We recently had the great pleasure of speaking with a seven-time WT adventurer after his trip on our Turkey Private Journey this fall. Turkey remained one of the few countries that allowed travelers during this time and we are excited to report about this successful and safe adventure. Read more about what traveling in this new landscape was like for this group.
We’re so happy to hear about your trip. Can you talk about what is was like traveling from the US to Turkey?
We flew direct on Turkish Air from Washington DC to Istanbul and back through Boston, and had the good fortune of being in business class, which was about half full. We were probably six to eight feet from the nearest passenger. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently reported that only 44 cases of COVID-19 transmission can be traced to airplanes out of 1.2 billion travelers. This equates to a 1 in 27 million chance of contracting COVID-19 through air travel. Even if the number is off by a factor of 10, I would assert that you are safer flying than you are on a typical day in your hometown going to the grocery store and getting gas. Mask mandates in the airports were strictly followed. We felt very safe.
What were the hotels like during this time?
The hotel in Istanbul was immaculate and maybe at 20% occupancy; our best guess is closer to 10-15%. The hotel staff took our temperature when we checked in, and the room was very clean. We felt completely safe.
Did the places you visited feel less crowded?
The sights were definitely less crowded. The Topkapi Palace, which is normally a zoo, had just one to three people in each room we visited. It was crazy empty. Places in Cappadocia that can be tight (churches in Goreme, the underground city in Derinkuyu) were fine as so few tourists were there.
And what about the cleaning procedures on the private boat?
We felt extremely safe and everything was spotless during our time on the gulet yacht. We were told that all crew members were tested for COVID prior to the trip. They were constantly cleaning surfaces and making sure everything was safe. The gulet is 65 feet long and we each had our own cabin, not to mention plenty of space on deck for distancing. This allowed us to completely relax on the boat.
Any highlights you’re willing to share about your trip?
There are so many! The guiding of Mehmet Koc in Istanbul was fantastic; the Kale Konak Cave Hotel in Uchisar, Cappadoccia; the local restaurant in Uchisar that broke open (with a cleaver!) the clay pot with lamb stew inside; the ruin of Perge outside Antalya; the food on the boat and the wine tasting near Goreme; and the underground city in Derinkuyu. My absolute favorites were sea kayaking with the loggerhead turtles near Demre and snorkeling among the ruins near Kekova.
Do you have any advice for other travelers who are thinking about traveling to Turkey at this time?
I would recommend to just go with the facts. At the time we traveled in October 2020, Turkey had one-sixth of the amount of COVID-19 cases and death rate compared to the US. Air travel is proving to be very safe. The chance to see the great sights of the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace, the churches and underground cities of Cappadocia, the Turquoise Coast—with the number of tourists reduced by 75-90%—is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We felt completely safe the whole time. People will say you expose yourself by going on an international trip, especially to a “third world” country like Turkey. I say “baloney!” Turkish mask and distancing compliance is better than what I’ve experienced in the US. When we traveled, we felt safer flying over, staying two weeks, and flying back than going about our normal routine in the US.
(As an aside, I have visited 145 countries and Turkey is #1 on my list. So COVID or no, this is a place not to be missed).
P.S. There are a lot of statements in this response that sound like hyperbole or exaggeration. They are not. We can’t recommend Turkey highly enough…especially now…and especially with Wilderness Travel.
—Text and photos by seven-time WT adventurer Montgomery Cleworth, Turkey Private Journey.