Border crossing & Visa
We crossed the border of Turkey in Ipsala. The border crossing was really easy and fast. Just like every other European border, you pass different checkpoints with your vehicle where you have to show your passport and vehicle registration. Visa or Carnette de Passage are not required for European passport holders. They take a quick look in your car and then you are off to go.
General things to know
– Petrol stations with euro diesel are easy to find. Diesel is called “motorin” and was around 27 TL/l (2022). Gasoline was a little bit cheaper. Petrol stations along the highway are often quite large and have often a restaurant next to them. Almost every big petrol station that we visited was equipped with clean toilets (and they were free to access!). They were even better than most petrol stations in Europe! An attendant fills your tank for you and you pay (with card at least) inside at the counter.
– Car parts are really expensive in Turkey. Prices are often even higher than in Europe so don’t expect fixing your car cheap in this country. In our case, one benefit was that Volkswagen is really common in the country so car parts and expertise are quite easy to find, but once again, you’ll pay a high price for them. One major disadvantage is the language barrier. I called around 15 mechanics in Istanbul, asking them for help, but the answer almost always was “Abi, yok English, yok”. Even communicating at official Volkswagen dealerships was a real pain. After visiting many mechanics who couldn’t solve the car problem, we got help from ‘Overland Anatolia’. Emre, the boss of Overland Anatolia, is a nice guy who really knows a lot about Overlanding and cars. He provides a service in Istanbul (and I think in other parts of Turkey as well), where he puts you in touch with a ‘good mechanic’ (according to him of course) and helps you with translation and finding accommodation and stuff during the repair. For this service, he asks 20% of the total amount that you pay to the mechanic (and, I THINK, other expenses that you make through them, like hotel bookings as well). If you have car problems, it is good to contact him. However Turkey is expensive and you can probably find some things in Iran and Pakistan as well, it often requires much more effort in these countries. Sometimes it will consume large amounts of time to find a trustworthy and capable person to do the job and to find the necessary items. For these reasons, I highly suggest checking your car properly and to buy some spare diesel and parts in Turkey before heading toward Iran.
– You must buy HGS tag. The roads in Turkey are great but you also pay a large sum of toll for them. At most toll stations for example at the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul you cannot pay by card or cash so you need to have an HGS tag. This is like a fast tag. If you don’t have an HGS at the time you cross the bridge, it’s not a problem. You can just drive through but in the end, you will get a small fine registered on your license plate. You can buy an HGS tag at a PTT branch for 10TL. In theory, shell gas stations and official post offices are PTT branches and sell these fast tags but it is not as simple as you think. The first 5 shell gas stations we came across couldn’t help us and some post offices could not help us either. Some didn’t sell it, but mostly they just couldn’t understand us and didn’t make much effort. Finally, two days before leaving Turkey we were able to buy an HGS at a post office. So actually, we always drove without HGS and it never caused any problems except that you will pay a fine at the end but it was not that high. To buy this you must give them a copy of your vehicle registration card and a copy of your passport. Once you have bought it you have to put credit on it on the official website. All vehicles with 3.20 meters or longer wheelbase and 2 axles are class 2 vehicles. Make sure there are no unpaid toll fees or fines left open on your account before you go to the border because they won’t let you leave the country until you’ve paid it all off. We thought we had paid all toll fees and fines that were on our account but eventually, at the border, we were told that there were still some unpaid fines. Due to the language barrier, it was difficult to figure out what we had been fined for but since it’s never a good idea to argue with customs we just paid for this and left the country.
Our first stop in Turkey was Istanbul. Istanbul is a chaotic yet pleasant city. We went to see the major tourist attractions like Hagia Sophia, grand bazaar,.. and we really enjoyed it. Don’t let the long queue at the Hagia Sophia (or Ayasofia) frighten you because it passes rather quickly. The Hagia Sophia looks really spectacular, both from the outside and from the inside. You can visit it for free (in 2022) as it is a mosque. Women have to wear a scarf, which they can borrow from a booth after entering the Ayasofia garden. When you passed the metal detector, just walk in and leave your shoes in a closet and then you’re okay to walk in and enjoy the Hagia Sophia. We spent around 30 minutes inside the main building and after that spent another 30 minutes exploring some tombs in the garden, which were also nice. After visiting Ayasofia you can walk to the end of the “park” and turn left to enter Topkapi Palace. We just roamed through the gardens for a little while but you have to buy an entrance pass to really see the palace itself. We thought it was quite expensive (around €15 p.p.) so we skipped it.
First two nights we slept on a car park at Karaköy. You cross the Galata Köprüsü bridge and then to your right, you find a big secured carpark. Is it quite noisy because of the street next to the car park and it is next to a mosque so you will definitely wake up at 5h30 in the morning. It is only a 10-minute walk to the city center so if you have earplugs, we definitely recommend staying at this parking lot. We paid 75 TL/24h.
Next couple of nights we had to stay in a hotel. Since the start of our trip, our car has had some mechanical problems. With Iran, Pakistan and India ahead, we thought it would be a good idea to have the car checked in Turkey just to be sure that it would not break down in the middle of the desert. Not knowing of course that it would be incredibly expensive in Turkey to fix the car. We had to stay in a hotel for 2 weeks and unfortunately for us, it was high season (October) so everything was extremely expensive and most of it was already sold out. We ended up finding an Airbnb apartment with a kitchen (30 EUR / night). He rents several apartments so contact him to ask what apartments are available and at what rate. Important to mention, you cannot park there so it is only a valid option if for some reason you must leave your car somewhere.
With our open-water diving license in our pocket, we were looking forward to going diving again. Kaş in the south of Turkey is a must-visit dive site according to many. We did two dives and paid 60 euros p.p. If you already did some diving in Southeast Asia then Kaş is probably going to be a bit disappointing but after all, we both really enjoyed being in the water again.
During our trip to the South, we spent most of the nights at big parking along the highway. There are also a few camping areas. A camping spot with electricity is around 20 EUR/night/vehicle.
Cappadocia is easily described in 1 word: just wonderful! The area is on the world heritage list of UNESCO. It is one of the most beautiful places in Turkey according to many. Cappadocia attracts more than thousands of tourists from all over the world and we understand exactly why. This beautiful landscape of more than 2.000 square km was created millions of years ago by volcanic eruptions. Walking through the landscape is like being on another planet. Every time you turn the corner you get to see a totally different landscape. This incredible natural phenomenon is one thing but some people created something extra to it to make it even more spectacular. Every day more than 200 hot air balloons take off at sunrise. This means that every day about 2,000 people fly over Cappadocia. It’s an amazing, unique location. Cappadocia is one of those locations that you must have visited at least once in your life!
You can park for free at one of the many viewing points (you can these places for overnight stays on ‘ioverlanders’) and watch an amazing sunset with a view of the valley. The next morning you can enjoy the sunrise and immediately observe the balloons from your car. It is amazing! You have to wake up half an hour before sunrise because the balloons will be in the sky during sunrise so if you wake up at the exact minute of sunrise you will probably be too late to see them passing by.
One of the owners of the hot air balloons told us that because it wasn’t yet high season and the weather was a bit cloudy and rainy that there probably wouldn’t be as many balloons taking off as in high season but the next morning the sky was clear and we saw hundreds of them in the sky. We cannot imagine that during the high season (May-June) there could be even more balloons in the sky. A balloon trip costs around 200 EUR and you will be in the sky for 40 minutes. We found it a bit too expensive so we didn’t book a balloon trip but watching them pass by is already amazing!
During the day there are some wonderful hikes. On the first day, we did red valley – Meskendir Valley – rose valley (12.5 km – 4 hours) which is our absolute favorite (for more info see our komoot page). On the second day we did pigeon valley – love valley (12 km – 4 hours). We were tremendously surprised that there could be such different landscapes in such a relatively small area. You are literally thrown into another world when you turn around the corner. It is just a magical place! On the Internet, you can find many hikes according to the desired number of km and duration. Hiking trails are very easy to follow.
Restaurants in town are quite expensive but we didn’t expect anything else because it is so touristy. We were there in mid-October. What was perfect in our opinion. The weather was not too hot and we got nature all to ourselves. During the hikes we were almost all the time alone so it was just perfect! Gorëme itself was already very crowded and all the restaurants were full at night even though it was not peak season yet, so make sure you book a table in advance.
The first night we stayed at Panorama camping. We paid 360 TL for 2 persons and one campervan (oct. 2022). Good campsite. The toilets and showers are not very clean but good enough. However, the owner is not that nice. He said that if we are going to stay for only 1 night, we should stay at a place next to the road on the lowest level. Even though it was late and the places on the highest level probably stayed empty for the night, he was not flexible enough to let us stay there so the place we got was not so great. The places are small, we didn’t have a nice view and the WIFI connection was bad. It is close to the city center so you can easily walk to the city but the road to the center is quite dangerous at night. The second night we stayed at a viewing point that we found on ‘ioverlander’. On the third night, we stayed at KAYA camping. We paid 400 TL for 2 people and 1 campervan. Clean, nice campsite. Owners are again not that nice but the facilities are good. The next morning, we went for a hike. We wanted to take a shower after this but didn’t really need a campsite anymore so we went to ask the owner of KAYA campsite if we could just take a shower in exchange for some money without staying at the campsite. He charged 300 TL for this, which is really outrageous for just a shower so we left.
A little tip, if you are in Gorëme you should definitely visit Fatih Firini. To this day this is still the best bakery we have ever come across. Everything they sell is fantastic! It already makes our mouth-watering when we think about their bread.