Frequently Asked Questions
What time of year are your trips?
The Balyolu season runs from May-September with trips available every week. Please be sure to book your trip at least 2 weeks prior to departure (much earlier the better, we run out of space!). We do not operate other times of the year because the region is chilly, and we are busy developing new products and ideas.
When should I go?
The main months of operation for Balyolu are broken into three sub-seasons:
May/June (Spring): During the spring, there is minimal honey tasting (honey’s are harvested from previous seasons), but the reason explodes in colors of green, flowers, animal migrations and life. This is a beautiful time to visit the region and see villages bustling, baby animals, work with bees, cheese, and animals. This is ideal for photography and for visiting Turkey as the temperatures are not yet too hot.
July (Summer): The season’s first honey becomes available, but even more than honey July is best for trekking, for observing life in high meadows, and for working actively with bees.
August/September (Fall): The fall is the prime time for honey harvests. Guests join for harvesting honey, tasting honey, and watching the beekeepers at work! During the time, the region is drier, with most flowers grasslands past their bloom. Bird and animal migrations begin, and shepherds come down from the highlands to begin preparing for the long winter months ahead.
Which trip should I join?
Before choosing your trip, decide what season you would like to join us for (Are you a photographer hoping to catch a stunning shot of shepherds across rolling green meadows? Are you here for the honey, wanting to participate in a harvest?) Depending on your interests, some seasons are a better fit than others. Balyolu also offers four types of trips a long weekend trip (The Tasting Trip, which gives a quick taste of the region’s food, culture, and beautiful sights), a longer honey trip (The Full Honey Expedition, which is an 8-day uncharted honey hunt across the region, hunting for the best tastes the region has to offer), a photo trip (The Sweet Photo Expedition, an intimate 8-day photography expedition with NYT Photographer David Hagerman), and a trekking adventure (The Tasting Trek, which is a guided challenging trek over some of the most beautiful hikes and climbs the region has to offer).
I am allergic to bees, should I come?
Our trips do involve working with bees, spending time with bees, being around bees. There is always an option to not participate with the beekeeping component if you ever feel uncomfortable. However the nature of the region is one where stinging can happen, and allergies are a serious concern not to be taken lightly. You are ultimately in charge of your own health. Please research into allergy risks before signing up for a trip, and come prepared with medication and an epi-pen if you believe you are at any personal risk. We highly advise people with allergies to consider this is a hands-on rural village immersion experience and to proceed with care.
I have eating and dietary restrictions (no gluten, no dairy, no meat, no sugar…), can I still come?
Balyolu trips and meals are based on a local village diet. This includes many grains, wild herbs and plants, vegetables, cheese, milk, yogurt, butter, eggs, breads, honey, fruit, nuts, and at times lamb, chicken, fish, and beef. Meals are prepared in the villages, and are selected for their authenticity, their traditional origins, and their uniqueness (very few of our prepared dishes could ever be found in a restaurant). Vegetarian options are almost always available, but we cannot accommodate gluten-free substitutions for breads/pasta/dough products, or dairy-free substitutions for yogurt/cheese/butter.
What languages are spoken on the trip?
The main languages of our trips are Turkish and English, however our villagers speak a number of local languages and dialects specific to our region.
What are the accommodations like?
During the first and last night of every adventure, we sleep in a boutique hotel (Karsotel) in the Kars city center. For our longer trips, we spend some of the middle nights in hotels and bungalows, interspersed with traditional village homestays. With our long weekend tasting trips, the middle nights are spent in village homes. In a village home, our guests have their own private room. A bathroom is shared with the main family, as are living quarters. Our program places an emphasis on working with rural families for a reason – we want to give you an authentic experience and we want to support village families to have access to compelling new opportunities right in their villages. We don’t want to build up hotels. We don’t want to have you stay in big impersonal homes. We want to offer you something truly unique – and by staying with a rural family, you see a side of Turkey you would never get the chance to see. With that, we do ask that all guests are respectful, mindful, and open to a different style of living.
What kind of travel insurance do you provide?
Included in our trips, we offer basic travel coverage through Zurich travel insurance. We do encourage our guests to obtain additional travel insurance and check with their travel insurance coverage for international supplements. Our program operates in a remote part of Turkey, however we are always within 2 hours driving distance of a local hospital.
How do I book my trip and come to Northeastern Turkey?
Our trips start and end in Kars, Turkey. You can reach us a number of ways:
Fly to Istanbul or Ankara (most international carriers fly to either of these cities) and then take a short flight with Turkish Airways, Sunexpress, or Anadolu Jet to Kars. You can also take a 25 hour train to or from Ankara to Kars, or buses from any major city in Turkey.
Interesting cities and sites around the region that you can also fly to and then take a bus to Kars include Erzurum, Trabzon, or Van. Kars is approximately 8 hours away from Georgian cities Tibilisi and Batumi.
Who are leading the trips?
Balyolu is working to train and support local village youth to become regional guides. As we put this program in motion, we combine village leaders with Government and KoKart certified guides to take you through the region. Arzu OrhaniKazi (our COO) also joins most trips to help you milk a cow, forage for wild plants, and learn Turkish.
Can I arrange a private trip?
We do offer private tours, but ask that you arrange them with us far in advance. Get in touch with us now and let’s see if we can find something that would work!
Who are the type of people who go on Balyolu?
Balyolu walkers come from all over the world with every kind of interest, but they share an open mind, an interest in rural living, food, and nature, they are active, outdoorsy, and love learning about new cultures and traditions. They have a natural curiosity about people and are looking for an unconventional active new travel experience.
What should I bring on a trip?
Be prepared for changing weather, being outside most of the day, and lot’s of walking in varying weather!
How do I prepare?
For all of our trips, we encourage guests to be at a fitness level where they could comfortably walk 8-10 miles on rolling uneven terrain at 1,700 m altitude in a day. We encourage travelers to train walking 5 hours a week leading up to the trip in the shoes you are planning to wear on your Balyolu adventure.
Can I bring kids or my family?
Balyolu IS open to families and kids of a certain age and maturity level. Please check in with us before booking your trip to see if this is the right adventure for your family.
What is the culture like? Do I wear a headscarf? How conservative is life there?
Approximately 50% of the women wear a village head covering, to protect their hair while they work and/or for religious reasons. On our trips, no woman has to cover her head if she does not want to, and the region in which we work is relaxed and open to people of different cultures, faiths, and nationalities. We do ask that guests are mindful and respectful of local religions and traditions. Avoid short shorts and revealing shirts. Some of the host families smoke cigarettes, but we ask that all guests and hosts smoke outside. Alcohol is available on the trips in the cities, but drinking is not socially acceptable in the villages.
Should I bring gifts?
Some of the families do have young children, and everyone is always curious about who you are and where you are from. Our aim is to bridge cultural connections between people in our villages and global travelers through food and experiences. If there is something unique about where you are from that you would like to share (for example, shells or honey sticks) feel free to bring to give to a family you may have a special connection with.
Do you work in other parts of the world?
We do not yet work outside of Northeastern Turkey (but we sure hope to soon!). In the meantime, we have some amazing friends all over the world working to spread a shared model of travel for social good.
Check out our friends at Oneseed Adventures who have created the sweet marriage between trekking in the Himalayas and microfinance.