All the bullets, the manifestations and the violent problems you’ve seen headlines about happening in Turkey are real. But before panicking it’s important to analyze if they truly imply that you’ll have to give up your dream holiday with baklava and Turkish delight. Any major media coverage makes a pretty strong impression and you should take all the safety measures, but there are situations in which the political conflicts don’t have a crucial impact on the social life the way you’ll live it as a tourist.
Because there’s a clear need of tempering this dramatic view that has been countlessly presented on the news, you should know for starters that despite all this situation going on, Istanbul is believed to be one of the safest cities in the world. For its population and number of tourists, this mark is quite relevant, placing Turkey on the list of countries that you can visit.
Of course, there are some specific areas that would better be avoided during your trip unless it’s not really necessary, such as the southeast borders with Irak and Iran, or the border areas with Syria. Indeed, these territories aren’t the safest places to be, but this is basically not because the Turkish problems at this time, but because these nations’ specific issues – so we won’t further take them into consideration.
The political factor
While Istanbul is tourist-friendly indeed, the terrorism threat remains high from a different number of groups, both transnational and indigenous. You shouldn’t forget that the city has been through a number of terrorist attacks since 2000, but this kind of danger isn’t enough for us to advise you not to visit. On the contrary, the country’s got plenty of legendary landmarks and there have been no recent terrorist demonstrations.
Leftist groups also represent a general political issue in Turkey, especially since there have been numerous demonstrations and attacks of the U.S. Consulate, American citizens or businesses – just because of their anti-Western and anti-American strong beliefs. Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (an organization previously known as Dev Sol) and Marxist-Leninist Community Party are two of the most representative entities that could endanger your visit. Despite the numerous initiatives of the Police, the most recent event occurred in Ankara in 2013, when a suicide bomber attacked the U.S. Embassy killing a security guard and harming many other civilians.
The protests are common – but they don’t necessarily mean there’s any kind of major imbalance going on nationally speaking and even if it did, the typical touristic areas are outside any danger, not being the target of the protests, violent acts or attacks.
In 2013, between May and July there has been a high number of protests on political issues, all over the country including the metropolises such as Istanbul and Ankara. The immediate presidential election that is going to take place in August this year could be a reason for some domestic protests due to the political tension. However, taking all the precautions and avoiding the protest areas whenever you happen to run into such manifestations should be enough.
The shortest path is the one you know, indeed. It applies to Turkey as well, and not just now. The main arteries are always safe to travel on, and there should be no problems whatsoever, especially if you’re a good driver (or you know one). What you should take into consideration, on the other hand, is the fact that the general number of accidents on Turkey’s roads is very high and it’s best to find a local driver to take you anywhere you need than rent yourself a car, otherwise you may end up part of the national statistics of traffic fatalities.
As far as public transport goes, it’s clearly not a delight – and you should always be cautious – whoever sits next to you could be the happy winner of whatever valuables you’ve got with yourself the second you’re not paying attention. Taxis aren’t a better solution, given that most of them – particularly if you’re speaking in English are going to presume you’re bot rich and willing to overpay them.
There are few reliable Taxi companies in Turkey and under no circumstance should you pick a car from a company that you didn’t read about beforehand. Just in case, the safest thing is to remember the number or the license of the taxi. Another relevant thing is that not all of them have a meter and you should really be careful not to take one without such a device – they’re going to charge you their salary for a month if you’re not overcautious.
Don’t make yourself a victim
Try to be as careful as you can with things that you can control. For instance, one very popular scam in Turkey, that was reported hundreds of times, is the situation in which tourists take a taxi from the airport directly to their accommodation (say a rented apartment) and hours after they get there a group of people robs them – so whenever they return from visiting the city they find their expensive valuables missing, along with the money and anything else that could have been sold.
Another situation is for the group of thieves acting during the night, when the tourists are sleeping – there have been numerous reports about travelers that were molested while trying to defend their goods. Although the national police has started numerous initiatives concerning this type of situation, there isn’t any official proof that the taxi drivers are somehow related to the aggressions. However, the most secure thing to be done is asking, while at the airport, for a safe taxi company number that you can use during your entire stay. Not making a fuss about being a tourist near the place you’re accommodated would also be of huge help.
Another thing that the taxi drivers do is switch money and claim they got a smaller pay than what the ride was actually charged. In these situations you should call the police. In Turkey, all the emergency services are reachable by calling 112, where you should specify the type of emergency and be directed to the ambulance, police, firehouse etc., according to your needs.
Tourists seem to be, for a reason or other, the easiest people to be tricked in Turkey. Not more than common sense is necessary to avoid this kind of situations: not talking to strangers on the street who seem to be weirdly polite – don’t let yourself be flattered, they’re most probably not hitting on you but planning on how to steal your most valuable things. You’re not going to be approached as a great, nice individual with lots of experiences to share, but as easy money. Learning the basic Turkish words or phrases to get you out of this kind of situations would also be of good help.
For whatever problems that you’ll be facing during your stay it’s vital to have some emergency numbers in case something unexpected goes wrong. We can only hope you’re not going to need to use them. The number of the Chamber of Commercial Drivers is reachable at 0212-272-2572, for any taxi-related problem. Other possible useful contacts are for your holiday would be:
Ambulance and Police: 112 (all over Turkey)
Tourism Police: (0212) 5274503 (Istanbul only)
Gendarmery: 156 (all over Turkey for rural areas)
Coast Guard: 158 (all over Turkey)
Fire: 110 (all over Turkey)
Forest Fire: 177 (all over Turkey)
Yellow Pages: 11818 or 11811 or 11880 (all over Turkey)
Tourism Info: 170 (all over Turkey)
Welcome – Hoş geldin (singular) and Hoș geldiniz (plural)
Hello – Merhaba, Selam, Alo (on the phone)
Goodbye – Hoşçakal
Excuse me – to make someone pay attention Pardon, bakar mısınız?; to get past Pardon, geçebilir miyim?
I don’t have time to talk – Ben konuşmak için vaktim yok
Thank you – teşekkür ederim