Our Trips

Due to certain travel warnings for Turkey, Balyolu has cancelled the remaining trips for 2013. While we believe the region to still be incredibly safe, many customers have had concerns regarding protests in the region and we always opt on the sides of both caution and safety, even when the current risk level is still quite low.

If you would like to book a trip with our program for 2014, we exclusively work with TURSAB certified travel agents to arrange trips.

If you are an interested customer, you can to write us at [email protected] and we will point you in the direction of one of our partnership TURSAB travel companies to organize a trip with us.

If you are an interested travel company and you would like to organize a Balyolu trip, please to write us at [email protected] to help arrange your next itinerary on the Balyolu. We do not permit groups of  more than 8 people + guide and driver.

Thank you for your interest!

To learn about past travel adventures on the Balyolu, please check out our web albums and video interviews.

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Ready for Balyolu?

We are a new company trying something bold in a remote region of the world. Our trips are based entirely on the living world around us – people, agriculture, wildlife, weather. It is a volatile, beautiful environment that can never be standardized or packaged. We do our best to give you the best experience possible, but we need to know that you understand by participating in a Balyolu trip, you are signing up for a rural adventure. The honey season could be terrible, with very little honey. The weather could be cloudy. These are inherent risks of this kind of tourism, and we want to be sure that we are the kind of experience you are seeking.

Take our quick quiz and find out now.

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FAQ

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.

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Testimonials

Watch what people have to say about us:

Balyolu – The Honey Road  videos are also on our Youtube Balyolu Channel.
These are testimonial videos from our past customers. To see general videos click here.

Read what people have to say about us:

It was very interesting to meet Ozlem, a very confident female beekeeper who, despite the harsh conditions and everyone else packing it in this year with the honey, managed to get a really respectable amount of honey that was really quite delicious. And we were even ableto buy some, which was fantastic.

People were just so hospitable, I couldn’t believe it.

One thing that’s really unique is just how natural and untouched it is. You have these enormous meadows of wildflowers…The whole experience brought us to places we would have never seen on our own.

It’s a unique experience and I think the important thing is just to keep it that special. That’s what makes it really beautiful to visit.

I think it’s a really interesting way to get to know a country that you know nothing about. You really get embedded and get to know the people one-on-one in places that you would never go on your own or even in a larger group tour.

Ellen
There were so many interesting things that were happening all at once. I really enjoyed being in some of the small villages. I really loved the hiking and I was a little worried that I would break down but it was really great.
To see the countryside and the villages much more in an area that’s not so tourist-frequented was just fantastic. We really loved that.
Edward
 The most rewarding thing for me was seeing the views. The nature is really stunning. […] It somehow releases my mind very much. It was really relaxing… It was really a surprise for me that it was so beautiful.
Being a Turk, I like seeing places of my country and meeting people that come from very different traditions and cultures. Because in Turkey there’s nothing really Turkish that you can specify… we are like a kind of mosaic.
Kemal
I really enjoyed the walking. I enjoyed the nature. I think that’s my favorite part. I enjoyed meeting the villagers along the way. The whole experience was just so amazing. [It was] on the one hand exhausting, and on the other hand restful. You just are so removed from the rest of the world.  And all of the daily problems and things that need to be dealt with, you just forget about them and go on to enjoy where you are and enjoy the moment.
It shows, one, that each of the areas you go to – and these areas weren’t very far apart –were very different. That is true of Turkey. There are so many things to see. The nature is so incredible. And the Turks are always so welcoming everywhere. I mean, it’s just fantastic.
A person who would enjoy Balyolu would be one that enjoys trekking, one who really enjoys being out in nature and in the open, and spending a lot of time outside. And also learning something about the local culture and local food.
Elinor
I liked being up close and personal with the people. Mornings were beautiful. The light here is beautiful. I’m a photographer… To be up close and personal, watching daily life, milking the cows, herding the cows, was just great.
Every place I go from now on I’ll be looking for bees, looking for honey, because it was really an eye opening experience for me.
Just crossing a pass and then seeing how basically you’re in a different country. The houses change, the people change and it’s only a matter of 20 minutes. Then suddenly I’m transformed and transported into this completely different place.
David
 This is the first time we’ve stayed in villages with villagers getting to know people up close and personal and eating food and to be able to cook with people in their homes.
All across Turkey are people living this way and you never get to see them as an average tourist. You never really get to go into a village and to be able to interact with them and to be able to break bread with them – I think that, to me, is the most important thing. It’s the biggest difference about the Balyolu tour.
Robyn
Out here you get to meet people and see how they actually live. You pick up Turkish so much faster because everyone is talking to you all the time! It gives you more of a chance to see the real beauty of the country.
It was more beautiful and more diverse than I ever thought Turkey could be.
We learned a lot about bees and beekeepers and I learned not to be afraid about bees. I learned that everywhere you go there is so much history. […] You’re learning a million things every day.
You’re slowly walking and you’re a little tired and you come over this crest and it’s just mountains and green grass!
I read a lot of guide books before I came here. I looked up stuff on the internet and so many of them are like “why would you go to Kars? There’s nothing out there. There’s no tourism, people don’t speak as much English. There’s not a place for travelers there.” And then after one week, not even, how could I go anywhere else? Obviously this is one of the most beautiful regions of Turkey. […] I’m surprised that there is so little tourism.
Lieschen

Warmed milk, fresh from the cow, at least 2 times daily; fresh and aged cheeses, baked with noodles and tucked into hot-from-the-tandir bread; freshly churned butter, cultured and not; appetite-rousing hikes (70+ kilometers over 5 days); forested mountain slopes, endless sea-of-green plateaus, wild steppes and a deep-blue lake; turquoise skies and towering thunderheads; cows and sheep and kangal dogs. Just a few of the highlights from this last week walking and eating in NE Turkey. Now to get started on a few posts.

EatingAsia

Honey bees are fascinating! This we know from some time we spent last week with Turkish beekeepers and their hives, thanks to Balyolu.

EatingAsia

Here’s a comment you need to see, rather than read: Bee Stings, Blisters, Bliss.- SkyBlueSky

David Hagerman

Anonymous Survey:

 …This was one of the top trips of my life. I will always remember the Balyolu.
.…I can’t think of a single person who would be as enthusiastic about other tours they have described to us, nor do any of our tours even approach the joy of Balyolu! I was so impressed with Cat’s professionalism, graciously trying (and as far as I know succeeding), in accommodating personal trekkers’ needs, all the while keeping her joy and infectious leadership and love of Balyolu at the top of her priority list.
…Thank you to you and to all the staff for your hard work to make the experience so memorable.
… What I loved was meeting the people and experiencing a different culture. I loved the beauty and history of the environs and the FOOD!
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Download


Please follow the links to download information.
Balyolu Trips Brochure 2013 

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