We’ve been travelling around turkey for the past three weeks and have relied heavily on bus travel to get around. Travel books have great info, but there are a couple of more things to think about when dealing with buses in Turkey.
First, there are several companies that serve various routes. Pamukkale, KamilKoc and Metro are the big ones. There are several more depending on where you are and where you’re going. If you don’t see the bus time you want, or if a bus is full, check with another company. Prices are fairly set so I don’t think it’s worth negotiating down. If you are booking through a tour operator, hotel or another reseller they will most likely book through another company, most likely one of the above.
It’s important to ask what type of bus you’ll be taking. There are big coach buses, older buses, and minibuses. Ideally you want to be on a big coach bus, often referred to as a big bus. There is usually wifi and tv (turkish only) on big buses, but I haven’t been on one yet with power. One did have USB outlets but was unable to charge the iPad. Minibuses and older buses may not have air conditioning, so it’s important to ask. Big buses have the smoothest ride and the most legroom. If you don’t like the bus you’re getting at the time you want, see if there’s another time with a better bus or go to another company. Always get your ticket from someone behind a desk. There will be plenty of people trying to sherpa you here and there, but just go right to the desk. At some otogars there are valets to help you. They may appear to be trying to sell you something. Just ask the right questions and you’ll be fine. Turkish people are very nice and very helpful.
The bus may make a lot of stops. We were on a minibus from Denizli to Fethiye and the bus stopped for anybody along the road. It was nuts! People would be waiting on the road no more than 50 meters away from each other and the bus would pull up, slow down, see if anybody needed to get on. Also, some buses will stop at rest areas every 45 minutes to an hour for breaks. On our way to Selcuk we had to stop at a rest area for 15 minutes even though we were only five minutes out from our destination. Ask if it is a direct bus and how many stops it will make. Usually the big coaches are better than the minibuses in terms of stopping. If possible, just avoid minibuses. The ride will most likely be bumpy as well unless it is a newer minibus or a tourist minibus.
Seats are assigned on buses, so ask for a seat up in the front. Some bus companies have seat maps so you can see where you’ll be seated. You don’t need to rush onto the bus, just put your bags on, get on, and find your seat. Everyone is very nice and will gladly help you out. You’ll also get tea or coffee on the bus with a snack. If the bus is really bumpy don’t get anything hot. You’ll probably spill it, need to drink it really quickly, than have to go to the bathroom. Most buses don’t have bathrooms (they do make a lot of stops, so don’t worry, but some restrooms cost 1TL). Another funny thing is that on minibuses in small towns there will be guy walking up and down with lemon or rose oil for your hands. A nice little refresher!
Dolmuses are fantastic. These are little vans that go around towns to pick people up and drop them off along the way. They are extremely cheap, extremely frequent and should be leveraged. They are just as good as taxis and cost a lot less. They are great within cities to get to more remote areas and to travel among smaller towns. They are great on the Turqouise coast to explore different beaches. Essentially, you just wait outside on the road in the direction you want and a van with people will pull up. Hotel, pensyon and guest house operators are very helpful with Dolmus transport. Depending on where you are on the Lycian way you could even send your bags ahead to be picked up by your next stop.
If you stick with the big buses and know your options bus travel in Turkey is a great and economical way to get around. Always bring earplugs and an eyemask, especially on night buses. There will always be a crying baby and someone reading with the light on.