The seaside resort and cruise ship port of Kusadasi is generally considered a tourist trap and in the sense of having lots of tourist oriented shopping, relatively high prices, and residential over-construction for the summer vacation trade, may well be a tourist trap. Nonetheless, we found the main shopping area to be rather charming in a tacky way. The touristic town center is comprised of a main street leading from the cruise ship docks to several other shopping streets, an almost covered arcade, and a long pedestrianized mall. There are lots of restaurants, the usual rug and jewelry stores, and lots of tour guides and other services concentrated around a striking centuries old caravansery converted to a 4 star hotel. In the hills surrounding the town center, numerous midrise apartment buildings are apparently populated mostly in season as the population increases from 50000 to 500000 in the summer months. The shoreline is populated by large ultramodern hotels with pools, spas, and even a few water parks. According to the internet, 17 hotels in the immediate area classify themselves as 5 star. The touristic attractions of Selcuk and Ephesus are no more than a 15 minute drive, at least in part explaining the attraction but sandy beaches undoubtedly play a role as well.
The stores are relatively expensive, not unexpected given the captive population disgorged daily from huge cruise ships, yet the places we visited were relatively low-key with friendly and knowledgeable staff and less sales pressure than we expected. The quality in the jewelry stores was actually pretty high - trust Proserpina on this stuff - several had "relations" with stores in New York City"s jewelry trade. The shorefront restaurants looked appealing, the hotels were striking.
What we remember best was asking in a store about the location of any internet cafe to email home - the owner insisted we use his computer gratis and bought us tea while we were there. Our interactions here and in several stores left a very favorable impression.
Unique Suggestions: Yes, Kusadasi is a tourist trap I suppose. We have seen far worse. The prices may be high for Turkey but certainly in comparison to jewelry prices in NYC still repesented significant savings for what appeared to be some pretty high quality merchandise. At least one Turkish rug store had a woman weaving inside, perhaps a hint of authenticity, and again the prices were far less than what one might pay outside Turkey.
Any port anywhere in the world that receives several thousand cruise ship passengers a day and hundreds of thousands of summer vacationers has every right to biopsy their wallets. As long as the quality is decent and the price somewhere near reality, it is hard to condemn. We liked Kusadasi and would stay here if we ever returned to the area.
One of the things that bothered me about living in Selcuk was being a part of the tourism industry there and I gradually got more and more away from it because I didn't like a lot of what I saw. The 'free shuttle to Ephesus' is one tourist trap that especially bothered me. It is not a scam and there is nothing illegal about it, except that the local government will fine the drivers if they catch them dropping tourists at the gate of Ephesus. This was a new law that started while I lived there. Most hotels offer a 'free shuttle' to Ephesus. A lot of tourists already know that this means some shop owner is going to pick them up and make them sit through their sales pitch before or after going to Ephesus. A lot of tourists are okay with this. But not every tourist is aware of the expectation that in exchange for a ride to Ephesus, which is really nice when it is 43C outside, they may be made to feel obligated to sit in a carpet shop and look at carpets. Just be aware that this is the expectation if you accept the free shuttle ride. And women should be aware that if you are traveling alone, or in a pair, or even threes, the driver may have other reasons for being so willing to give you free transport. This is very true in the case of my ex, Enis from Nomadic Art Gallery Selcuk, who will definitely try to get to know if you if he thinks you have money or are the least bit lonely...
Unique Suggestions: If you want to accept the free shuttle, go for it. But if you're not interested in shopping, especially for carpets or higher dollar items, you should probably take the bus. I've heard the 'shuttle drivers' say some not so nice things about tourists who took the free ride to Ephesus, but never came to look at their merchandise AND never even offered a them a tip. This is not professional, nor is it nice, but they are trying to make a living and get pretty frustrated. I'm not excusing their behavior, as it was pretty bad sometimes, but some tourist behavior was just as bad. And another thing to keep in mind is that petrol is super expensive in Turkey - the most expensive in Europe - due to the tax. It is 4.50 TL a liter or about 13 USD a gallon. Yikes. If you accept the free shuttle and really don't want to shop, at least offer gas money to the driver. Most won't accept in hopes that you'll visit their shop instead. They know if the accept money for gas, you are definitely not going to visit their shop.
Fun Alternatives: A good alternative is the minibus. It is cheap, runs frequently, and has air con, and no one will hit on you. A taxi will be expensive and is totally unnecessary, unless you absolutely have to be dropped at the top gate and walk down, which is easier, no doubt. But the shuttle will drop you at the bottom gate and pick you up there as well, for about 2.50TL each way.
In the Efes region there is a local scam to sell "ancient Roman coins" to the tourists and other collectors. So here's the scoop. They find coins, feed them to cows, let the aging process take place in the cows stomach, dig through the poop, and presto -- an "ancient coin." Keep your fingers off those!
I have been living in Selcuk for about 2 years ago, and EVERY SINGLE time I go to the sole hamam (turkish bath) in Selcuk, they try to rip me off! It is unbelievable. I live with 4 Turks who regularly go to the hamam and spend no more than 5 million turkish lira. However, when I go -- even after I have pointed out the fact that I am not a tourist, and even talk with them in Turkish, they try and pop me for the time at about 20 million. I am lucky that I can fight and cuss my way through it in Turkish, but the average tourist does not have that advantage. So I say, avoid this hamam in Selcuk -- you may have to pay as much in Istanbul or elsewhere, but at least there it is the same price for everyone -- and it is a much better massage and bigger hamam!
Unique Suggestions: Don't go! Or if you have to -- go in and either argue the price first, or only take 5 million with you (you pay after it is finished). They can't take what you don't have...
Fun Alternatives: There are other hamams in nearby Kusadasi, and other cities. The Selcuk one isn't even that good.
In Selcuk and nearby Ephesus, we were aproached by locals try to make a few Lira by selling what they claimed were antique coins. Our guess is that they were fake, since we saw plenty of fake antique coins in the local souvenir shops. Even if they were real, we would not be able to take them out of the country (without the proper paprerwork/provenance) under the strict Turkish antiquities laws.