I remember the first time I searched for “Cappadocia” on the internet. I read about it in a book, and at the mention of hot air balloons and crazy rock formations, I had to do a little research.
What I found has fascinated me for years – especially the hot air balloon ride… so when we decided to move to Germany this year, I knew I had to find a way to get to Cappadocia and see everything for myself.
Getting to Cappadocia
You can take a plane from Istanbul. It is also possible to take a train or night bus, but airfare within the country is pretty cheap. We were able to get one-way flights for 60 TL (about $33.50) to Kayseri. From Kayseri, we took a bus for an hour to get to the city of Göreme.
Now, it’s fairly easy to book a hot air balloon flight once you get into Göreme, but I did a lot of research online before getting to Turkey, and I knew I wanted to book with Royal Balloon. The reviews on Trip Advisor were very positive, and many other travellers also used that company.
A word of warning: hot air ballooning is not exactly a frugal activity – the 60 minute flight costs €170 ($215), and the 90 minute flight is €240 ($305) – but it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never, ever forget. Included in the price is an open buffet, insurance, champagne ceremony after the ride, and pick-up/drop-off from your hotel.
The early morning wake-up call
We were picked up at our hotel at 5:00am, and driven to the Royal Balloon headquarters for breakfast. From there, we were driven to the launch site that the pilots had chosen for that morning. The sunrise was gorgeous!
At the launch site
We were able to watch the crew inflate the balloon, meet our pilot, and get a short lesson on balloon safety. Our pilot was Suat Ulusoy, who is actually the Chief Pilot for Royal Balloons. He was really personable, and provided us with a wealth of information during the flight.
The actual balloon is typically made out of nylon or polyester – the same stuff that parachutes are made of. The material is coated with a material that makes it very air tight, and the basket is attached with steel or Kevlar cables.
We flew quite low in the valleys, so we could get a good view of the rock formations that make the region so famous. And we learned that almost all hot air balloon flights in Cappadocia happen in the early morning. This is because balloons need stable winds to operate effectively, and the wind is usually at its calmest in the morning.
We float where the wind takes us
The pilot doesn’t have control over where the balloon goes, but they can do a lot of research to ensure that the forecasted wind direction doesn’t take the balloon into an unsuitable area – and the chosen launch site each morning has a lot to do with it too. Air currents at different altitudes are used to assist the balloon’s flight direction.
The balloons can usually travel up to 5 km/hour, but it’s largely dependent on the wind speed. On our flight, I thought it was
Over 100 balloons filled the sky
Our guide said that there were at least 100 balloons up in the air that morning. It’s such a popular thing to do in the area, and Cappadocia is frequently mentioned as one of the top 5 places in the world to go hot air ballooning.
Try going during off-peak tourist season
Our hot air balloon had 12 or 13 people in it, which seemed like the perfect amount. I think that we went during the right time of year – November. With less tourists in Cappadocia, it felt a lot quieter and less rushed. Plus, the temperature was perfect. It was chilly in the mornings, but during the day I was wearing just a t-shirt.
(note: our hot air balloon ride was courtesy of Suat Ulusoy and Royal Balloons, but this review is entirely my own opinion.)
A short video
I made a short video during the flight. It’s a little noisy, and people are talking a lot, but you can really get a feel for how magical it was. Also, please not the extremely awesome and cheesy instrumental version of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” playing in the background. :)
Hiking in Cappadocia
… and just for fun, here are a couple of pictures of where we were hiking, and a close-up of the rock formations.
The rock formations are soft, so it can be easily carved into. Communities took advantage of this to make their home inside rock caves and underground. Today, many locals still live inside the rock, and we even stayed in a cave hotel! It was really, really fun exploring the abandoned tunnels and cave homes that must have taken a lot of effort to build.
Here’s one of Nic goofing off on top of one of the rock formations near Rose Valley.
It’s hard to see me in the middle of the picture. :) We took a path behind the Göreme Open Air Museum and into what seemed like a rarely explored valley. We found amazing (skinny) tunnels carved through rock, and even a small rock cave where clearly people currently lived. We eventually came out of the valley into the open area pictured below.
We took a bus to a nearby town called Uçhisar, where we visited this castle – the highest look-out point in the area.
We heard that there is a path in Pigeon Valley that connects Uçhisar to Göreme, so we decided to walk back from the castle. However, there were multiple trails and no signage along the trails, and we saw another hiker coming towards us, she said that the trail goes nowhere and drops off into a canyon. Great. She was turning around and told us we should follow her. We retraced our steps for about 5 minutes before we came across a local man. The other hiker kept going, but my gut told me to trust the local man. After all, he must know the paths better than anyone else! He said we were on the right path, and told us to follow him. He walked with us halfway to Göreme, and then stopped to have tea with us at his friend’s tea house – which was randomly located in the middle of nowhere. :) The tea house owner knew French (which he proudly told us he learned while attending the University of Life), and before we left, he gave Nic a few postcards, and me a little ceramic turtle as a present.
Göreme is an amazing and very special place, and I’m so glad that we were able to go. Turkey has by far been my favourite country to visit so far this year. We’ve already talked about a future trip – but to the Black Sea region, and the Mediterranean Coast. :)