Visiting Bodrum, Turkey: Coronavirus Impressions

Filed Under: Travel

I just spent quite a bit of time in Bodrum, Turkey. This was my first attempt at an international trip since the pandemic started, and Turkey is one of the few countries that has no restrictions on who can visit (yes, that even includes Americans).

In this post I wanted to share my impressions of how coronavirus is being handled in Turkey from a tourism perspective. Obviously I’m no doctor or epidemiologist, so all I can share is my perception of things. I took one domestic trip in the US several weeks back, which left me with an unfavorable impression of travel, and I wondered how this trip would compare.

In no particular order, below are my takeaways regarding how coronavirus is being handled in Bodrum from a visitor’s perspective.

How bad is coronavirus in Turkey?

For a bit of context, Turkey claims to have somewhere around 1,000 coronavirus cases per day for the past several weeks.

Given the massively different amount of testing being done around the world (look at the US vs. France, for example), I tend to think deaths is a better indicator of things than confirmed cases.

Turkey reports having ~5,800 deaths with a population of ~82 million, while the US reports having ~163,000 deaths with a population of ~328 million. That means per capita, the US has a reported death rate that’s ~7x higher.

At least that’s what’s being reported. Now, I’m not sure I trust Turkey’s reporting here, and I also find it a bit unusual how consistent cases have been every single day of the week for the past many weeks.

I’m not suggesting things are as they appear, but I figure some rough context for what’s being reported is at least valuable.

I should also mention that Bodrum is the only place we visited in Turkey, and most of the reported cases are from big cities.

What was the process for entering Turkey?

Entering Turkey was seamless. We flew direct from Munich to Bodrum:

  • Turkey doesn’t require any sort of coronavirus testing for arriving passengers
  • We went through one of those temperature monitors on arrival, as you see at many airports, but I’m not sure anyone was even looking at the screen
  • There were no questions at immigration, and we were stamped through faster than I’ve experienced anywhere else (we did get e-visas in advance, which were quick to get, and instantly approved)

So yeah, Turkey is the opposite extreme of Iceland (a system that I prefer), given the lack of testing on arrival, and also given that Turkey will let virtually everyone in.

The process of entering Turkey was seamless

Coronavirus precautions were impressive

I was pleasantly surprised by the precautions being taken in Turkey, and found them to mostly be better than in the US:

  • At the airport all employees had masks on, and most even had face shields
  • Taxi drivers wore their face masks perfectly without exception and rolled down their windows, and one guy even squirted hand sanitizer at us as we entered his car while yelling “corona”
  • Even outdoor malls enforced mask usage when entering
  • When we went to restaurants, when we returned to hotels, and even when we went to outdoor malls, our temperatures were taken
  • When we arrived at our hotels, our suitcases were “disinfected”
  • There were stations with hand sanitizers just about everywhere, and they were always working properly
  • At hotels, all breakfast buffets were replaced by a la carte options, gym usage required appointments as equipment was disinfected between each use, menus were largely replaced by signs with QR codes, etc.
  • For the most part face mask usage among hotel employees was exceptional — at the EDITION Bodrum, for example, every employee wore their face mask perfectly (yes, this includes people working long shifts on the beach in 90 degree weather)

The EDITION Bodrum #maskgoals

Virtually everything in Bodrum is outdoors

We know that the risk of spread of coronavirus is much higher indoors than outdoors, and that’s an area where Bodrum is ideal. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that the only time we were indoors in Bodrum was in our hotel room.

Every single restaurant we went to was outdoors. Beyond that, Bodrum is all about beaches, pools, and the ocean, and those are all outdoors, with plenty of room for distancing.

You really couldn’t pick a better destination if you’re looking to avoid the indoors.

A dinner with distance!

Were other tourists wearing face masks?

Even though Turkey is allowing in foreigners, the tourist demographics for this year’s season have changed drastically. At all the hotels we stayed, 80-90% of guests were Turkish. This is apparently an extreme departure from previous years, where 50%+ of guests were foreigners.

In that sense it was interesting to see the precautions that Turkish guests were taking.

While masks were consistent among those working in most settings, it wasn’t nearly as consistent among guests. While most people had a mask (typically hanging around their arm), I’d say that roughly half of guests were wearing them when walking around in situations where it wasn’t mandated.

While ideally that number would be a bit higher, the reality is that:

  • There was plenty of room for physical distancing across the board
  • The risk of spread outdoors is much lower than indoors, so I can see why mask usage wasn’t necessarily as widespread
  • Even among those not wearing masks, across the board I felt people were aware and considerate, and respected the personal space of others; in other words, nobody tried to walk just inches from you

A typical dinner restaurant in Bodrum

My only other trip since the pandemic started was to national parks back in June, and I thought mask compliance on this trip was much better. I was shocked at the time at the number of people I saw indoors — even those working in businesses (like hiking equipment rental stores) — without masks.

I was disappointed by the lack of easy testing

Even if Turkey isn’t going to mandate that visitors get tested, I was hoping they’d at least make it easy to get tested without symptoms, for those of us who want to err on the side of caution. After all, Istanbul Airport has one of the most impressive testing facilities of any airport in the world. Unfortunately it was a different story in Bodrum.

I had asked a couple of different hotels about the possibility of getting tested, and both said there was one hospital in Bodrum that does testing.

At that point the risk didn’t seem worth it (going indoors into a hospital with people who probably actually are sick). It sure would be nice if Bodrum had more testing options.

I should mention that when I was departing Bodrum Airport they seemed to have a PCR testing facility set up as you enter the airport, but it was closed. Hopefully this is something that’s coming soon.

Bodrum Airport coronavirus testing

Bottom line

Initially I was apprehensive about Turkey essentially having an open door policy to visitors without any sort of testing requirement. I figured “they’ll let anyone in, I guess they just don’t care about this.”

But that wasn’t at all what I observed — instead I found myself impressed by the precautions being taken, and found them better and more consistent than I’ve witnessed in the US.

Turkey seems to be taking the approach of having life go on, but with precautions. Obviously not everyone will agree with that, though in many ways this trip provided a glimpse of how things could be in terms of a return to normal(ish).

I’ll specifically say that at the EDITION Bodrum (which I’ll be reviewing shortly) I felt more comfortable than in any other hospitality setting I’ve visited since the pandemic started. Mask compliance among employees was phenomenal, as were all of the other precautions.

Personally I felt the situation was being handled significantly better in Bodrum than on my trip to Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, back in June.

Everyone has to decide for themselves what they’re comfortable with in terms of travel. This is by no means me telling everyone they should travel internationally, or to Turkey. But I will say that Bodrum exceeded my expectations in terms of precautions.

Comments
  1. Very interesting update on travel in the COVID-era Ben. I’m going to UK next week for family event, need to quarantine for 15 days on arrival – not looking forward to it.

    Where did you go after Turkey, presumably still not many countries with low rates welcoming Americans? Does it make any difference if you were in Turkey for 14 days beforehand, presumably you could use your German passport, not sure about Ford?

  2. Love it Ben! As the world keeps moving toward normalcy and personal risk decisions, the update is great! Hope you are having a wonderful trip (jealous of the dinners!)- pay no attention to the eventual virtue signaling mob that will invade your website. We are heading to St Thomas- same mindset, precautions and logic can allow for somewhat normalcy 🙂 Was so nice having a trip report to read for the first time in months

  3. Very comforting to read this. Going to book a stay at the EDITION for October today. Looking forward to the review soon!

  4. Testing positive as a tourist in an even mildly unfriendly foreign country, where you can’t be sure what they will do with you upon getting the result, is a risk I would try to avoid.

  5. I also traveled to Turkey last week (Istanbul and Prince Islands) and found the same thing. Very strict adherence to temperature taking, disinfecting hands when entering any store, restaurant or hotel, and everyone was wearing masks (mostly medical masks, very few wore the cloth masks which I think makes a big difference).

    I stayed at St. Regis and Park Hyatt in Istanbul. The former was a bit more lax (spa and gym fully open with no restrictions and staff could enter the room). The Park Hyatt was empty, I might have been the only guest there (I never saw another guest there the entire stay). Staff could not enter the room and spa was closed but gym open.

    At Istanbul airport the PCR testing was available. Line seemed to be about 30 minutes long and cost was 210 TL (approx 30 USD) for non-Turkish citizens and results within 2 hours. It could be a good option when flying from Turkey to a country that requires 48 or 72 hr covid testing like Croatia.

  6. @V., not really terribly surprising actually, given the very young population (average age 31.5) in Turkey, and the evidence from this trip report that the population is taking this seriously. To provide another example where you might believe the death count, Canada has about half the population of Turkey and has had about the same number of fatalities, however, the average age in Canada is 40.8 and the average age of a covid fatality there is well over 80. Life expectancy in Turkey is 77, so most of the people who have died in Canada would have already died from another cause if they lived in Turkey. Turkey’s fatality rate is about what could be expected based on all of the demographic information.

  7. @farnorthtrader: we have a similar experience in my country. Average age of almost 90 for deaths, which is 7-8 older than average life expectancy. As far as I know only two people in their forties have died and none below. Long term effects of an infection is of course an issue.

    @Lucky: thank you for an informative post. However, as every other country in the world uses Celsius and not Fahrenheit referring to temperatures in the nineties is always confusing. Luckily this can easily be converted online. Question: would you want to come back to Turkey during the pandemic, or would you prefer to hold off till things start normalising?

  8. I have a ticket on United to Zurich next month. Will they let me board the plane in the US if I show them I have a ticket to Turkey and don’t leave the airport?

  9. @Joe, yes. I flew MEX-FRA-IST on LH/TK separate tickets and had no problem (they even checked bags through).

  10. Looking at the relative comparisons on testing and deaths per one million population, the US is ranked 19th worldwide in testing per million, France is very far behind at 62nd worldwide in tests per million. Turkey is a bit further back than that at 69th. In deaths per million, the US is 10th in deaths per million (high yet still a lower rate than 5 Western Europe countries and 2 European city-states) while France is slightly behind at 12th. Turkey is faring much better at 57th worldwide.

  11. People in Turkey aren’t dying of coronavirus. They are dying of the flu, pneumonia, renal failure, diabetic complications, and respiratory problems like people always die from each year. If you get appendicitis, it is now called complications from coronavirus in the “United” States.

  12. so is this true even with connections? I’m looking at US GATEWAY like SFO – IST – BJV. Is there no testing requirement on arrival or for transit before the domestic leg of IST – BJV. Its only a 2hr layover, so was worried about the timing if test required

  13. Thanks Ben for the update!
    @John for the UK visit, is it supposed to be a 15 day quarantine or 14 day? Unless your trip is 15 days, I’m not sure.

    We are also planning to visit family in the UK in a few weeks but thought that we need to quarantine for 14 days? But also, the flight I’m looking at going there goes through Frankfurt as a transit for 5 hours. Are we going to be tested on arrival even though we are only transiting?

    Any help is appreciated!

  14. @Joe, I flew through ZRH twice in the last six weeks. Long haul flights arrive/depart the D concourse there. If the flight to Turkey does not depart from the D concourse you would have to enter the Schengen area in order to go to your gate. As an American they won’t let you through and you will be forced to go somewhere that departs from the D concourse. I witnessed them turn away a Canadian couple going to Portugal, even though Portugal was accepting Canadians. Since Switzerland wasn’t, they wouldn’t let them transit to the other concourse for their connecting flight. Same for another guy going to Greece. The police forced the airlines they came in on to return them to countries of origin. However, since flights to Serbia departed the D concourse, they all ended up booking flights there instead and the police were happy with that. Of course things could have changed since July 1st. Turkish and Corendon use D but Edelweiss, Veuling, Eurowings, and some of the others do not.

  15. @Joe I flew JFK-ZRH-IST early last month without issue. I flew Swiss to Zurich and Turkish to Istanbul. The agent at JFK had no problem checking me in and both flights left from the same non-Schengen terminal. If the situation is the same as last month and you are on a single reservation all the way to Istanbul it should be fine.

  16. I’m all for mask wearing and social distancing, and I don’t really mind that responsible and careful people are traveling but this:
    “When we went to restaurants, when we returned to hotels, and even when we went to outdoor malls, our temperatures were taken”
    seems a step too far, especially considering that only a small percentage of all infections ever present a high fever and those that do can just take an ibuprofen. Did you ask to see the hotel policy on what would happen if the temp reading is high? Assuming you’ve already checked in and all your stuff is in the room, how would you retrieve it? Does the establishment in question need to contact local authorities to quarantine you in a government facility until you’ve shown 2 negative results? The way I read the above precaution is that you are risking the next few days (at least) of your freedom every time you try to enter a business, which is an absurd risk to take. And that risk is contingent on a person with no medical training using a $10 device they bought at the Turkish version of Walgreens. Seems insanely risky.

  17. @EliteSeatMeat Turkey is not part of Schengen so ALL flights to Turkey leave from Terminal D, the only non-Schengen terminal currently in operation. A flight to Portugal would require you to enter the Schengen zone at ZRH, a very different situation than a non-Schengen to non-Schengen connection like USA to Turkey via ZRH, or to Serbia for that matter, also a non Schengen country.

  18. Honestly I am jealous.

    I am just back from my 5am exercise. I live in Melbourne. We are allowed out to exercise for 1 hour per day and only 5km from home.

    I would love to be in Europe right now, I am almost certain there is ZERO chance we can leave the country (maybe even state) this year.

  19. I think Ben is not telling the whole truth. Turkish authorities ARE NOT reporting accurate numbers on COVID deaths. My Turkish friends grand mother died from COVID and the authorities bribed the family to accept different cause of death. Only idiots believe what Turks are reporting

  20. @ Samantha…your imagination.

    @ Jackson Henderson…good call out on what’s coded as a Coronavirus death. Saw article yesterday where a roofer in FL was struck by lightning fell to ground, fractured skull, etc. but was tested and found positive for Coronavirus and that was what was listed in the Coronavirus death stats. I’m guessing we are the only country that counts people that died WITH Coronavirus. And there are numerous and clear cases where the presence of the Coronavirus has Ø to do with the death.

    @Alan… nice breakdown. Belgium, Italy, England, Spain are all ahead of the US in deaths per million we are only just ahead of France and those number also in include death WITH Coronavirus of which is questionable. Testing is so critical and as you point out many countries are not testing as much as us so of course their numbers will look better with regard to that figure. It should be known that “cases” are positive tests so if someone gets multiple tests for whatever reason and they care positive they are all listed as a case.

    @ Ben…Cannot wait for your reviews. Have Turkey on my list because of your trip.

  21. We stayed at the Bodrum Edition in October — we love that place! at the pool And beach we loved the gal with spiky Grey hair… Did you meet her? Wish I remembered her name- very cool! The breakfast were out of this world with a view that did not stop . Glad you had a good time We hope to return soon in the not too distant future if Travel allows

  22. Glad you had a wonderful time. I live in Bodrum. The locals here have been largely compliant. Businesses even hesitated when they’d been given the greenlight to reopen after the lockdown. Local tourists however prefer to rent villas with pools and a private beach. The best way, is to do a blue cruise on private charter- with or without a pandemic.

  23. @ Jd — Happy you had a great stay as well! I know exactly who you’re talking about, she was great. Much like you, this is a property I plan to return to. 🙂

  24. @ Adam — To be clear, I’m not suggesting Turkey’s numbers are accurate. All I did is share what is being reported for some general context.

  25. Just came back from Riviera Maya… the exact same experience. Granted, we didn’t leave the resorts, but felt very safe.

  26. @ HappyPrime23 — You’re right to be concerned by that, and it’s a further risk of travel at the moment, and something people should consider. I addressed things along similar lines in the last installment.

    Regarding your statement that “only a small percentage of all infections ever present a high fever,” can you back that up? Virtually every study I’ve seen suggests that at a minimum a majority of people who have coronavirus have a fever at some point, with some studies saying 80%+. Of course checking temperatures isn’t as useful as a PCR test, but it seems better than nothing.

  27. @ jason — There’s no testing required even for an itinerary like that. If you do want to get tested at IST, I’d recommend leaving a longer layover.

  28. @ Wilhelm — That’s a tough question, and I’d say my answer depends on the circumstances. Will I return to Turkey in the next several months? No, probably not. I absolutely want to go back to Bodrum in the not-too-distant future, but I’m not sure I need to go again in the coming months.

    If someone decided they wanted to travel internationally in the coming months, would I recommend Bodrum? Generally I’d say yes, at least based on my experience. But it also depends on where they’re coming from, how they’d fly there, etc.

    Initially I was apprehensive about flying so far, though to me the whole flying experience felt incredibly safe. There was one other business class passenger on our transatlantic flight to Europe, and four other business class passengers on our transatlantic flight back. With the amount of space we had to ourselves, we couldn’t have felt safer.

  29. I love your site, but this whole trip was irresponsible, selfish, and just careless. The world is in a terrible pandemic. The last thing anyone should be thinking of right now is leisure travel. This pandemic will never end at this rate. I appreciate that you personally took great care, but to go through multiple countries on three different flights to get there should have been enough to discourage this. Just for the thrill of taking a trip? I agree with you on almost everything almost all of the time, but this trip was a disgrace in my opinion. When the world starts to heal then we start taking leisure trips again. But for now, anyone taking leisure trips is just being completely selfish. My own opinion.

  30. @Sam — UK quarantine is advertised as “14 days“ but if flying direct from North America you (currently) have no choice but to arrive in the morning and the day of arrival doesn’t count. So in practice it’s 15 days.

  31. @CMC, but you do understand this is a airline/hotel review travel site? What Lucky is doing is reviewing what it is like to travel during Covid time… ie this is a business travel for him. This is what he does for a living. Now if someone who’s traveling for leisure, I would have a problem with that. Since this is essentially a business travel, the information here is useful for people who have to travel for either business or family emergency (especially to Bodrum). Now I do get there is a pleasure component to this business trip but I don’t think Lucky is encouraging people to take European holidays from Miami/US. That’s on each individual to decide unfortunately.

  32. Ben, thanks for the response. I should have probably reworded the phrase that you quoted me on: “only a small percentage of all infections ever present a high fever” to something like “only a small percentage of all infections present a high fever”

    I had seen fever numbers around 70% but using your 80% is fine. I think of it this way, if we could magically identify this instant all the infected individuals in the world, how many of them would, at this instant, present a high fever? And how many of those high fever people are actually trying to get into malls and restaurants? Well, no one knows but once you remove the pre-symptomatics, remove the probably >40% that will remain asymptomatic, remove the 20-30% of symptomatics that don’t develop a fever, remove the folks that have a lower fever, remove the responsible high fever people that are self isolating, remove the folks that know they have high fever but decide to be dicks and take an ibuprofen to skirt the temp scanners anyway…the percentage of identifiable risky customers has to become quite low such that I’d be more worried about false positives than any sort of protection those temp scanners provide to customers. That’s just not a risk I’m willing to take in a foreign country, especially one that has questionable human rights practices.

    That said, I’m clearly more uptight about this than others. I’m glad you enjoyed your trip and were able to remain safe.

  33. hmm, seems you can’t embed a word in the symbols… the reworded phrase should have been “only a small percentage of all current infections currently present a high fever”

  34. @John, thanks for your reply, so I understand now that day of arrival doesn’t count, but how about departure day, is that qualified as day 14? Basically my trip might be from Aug 24 to Sept 8, is that sufficient? Also, if you can provide a link to the quarantine rules please?

    Thanks again!

  35. @John and anyone else, this is from the gov.uk travel site:

    Coronavirus (COVID-19): how to self-isolate when you travel to the UK
    When you arrive in the UK, you will not be allowed to leave the place where you’re staying for the first 14 days you’re in the UK (known as ‘self-isolating’) unless you’re arriving from an exempt country.

    This is because it can take up to 14 days for coronavirus symptoms to appear. If you’re travelling to the UK for less than 14 days, you will be expected to self-isolate for the length of your stay.

    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-how-to-self-isolate-when-you-travel-to-the-uk/coronavirus-covid-19-how-to-self-isolate-when-you-travel-to-the-uk

  36. Unfortunate that a trip review turned into a covid response review … we did not hear anything about the fantastic environment, hotel, service, food, and most of all the amazing friendliness and playfulness of the Turkish people!

  37. I’m in Turkey right now. I’m American. And me and my family have had a wonderful time over the past two weeks. And so are several thousand British families lol. The Turkish riviera is packed with British families. It feels like old times before the pandemic. Well, besides the masks wearing, temperature checks and hand sanitizer. But if you are wanting to travel this year, I highly recommend Turkey. Their mentality is, “life must go on during COVID.” And all the museums are open. Overall, the locals and tourist in Turkey are living their normal lives with faces masks. It feels great. Much better atmosphere than America.

  38. I think anyone reading this thinking that Turkey is a-ok to take a vacation should really reconsider. The numbers are too uniform and yea sure you can try to look at the death numbers, but guess what? Those numbers are coming from the government too. This is not a free society and it is rather foolish to trust that the government is being honest when the numbers look soo uniform and don’t really track with what we have seen in other places. Use some commonsense. The fact that they are allowing americans in should be the first red flag.

  39. @ Bill — a) Like I said, I’m not suggesting anyone should trust the numbers, but also, could the situation be worse than in the US? b) While Turkey is allowing in Americans, the reality is that most of the tourists they’re getting are either domestic or from the EU, while I saw very few Americans. c) The country actually is taking very good precautions within the context of tourism, and that’s not just my experience, but also the experience of several others who have commented above.

    I’m not at all saying that everyone should pack their bags and travel to Turkey right now. Rather I’m saying that if you’re going to travel anyway, and if you’re aware of the general risks of international travel, then Turkey might not be a bad option.

  40. The so call Turkish Miracle, it’s no mystery, they had a pandemic plan , months before Covid hit, they had been building a strong sanitary. Infrastructure for years and the used comprehensive medical treatments the moment patients exhibited sings of infections, as well as extensive testing . As Ben I’m vacationing a month in Bodrum bay. My impressions are the same., though I avoid weekends due to crowding. I feel safer here than in Europe!

  41. Genise says:
    July 21, 2020 at 1:54 pm
    @ Ben: As far as I can tell, you didn’t respond to BLB’s question: “Just curious … does your travel medical insurance policy cover expenses for C19-related claims should you be hospitalized out of the USA?
    The fine print in all policies I’ve read clearly state coverage is excluded for foreign travel during a declared pandemic. You get C19 and rack up a huge medical bill when abroad, you pay.
    What insurance company do you use?”

    I believe it’s a great question and very important in this C19-time to have the right insurance policy.
    I cannot imagine you have an EU/Turkey policy since that’s only available as a local resident (as I have found out by trial and error).
    I am headed across the pond from the W-Coast in 10 days (EU pp) and still have to find an applicable (yearly) policy.
    Could you please enlighten us travelers from the US ? – it would be greatly appreciated !

    BTW… this is the third time I’m asking – together with some other posters like mauipeter

  42. Thanks for the review Ben!

    We already had our flights booked to Turkey from the USA in a week’s time (went for LH via FRA over TK direct due to the soft product issues on TK right now) and were just about to push the button the reservation at EDITION in Bodrum. Your detailed review of how they are approaching the pandemic was helpful in convincing us to finally making the reservation!

    We’re hopeful your upcoming review of the hotel will be a positive one – we just spent all of our remaining Bonvoy points on a 5 night stay!!

  43. I have just arrived back to Istanbul from a week’s vacation in Cesme on the coast to get some swimming done in those beautiful waters.
    Arrived originally in to Istanbul from the UK where I am a resident for the last 50-odd years. At Istanbul airport masks and sanitizers everywhere as well as temperature screening and passenger location forms to be filled in.
    Reading the various comments on infection/fatality rates in Turkey I can only add how serious the authorities are handling the pandemic…ergo substantially lower rates than anywhere in Europe..even if stated figures might well not be totally accurate. But considering a population of 82 million with – I guess with some 10-15 000 fatalities -this falls FAR below the UK rates at 46 000 (!) with a population of 65 million.
    An interesting fact: anyone stopped by the police not wearing a mask anywhere ( including the outdoors) will automatically face a fine of TL900 (£110)…when disputing or argueing this rises to TL1300. If no cash or c/cards a night in the cells is offered!
    PS: At times I prefer some “authoritative “ measures being taken if that means my life is in less danger to be cut short….no times right now for pleading ‘ personal freedoms’ etc…etc. Turkey is a wonderful interesting hospitable country..GO!… and the most favourable conversion rate ever allows you to life in luxury!!

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