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Cycling In Turkey: Good Food, Beautiful Roads, Wonderful People


Roberto & Annika

In this guest post, Roberto Gallegos shares his experience of bike touring in Turkey: a wonderful country full of good food, beautiful roads and – most importantly – wonderful people.

He recently cycled there along with his partner Annika, as part of their extended world bike tour.

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Cycling in Turkey, as you may already have read on this blog, is a pleasant experience for the touring cyclist. Here are our experiences with the 5 most important things I think cyclists need to know about when visiting:

By now, you’re probably thinking: what about money and costs? Yes, I’ll cover that too within each topic because it’s also an item of some importance.

My goal is to prepare you and make you excited to cycle in one of the world’s fastest developing countries. In every major city and along the main roads, there’s one construction site after another. This was our route:

Route across Turkey

Now, without further delay, let’s get to the good stuff.

Visas
I’m a proud Mexican and travel with my significant-other Annika, who is German. That makes it fun in all sorts of ways. We get to research visa requirements for two countries instead of one. Briefly: German nationals (along with most European countries) get a free 90-day visa for Turkey. The Mexicans (along with our neighboring U.S citizens) are entitled to the same 90-day visa with a small difference: we pay a petty €15 for it.

This information may not be new to you, but the following will be: On February 1st, 2012 a new immigration law came into place. It restricts tourists coming from Europe and (as far as I know) Mexico to a maximum 90-day stay within a period of 180 days. This is a great difference from before when you could renew your visa every 90 days and stay for an indefinite amount of time. This means that you can’t get a boat to the Greek islands and get re-stamped for an extension of your visa. Sadly, you only have three months to cycle in Turkey. The good news is that 3 months is plenty of time to fall in love, as I did.

Roads
Our trip began at the end of March. Our plan was to cross the 1,620km from Fethiye to the northeast border town of Sarp. Turkey is a hilly country. Turkish people will insist that the center is flat but this is not true! Our first task was to climb from sea level up and over a 1,400 meter mountain peak, in order to access the central plain.

Overall the roads in Turkey are good to cycle, but there is still much place for improvement. Some sections have long and hard 10% grades. There can also be a lot of traffic. Be prepared for constant honking, especially when you are climbing. On main roads, the shoulders are wide enough for two cyclists to bike alongside one another. The signs are clear and accurate. You will know when you have reached the highest point of your climb.

Along the road, you will find local bike shops equipped with basic parts in almost every town. In some cities we found good bike shops with expert mechanics: Fethiye, Köyceğiz and Ankara.

Bike SHopsPhoto by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

Another big plus on the roads of Turkey, is that you will find fresh water springs along the roads. Water from these little oases of freshness is potable and never caused harm to our health.

A Favourite Landscape
Of all the places we cycled, we highly recommend the Afyon Valley (just behind Afyonkarahisar on the way to Ankara). You will cycle along interesting rock formations, very similar to the touristy Cappadocia. You will be able to stop once in a while to climb them and – if you are into photography – the golden hour in this valley is superb for landscape pics. The views from the high points are splendid.

On The Way To AnkaraPhoto by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

Along the so called Green Mile the fields of chai (Turkish tea) will trigger joy in your pedaling. You will be invited numerous amount of times for Turkish tea and soft drinks, especially in summer when the sun shines and the rain refreshes the day. The road is very easy to ride. The wind might be a factor but should not be a big problem.

Places to Sleep
It all depends on you and your budget and what you are looking for. Lucky you – we have tried them all! Cheap hotels range from 35-70 TL (about €16-35). At the top of that range you can have a room with internet and satellite TV.

Wild camping should be done discreetly, if you really want to be alone. On the other hand, if you enjoy meeting new people and sleeping indoors just put your tent in a visible place or ask if you can camp in a field. There is a big possibility that people will come and invite you for tea and food, or ask you to stay in their home.

camping spot
Photo by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

A great example of the experiences that are bound to happen to you is this one of ours: We stopped for water at a rest area along the Afyon Valley. A pair of truck drivers invited us for breakfast. Ömer, a thin happy man with grey hair and a mullet asked us with hands and feet our destination. We told him we were headed towards the Black Sea. With a finger on the map, he pointed to his home in Pazar. He then wrote down his telephone number and drew a house in the paper. He was inviting us to stay at his house for the night. We had 600 km to go and we already had a local waiting for us. How cool was that? We arrived 5 weeks later and we spent two incredible days in Ömers house up in the mountains of his hometown. We were even invited to participate in his friends reunion and although Annika was the only woman in the party they all behaved like gentleman.

If you, for some uncomprehended reason, want to keep out from the experience of sleeping in a stranger’s house, there is another great option. Gas Stations or Petrol Stations in Turkey are your answer. They will all welcome you with arms wide open. Gas Stations are like the hostels of travel bikers, you have a place to sleep with toilet, security and in some cases even shower. Do not hesitate to ask, all the bike travelers we met on the way had the same experiences as we did.

And lastly, if hospitality in this country is superb and you have to work your way to avoid being invited, wild camping could be your last option and a really safe one. If you have ever been hesitant about the idea to sleep in the road or in the wild, Turkey should be the perfect place to gain confidence and end any misconceptions you might have about this idea.

The Food
Although Turkish food might not be as well recognised as French or Mexican, its glorious flavor is another reason why cycling here is so advisable. There is more than the famous çorba (soup) in their diet. We tried so many dishes that we could eat for 6 months without repeating them all at once and we were often invited into people’s homes..

The FoodPhoto by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

When you are not invited, here is the price range per person:

  • Gas station restaurant (expensive) – 15 TL (€6) per person (including a drink)
  • City fast food joint –  2 TL (€0.80) for a Gözleme (pancake) to 3.50 TL (€1.40) for a Döner.
  • Self-serve restaurants – from 5.50 TL (€2.30) with bread and all the water you can drink.

Usually free tea is served after a meal. Beef is very expensive and it is considered a luxury so if you want to save some money go for the chicken or the fish. Beer can be bought but it is very expensive:  3.50 TL (€1.40) for half a liter.

In brief, you can have three substantial meals a day including chicken for around 18 TL a day (€7).

The People
The best reason why cycling in Turkey is a wonderful experience is certainly the people. After Turkey we were injected with so much faith in people. We now feel that nothing in the world can stop us from cycling around the world.

Kind people of Turkey Photo by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

The only reason it took us so much time to cross the country (five months for not even 2,000 km) was the people: the ones who offered us shelter, helped us when we seemed lost or helpless, offered us tea or simply were kind to us in every possible human way. Another great asset about this country is the fast responses you get on Couchsurfing. There is always someone willing to host you. Through this magnificent tool of humanity we have made so many friends in Turkey we consider this country another home in our planet.

So cyclist friend, if you have the chance to cycle along this rich and historically important land of our mother earth – do so. You will have an experience of your life. There is much more detailed information about the route that we took, If you are in need of this information please contact us. We will be happy to help and keep you updated with what we know.

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For more on Roberto’s bike touring adventures, see his website: Tasting Travels.

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18 Responses to “Cycling In Turkey: Good Food, Beautiful Roads, Wonderful People”

  1. Natalie says:

    Great post – well done for cycling all that way. I could never do it. I agree as well, it is impossible to get from A to B fast in Turkey, as the people always want to stop and chat so they get to know you. Glad you enjoyed. Has Turkey been your favorite country so far?

  2. We really enjoyed cycling Turkey, but most of all we are very happy we were able to make so many good friends along the way. Some of them we know they will remain for a lifetime.

  3. Kim says:

    Totally agree, Turkey is awesome to cycle! One small note also us dutchies pay 15 euros at the border for visa!

  4. Amaya says:

    Great write-up on the joys of bicycle touring in Turkey.

    Your observations about petrol station camping are spot-on.

    They are better that a lot of pricey official campgrounds in Europe. Manicured grounds, free-wifi, hot showers and always a warm welcome from the friendly staff.

  5. Christo says:

    Hi, thank you for the information! I plan to make a bicycle trip in Turkey and you story is very usefull for me.
    So I have a question. Should you pay for the sleeping in the gas stations? Or you just using the flat space with the gras around to pitch your tent?
    Thank you in advance!

    • Christo sorry for our late reply. We are currently in Iran. Answering your question: It is totally free, in fact you might even be invited for free food or tea, hope I do not creat a high expectation for you but it is a possibility.

  6. Laurens says:

    So true, I’m in Turkey since December and still here, I get stuck everywhere. I’ve been in big visa problems, but figured out that obtaining a resident permit is not that hard! Give it a try if you’d like to stay longer.

    • Glad that you point that out. In Fethiye we had many friends that were applying for their residence. I am not sure about the costs but for more Turkey info I suggest you contact Natalie, she has a great Turkish travel blog. If not you can always contact us and we can contact you with friends in Turkey. Thanks alot everyone for your comments and suggestions. Have nice a nice cycle wherever you are.

  7. Nice article, Roberto. I’m curious which road was so nice through the Afyon Valley. Is that the road between Afyon and Eber Gölü? I’m guessing that’s the one you’re talking about, but it’s not on the most direct Afyon-Ankara route.

    In Afyon the dirt road south of Çay straight into the mountains was spectacular. I keep finding hidden gems like that in Turkey. Which brings up my next point — Turkey’s dirt backroads are phenomenal for riding. They seem to go everywhere, and there’s very little traffic. Here’s a few that I found particularly good:

    1 – straight south from Koçarlı (Aydin)
    2 – the Çandır Çaya canyon southwest of Antalya (merkez); mostly paved
    3 – the loop taking in Arılı, Meydanlar, Tipili, and Ballı ın Tortum İlçe (Erzurum)
    4 – Öşvank to Kılıçkaya (Uzundere/Yusufeli); a friend who’s cycled a lot in Central Asia rode this me and was absolutely blown away.

    This is just a small sampling. There are lots more possibilities. You’ll quickly run out of visa time so, like Laurens, I recommened the ikamet.

    • Judith says:

      Hi Bryan
      You seem to have some gr8 local knowledge. Any tips for 2 female cyclists, travelling to Turkey for 6 ~8 weeks in 2013. We don’t want a heavy schedule, perhaps 1600km route, cycling approx 30~60km per day & trying to decide route that has little traffic, is picturesque & is not the most strenuous (the east looks a bit daunting..) any help appreciated.. thanks..

      • Hi Judith,

        Sorry for the late reply. Oh, there really are
        a lot of possibilities. You can certainly find
        strenuous routes in west Turkey as well.

        An interesting route could be through Karabuk,
        Kuru (?), Kastamanu, onto to Amasya and Tokat;
        you´ll want
        to stay away from the Black Sea in my opinion.

        Another option would be south from Izmir through
        Aydin and Mugla usually staying away from the
        coast though there are places without big
        coastal highways in Mugla.

        The lake district around Isparta is beautiful and
        you could end your tour in Kapadokya. That would
        really be a treat. Oh, I´m getting excited. Let
        me know when you´re going. I´ll be back in
        Antalya in March and am looking for people to
        go on short tours (1-2 months) with.

        Season is important in Turkey, and you didn´t
        mention which season.

        Bryan

    • Hey Brian,

      Sorry for the late late answer. The nice road of the Afyon Valley was just from Denizli to Afyon. I guess there are many more roads in that area. On the other hand Judith, I suggest the west coast, from Istanbul to maybe Fethiye. But I guess as you wrote, we should wait for Bryan’s answer because I truly think he can give you a much better route. Anyway you will have a lot of fun in Turkey. Your plan sounds really great and well if there is a problem on the way or you want to come back from anywhere.. the bus system is very good so you should not have any problem going back anywhere to catch a flight or whatever. Nice cycling.

  8. Sage says:

    Any thoughts on a female cycling solo? I’m in Macedonia right now and heading east! Love the idea of camping at a petrol station but being surrounded by only men when I’m alone does not sound amazing. Thanks for the great write up!!!

    • Sage,

      My friend, Snežana, cycled for a couple months solo in Turkey and said that everyone was wonderful to her. If you have specific questions, maybe you can ask her. Her blog:

      http://gea-tour.com/

      is in Serbian, but she speaks good English.

      Bryan

  9. Thanks for commenting Sage. What can I say, although Turkey is a Muslim country, booze is still sold. But on the other hand it is less likely to find drunk men that might cause you awkward moments, because somehow the drinking is not socially accepted or supported. Generally men behave like gentleman and petrol stations are most of the times restaurants, where people stop by but somehow don´t bother you when you are in your tent. I would recommend that you go for it.. and just follow your instinct. In some cases you may even feel overprotected! I really think you will have a very nice experience in Turkey. If anything really we have many friends there that can help you if you are in trouble. Oh and women are great… so look for them if you feel unsafe approaching only men. Happy Cycling!

  10. Elliott says:

    Hey There!

    I’m doing Istanbul-Antalya-Istanbul in October this year with my girlfriend, and I’m interested in what maps you used for your journey. Is there one that you found most helpful? I was hoping to use a map application on a ipod, but perhaps you have some input.

    Thanks for the description of your journey- it seems like you had a blast! Can’t wait to see the countryside myself!

    Elliott

    • Hi Elliott,

      October is a good time. One month to ride from İstanbul to Antalya and back is very fast. However, it’s not difficult to put your bike on the bus in Turkey. I’ve done it three times.

      Good maps are hard to find in Turkey. I’ve now cycle-toured nine months in Turkey and have been using this map:

      http://kitap.radikal.com.tr/Kitap/adim-adim-turkiye-yol-atlasi-rehber-313568

      A friend told me he saw it at a bookstore in İstanbul. I had it special ordered because it wasn’t availale in İzmir. It might be hard to find. It’s 1:400000 which is decent for cycling but sadly lacks good elevation information.

      If you want to ride back roads, you’ll need something besides a highway map. Even locals often don’t know the back roads. The map I’m using has lots of the back roads. I know nothing about electronic maps.

      For planning purposes on back roads here are examples that I’ve done:

      İzmir to Antalya — one month
      Antalya to Ankara — two weeks
      Antalya to Karabük — two months

      We’ll see what Roberto has to say.

      Bryan

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