Turkey is a place that has always held a certain amount of fascination for me. I fell in love with Istanbul through books long before I ever visited – and then fell in love with the actual city itself in 2012 when I spent a too-brief few days there, soaking up all the sights and sounds and smells I could manage.
Those first encounters with Turkey were memorable, and I always knew I'd be back someday.
That day came in 2019, when I decided to book a tour around most of the country with Intrepid Travel – and my dad decided to come with me.
Is Turkey safe to travel to?
I remember the very first time I planned to visit Istanbul, back in 2012 when I was a graduate student. All my grad school friends were convinced I was going to be kidnapped or murdered, and my parents weren't too excited about it, either.
Turkey has been in the news for all sorts of different (negative) reasons in the last few years; everything from political protests to terrorist bombings have made the front page. In 2019 (when my dad and I were there, in fact), Turkey launched airstrikes across the border into a Kurdish-controlled part of Syria.
These sorts of things are definitely worth being aware of, but are not a reason to avoid Turkey, in my opinion.
You want to avoid any areas of active conflict and protests, of course, but the vast majority of places you're likely to visit as a tourist in Turkey are not going to carry any substantial risks of violence – no more than traveling anywhere else in Europe or the US.
The biggest threats to safety you need to worry about as a tourist in Turkey are things like pickpockets and scams – annoying, but ultimately not dangerous.
If I'm being honest with you, in 2019 I visited both Istanbul and Rome within the space of a week, and I felt much safer walking down the street on my own in Istanbul.
Turkish people are not their government, and are incredibly kind and welcoming in my experience.
Should you book a tour in Turkey?
Turkey is an excellent place to book a guided tour. I've traveled to a lot of places solo (including to Istanbul!), but sometimes I really appreciate having someone else worry about all the details of a trip for me so I can just enjoy it.
And in a place like Turkey, where there's just SO MUCH to see and do, I knew going on a tour would be the most stress-free way to really dive in.
Signs a Turkey tour might be right for you:
- You want to see a lot of the country – Turkey covers more than 300,000 square miles, and its landscapes include everything from mountains to salt flats to the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea. I knew I wanted to visit Istanbul and Cappadocia and the Mediterranean coast, but I also knew there were plenty of amazing places I didn't even know about. Going on a tour is a great way to see a little bit of everything, and visit places you otherwise might miss.
- You're concerned about safety – If you're at all concerned about traveling alone, or just traveling to Turkey in general, then going on a tour where you have a local guide and the knowledge of a tour company is a great way to assuage some of those fears.
- You don't want to do the planning – I wouldn't say Turkey is a particularly difficult place to travel, but planning a trip to a place with a different language and culture can sometimes just be daunting. For longer trips where I want to visit lots of places, I like the ease of guided tours.
Going on a tour was also perfect for my dad and I. It was a good way to meld both our travel styles, and we had a built-in group of people to hang out with. Tours can be an excellent option for multi-generational travel.
The Turkey tour I chose
My dad and I traveled with Intrepid Travel, my go-to tour company for small group tours. I've been on many Intrepid tours all around the world, and they are simply some of the best. You can always count on a varied itinerary, a good guide, like-minded travel companions, and a commitment to responsible tourism when traveling with Intrepid.
The tour I chose was the Turkey Encompassed tour, which is a 15-day tour that covers a LOT of ground. This is one of Intrepid's “Comfort” tours (meaning private transport and slightly nicer accommodations), but the price tag is very reasonable – the tour usually costs less than $2500 USD.
I chose this Turkey tour mostly because of the itinerary, and all of the inclusions. You can check out the itinerary here.
Intrepid offers other Turkey tour options to suit other budgets and travel styles, though. Some other good ones include Best of Turkey (a budget version of the 15-day tour) and Premium Turkey in Depth (a more luxury version of the 15-day tour).
Turkey Encompassed tour: A full review
So what is the Turkey Encompassed tour with Intrepid Travel really like? And, more importantly, would I recommend it to others? Read on to find out!
What makes this tour stand out?
Intrepid has a lot of Turkey tours to choose from, but it wasn't difficult to narrow it down and settle on Turkey Encompassed. Some of the things that make this tour stand out include:
The itinerary – This one has a little bit of everything, from hiking in Cappadocia to strolling the ancient ruins of Ephesus to spending time on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. It also includes stops in cities like Konya and Beypazari that you might otherwise skip. I also appreciate that you spend more than one night in multiple places, which helps break up some of the longer driving days.
The inclusions – I'll go into more detail about what all is included later, but Intrepid's Comfort style trips include a lot of activities, as well as airport transfers and private transport around the country. This means you don't have to worry about bringing a ton of extra spending money since things like walking tours, museum entry, and some meals are already included.
Where do you go on this tour?
Note: When I did this tour in 2019, the itinerary was ever so slightly different. The tour used to spend one night in Fethiye and only two nights in Goreme/Cappadocia. Now, you spend 3 nights in Goreme and they've cut out Fethiye – this is based on feedback from past tour guests, and I think it's a great change because Cappadocia is so magical. (It also goes to show that Intrepid listens to feedback from its travelers!)
The Turkey Encompassed tour focuses on the western half of the Anatolian peninsula, traveling in a clockwise route from Istanbul. Cities and towns you'll visit include:
- Istanbul (starting and ending point)
- Kas (a beautiful little town on the Mediterranean)
- Selcuk (base for visiting Ephesus)
Our tour also included stops at incredible Roman ruins, wine tasting in a little town called Sirince, a walk through the ghost town of Kayaköy, and more.
The itinerary already looks quite packed, but know that your tour leader will always have some surprise extra stops for you to enjoy, too.
What will you do on this tour?
I think the better question is: what WON'T you do on this tour? Every day comes with another cool thing to see or do.
My top 3 tour highlights were:
1. A day spent sailing the Turquoise Coast
The reason this tour takes you to the tiny coastal town of Kas is so that you can spend a full day out on a boat on the Mediterranean. This part of Turkey is known as the Turquoise Coast or Turkish Riviera, and this was probably my favorite day of the trip!
We swam, visited some ancient ruins, and enjoyed having a whole boat just for our group.
2. Hiking in Cappadocia
There's a lot to see in Cappadocia, from underground cities to cave churches. My favorite activity there was the guided hike we went on in one of the valleys. (On my tour, we hiked in the Rose Valley, but you might hike somewhere else.)
Being dwarfed by weird rock formations was really cool, and both my dad and I agreed we would love to go back and do more hiking there.
3. Visiting Ephesus at sunrise
A visit to Turkey wouldn't be complete without a visit to the ruins of Ephesus, an ancient city that dates back to the 10th century BC.
Our guide got us up extra early so we were the first tour group through the gates when the site opened, and it meant we had the incredible Library of Celsus all to ourselves as the sun came up.
Other things we did that were included in the tour price were:
- A quick city tour around Istanbul, including a visit to the Blue Mosque
- Entrance to the Living Museum of Beypazari
- Visiting the Goreme Open Air Museum
- Derinkuyu Underground City tour
- Entry to the Mevlana Museum in Konya
- A walking tour and visit to the Antalya Museum in Antalya
- Visit to Hierapolis and Travertines National Park in Pamukkale
- Fruit wine tasting in Sirince
- Guided tour of the battlefields on the Gallipoli Peninsula
There were a few optional extras on this tour, too, which the majority of us decided to do. These included:
- Ballooning in Cappadocia – Well, we all signed up and TRIED to go ballooning in Cappadocia. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate, and balloons did not fly at all while we were in Goreme.
- Going to a Whirling Dervish ceremony
- Attending a Turkish folk dinner/show (I have some GREAT video clips of my dad dancing with a belly dancer from this)
- Touring the ruins of Troy
- Entry to extra ancient sites like the Dark Church in Cappadocia, Aspendos Theatre (one of my FAVORITE add-on stops), and ancient houses in Ephesus
We were also given free time in many cities to do whatever we wanted. Some people visited beaches, some booked hammam or spa services, some (like my dad and I) visited more ruins and historic sites.
Sometimes we stuck together as a full group, while other times we broke off into smaller groups to do more exploring.
Who will you travel with?
Intrepid Travel specializes in small group trips, and the Turkey Encompassed tour has a maximum group size of 12. We had almost a full group in October 2019, with 11 of us traveling together.
Our group was made up of a mix of solo travelers, couples, and friends/family traveling together. Like on most Intrepid trips, ages ranged from 20s to 60s, and we hailed from multiple continents (North America, Europe, and Australia).
Note that if you're traveling solo you will usually be paired up with another solo traveler of the same gender to room with, unless you pay the single supplement fee.
Who is the guide?
Intrepid always hires local trip leaders who live in (and in most cases have grown up in) the country you're visiting.
Our guide was Atahan (Atta for short), who was a young, soft-spoken Turkish man who my dad was always complimenting on knowing all the best places to eat.
Atta acted as our guide at many of the ancient sites we visited, and was a wealth of knowledge when it came to the history of Turkey.
How will you travel?
Since this is a Comfort style trip, we traveled in a private van the whole time, with one driver for most of the trip. We had two different vans, though, and I'll be honest that the first one wasn't very comfortable due to a lack of leg room. Thankfully our second van was much better!
This particular itinerary is all driving (some others might include short flights or train rides), but I actually liked this because it meant we got to see so much of the Turkish countryside.
(And, in case you're curious, roads in the western half of Turkey were really nice and well-maintained from what I saw!)
Where will you stay?
Intrepid Travel always books mid-range accommodations, usually in the 2-3 star range. A lot of the properties you stay in are small, and usually family-run; you won't be staying in any chain hotels here!
In Turkey, the standard of hotels is pretty similar no matter where you are. Everywhere we stayed had decent-sized rooms, fairly firm mattresses, and an included breakfast spread.
Intrepid doesn't always use the exact same hotels on every tour, but some of the ones we stayed in that I thought were notable included:
- Haze Hotel in Istanbul – This is the starting/ending point of the tour, and the rooms here are nice with large bathrooms. The hotel also has a beautiful breakfast terrace, as well as a really nice rooftop restaurant.
- Empire Cave Hotel in Goreme – This character-filled hotel was a 7-minute walk to the town center, and very quiet. The rooms were large and the breakfast spread here was especially good.
- Puding Hotel in Antalya – This large hotel had updated rooms, a pool, and nice courtyards. It was also easy walking distance to the harbor and old town.
- Amazon Petite Palace in Selcuk – Our group was the only one staying at this small, Turkish style hotel. The owner was super nice, and it was within walking distance to most of the main sites in town.
The only complaint I had about some of the places we stayed on this trip was the fact that non-smoking rooms in Turkey don't always mean that someone hasn't smoked in them. Cigarette smoking is still really popular in this part of the world, and some of the rooms I stayed in did smell like smoke to me.
What will you eat?
Turkish food is amazing, and you can expect to eat a lot of it on this trip. On more than one occasion, my dad asked if we had accidentally booked a food tour because we seemed to be eating so much.
Most people associate Turkish food with kebabs, but it's SO much more than that. In fact, because Turkey is a fairly big place with lots of influences from other cultures over the centuries, each region specializes in something slightly different.
Some foods you can expect to try on this trip include:
- Gözleme (a stuffed flatbread-like pastry dish)
- Manti (tiny meat-stuffed ravioli in a yogurt sauce)
- Karniyarik (stuffed eggplant)
- Pottery kebab in Cappadocia (basically a stew-like dish cooked in a clay pot that you break open to eat)
- Pide (Turkish pizza)
- Roasted chestnuts (a popular street food snack in Istanbul)
- Fresh carrot juice (a specialty in Beypazari) and fresh pomegranate juice
- Desserts like baklava, semolina halva (a super sweet paste), and of course Turkish Delight
When you're on the coast, you can also expect to find fresh seafood dishes at really reasonable prices.
How much money do you need?
A lot of things are included on this tour, but you will need some spending money for meals (only breakfasts and 3 lunches are included), tips, and any optional activities you want to add on.
Turkey uses the Turkish Lira (TRY) as currency, and you will want to have some for meals, tips, and shopping. In bigger cities, Euros and USD may also be accepted for larger purchases (like if you're going to buy a carpet or book a balloon ride).
For meals, expect to spend the equivalent of $10-$25 USD per person on lunch and dinner.
Tipping isn't as engrained in Turkish culture as it is in nearby Middle Eastern countries, but a 5-10% tip is normal at restaurants (and you'll want to use cash).
Intrepid Travel also recommends tipping tour leaders and drivers; they recommend $1-$2 per person per day for drivers, and $3-$4 per person per day for your guide. I usually set this money aside at home before I leave (they usually don't care if you tip them in local currency, Euro, or USD).
And for some of the optional extras you might want to add on to your trip, here are some sample prices:
- Ballooning in Cappadocia – 195 Euro (cash or credit card)
- Whirling Dervishes ceremony – 25 Euro/$30 USD
- Dark Church entry in Cappadocia – 25 Lira (less than $3 USD)
- Swimming in Cleopatra's Pool in Pamukkale – 50 Lira (about $6 USD)
- Entry to the Basilica of St. John in Selcuk – 25 Lira (less than $3 USD)
Any other ancient sites we visited (like Aspendos Theatre, Troy, etc.) had an entry fee of less than 50 Lira ($6 USD).
It's also worth noting that credit cards are widely accepted throughout Turkey, and ATMs are easily accessible in most cities if you do find yourself needing more cash. (Just be sure to alert your bank that you'll be using your card abroad!)
What should you pack?
Turkey is a Muslim-majority country. But the vast majority of the country is much less conservative than you probably think.
While women do need to cover their hair, shoulders, and knees when visiting mosques, they can more or less wear whatever they like elsewhere without getting stares or any verbal abuse. (The one exception is in Konya, which is a more religious city than the others you visit on this tour; there, you're advised to cover your shoulders and knees in public.)
Otherwise, what you pack will depend on what time of year you're visiting Turkey.
Summers (June-August) get very hot in central Turkey and on the coast, while winters (November-February) can be either wet or snowy depending on where you are.
When I visited in October, it was cool up in the mountains (cool enough to need a jacket most nights), but still warm enough on the Mediterranean coast to go swimming.
Some things on my must-pack list for Turkey include:
- Comfortable clothing – You spend a lot of time in vehicles on this trip, but also a lot of time walking through cities and historical sites. Be sure to pack clothing that's comfortable for it all. Since I was traveling in the autumn, I packed mostly leggings and dresses and things I could layer, plus a jacket. If you're traveling in summer and want to dress conservatively-but-cool, I like these colorful maxi dresses and these lightweight palazzo pants.
- A scarf or two – Scarves are a travel must-have for me. They can liven up any outfit, and are also great in a place like Turkey to further help you cover up if you need to. If you want your scarf to do double-duty, check out Speakeasy Travel Supply's hidden pocket scarves.
- Good walking shoes – You do a lot of walking on a tour like this! I took two different pairs of shoes with me: my Teva Verra walking sandals, and my SUAVS Zilker shoes (lightweight sneakers that you can wear without socks and throw in the washing machine when you get home!). Make sure you have at least one pair of sturdy shoes for hiking in Cappadocia.
- A sunhat – Especially if you're traveling during the summer! I like this packable one by Wallaroo.
- A reusable water bottle – Some tap water is not safe to drink in Turkey, but most hotels you stay at will have purified water available for you to fill your own bottle from. I like my CamelBak Chute.
- A first-aid kit – I always stock mine with things like chapstick, pain killers, Pepto Bismol, Imodium, rehydration salts, motion sickness pills, and some Band-Aids.
BONUS: A Skyroam device – If you don't want to rely on patchy hotel wifi, you might want to look into traveling with a portable wifi hotspot like a Skyroam. Skyroam works by connecting you to a local mobile network, no SIM cards required. You can buy or rent a device, and then purchase day passes or certain amounts of data, only paying for what you use. You can connect up to 5 devices to a Skyroam, which is perfect if you're traveling as a couple or a family. Learn more about Skyroam here.
Any downsides to know about?
Because this trip covers a lot of ground in just two weeks, there ARE some long days spent on the road. The average driving time on days when you're moving from one city to the next is 4-5 hours – but there are always sightseeing and food/toilet stops every couple of hours to break up the drive.
I would also say that, while Intrepid categorizes this trip as a 2 (out of 5) on their physical rating scale, you DO need to be in decent physical shape and capable of walking a fair number of stairs and over uneven ground to really enjoy this tour. (The Derinkuyu Underground City tour and visits to Sirince, Ephesus, and most sites in Cappadocia all require lots of walking and have steps/steep inclines.)
Lastly, it's worth noting that this tour only gives you the briefest introduction to Istanbul. If you're interested in exploring more of this fascinating city, I would definitely plan to extend your trip and spend a few extra days there at the end!
A note on visas and insurance
You most likely WILL need a visa in order to enter Turkey as a tourist.
Residents of some countries (including the US) can still get visas on arrival in Turkey, but you're encouraged to apply for an e-visa online before you leave home instead. E-visas can be applied for online by residents of many countries.
A Turkish e-visa is valid for 180 days from whatever start date you specify on your application, and you're allowed to actually be in Turkey for 90 of those days. These visas currently cost $50 for US citizens.
Apply for your Turkish visa here. (This is the official government site.)
Intrepid Travel also requires you to purchase travel insurance before your trip (which I would highly encourage even if it wasn't required). I recommend buying coverage through World Nomads. They offer the most affordable basic travel insurance out there.
Is this tour worth it?
In my opinion, yes. The Turkey Encompassed tour is a great introduction to Turkey, taking you to all the highlights you would likely want to see on a first visit to the country.
This tour does have some long driving days, but all the inclusions and overall itinerary make up for this. Both my dad and I really enjoyed our time in Turkey!
Have you ever considered booking a tour to Turkey?