It’s something travellers are asking a lot: is it safe to travel to Turkey right now? We get it all the time. And as with most complicated questions, there’s no one simple answer. Turkey is massive, and despite several incidents over the last six months, in a lot of cases the real risk is limited to certain pockets of the country. We sat down with our operations manager in Turkey, Caglar Gokgun, and asked him what’s actually going on. How is the recent unrest affecting travellers? Should people be going at all? And what are we doing to make sure our passengers are safe?
It goes without saying, but if you’re thinking of going to Turkey you should supplement the answers here with some research into sites like Smartraveller and DFAT. But if you want an on-the-ground perspective from a guy who knows all there is to know, read on.
So, the big one. Is it safe to travel to Turkey right now?
Unfortunately, Turkey is close to a few areas of global instability. That’s just the way it is, and the way it has been for a long time. We take our Travel Advisory Services very seriously, and at this time most of the country is classified as “Exercise a High Degree of Caution”. And that’s what we do. When you’re visiting Istanbul (which is currently classified Level 3 – “Reconsider need to travel”) we recommend sightseeing in small groups (especially at night or during the quieter times), not using public transport and avoiding crowded locations or big events. There is always a degree of risk when you’re travelling, and we share our suggestions with our passengers via letters to minimise this risk on their arrival. After few serious incidents in Turkey, the army has increased its presence at the main tourist spots, which has been great. Is Turkey safe? That’s a hard question to answer. We like the way World Nomads puts it: “It’s important that warnings issued by your respective foreign offices are heeded, but it’s also equally important not to eschew travel to a magnificent part of the world due to paranoia.”
As the locals in Turkey, we haven’t changed anything in our daily routines. The first few days after the incidents were quite stressful, but after a while we got back to normal. Our office is based in Istanbul, in a very central and touristy area (Karaköy, close to Galata Tower) and we’re just enjoying the beautiful spring and this amazing city. We hope travellers will too.
Are there any particular places in Turkey travellers should avoid?
In line with travel advisory services we would recommend not travelling within 10km of the border with Syria. In fact avoiding that whole part of Turkey is probably a good idea.
What are we doing on the ground to make sure our trips are safe?
We’re always in contact with individuals and organisations around the country that keep us up-to-date with info from regional areas. We’re also getting updates from social networks sites about any upcoming events, and adjusting the time we visit those sites accordingly. Information sharing and communication are the main priorities for us on the ground – we want to keep all our passengers well informed and updated.
We’d recommend if you’re starting your tour early that you either book pre-accommodation with Intrepid or advise us where you’re staying so that we can keep you informed prior to your trip. We have a very large network in Turkey at each destination that we visit, and they send us everything they hear on the ground. We all support one another whenever we can. Our tour leaders have had training in safety and in minimising the risks on ground. They know where to go and when to go and are kept well informed. Our groups are small too, so we attract much less attention then bigger tour groups and, due to the nature of our style of travel, we tend to blend with the locals pretty well.
Have we made any changes to itineraries?
Yep, we no longer travel to the capital city, Ankara – we feel a visit to the political centre of the country at this time is unnecessary. Instead of travelling to Ankara, we visit a cute, local town called Beypazarı which gives our guests a really interesting taste of local life. If anything it’s added a little something extra to the itineraries. We’ve changed our hotels and our choice of activities based on local knowledge on the ground, plus some of our transport options. Thanks to our experienced network we’re able to react quickly and make changes with minimal impact to the trips overall. Our guests on our tours always surprised with how quickly we can change stuff on the ground, but in Turkey, if you have a great network, nothing is impossible.
Why do you think people should still travel to Turkey?
At the moment a trip to Turkey will give you a unique perspective on this proud nation. Tourist numbers are down, as many travellers have changed their plans and gone somewhere else in Europe or Asia. With lower numbers there’s a more relaxed, easy pace to your tour. Turkey has always been famous for its ‘hospitality’ and these days locals are even more warm and inviting and appreciative that you’re choosing to visit their nation. Having fewer tourists around means it’s also a great opportunity to visit Hagia Sophia without having hundreds of people around, or taking the best shot of Library of Ephesus without any tourists in the way. Just a heads up, this opportunity won’t last much longer.
Two weeks ago one of our staff was sitting at the foot of the ruins of Kayaköy, enjoying a beer watching and watching the sun set over a deserted village, left by a displaced group some 100 years ago. She told me: “I could smell a BBQ somewhere in the distance. A young boy was herding his small flock of sheep and the rooster was crowing. About the only thing I was scared of was the fear of never ever having had the opportunity to visit this wonderful country.”