Ask Wendy: Is It Safe to Travel to Istanbul Post-Protest?

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Photographer: Busà Photography/Getty Images

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Photographer: Busà Photography/Getty Images

Question:

Hello Wendy,

We have had plans to travel to Turkey for a few months now. Now that the whole riot thing has subsided the government has issued an advisory to Muslim countries, what do you think? We are only visiting Istanbul. Should we be concerned?

Thanks for your advice,

Marie N.

Answer:

If I were you, Marie, I wouldn't be concerned. You're right that the U.S. State Department recently issued a travel alert, warning citizens about "the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa," though the announcement "expires" on August 31. While the warning certainly made headlines, it lacked enough specificity to help travelers make informed decisions about where to go and where not to go, temporarily shuttered embassies and consulates notwithstanding. Unlike a number of diplomatic facilities in the region, neither the U.S. consulate in Istanbul nor the U.S. embassy in Ankara, Turkey's capital, were closed this weekend.

Meanwhile, the protests that occupied Taksim Square earlier this year have indeed quieted down, though there are occasional, ongoing demonstrations that can pop up unpredictably. Police, says Turkey travel specialist Earl Starkey, "are not allowing protesters into Taksim or Gezi Park although Gezi Park is now open to the public." Starkey, who shepherded a number of travelers through Turkey at the height of the crisis, says that while the demonstrations were serious, their impact on visitors was slight: "I have not yet heard of any tourists being inconvenienced except for maybe getting a whiff of tear gas." (In fact, one Condé Nast Traveler reader, speaking from Istanbul in June, said getting a whiff of tear gas at dinner wasn't enough for him to leave Turkey prematurely at the height of protest-driven uncertainty.)

While there's no way to guarantee that your trip will go off without a single hitch, Marie, it's likely that you won't have a problem, at least one that's caused by an outbreak of violence or an eruption of a fresh wave of city-wide protests. (I always tell travelers that the most dangerous portion of any trip is the car ride to the airport!) Even if trouble starts brewing around Taksim, Istanbul is a huge city and dangerous demonstrations can be easily avoided, as they were earlier this summer.

The upside to the uncertainty is that hotels in the area of Taksim are, unsurprisingly, hurting for business, and that makes it a good place to look for values, Starkey says, citing the Divan Istanbul Hotel, the Marti Istanbul Hotel, and the Gezi Hotel Bosphorus as high-quality properties that are offering great rates. Meanwhile, Starkey adds, "Sultanahmet is chock a block full and there are no bargains there."

Beyond Istanbul, there is some rare availability at Turkish beach resorts, as cancellations free up rooms that would otherwise be sold out in August. The same goes for gulets, traditional sailing yachts that are typically rented by the week. Because of cancellations brought on by this summer's protests, a few of the crewed boats can now be rented for a shorter sails, Starkey says, making them an interesting possibility that visitors to Turkey often skip because of the usual week-long minimum booking requirement.

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