Tuesday, December 31, 2013



Safari was always on my bucket list, but it was Sumit who nudged me and then pushed me to plan an African Safari adventure! So, here I give him his due credit. And now my brief itinerary followed by the questions.

My brief itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Arusha. Full day in Arusha.
Day 2: Leave at 7 am for Tarangire. Arrive around noon. Full day game viewing. Overnight in Tarangire.
Day 3: Leave early for Serengeti. Game viewing on the way. Overnight camping in Serengeti.
Day 4: Full day in Serengeti. Overnight in the camp.
Day 5: Half day in Serengeti. Leave late in the afternoon for Ngorongoro. Overnight in Ngorongoro lodge.
Day 6: Early morning (starting 6 am) game viewing in Ngorongoro. Leave for Arusha in the afternoon to fly back.

Question 1. Where in Africa would you go on a safari and why?

Well, after a bit of research I settled down on three options. 
  1. South Africa - the country is quite developed, has exotic beaches and Kruger National Park is very popular. But it would also mean that it would be more expensive and I would see more tourists everywhere. 
  2. Zambia, Botswana - A very good option to experience wildlife in the wild! Some of the pictures I had seen were just breathtaking. I was skeptical about the safety and security in the country so I decided to stick with the third option.
  3. Kenya, Tanzania -  Many opportunities to see the big five (Lion, Elephant, Rhinoceros, Leopard and Cape Buffalo), a safer place and a varied landscape. Plus, a few of my friends had been here, so I was banking on their positive reviews as well. We chose to stick to Tanzania only though.

Question 2. When to go and where to go?

Now Sumit and I were constrained because of our PTOs, shutdown, airline credits, blah, blah and we had no choice, so we went in December.


December and January have short rains. So it used to start getting really hot around noon and then there was half an hour of drizzle and the weather became quite pleasant. February to April are heavy rains. June-October is dry and a peak tourist season.


The thin black lines are migrating wildebeest
The vast Serengeti plains in Tanzania, which are your main focus extend in to Kenya as the Masai Mara park. The wildebeest migration takes place in these parks. The animals move in a circular path along with rains and move from one area of park to the other depending on the season. So, when you go, make sure the park you choose to visit gives you a chance to witness this Great Migration. We chose to stick to Tanzania because Kenya had recently witnessed terrorist attacks in Nairobi plus the migration was going on in Serengeti.

The Parks

  • Serengeti Plains: This is where we spent our maximum time. They are vast plains spread over 5000 sq miles. Every day is a new day in the jungle. One day you might see a Cheetah and the next day you might see a pride of lions hunting and you can never have enough. We saw maximum variety of animals here, especially the big cats. One benefit is that the park is so huge, that we rarely bumped into any other safari vehicle. We saw them only when the guides spot a cheetah or a lion and inform other guides. Serengeti National Park is divided into three regions, Central, South and North. Depending on the wildlife movement and the season you choose to go in, you will have to take your pick. We were mostly in central and south Serengeti for good three days. We saw, gazelles, lions, cheetahs, leopards, buffaloes, hippos, giraffes, wildebeest, zebras, elephants, hyenas, warthogs and many more animals here. 
Our favorite cat- Cheetah

Tree climbing lions in Serengeti

Two horned rhinoceros
  • Ngorongoro Crater: The earliest footprints of human race were found in the  Ngorongoro Crater.The animals inside the crater are said to have evolved separately from others as they were self sufficient and could sustain themselves inside the crater and never moved out. Now, however, they move out as the new lions need to establish their own territories. We went early in the morning, around 7 am and had the park to ourselves. From a few places on the rim, you can see the entire crater and it is gorgeous. We drove down to the base of the crater and saw a plethora of animals. This place is your best bet to spot a rhino and the crater has a very dense population on lions. We saw baboons, zebras, lions, hippos, gazelles, fox, flamingos, etc here. I highly recommend going early. You get to see a beautiful sunrise too.
  • Tarangire National Park: This park is famous for its elephants. We saw a plenty of them in large groups. It has beautiful landscape but I think a day is just about enough here. 

  • Manyara National Park: This park is popular for its aquatic life. We chose to skip this as we were more interested in Serengeti :)

Question 3. Where to stay?

Kati Kati camp in Serengeti
All the parks have excellent lodges. We stayed in a tented camp in Serengeti and I am glad we did. It is an excellent camp with toilets and shower inside, so I am not complaining. The experience of sleeping in the natural white noise is quite pleasant. Plus the hyenas around our camp made the life quite exciting. I am going to list out the places where we stayed at. They were all very good. We had no choice but to go with them as many lodges were already full by the time we made our bookings.
Tarangire Park: Tarangire River camp - Beautiful views, a pool to relax in and a 5-star tent.
Ngorongoro Crater: Ngorongoro lodge - View of the crater, a nice resort plus delicious veg food.
Serengeti : Kati Kati Camp - Living with the hyenas, in middle of the jungle in good enough camp. Loved it.

Question 4. Well now how do I make the bookings?

Yes, you should go with a tour company. No matter how big I am on "Do it Yourself" trips, but this one needs a tour company. You need an excellent guide for an excellent experience. Guides are certified here and go through an extensive 1-2 years of training. They can make a huge difference. Plus the tour company takes care of all the permits for the parks and the lodging.
We saw so many safari vehicles from different companies that I think most of them offer the same experience. But, from all the information that I got from my friends, I boiled down to two: Roy Safaris and Safari Infinity. We picked Safari Infinity because they were giving us better lodges and Lucia was quick with her responses and very helpful in planning the trip as per our preferences. The experience was great, be it animal viewing, food, lodging or the guide. Lucia gets an extra star because she emailed my mom everyday about my well being as I was out of network for 5 days!
Our guide, Fazal was also great, he had so much knowledge about animals and predicted their behavior accurately and spotted so many of them for us.
With our guide Fazal

This is how close we got to the Lion King!

Tip: We told our guide before we started what all were top of our priority list: Big Five and more cheetahs. He made sure we saw all that. We didn't mention we were keen on seeing a hunt, and I really regret that. We were stalking a cheetah as it was about to hunt, but had to leave as it was getting dark and we had to report to our camp.

Question 5. Flights?

We flew directly to Kiliminjaro airport via Ethiopian airlines. They were pretty good and even had bollywood movies in the entertainment collection! ;)
  1. If you plan on visiting Kenya as well, you can fly to Nairobi as there are quite a few connections to Nairobi. You can cross the border by land, in your vehicle, which is what a lot of tourists do.
  2. Fly to Kiliminjaro airport (KIA). It is an hour away from Arusha, closest town to the parks. Not many flight options, as the airport isn't that big, but quite a few connections from Kenya.
  3. Fly to Arusha airport(ARK). This airport is 5 minutes away from Arusha city. But, it is smaller than Kilimanjaro airport so really not many options.
  4. You can also fly from Serengeti park to Arusha. They fly small 6-8 sea planes between Serengeti to Arusha. It is a 3 hour long bumpy ride, so in case you are short on time, this can be a good option.

Question 6. What else can I do while on this trip?

Well, since you have come so far, you might as well:
  • Just tour around Arusha- May be an hour or so
  • Go to Arusha National Park - an hour away from Arusha city
  • Visit Zanzibar - If you have time on hand, must explore this option. We didn't.
  • Climb Kiliminjaro - why not? ;)

Other stuff


Not an issue. We are veggies and we had plenty of options to keep our tummies full. Arusha has an Indian restaurant, Bay Leaf, which had really good Indian food. But do keep some snacks for the day. You'll be on a safari in middle of nowhere, so you gotta be ready when the hunger strikes.

Masai homes

Masai are the local tribes. They still live in their makeshift homes and are not touched by civilization much. We totally opted out of a tour to visit them. We wanted to keep more time for the cats :)


Tanzania has visa on arrival option for tourists, but we got our stamped from DC, just to be safe.


I think yellow fever vaccination is required and some other are recommended. We already had quite a few on the list, so we just got what was left. Be careful of the mosquitoes. There are mosquitoes, not many, but yes, they exist and can cause malaria. We always used our mosquito repellents and sun block. 

Alright, this is all the gyaan I have to share.

Ahsante Sana,

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Jordan (Petra, Madaba, Dead Sea)

We had some unused airline credits with Royal Jordanian from our cancelled trip to Egypt. When we thought of using these credits, we realized that Royal Jordanian mostly flies in and out of Jordan. So, we decided to pay a short visit to Jordan.

Here is our brief itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Jordan. Transfer to Petra.
Day 2: Spend the entire day visiting Petra.
Day 3: Drive to Israel border. Stop at the Byzantine church, promised land to the Moses and the baptism site. Drive to the Dead sea hotel in the afternoon.
Day 4: Drive to Amman and fly out.

Where to fly?

Our only choice was Amman. Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) is a bit outside the city of Amman.

When to go?

We traveled in December. The snow storm had just passed. It was cold and windy in Petra and Amman but absolutely pleasant near the Dead Sea. 

What to see/do?

Ruins at Petra, Wadi Musa

Al Khazaneh (Treasury)
Magnificent and truly spectacular. We started at 7 am in the morning. Our guide walked us to the main entrance and kept talking about the history and significance of Petra. I was excited to know that Petra comes from the work "pathar" in Hindi or vice versa! and Wadi Musa stands for Valley of Moses. We walked through the sandstone canyon, Siq for about an hour or so to arrive at the treasury, Al Khazaneh, the most photographed spot in Petra. It is amazing how these structure were carved out in the rocks. One advantage of coming early was that we had the place to ourselves. We took a lot of pictures with no tourists photo bombing them.
We continued on to the amphitheater through the Street of  Facades. Amphitheater was built by the Nabateans, but had a roman feel to it.We kept walking through the royal tombs and many other structures till we reach the trail head for the Monastery.
Nabatean Amphitheater
We could have hiked up to the Monastery, but were too lazy and decided to enjoy a mule ride. It was fun and scary as the mules climbing along the steep edges and I was just hoping that they don't slip. My prayers were answered and we reached to the Monastery safe and sound! Monastery is much more prettier than the Treasury in my opinion. We spent some time here resting and taking pictures. Walked for another 5 minutes to another beautiful vista point. We walked back to the trail head and had lunch at the restaurant.
It was leisurely walk back to the entrance and to the hotel. There were a few more hikes in the ruins that looked pretty interesting. But we were jet lagged and decided to skip it. We were back by 3 pm.
We totally skipped Petra by the Night sound and light show as we have seen quite a few of them and they aren't much different from each other I feel. Their website.


6th century mosaic map of Palestine
Madaba is a city close to Israel border and dead sea. It is around 2 hours south-west of Amman. We visited the Byzantine church which has a 6th century mosaic map of Palestine. Some beautiful mosaic works inside this small church. It was Christmas the day we were here, so the city was all decked up for the day. We then went to Mount Nebo. This is where you can the land promised to the Moses. Pretty site. We could see Jerusalem and Jericho from here. Then we headed to the Israel border to visit the Baptism site. There are small buses that take you for a guided tour of the site. They leave the bus stop every 30 minutes or so. It was very hot and we had to get rid of our sweaters. Interesting places with interesting history. So much so that we got back to our hotel and searched internet to read in detail all about Moses and Abram.
Where Moses stood and saw the land promised to him

Dead Sea:

We got to our hotel late in the afternoon. Went to the dead sea and just floated. It feels weird how you can effortlessly float in this water. It looks viscous and leave salt residue on your body once it dries up. Of course you have to be careful and not go too far or try to swim or drink this water. We scrubbed ourselves with the dead sea mud/minerals and it is the best spa I have had! All the tan just vanished. Once we were done with all the dead sea fun, we spent time watching the sunset!
Floating in the Dead Sea
Sunset at the Dead Sea


We did not visit Jerash, but there are some ruins in the city of Jerash which are quite popular. For more info


Spend a day at a resort and go sea diving in the Red Sea. It is one of the best places to go sea diving at I hear. This will be helpful.


Jordan has some really beautiful trails to offer for hiking enthusiasts especially close to Wadi Rum.. It wasn't on the cards for us as we as usual were on a time crunch. But you may want to explore this option. This is a useful resource I had found.

Where to stay?

We stayed at the Petra Guest House right outside the ruins entrance and at the Holiday Inn near Dead Sea. There are other fancier resorts by the dead sea. The ones we stayed at were pretty good too.

Other stuff


Absolutely no issues finding good food. Falafals, hummus and Pita bread were in abundance for veggies like us. There was a particular falafal sandwich place in Madaba which had the best falafal sandwiches I have ever had. Sadly, I do not remember the name.

Getting around/tours

We had booked a two day tour with Petra Night Tours. I would recommend them. We were in a nice brand new car with wifi in it. Very comfortable and convenient plus a friendly guide. I would however do it on my own the next time. I know of some friends who had rented a car and driven around themselves. Jordan has a very low crime rate and driving around did not look difficult at all. So if you can drive around, this should be your pick.


Getting a visa wasn't very cumbersome, but a long process. I don't really trust visas on arrival concept, so we had sent in our passports to the Jordan Embassy in DC. They took a while to process it and we had to go back and forth a couple of times, but it took around 3-4 weeks for us to get our visa.


People were super nice, friendly and welcoming. It was amazing to see how much they respect the royal family. We saw pictures of the beautiful royal family almost everywhere. The queen especially has a great following and promotes the handicrafts and other artworks enthusiastically it seems. Our driver knew about Mithun da and Amitabh Bachhan as he had seen a lot of their movies in his twenties. Bollywood has quite a reach.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Peru (Machu Picchu, Lima)

Machu Picchu

Ever since I had read about the Inca trail and seen beautiful pictures online, I wanted to trek there. So, we decided that our next destination will be Machu Picchu and we are going to do the 4 day trek.  However, what happened is a completely different story, but it is worth mentioning what all it took for us to plan the 4 day trek.

My brief itinerary as I had planned:

Day 1: Arrive late in Lima. Overnight in Lima.
Day 2: Fly to Cusco. Spend half a day roaming around.
Day 3: Day trip to Sacsayhuman.
Day 4: Leave early in the morning for trek. Trek Day 1.
Day 5: Trek Day 2.
Day 6: Trek Day 3.
Day 7: Trek Day 4. See Machu Picchu. Return to Cusco at night.
Day 8: Fly to Lima. Half day Lima sightseeing. Overnight in Lima.
Day 9: Half day sight seeing. Fly back in the evening.

How many days do I need?

Inca Trek: 

There are many trails leading to you Machu Picchu, and they take different amount of time given the difficulty level and the length of the trail. The most popular one is the Inca trail, the one used by the Incas. It is the most difficult trail and takes 4 days of planned trek. This is the one we chose. But before you start the trek, you have to spend a minimum of two nights in Cusco to acclimatize to the high altitude. So, we kept 7 days for our trek.


We spent two days in Lima. There isn't much to see apart from a couple of cathedrals, main plaza and the coastline.

When to go?

November-January: This is the rainy season, but also the summer time in Peru.
February: The trail is closed during this month.
March-July: Winters with less rains. Since you hike at an high altitude, be prepared for very cold weather.
August-October: Weather is changing from winters to summers and it is the time for slight showers. We chose this season because of our holiday schedule and we realised it won't be very chilly. Weather was in fact perfect when we went and would have been great to hike.

Where to fly?

Directly to Cusco: If Lima isn't one of your high priority cities, you may be able to fly directly to Cusco. We weren't able to find any direct flights, so we had to fly to Lima airport (LIM). We flew by TACA airlines(now Avianca) and they were pretty good.
Lima to Cusco: There are many domestic flight from Lima to Cusco everyday. In general, choose a flight in the morning because the weather usually worsens after noon and you do not want any cancellations if you want to acclimatize in Cusco. The flight from Lima to Cusco was very scenic. Get a window seat as you would be flying right above snow capped mountains.

Machu Picchu/Cusco

Hiking to Machu Picchu

  • Most important thing to do is to book the trek well in advance. The permits sell out four months in advance. For our trek in September first week, we booked our trek in April.
  • Train for the trek. It is strenuous trek with a lot of elevation gain. We trained ourselves by training for a half marathon and some hiking. We did mission peak hike twice in a week to get used to elevation gain.
  • Spend at least two nights in Cusco. Altitude sickness is real! But after two days we felt absolutely fine. So the two days that everyone asks to spend in Cusco are actually required.
  • I had booked our trek with Peru Treks. Even though we did not end up doing the trek, our experience with them was quite good. A couple of my friends had trekked with them and had great things to say about them. I am pretty sure they would have been great.
  • The trek companies are very particular about the dollar bills. They shouldn't be old and at times they do not accept certain serial numbers. So keep some extra.
  • Look at their website for details on what to pack. Keep snacks, layered clothing, extra socks, rain gear and whatever they say! Sumit also trained hiking with a loaded backpack as we have to carry your own stuff during the trek because porters can only carry a maximum of 20lbs or so.

Taking a train to Machu Picchu

Since our plans to do the trek went kaput, we had only 2 days to book our train tickets and luckily we were able to manage it. It wasn't that tough to make all the bookings. We did the following:
Made it to Machu Picchu
  • Booked our train tickets using Peru Rail. We departed from Cusco and arrivde in Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes, closest station to Machu Picchu). There are three categories. Hiram Bingham is the executive class. Vistadome has glass roof and windows and provides excellent views of the journey. The regular one in Expedition. We booked Vistadome.
  • Booked our bus tickets from the train station at Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes) to the main site. They have limited tickets for each day and it makes sense to buy them ahead of time. We went to their ticket office in Cusco and bought our tickets for the next day. Very quick and convenient.
  • Bought tickets to the entrance of Machu Picchu. Here is their website. You will have to take a printout of your confirmation.
  • Booked a cab to the train station in Cusco. It is about 40 minutes from the main plaza.

What to see/do?

Machu Picchu:

After you get off the train station at Aguas Calientes, you walk through a small marketplace to get to the bus stop. You get on the bus and once it is full, it is only a 20 minutes, beautiful and steep drive to the ruins. To get back, you have to wait at the bus stop outside the ruins and it brings you back the same route.
A customary llama picture at the Inca ruins
There are certified guides outside the archaeological site. You can hire them on per hour basis. It took us 2-3 hours for a brief tour of the ruins. We found a mother-daughter pair who were also looking to hire a guide. So, the four of us hired a guide for ourselves. I believe it is important to know all the history behind these place to be truly able to appreciate it, hence the guides are always very helpful. 
We didn't, but if you plan to hike Wayna Picchu(The tall mountain in the background), you need to get permits well in advance. So, plan accordingly. You can also hike to the sun gate if you have time. Definitely go up to Guardian's hut and take pictures of the beautiful panoramic views.
If you are hiking the Inca trail, your trail guide would guide you at this site as well, so you wouldn't need to hire any guide on your own.


While we were in Cusco acclimatizing, there are a few places worth a visit:
Cathedral in Plaza de Armas
Cathedrals in the Main Plaza: There are two cathedrals in the main plaza. They are very strict on their closing time. Both have beautiful architecture. The sparkling gold plating speaks of the spaniards who had ruled Peru for years. One thing in particular that I found funny was, The Last Supper painting inside one of these cathedrals had a guinea pig instead of a loaf of bread on the table.
Walking around in Cusco
Ruins: Sacsayhuman are popular ruins near the city. We didn't get time to visit them, but they are close to the white jesus statue (similar to the one in brazil, but smaller in size) you can see from the main plaza. They make for a good day trip and you can take a cab to get to them.
Walk around: San Francisco plaza, and the market place around are good places to visit. We walked around in the narrow alleys and felt like we were in Simla! There are many many options to eat and the restaurants are pretty good.

Where to stay?

Machu Picchu: We did not, but if you plan to stay overnight in Machu Picchu, which is a good idea, then you need to book a hotel in Aguas Calientes. The ruins look their best in early morning sunshine and with lesser crowd.
Cusco: We stayed at hotel Tierra Viva, near Saphi and they were very good. 


Cabs in Cusco

  • Use cabs to get around in Cusco, they are dirt cheap and are fun. Some of them are so rickety, that you feel they will fall apart like any moment!
  • Cusco has a plenty of restaurants. Lot of vegetarian options too! Very very touristy place. Do try the triple sandwich(avocado, eggs and cheese) at La Bondiet.
  • We didn't explore much because of my ill health, but there are a lot of options to paraglide, bike, etc.

What happened to me/Health Services

There are two things you need to take care of, first the low oxygen and less humidity and second, the food you eat.

Low oxygen and less humidity

We felt a little trouble with breathing and were running out of breath for about a day, but we felt better in about 24 hours. It isn't that difficult to deal with. Due to less humidity, at times we had nose bleed (very minor), but it wasn't dangerous. Our hotel had oxygen tanks to offer  in case we wanted. We got a prescription for altitude sickness, but didn't really have to use them.


Be very careful with what you eat. Do not eat raw vegetables/fruits. Salmonellosis is very common amongst the tourists and that is exactly what happened to me. I ate something wrong(still don't know what) in either Cusco or Lima. I was feeling uneasy since the second day in Cusco and the night before I had to leave for our trek, I started throwing up and had loosies every 40-45 minutes. So much so that even a sip of water meant I was going to throw up. We called a doctor recommended by our hotel. He came by and examined me. He recommended that I shift to the hospital for a quicker recovery and to be under observation. I felt quite better the next day around afternoon, but stayed in the hospital for one more day just to be sure. I am just thankful that it happened before I had left for the trek as it would have been impossible to manage anything in middle of nowhere.


We had SOS International health insurance. We were fully covered and did not pay a penny from our pockets. The hospital facilities in Cusco were also very good. The rooms were neat and clean and staff was very helpful. The hospital I was in is Clinica Parades. Google translate and sign language helped communicating with the staff as only the doctor knew english, but it wasn't that much of an handicap.


Where to stay?

Lima has safe and unsafe area. Miraflores and San Isidro are the more popular areas with the tourists. We stayed at Radisson, San Isidro. I would recommend it.

What to do/see?

We did not spend much time in Lima. This is a helpful resource. Main attractions that we saw are:

Plaza Mayor(Lima Main Square): 

It is the central area where people love to hang out. It has Presidential Palace on one of the sides. A beautiful cathedral on the other. A lovely fountain in the centre and a lot of colorful buildings on other sides.Best time to visit would be evening.

Inside a cathedral in Plaza Mayor
Presidential Palace

Museum in the convent of San Francisco: 

Catacombs were the highlight of our trip to Lima. It might sound creepy, but I was actually amazed when I saw them. Here is what I am talking about. Yes, real bones! There is a small church next to the monastery and it is pretty cute.

Larco Museum: 

We paid a quick visit to the museum. It wasn't as impressive as I had read online and if you are not much in to museums, I would recommend skipping it. I felt someone with a big bungalow opened a museum as it was located in side a huge house in a residential area.

Magic Water Circuit: 

Water fountain tunnel!
Water fountain park would be its best description. A pretty cute place with lots of different water fountains. My favorite would be the one in which they create a water fountain tunnel and you can walk through it without getting wet. There is a water show every hour, but I had seen something similar before so I didn't really find it very impressive. Nothing extraordinary.


We did not get time to visit Miraflores. It has a very popular beach and is famous for clubbing and nightlife.


  • If you are craving for Indian food, Mantra restaurant is a good choice. Very authentic and delicious indian food. Had to wait for a bit though, but I wouldn't complain. I got Indian food after a week of starving and two days of hospital food!
  • Public transport is pretty good in Lima. But we used cabs as they weren't very expensive and we didn't have much time on our hands.
  • It is a good idea to check for the hours of operation for the museums and churches as some of them close by 5 pm and are not open 7 days a week.

Other places to visit in Peru

  • Lake Titicaca: The highest navigable lake. Overnight trip from Cusco.
  • Nazca Lines: Ancient motifs carved in Nazca desert. A little farther away from Cusco.
  • Choquequirao: Another set of beautiful ruins close to Cusco. A day trip probably.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Turkey (Istanbul, Cappadocia, Pamukkale, Antalya)

Turkey trip was one of the most memorable trips for us. Istanbul is so rich in culture and history that one can spend weeks just in this city. We had initially planned to visit Istanbul and Egypt, but after our trip to Egypt got cancelled because of the protests, we visited Cappadocia, Pamukkale and Antalya in Turkey. Hence our itinerary is not as crisp as I would have liked it to be. Much of this trip was planned on the fly.

Here is our brief itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Istanbul. 
Day 2: Istanbul sightseeing.
Day 3: Istanbul sightseeing.
Day 4: Half day in Istanbul. Fly out to Nevsehir(Cappadocia).
Day 5: Hot air balloon ride and city tour of Cappadocia. Fly out to Istanbul.
Day 6: Early morning flight to Antalya. Spend a day in Antalya.
Day 7: Day trip to Pamukkale.
Day 8: Fly to Istanbul. Fly back to the US

Which airport to fly to?

There are two airports, Ataturk(IST) and Sabiha Gocken airport(SAW). IST is closer to Old Istanbul and this is where I'd suggest you stay as well. Istanbul has a pretty well connected public transport system. But from the airport to the hotel, you may want to take a cab because of all the luggage, or as was in our case, the hotel arranged for a prepaid cab, so that the cab driver doesn't go round and round looking for the place.

What to wear?

Turkey is a very modern country and Istanbul in particular is a very modern city. If you plan to stay in touristy places, wear whatever you are comfortable in. Before I went, I heard that people are mostly conservative about what to wear, but I did not feel that ways. It is like any other city in Europe. Even for Antalya, Cappadocia and Pamukkale, since we guys were mostly in touristy places, it was ok to wear shorts and skirts. 
You just need to make sure your head, shoulders and knees are covered while going to religious places. They usually have robes and scarves to offer outside mosques.

How to travel between various cities?

We traveled between various cities within Turkey via domestic airlines AtlasJet. Since this was an impromptu plan after we canceled our Egypt trip, we didn't have much choice. Of course Turkish airlines is the best option, but Atlas Jet was quite good as well. Apart from these, there are various bus tours operated between other tourist destinations and Istanbul by various travel agencies. We booked our flights on our own.

Some helpful tips!

Turkish lamps
  • Visa: When I traveled, Indian citizens with valid US/UK/Schengen visa could get visa on arrival. 
  • Turkey has amazing ceramic works, beautiful silk carpets, turkish lamps and many artefacts to offer. Do not forget to bargain if you plan to shop.


Before I start rambling about what to see/do/eat here, I must mention how jinxed this trip was. Our flight from SFO to Munich had an emergency landing in Seattle. Then, we couldn't fly out of Seattle for another day. So, we lost a day in Istanbul. Then, protests in Egypt got violent and we had to cancel our entire tour. But well, we got to travel with in Turkey quite a bit and it was totally worth our time!
Talking about Istanbul, a part of this city lies in Europe and a part in Asia! Even culturally, I think this place is a blend of both cultures. The city is separated by Bosphorous canal. To the west is Europe and to the east is Asia. Thankfully, people don't go "Indian? snake charmers?" any more. They go "Indian? Shah Rukh khan? Amitabh Bachhan?" or even "Indian? 3 idiots? engineer?" Turkish people are the friendliest people I have ever seen!

Where to stay 

Our room at Esans Hotel
Most of the posh or upscale hotels are located near the Taksim square, but we avoided that area due to protests going on in Turkey at that time. There are many small scale hotels called Boutique hotels which are also a very good option. We stayed at the Esans hotel and I highly highly recommend them. They are located in Sultanahmet area and this is the touristy area of Istanbul. All the tourist attraction were located at a walking distance and the staff was so courteous and the breakfast so good! Our room even had a beautiful sea view. I would suggest picking a hotel in the Sultanahmet area.

Getting around

Public transport is very convenient but crowded. I think it was the blue line that connected most of the tourist spots. We mostly walked down to the tourist spots in the Sultanahmet area. Taking a cab is not a bad idea as well, just take a prepaid cab and ask your hotel staff for how much it will cost, else you might just end up paying double the fare. Keep a visiting card of your hotel to get back. Since our hotel was in some inner streets, it helped cab drivers to call them and ask for the exact route. 

Where to eat 

Well depends on your dietary restrictions :) But there are plenty of options and most of them are good. We used to just stop by some restaurant and ask if there were any veggie(sabzeli) options. Quite close to our hotel was Abiyik street which had many small European style restaurants. They used to look at us and go Indian? veggie?  This place is quite lively till midnight. The appetizers(hummus) and chai will mostly be offered to you on the house if you pick their restaurant.

What to see/do 

Istanbul has crazy number of options! I will just go ahead and state my itinerary. Plus, I will give you pointers to a few more options. Some of the most important places like Hagia Sophia, Topkapi place are closed on some days. Make sure you figure that out before you plan. Most of the places are very close by. Just get a tourist map and plan your trip. If you do not plan to hire a guide, it may be a good idea to buy the audio guides for some of these places.

Day 1:

Inside Hagia Sophia
Dolmabahce Palace: They have only guided tours and the palace is quite pretty and the most modern palace of the Ottoman Empire. 
Hagia Sophia: This place was a church till about mid 15th century and then converted to a mosque after the Ottomans conquered this place. Just the history of this place impresses you. You can see both mosque and church features inside. A must see. Read all the history about Hagia Sophia.
Hamam: It is a traditional Turkish spa. It was quite relaxing after our 2 day long ordeal with flight delays and cancellations. 

Selfie after a refreshing hamam

Day 2:

Sultanahmet Mosque as seen from Hagia Sophia
Sultanahmet(Blue) Mosque: First, it isn't really that blue! But it is beautiful from the inside. What beautiful and intricate artwork! Tourists are not allowed inside during the prayer times, so take a note of the times. They will provide you robes/scarves to cover your head, shoulders and legs.
Topkapi Palace: A huge palace with lots of jewelry, weapons and clothes exhibit. I found it quite like the palaces in India, and the artwork inside was pretty and nice.
Belly Dancing: We went to Orient house. They have a show from 9 pm - midnight everyday. They show some of the other folk turkish dance before an hour of excellent belly dancing. Then there is some entertainment for another hour or so. Their host was actually quite entertaining. We opted for a "no dinner show" as there weren't any veggie options to eat. It was good fun over all!

Day 3:

Bascilia Cistern
Bosphorous cruise: Just took a ferry ride from Galata bridge to the Bosphorous bridge and back, taking a view of Europe from Asia and Asia from Europe! :)
Bascilia Cistern: Another impressive civil engineering example and a very quick visit worthy.
Grand Bazaar: This is the Palika bazaar of Istanbul. Haggling was so much fun and I loved shopping here.

Other things to see in Istanbul

  • Suleymaniye Mosque and Suleymaniye Hamam
  • Walk around Galata Bridge, Spice bazaar
  • Taksim square: Even during these times of protests, I heard it was quite peaceful to visit these areas. In fact, we met quite a few tourists who had been to Taksim square.
  • Istiklal Street: A very hep place to hang around and chill. We skipped it because we were avoiding the areas close to taksim square.
  • Princes' Islands

Some pointers

Haggle, haggle, haggle in Grand Bazaar
  • Driving in Istanbul is not at all a good idea. 
  • Be careful of pickpockets in public transports and crowded areas. We saw police chase a purse snatcher on the streets. 
  • Euro, Dollar and Lira are both accepted quite widely in Turkey and exchange rate is good. So, pick whatever currency you want. Overall, people are warm and friendly and I love Istanbul :)
  • A very helpful guide from tripadvisor is here.
  • Another set of useful itineraries.
  • Rent audio guides or follow guide books to understand the history and significance of the palaces and mosques.


Our trip to Cappadocia was organised by a tour agency. But, I think it might be do-able on your own if you don't want to get on the standard tours. Since it was a last moment decision to go to Cappadocia, we got a little skeptical to make it DIY(do it yourself) trip. 

Get in

Nevsehir is the closest airport in the region you would want to visit. It takes about an hour to get to the towns where most of the tourists stay. The tourist towns are Goreme and Urgurp. They are cave towns and the hotel you chose will most likely provide you with some transportation options from the Nevsehir airport to their hotel.

Where to stay

Our cave hotel
A cave hotel. It is a different experience and I totally loved it. It is cold and dingy inside and something I had never experienced before. If you are travelling all the way to Cappadocia, might as well choose to stay in a cave hotel. We stayed at the Melis Hotel and it was quite good.

What to do

Breathtakingly beautiful landscape -Cappadocia
Hot air Balloon ride: It was our first time taking a hot air balloon ride and it was so beautiful and totally worth it. The ride gives you a bird's eye view of the amazing landscape this region has. The pilot is able to maneuver the hot air balloon very precisely and we felt very safe. Almost all the tour companies launch their balloons around the same time in the morning. The view of so many balloons in the sky is breathtaking in itself. Choose any company, they would launch around the same time and take you over the same region.

Tour: We did a standard guided tour and it was quite boring like most of the guided tours are. However, I do not know how would you go around the city yourself, if not by a guided tour. It was quite average on the whole and the obligatory stops at the carpet and ceramic factories were very painful. Only good things were a couple of stops at panoramic view of the landscape. Open air museum is interesting too. But it was very hot and our guide wasn't too keen on guiding us, so we were quite bored.


This is a typical beach town and has all the features of a beach resort city. After we went to Cappadocia, we realized that traffic in cities other than Istanbul is not that bad and decided to drive ourselves. Plus, we wanted to explore the city by ourselves and be on our own schedule.

Get in

Antalya airport is around 20-30 minutes away from the beach resort area and I think the best option to get to the hotels would be to take a cab if you don't have your own car.


It is a resort city, so take your pick. Beach hotel, sea view, city view, 4 star, 5 star. you will have a lot of options. We stayed at The Marmara resort. Our room had beautiful views of the Mediterranean sea.

To do

Spend time on the beach. It is Mediterranean waters after all. We took a stroll around the old town(Kaleici) area. Other option would be to go to Aspendos Theater which is about an hour drive from here. Aspendos theater is the most well preserved theater from the roman times. You could also go to Duden falls. We didn't do much as we just wanted to relax and were short on time.


It is a day trip from Antalya. We decided to go here after Sumit realised that the song "Tu Jaane Na" from the movie Ajab Prem ki ghazab Kahani had been shot here and it had some really beautiful locations. 


It is a scenic drive from Antalya to Pamukkale. Thankfully we had a GPS to help us navigate. On our way we stopped at Denizili for lunch and dinner. We enjoyed this trip mostly because we were on our own. We lost our way somewhere in the city's narrow roads and GPS rescued. Had to hunt for veggie food and then communicate the order using sign language. It was quite a memorable experience.


Well, you are going all the way to Pamukkale to go see them, might as well take a dip. It is a national park and a well preserved area, but there are a lot of tourists here. Getting here as early as you can would be a good idea to avoid crowds. There is a roman theater and some ruins just behind the travertines. Once you are done dipping in the travertines, you should go and explore other areas of the park. Remember to be in your bathing suit when you enter this area.  As the restrooms are after you cross the travertines area and it is quite a walk, it will be very inconvenient to go all the way and then change and come back and relax in the pools.
Ruins close to the travertines


Spending a night here in Pamukkale may not be a bad idea as well. Then you can go visit Ephesus too. These are another set of ruins very close to Pamukkale.