When I was planning my trip for this season, I knew I wanted to go to Turkey but didn’t know how to go about it. This was another trip where I felt more comfortable joining a tour rather than traveling alone. Once I saw that BusAbout, one of my favorite tour companies, offered a new overland Turkey Adventure tour, I knew I wanted to try it out. The trip was in its first season this year, so some kinks are still being worked out for the 2014 season, but I will be discussing my thoughts about the tour and offering suggestions.
A few tour companies go through Istanbul, but few go in-depth in Turkey for the 18-35 budget market. BusAbout has created a network throughout Europe and North Africa that makes it easy for travelers to add onto existing trips with their “Adventures” and “Festivals” packages. The Turkey trips are another example of this, as the Turkey Adventure (renamed the Turkey Aegean Adventure for 2014) can connect with the Eastern European Trek trips, which end in Istanbul.
Unlike some of the other Adventures, namely Croatia Sail and the Greek Islands, BusAbout contracts out to a local tour company instead of hiring their own guides. They also do this on their Egypt and Morocco trips. This creates a different experience as you will be led around the country by a local who speaks the language. But at the same time, sometimes the details are lost in translation. For example, the Turkey Adventure was run by Fez Travel, a Turkey-based tour company. My guide spoke English, but it took us a while to understand certain words she was saying. She was, however, very knowledgable and overall a lovely person.
The trip started early one morning in Istanbul, followed by a four hour drive to the Gallipoli Peninsula. My tour group was mostly Australian, so we spent a good amount of time at this location. After a night in a small town and an early morning ferry, we went to Troy and Pergamum, where we spent less time since we were going to Ephesus later in the trip. The Ephesus trip was an optional excursion that a few members of the group abstained from. I feel like it should have been included, as it’s one of the most famous sites in Turkey. The next day we stopped at Pamukkale before continuing to Saklikent Gorge. From there we went back to Fethiye, where the tour ended and where the Sail Turkey trips left a few days later.
I definitely enjoyed myself on this trip. I met some great people and saw some amazing things I might not have seen if I had planned the trip on my own. But there are a few things I would change to make the trip even better. Firstly, there was some miscommunication about the schedule, exclusions and optional excursions. Most of us were under the impression that lunches were included when only breakfast was included. This would be fine if there had been cheap dining options, but we were always taken to a lunch buffet in a small town where there wasn’t a second choice. We were told about optional excursions on the first day early in the morning, but most of us forgot about them. If you want to do an excursion, like paragliding or tubing, you have to be diligent and remind your guide. A printed itinerary with stops and excursion prices would greatly improve this trip.
Some members of my group complained that they could do this trip independently or that they wished they had more time in certain places over others. Unfortunately, a tour group is not really a democracy, particularly when you have to arrange entry fees and hotels. And could you do this trip on your own? Absolutely. The bus system in Turkey is cheap, clean and efficient. There are plenty of hostels in the well-tread path from Istanbul down the Aegean. But if you want to learn about the history behind all of the ruins you’re seeing, it’s best to go with a guide. Otherwise it’s just another pile of rocks, not the remains of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The drives were at least four hours every day, which took its toll, but the bus driver was great about stopping every two hours so we could take a break for tea. I wish we’d had a group dinner on the last night, as it would have capped off our experience well. Instead, we all had an informal evening drinking at our hotel. The accommodation was great on this trip and I can recommend all of the places we stayed. I recommend doing as many optional excursions as possible, even if it costs a little more. Bring along an extra 100 lira ($50 USD) per day. The tubing at Saklikent Gorge in particular was one of my favorite activities of the trip, as was our night out at a nightclub in Izmir.
The Turkey Aegean Adventure is certainly more educational than the BusAbout loops and travelers should know that going into it. It’s not party central like other trips, but there’s certainly an opportunity for it should you so desire. If you’re interested in meeting your fellow travelers before the tour starts, I recommend staying at the hostel where the tour picks up from in Istanbul.
BusAbout has expanded their Turkey tours for 2014, bringing back both Sail Turkey and this trip, the Turkey Aegean Adventure. They’ve also introduced the Cappadocia trip, which connects from Fethiye to Kas, Olympos, Konya, Cappadocia and Ankara before returning to Istanbul.
I received a discounted rate for my BusAbout Turkey Adventure tour, but all opinions are my own.