On June 2015, I spent over a month backpacking through Turkey starting from Istanbul and went all the way east to Kars before crossing the border to Georgia. Most backpackers I know only travel to Istanbul and call it a day but Turkey is so much more than that and within this article, I will take you off-the-beaten-path and see the real Turkey as how it should be seen.
Why go to Turkey
Turkey sits at the crossroad between Europe and Asia and has been inhabited since the Paleolithic age by many civilizations making Turkey one of the best destinations to travel to for history buffs and adventurers alike who enjoys walking around historical places. Other than that, the people are amazingly friendly especially in the east, the food outrageously delicious and the cost of traveling very affordable. If you are looking to get yourself introduced to the middle east region, there is no better place than Turkey.
When to Go
While June - August is a high season where the price, temperature, and the number of tourists are at its highest, I would recommend you to visit Turkey either in May or in September to avoid the high price and the crowds. The weather in May and September are still great and the price not at its highest. You might get some rainy days but I think it is worth a sacrifice to avoid spending more during high season.
Keep in mind that from May to June is Ramadan and even though you won't have a problem finding food in the west, it is more difficult in the east part of Turkey so prepare accordingly or avoid visiting during the Ramadan.
How to Get Here
There are 2 places that you will likely find cheap flights to fly into in Turkey, it's either Istanbul or Ankara. I would suggest Istanbul as the city and the surrounding cities are more tourist-friendly. Be sure to browse through Skyscanner or Momondo to find the cheapest possible flight for your trip.
How to Get Around
Buses are the best mode of transportation in Turkey. It is luxurious, quite reliable and often one of the cheapest ways to travel around the country. Bus companies like Metro and Ulusoy are recommended for most main routes but other small regional companies are perfectly fine too.
Keep in mind that most Turkish buses are not equipped with a toilet but they stop quite often at rest stops.
For more information, check out Turkey Travel Planner website. You can find almost any information about traveling in Turkey there.
Istanbul - World Hostel - 12.00 USD/Night (Very well located near the Galata Tower, has a cafe on the first floor and very well-equipped and clean)
Selçuk - Boomerang Guesthouse - 9.90 USD/Night
Fethiye - Fethiye Guesthouse - 14.85 USD/Night
Faralya - George House - 16.00 USD/Night (Campsites)
Antalya - Sabah Pension - 15.00 USD/Night (Amazing breakfast!)
Goreme - Hostel Terra Vista - 6.58 USD/Night (Rooftop bars, cheap hot air balloon tours available)
Mt Nemrut - Karadut Pansion - 12 USD/Night (Single Room)
Van - Van Backpackers Hostel - 12 USD/Night
Trabzon - Adelanta el Destino - 18.57 USD/Night
Kars - Hotel Kent Ani - 25 USD/Night (They can help you organize a tour to Ani)
This place is cheaper than most countries but not dirt cheap. Expect to pay around 30 - 50 USD per day per person including accommodation and food.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Turkey, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure. They have a simple and flexible search system that allowed me to find the right insurance for the right amount of time at an affordable price in seconds. If you need a travel insurance, give WorldNomads.com a try.
Turkey One Month Itinerary
Istanbul (4 Days)
Istanbul is probably one of the most colorful and lively city I have ever been too and you need to spend at least 4 days in the city in order to get to know the city better. The Old Town is where you can spend the first few days at. Here are the things worth seeing in the old town: Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern and the Grand Bazaar.
Hagia Sofia is definitely worth the expensive ticket. This place blew my mind!
The grand bazaar is also a good place to go people-watching or simply shop until you drop.
After you have immersed yourself in the Old Town of Istanbul, spend a day walking around Taksim Square, eating great food and hitting all the cool bars and clubs in the area.
Also be sure to go up the Galata Tower during sunset on a clear day. This is the best place to see Istanbul from the top.
Spend your last day in Istanbul crossing the river to the Asian side of the city so you get to see how the locals actually live there. Also, the Asian side is considerably cheaper when it comes to food so be sure to try everything you want there.
Selcuk, Ephesus and Pamukkale (3 Days)
From Istanbul, you can take a bus from Metro Bus Ticket Office near Taksim Square and head over to Selcuk. Selcuk is the perfect base for you to do day trips to Ephesus and Pamukkale. Since Selcuk is located within walking distance of Ephesus, I would recommend you spend half a day walking around the ruins. The Library of Celsus is very well-preserved and was quite a sight to behold.
You can explore Ephesus in half a day and spend another half day back in Selcuk and hike up the Ayasuluk Hill to the fortress dominating the entire city. The view from up there is perfect for watching the sunset over the city while sipping a cold beer and listening to birds chirping away.
On your second day, you can join an organized tour from your hostel to Pamukkale and spend a day soaking your body in the natural white carbonate mineral baths.
The mineral-rich water dripping down the mountainside, collected and spilling over the terraces creating beautiful cascades of stalactites pools are quite a sight to behold.
If you are not into this sort of things, you can go to the ruins of Hierapolis nearby and learn about the history of the place.
Fethiye (1 Day)
Fethiye is a typical port city with lots of luxury hotel goers and tourists that want to spend their time relaxing by the sea. We are just passing through here for a night to break the trip down before we go to the Butterfly Valley. That said, if you are looking to hike somewhere, I know the best place for a nice sunset in Fethiye.
Amyntas Rock Tomb is a rock-cut tomb built by the ancient Greeks in the 4th Century BC. Hike up there and spend a quiet time watching the sunset.
Butterfly Valley and Faralya (4 Days)
From Fethiye, I recommend you to take a one-way boat trip from Oludeniz to the Butterfly Valley and instead of going back, you can spend some time at the valley and then hike up to Faralya and spend a few nights up there.
Butterfly Valley is one of the most beautiful places I have seen in Turkey but it has been ruined by the party boats that came everyday blasting music, driving away all the butterflies that gave the valley the name. That is why I recommend you hike up the valley and stay at the top so you are away from the loud obnoxious tourists plus the sunset is so much better up the valley.
There are many day hikes you can do from Faralya since the place is located right in the middle of the famous Lycian trail, one of the best long hike trail in the world.
I spent one-day hiking to Kabak Beach which is a disappointment since it was ridden by throngs of tourists and resorts but the hike was very nice and quiet.
I spent another day hiking with my friend who guided me to a place called the Paradise beach, tugged away unnoticed by tourists along the Lycian trail. There was no one but us on the white pristine beach. No wonder why it was called Paradise.
If you are interested in hiking to these places, you can ask your hostel for information and maps or if you stay at George House, they usually have an in-house hiking guide and you can ask for more detail from them.
Antalya (2 Days)
Antalya is the fifth-most populous city in Turkey and the capital city of the region so it is a nice place to take a break from the long bus ride and spend a day walking around the Old City. The port is quite stunning in Antalya and a perfect place to watch the sunset.
Goreme, Cappadocia (5 Days)
There are many cities you can base yourself in Cappadocia but the best one for budget travelers like us is Goreme. From here, you can find plenty of hot air balloon tours with competitive price. It is also a good base for you to launch yourself into the surrounding hiking spots.
You can go on a hot air balloon tour here which should cost you no more than 120 EUR. Cappadocia is probably one of the best places in the world to do so. At the end of the tour, you will get a glass of champagne to celebrate your accomplishment.
For hiking trails, the Red Rose Valley, Pigeon Valley, and Love Valley are highly recommended. You can spend a day hiking Red Rose Valley and another hiking the Pigeon and Love Valley together to see the Cappadocian landscape up close.
You can also go on a day trip to the city of Derinkuyu and the Ihlara Canyon but it is best to do this with a tour since there is no public transportation the goes this way.
Selime Monastery should also be included in the tour and fun fact about this place I didn't realize before was that this was where George Lucas initially planned to shoot his Star Wars film but the request was not rejected by the Turkish government.
Mount Nemrut (2 Days)
Getting to Mt Nemrut requires a lot of patience and determination but how often do you get to see a bunch of heads of gods carved out from stones on top of a freaking mountain? In order to get here, you can either fly or take a bus to Kayseri and from there to Kahta. You can either stay in Kahta and get a tour or take a taxi to Karadut and hike 3 hours one-way to Mt Nemrut.
Either way, it's going to be a long trip to get to Mt Nemrut. If you are not interested in seeing My Nemrut, I would recommend skipping and go straight to Van either by flight or a really long bus trip.
Lake Van (2 days)
Now we are going off the beaten path to the city of Van in the eastern part of Turkey. The Kurdish are the majority in this part of the country and you can see right away how friendly and welcome they are when they see a strange face like us walking around. I had the best time with the locals here.
Van is also well-known for its generously-sized and amazing breakfast. Unfortunately, I was there during Ramadan... so no, I did not get to try it myself.
You can do a day trip from Van to the lake and get yourself on a ferry to the Akdamar island where an ancient Armenian church stands. With the church standing on a lonely island in pristine blue-colored lake Lake Van is one hell of a photogenic place.
In the evening, you can either walk from the city center or take a van (dolmus) to Van Castle (labeled Kale on the van). The castle is a good example of how the ancient Armenian civilization had influenced the area during 7th centuries BC.
Trabzon (2 days)
Trabzon is a city by the coast of the Black Sea and the capital city of the Trabzon province. Due to its location right in the middle of the Silk Road, it is common to see other civilization's remnants in Trabzon. One of those is the photogenic Sumela Monastery which was built by the Greek monks in AD 386. What is so amazing about this monastery is that it was built on the side of a steep cliff at the altitude of 1,200m above sea level. It is a site of great historical and cultural significance.
Since it is not easy to get to the monastery by yourself, I would recommend going with a tour and then separate from the group and explore the area by yourself like I did.
Note: The Monastery has been closed since 2015 due to some several restoration and field works. The monastery is planned to reopen in mid 2018.
Kars (2 days)
We are finally at our last stop in Turkey! Congratulation, you have made it through the length of the country. Leaving the best for last, near Kars, there is a ruined medieval Armenian city called Ani.
Long ago, Ani was the capital of the Bagratid Armenian kingdom but got sacked when the Mongols arrived and the ruins are what is left of this once proud city.
Ani consisted of many Armenian structures from churches to houses scattered all over the site. You can spend a few hours just going from one structure to another and you still can't stop marveling at it.
I dubbed this place, "the land of structures built in impossible places" and you can see why.
And there you have it. A one-month itinerary backpacking through Turkey. Even though it became harder and a little pricier the more east you go, but I assure you, the hospitality of the people in the East will have you begging for more time in Turkey by the end. I hope you will find this itinerary useful. If you have any feedback or recommendation, feel free to let me know in the comments below.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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