I lay on a wet, marble slab draped in a tiny loincloth. My handler was a huge, mustached guy named Constantine who pushed me around like a big tuna on the soapy rock. I imagined the ancient Romans in similar Turkish baths, getting scrubbed raw by guys with gladiator forearms. As Constantine scrubbed my back he said, “Later…you get 30 minute massage. Maybe you need hospital after massage.”
Fortunately, the masseuse didn’t beat me up. The experience, coupled with the country’s great food and hospitality, made me see why so many people visit Turkey every year.
My wife and I had arrived in Istanbul, a few days before. An international school brought me in to speak about investing in low-cost index funds. After speaking to the expats, we took a one-hour flight to Cappadocia–one of Turkey’s most famous tourist destinations. According to the World Tourism Organization, Turkey had 37.6 million visitors in 2017. The Turkish tourism ministry reported that 40 million people visited the country in 2018. That’s four times more tourists than Hawaii received last year. In fact, only seven countries in the world see more tourists than Turkey does.
Plenty of people flock to the country’s beaches and islands. Others prefer the mystical land of Cappadocia, a place The Lonely Planet says is like, “Arriving on another planet.” To catch the sunrise and the otherworldly view, tourists soar in hot air balloons, above the honeycombed hills, natural rock towers, caves and underground cities.
Several ancient, underground cities are a short drive from the town of Goreme, where we stayed. Some of the cities housed thousands of residents, as far as eight stories below the surface. My wife and I toured one of them, taking photos of the city’s tight, subterranean channels. She describes her self-guided tour as epic. But if you’re claustrophobic, I don’t recommend it. I lasted 10 minutes before cowardly bolting for the surface.
Most of Turkey’s tourists come from Europe and Asia. Americans, however, often wonder if Turkey is safe. According to World Bank data on intentional homicides, from 2003-2012, Turkey’s safety ranked close to that of the United States. But tourism dropped a few years later. In June 2016, a terrorist attacked Ataturk Airport. On January 1, 2017, there was another attack at a popular nightclub in Istanbul. Political disputes also began to make tourists nervous. But over the past two years, tourists have returned in droves.
I asked Greta Hazlett how she feels. The 37-year old American has lived in Istanbul for the past 9 years, where she teaches at an international school. “I feel safer in Istanbul than I do in Boston,” she says.
Despite near-record levels of tourism last year, however, the Turkish lira continues to fall, compared to the U.S. dollar and the Euro. That offers a great deal for tourists. “My parents have done several all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean,” says Greta, “and they have done them in Turkey too, on the southern coast in Antalya. They said the quality of food, service and accommodation [in Turkey] was higher. And it cost a lot less than the Caribbean.”
If you’re considering a trip to Turkey, Greta recommends an all-inclusive gulet boat tour on Turkey’s Blue Cruise. A 7-day cruise costs about $680 per person. They also offer popular yoga-retreat cruises.
Turkey might not be on your bucket list. But I think it should be. Few places offer such great food, a deep, historical cultural smorgasbord and bargains that might even make Mexico look expensive.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacherand Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas