Turkey is truly the meeting place of Europe and the Middle East. Although, generally, Turkey is considered a middle eastern country, its main hub Istanbul has a European feel with old world charm. This bustling city is a doorway into a country that has two distinct sides. Turkey is rapidly entering the modern world, and may very soon be part of the European Union. This will take the country into a new phase and could open its doors even wider to tourism and economic growth. Turkey is a wonderful place to visit--whether walking through the old city of Istanbul or strolling down the ancient streets of Ephesus, you begin to understand what an important crossroads Turkey has been throughout history. Turkey Information Population: 65.7 million Government: Federal Republic Square Miles: 483,260 sq mi (779,452 sq km) Capitol: Ankara (pop 3.7 million) Official Language: Turkish People: Turks (85%), Kurds (12%), other Islamic peoples, Armenians, Jews Religion: Muslim Major products/industries: Agriculture, motor vehicles, petroleum, engineering, tourism Traveling in Turkey Turkish airlines can fly you to most all Turkish cities, but there are other cheaper ways to move around Turkey. Turkish buses are good way to travel through the country--they are cheap, comfortable, and they go everywhere. Trains are a good value if you plan on traveling long distances overnight, if you can get a sleeping compartment, but they don't travel as frequently or cheaply as buses. If you plan are driving, make sure you have plenty of insurance and nerves of steel. Turkish drivers are famous for their speed and aggressiveness, so driving is not recommended. Taxis are recommended over driving, but if you do happen to be driving and want to avoid getting behind the wheel more than you have to, there are automobile ferries that can bring you down the coast during the summer. Weather in Turkey Turkey is a great place to travel in the "shoulder" seasons of spring and fall, when the weather along the coast is best. In the summer the weather can be uncomfortably hot and in the winter the coastal areas are essential closed. Turkish Cuisine Most places in Turkey you'll find cuisine not unlike that in the United States. Chicken and lamb seem to be on all menus, often heavily tenderized and breaded. Entrees don't tend to have heavy sauces on them, but that doesn't mean they don't have a lot of taste. Most meats or poultry in Turkey are prepared with a lot of spices, which gives the food some flare. On the whole, restaurant meals are reasonably priced, and if you plan on eating out in Istanbul, finding a good inexpensive meal usually means little more than walking down the block from your hotel (hotel restaurants are typically overpriced and less representative of true local cuisine). What to Know TurkeyThere is a lot to see and do in Turkey and it is best to research where you would like to go beforehand. It is a large country and seeing what you want in one visit may not be possible, but making sure you get to see Istanbul as well as some of the famous historical sites like Esphesus or Troy should be high on the list.
Cross the Rio Grande heading south and you'll enter the United States' southern neighbor Mexico. Mexico is a land of many contrasts, from the northern desert to the rainforests of Chiapas, and everything in between. This is a country filled with history and culture--one look at the Mayan ruins is testament to that--but it is also rife with isolated beaches, towering volcanoes, and glitzy resorts in places like Acapulco and Cancun. Whatever your passion, you'll likely find it in Mexico. Mexico City is one of the largest urban areas in the world (behind Tokyo and New York), and among the most congested. If ever there was a metropolis that represented the melding of ancient and modern, Mexico City is that place: remnants of colonial Mexico share space with soaring skyscrapers; the Plaza de la Constitución--the city's historical center--is paved with stones looted from the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlán. Mexico City is situated directly on top of that ransacked Aztec capital, which itself was built on an island in a now reclaimed lake. This means that much of modern Mexico City is slowly sinking into the landfill and swamp on which it stands. The Baja Peninsula is characterized by its beautiful beaches, serene harbors, and often dramatic shoreline. Throughout history, Baja epitomized the notion of the "Old West," harboring mercenaries and outlaws. But modern Baja has become a tourist destination for whale watchers, kayakers, sailors, and more. Some historical interests include Loreto, with its Spanish mission history and offshore national park; and Sierra de San Francisco's pre-Columbian rock art. La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur, known for its outstanding beaches, and Sierra de la Laguna is an ecologist's and hiker's paradise. The Yucatán Peninsula is a diverse collection of archaeological sites, colonial cities, tropical rainforest, seaside activities, and energetic nightlife. The region's Mayan ruins include Uxmal and Chichén Itzá. Tourists flock to the white-sand Caribbean beaches at Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, and Cancún. Traveling in Mexico Citizens of most countries don't require visas to enter Mexico as tourists. However, if you plan to stay longer than 72 hours, or are traveling to certain exempted areas, you must obtain a 180-day Mexican government tourist card (tarjeta de turista), available from embassies or at border crossings for a fee. Because of its size flying is still one of the best ways to get around Mexico. Most flights are reasonably priced, and the alternative of taking a bus can be an uncomfortable ride. If you are going to fly around the country, make sure to check the timetables for your flights as many of the airlines are small carriers that change their schedules often. Buses are another option in Mexico; the system is extensive, but the rides can vary. Some buses are nicely air-conditioned and comfortable, while others are not. If you don't get a "modern" bus you could be in for a long uncomfortable ride. Fortunally most of the major routes have newer facilities. You can rent a car, but it is wise to know some Spanish and have a lot of patience if you do plan on driving yourself. On a note of warning, the massive influx of tourism has introduced some bad elements to Mexico. Crime has risen to critical levels. Rarely a year goes by when you don't hear about some terrible crime inflicted upon tourists in Mexico. This doesn't tell the whole story as petty crimes like pickpocketing are common, but so are rape and assault. Robbery seems to be the worst, and there are few places you can go where you don't have to be cautious: taxis robberies, muggings at ATM machines, and purse snatching are all prevalent. There are also reports of credit card fraud and armed robberies. Most of these are reported in or around Mexico City, but if you are traveling throughout the country, it's best to stay near the main tourist routes. Weather in Mexico Because of its location, Mexico is a nice place to visit year-round. The most pleasant time to visit is between October and May. From May to September tends to be hot and humid, especially in the south, while December through February is much colder inland. Mexico Information Population: 100,400,000 Government: Federal republic Square Miles: 758,866 sq mi (1,958,200 sq km) Capitol: Mexico City (pop 22 million) Official Languages: Spanish and indigenous languages People: 60% mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian descent) and 30% Amerindian (indígena - including Nahua, Maya, Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Totonacs, and Tarascos or Purépecha) Religion: 90% Roman Catholic, 6% Protestant Major products/industries: Food and beverages, tobacco, chemicals, iron and steel, petroleum, mining, textiles, clothing, motor vehicles, consumer durables, tourism