Travel advice

Don’t be caught out on your trip to Turkey: follow these practical tips

Bikinis are fine, but only on the beach - and other sound advice from Richard Holmes

07 April 2019 - 00:00 By Richard Holmes

GET YOUR PAPERWORK IN ORDER
While there is no visa fee for South African passport holders visiting Turkey, you will need to obtain an e-visa before arrival. Happily, it's a painless process of uploading your details via evisa.gov.tr. No embassy visits required.
Your e-visa is valid for 180 days from the date of expected arrival, but your total stay may not exceed 30 days. Ensure your passport has at least six months' validity.
MONEY MATTERSoney Matters
The official currency in Turkey is the Turkish lira. At the time of writing TRY1 cost around R3. Expect to pay around TRY35 for a main course in a mid-range Istanbul restaurant, and TRY6 for a coffee at a hip coffee shop.
BE CONSIDERATE
While Turkey's population is overwhelmingly Muslim, it remains a firmly secular country. Non-Muslims are welcomed in many of the country's historic mosques, alcohol is widely available, and on the Mediterranean beaches nobody is going to frown at that skimpy bikini.
That said, away from the beach revealing clothing is frowned upon and nude sunbathing is a definite no. When visiting mosques - Istanbul's Blue Mosque in particular - dress conservatively. Shoulders and bare legs should be covered, and remember to remove your shoes at the door.
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BE SELECTIVETurkey is a huge country, with sights spread far and wide. Don't try to see it all: decide on your preferred ratio of cities to beaches to ancient sites and focus your time.
As Megan D'Arcy, international product manager for Kulula Holidays, explains, "Distances are further than you'd imagine and a lot of time is spent travelling between the sites so it's best to single out a handful of things you're interested in and plan your journey from there."
If you only have a week, you can see the highlights of Istanbul and the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia.
If you have a fortnight, you can add the ancient sites of Ephesus and a day or two at the coast. Three weeks is ideal, allowing you to do all of the above, consider a side-trip to the travertine terraces of Pamukkale, and end with a few days' cruising aboard a traditional gulet sailing boat.
SKIP THE CROWDS
If you want your holiday snaps of ancient ruins to be empty of other tourists, be clever. With cruise ships jamming the port of Kusadasi, "super sights like Ephesus tend to get really crowded", warns D'Arcy. "Try to get to sights like these really early before the crowds get bussed in . check out a site map before you get there so you can get some good pictures without the throngs and try, if possible, to buy skip-the-line tickets before arriving."
If you are pressed for time, budget for a few domestic flights. While buses are the cheapest option, distances are long.
An overnight bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia may only set you back R250, but can take 12 hours. Rather pay for the 80-minute flight on low-cost Pegasus Airline (returns from R720).
INSTA-TRAIN-SENSATION
Want to see a different side of Turkey? If you have time and a love for trains, the latest #bestlife Instagram sensation is the Dogu Ekspresi.
The "Eastern Express" runs for 1,365km from the capital Ankara (no, Istanbul is not the capital) to the country's far-eastern border with Armenia.
The line runs along the Euphrates River and through dramatic mountain scenery to the city of Kars, the hopping-off point for the little-visited Unesco-listed ruins at Ani, once a key stop on the Silk Road.
GETTING THERE
The flight time from Joburg to Istanbul is just under 10 hours. Turkish Airlines has direct, return flights in early May priced around €580 (about R9,200). See turkishairlines.com...

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