There doesn’t seem to be a ton of info on how to do this available in English online, so I figured I’d post my route and experience for anyone that might be thinking of traveling to Iraqi Kurdistan via Turkey.
1) bus from Istanbul to Nevsihir – 55tl (about $35)
-We just walked into a couple of the bus stations at Kadikoy by the water and asked for prices, this was the best one so we got it, can’t remember the exact company, but there should be a few that offer something in this range. This bus took us from Taksim square in Istanbul to Nevsihir, but since we were going to Cappadocia they just took us the extra little while to Goreme for no charge, and dropped us off right at the Info center. We left at 9:30pm on Jan. 1st and arrived at about 7:30am, just after sunrise.
2) bus from Goreme to Diyarbakir w/Star Batman – 85tl (about $50)
-We got this ticket at the bus station in Goreme. This was actually two bus rides, the first one left Goreme at 4:30pm and took us about an hour to Kayseri, where we had to wait 3 hours for our next bus. From there we headed out overnight through eastern Turkey. We seemed to be the only foreigners on the bus, and some of the staff were a bit concerned and over-friendly, waking us up every five minutes to attempt conversation. Eventually two of them, who were brothers, pulled out a telephone and called their third brother. The man on the phone was in Baltimore, studying to get his masters and spoke perfect English. He translated and said they just wanted to make sure we were alright and knew where we were going. We were, and we did. It was nice that they were looking out for us, but definitely a little much, when after several hours we still couldn’t get to sleep. They expressed a lot of concern about us going to Iraq and made lots of gun noises, shaking their heads telling us “no.”
3) bus from Diyarbakir direct to Duhok w/Best Van Tours – 50tl (about $30)
-We had been told the only way across the border was to take an expensive taxi ride from Silopi, a border town in Turkey, to Zakho, a border town in Iraq. So we were prepared to shell out some money for this leg of our journey, but we were pleased to find that there are direct buses from Diyarbakir to Zakho, Duhok, Erbil and Sulymania. We opted to take the bus to Duhok because we heard the market was cool and there might be some sights to see. We left Diyarbakir at 9am, getting a local bus to the bus station, and changing to our actual bus which left at 11am (they had told us 10am the night before). The drive was very scenic, passing through mountains, and seeing some ancient ruins at Hasenkayf. It was dark by the time we got to the border, but it was all pretty easy. I think it took about an hour or so. There were some passengers who were very helpful in assisting us with where to go and what to do. One or two even gave us their phone numbers in case we needed any help once we arrived in Duhok. I’d been told I’d get a free 10-day visa, but when they stamped my passport it said I had 15 days before I had to register for an extension. We were only going to be there for 4, so it was fine with me. We got dropped off outside of the city of Duhok, and the man who had helped us earlier offered us a ride into town and to our hotel, since he lived close. We ran across a busy highway and then waited for his friend and squeezed 6 of us into a little 5 passenger car. They were all super nice and dropped us right at the front door of our hotel.
4) Taxi from Duhok to Erbil – 15,000ID (about $15)
-Leaving our hotel room, we just happen to run into a man who spoke German, and since Caroline is from Germany, that was quite convenient. We told him we wanted to take a taxi to Erbil, and he told us where to go, and wrote down some info to show the taxi driver for us, along with, once again, his phone number and name should there be any issues. He told us not to pay more than 15,000 Dinar, so we took the paper and headed down to the taxi station. We asked around and got lead to a taxi, where the man opened the trunk, helped us put our things inside and asked us to get in. We did, and he went back to standing around with all the other cab drivers. He was waiting for more passengers, but it wasn’t really a busy day at the taxi station, so we were a little concerned it might take more time than we wanted. I got out of the taxi and asked him if we could go soon, and he said he needed more passengers, so I changed the price on the paper, bumping it up a little. He said “no no no, I need 60,000 Dinars.” I went back to the cab and we waited, hoping more passengers would show up and we wouldn’t have to pay $30 each for the ride. After about another half an hour, I got out and offered him 50,000 but that wouldn’t do the trick either. So, we gave him our friends number and asked him to call, hoping maybe he could negotiate. The German guy picked up right away, and decided to walk down and meet us to help us out. He came down, they talked for a while, and he decided we’d have better luck if we went somewhere else, so we got our bags and left. Got into another cab, up the street in a busier area, and within five minutes there were four of us in the taxi going to Erbil. I was feeling a bit sick as it was, and the cab ride didn’t really help. The driver was going about 160km the whole way, passing trucks and cars with what seemed like inches to spare. The seat belts also were not functioning. I think everyone drives this way around there and he seemed confident so I wasn’t too concerned, but it might be a scary ride for those not used to that kind of driving. We arrived safely and were dropped off on the outskirts of town where we had to get another cab to our hotel.
Over all it was pretty easy to make the trip, and cheaper than we expected. Next time I would maybe take a few days in between the overnight bus rides though!