A Foolproof Guide for Getting around Istanbul

in Turkey and Turkish culture

A mini-van is one way to travel around Turkey

Have dolmuş, will travel!


Okay, it’s quiz time! What do New Delhi, Istanbul and Port-au-Prince have in common? If you said massive amounts of people and legendary traffic jams, you’re on the right track.

These cities are home to the shared taxi, the best way to get from point A to B without breaking the bank or getting hopelessly tied up in traffic.

Contrary to what the name implies, a Turkish dolmuş (DOLE-mush, stuffed) is anything but cramped. In fact, compared to the Indian tap-tap, the Haitian tuk-tuk and the Kenyan matutu, a ride in a Turkish dolmuş is relatively tame. You don’t have to hang out windows, worry about bouncing off the truck bed, or share a seat with livestock.

Trust me, I’ve done all three. The dolmuş is a piece of cake in comparison.

Seeing as how my kids and I will be spending the summer in Turkey, I figured I’d better refresh myself on dolmuş etiquette.

Wanna’ come along for the ride?

Your Fool-proof Guide to Dominating the Dolmuş

    Step 1: Make sure you’ve spotted a dolmuş and not a regular taxi. If there’s a placard on the dashboard with a destination – say, Besiktaş-Taksim, for example – you’ve found a dolmuş. Unlike a regular taxi, a dolmuş services a fixed route, hence the placard.

    Step 2: Get clear on the cash! To find out how much the fare is, you tell the driver your destination and ask “Ne kadar?” (NAY kadar, how much?).
    Step 3: Climb into a vacant seat. Standard etiquette for a mini-van dolmus is three passengers in the last row, three in the middle row and two up front next to the driver. If it’s a taxi dolmus, only one passenger may ride up front.
    Step 4: Pay your fee. It’s like “pass the baton”, only with money. Hand your TL (Turkish lira) to the driver or to a passenger in front of you. That person will pass it on to the driver and then pass any change back to you. If you’re traveling in a group, simply multiple the fare by the number of people.
    Step 5: Say “Dur!” (DER, stop) to signal to the driver when you want to get off.

See? I told you it was easy! :-) Now, getting off a boat in Turkey, not so much.

Come back here next week and see for yourself.

wandering educators January 16, 2013

Fantastic tips – and as a person who needs transportation because of my disabilities, extremely pertinent info. thanks!

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Justine Ickes April 2, 2012

Go for it, Liz! And if it helps, I’ll be in Turkey this summer so we can “do the dolmus” together! :-) I remember when I broke out of the ectoplasm a few years ago. My husband and kids went up to his hometown on the Black Sea while I stayed in Istanbul on my own. It was great! I walked all over and really had a chance to experience the city on my own terms. One of the best parts was (re)introducing my husband to hidden gems in the city that he didn’t know about or that he hadn’t visited in years.

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Liz Cameron April 2, 2012

OK, I am going to have to do it this year. So far, M and fam are super protective and I don’t go anywhere on my own. Time to break out of the ectoplasm!!! Really, I mean, I am a solo world traveler, it can’t be that bad! :) Thanks for this great post.

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Justine Ickes March 29, 2012

Great point, Leesa. Fortunately, I’ve never experienced anything like what you describe when I’ve used shared taxis in Istanbul. But you’re point is well-taken. When traveling in a place or country that you’re not familiar with, it’s always a good idea to check in with locals and ask them about whether it’s safe to use local transport.

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Leesa March 18, 2012

Shared taxis make sense – a reasonably-priced way to get around and also to interact with local people. But my time in Honduras taught me to steer clear of the shared taxis there. Many local folks use this system but it continues to be a security risk. Getting into a taxi that already has a few people in it can be a pleasant and less-expensive way to get to your destination or it could turn out to be a trap, where the driver (sometimes willingly, other times by force) participates with some passengers to rob and sometimes hurt other passengers.

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