankara and the Black Sea coast, visited Konya and Cappadocia, then meandered along the Ionian coast. Ephesus, Pamukkale, Hieropolis, Pergamon. It was magical. I returned in 2008, then again in 2012, both to Istanbul on visits to friends I’d made in 2006.
- How do you pronounce Cappadocia? The Turkish spell it Cappadokya, and that’s how you pronounce it
Things were different then. It wasn’t scary, but it was clear that things were changing. My Turkish friends all knew it. And in 2015 when I mentioned coming back, they all discouraged it. Since then, Turkey has had a series of terrorist attacks, a failed coup against Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and a constitutional referendum that strengthened Erdogan’s power.
Where is Turkey, and How do You Get There?
Turkey lies at the convergence of Europe and Asia. A minuscule part of the country lies within Europe (called Thrace), while the remainder is Anatolia, or the Asian side of the country. Istanbul is the largest city, located on the spit of land connecting the continents, but the capital is Ankara, in the central part of Anatolia. Other large cities include Izmir and Bursa, south of Istanbul, Konya and Kayseri, both south of Ankara, and Antalya and Adana, on the south coast.
Turkish Airlines (Star Alliance) flies nonstop to Istanbul from Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, among others, while all major US carriers and their codeshares also fly to Istanbul. From Europe, both mainstream and budget airlines fly to Istanbul, Ankara, and Antalya.
To get the most bang for your buck, consider a credit card, like Delta’s Gold American Express, that earns you airline points with every eligible dollar you spend. When I travel abroad, I also take advantage of my credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. Since staying on top of the currency exchange rate can be tricky, a card like this helps keep costs lower.
Is Turkey Safe?
But since the beginning of 2018 there has been a shift in Turkish tourism. In late 2017, Virtuoso hosted a series of webinars in collaboration with Turkey’s tourism board. When the US and Turkey each revoked the others’ travel visas and Americans were briefly unable to visit Turkey in October 2017, Virtuoso paused the webinar series. It seemed, for a bit, that bucket list trips to Ephesus, Istanbul, or Cappadocia would be on hold for awhile.
Luckily, relations (while still strained) improved enough to permit tourism once again. I feel comfortable suggesting Istanbul and Cappadocia as destinations, and clearly so do a lot of others. Turkey was, in 2014, the world’s sixth most popular tourist destination, with 42 million visitors arriving into the country. In 2016, contrastingly, just 24 million arrived. As of this writing, the US State Department has Turkey at a level 3, while its UK counterpart, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, considers Turkey fairly safe (green level).
A fellow travel advisor was just in Jordan, stopping in Istanbul and Cappadocia on her return. I asked Katie for her thoughts on Turkey, and she said that as “two young-ish females traveling through Turkey, the only danger I ever felt was my pants threatening to not fit after eating amazing baklava every day.” Regarding the airports, “every airport had at least two security screens, one to get into the airport and once to get into the gates. Flights to the US have three security checkpoints,” which I recall from my trip in 2006. Katie went on to say that “in all seriousness, [she] never felt even a hint of danger.”
Lonely Planet considers Cappadocia among one of the safest places for solo female travelers.
Tourism Developments in Turkey
While travel to Turkey fell by 50%, development in Istanbul certainly did not. The skyline looks vastly different today than it did in 2006. Minarets aren’t the only spires in the sky (not that they were then, but they dominated). A financial district has sprung up in the Levent, across the Golden Horn from the old city and north of Galata and Taksim. Both Istanbul airports (Ataturk International and Sabiha Gokçen) have expanded. A third airport is slated to open this month (Istanbul New Airport). At a combined twelve-figure price tag, the trio of airports will serve nearly 300 million passengers annually by 2028.
Where to go in Turkey
Istanbul has all the glitz and glamor of a cosmopolitan city, but Turkey is more than just that. Millennia of history plus a thriving resort scene on the Aegean coast draw in those after adventure, rejuvenation, rest, and relaxation – as well as delicious food, arrack (raki), and rich Turkish coffee.
Cappadocia is one place to not miss. The fascinating caves, the gorgeous sunrises, and the epic hiking are worth the journey from Istanbul. This region is also where you’ll be able to watch the famous whirling dervishes. There are two airports servicing the Cappadocia region: Kayseri and Nevsehir. With regularly scheduled daily flights from Istanbul, its easy to reach Cappadocia. As for where to stay, there are a lot of options, from ultra-budget backpackers to the luxurious Museum Hotel in Nevsehir.
The south/western Turkish coast, also known as the Ionian coast, is rich in archaeological ruins of Greek cities. Visit Ephesus, Pergamon, Hierapolis, Didyma, Perge, and more in between lounging at the infinity pool or catching rays at the beach. Fly into either Bodrum or Antalya for the southern attractions; it’s an eight-hour drive from Istanbul. Izmir is the gateway to the northern ruins, like Pergamon and Ephesus.
For a comprehensive look at the many (and I do mean MANY) archaeological ruins in Turkey, visit the Museum of Anatolian Civilization in Ankara. The Turkish capital also has a compact old citadel worth visiting.
Luxury Hotels and Experiences in Turkey
Luxurious experiences abound in Turkey. The nightlife is legendary, the shopping is exceptional, and the price tag, well… if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.
On the hotel front, Mandarin Oriental is opening a new property along Istanbul’s Bosphorus. It joins worthy rivals Shangri-La, Four Seasons, and Ritz Carlton – all excellent news for those with hotel rewards points to spare. The Ciragan Palace Kempinski Hotel, also on the Bosphorus, regularly greets guests arriving by yacht (or helicopter). Other luxury hotels in the city include the Park Hyatt, near Besiktas, Four Seasons at Sultanahmet, and Raffles Istanbul, in the Levent.
- Learn more about travel rewards credit cards that can get you nights at these luxury properties for free!
Turkey also has plenty of Mediterranean resorts. Head for Bodrum or Antalya to soak up the sun at Kempinski Barbados Bay, Amanruya, or the Mandarin Oriental Bodrum. In the Cappadocia region, stay at the Museum Hotel. This charming, cave boutique hotel is a member of both Virtuoso and Relais & Chateau.
Travel to Turkey is safe, as safe as going to New York, Chicago, Paris, or London. With a weak lira against the US dollar and a plethora of luxury hotels to choose from, the value is exceptional. Turkey’s ancient history – the oldest settled communities in the world are here – and its cosmopolitan future offer travelers anything we could want. And settled between East and West, Istanbul – and Turkey – is truly a global city once again.
Sarah is a luxury travel advisor and avid traveller. When she isn’t writing for Point Me To The Plane you can find her crafting custom itineraries for clients or exploring the far reaches of our wonderful planet. Read more about her adventures at The Girl With the Map Tattoo.