“Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey” has long been at the top of my bucket list. I’d imagined gliding over the moon-like landscape at sunrise, taking in scenes of fairy chimneys and rose-colored valleys, then returning to my hotel room, built into the side of a cave.
It was a scene I had dreamt about so many times that when my husband and I booked the trip, I was scared the real thing wouldn’t live up to my enormous expectations. Spoiler alert: It did.
Here’s a look at our three days in Anatolian paradise, with some tips along the way.
Day 1: Wander the streets of Göreme & revel in the fact that you’re staying in a cave hotel.
First of all, I would recommend at least three days in Cappadocia, or even four or five if you have the time. Most tourists stay in the small village of Göreme, although we saw some pretty swanky cave hotels in neighboring Urgup.
Göreme Valley was inhabited as early as 1200 BC, and has a tumultuous history with a host of rival empires. The area’s soft, volcanic rock allowed locals to dig tunnels to create extensive underground networks, as well as cave churches and dwellings to hide from invaders. Lucky for us, most of the structures still stand today, and visitors can choose from a wide selection of cave hotels. We stayed at Aydinli Cave Hotel and I would 100% recommend it. Here are some pictures of our accommodation:
Take your time and marvel at the town’s unique rock formations, stop in local restaurants for meze (small dishes), pick up a bottle of wine, and make your way to Sunset Point.
Day 2: Take a hot air balloon ride, rest, then hike.
A lot of people choose not to book a hot air balloon because of the price. In my opinion, this is a mistake. There’s a big difference in how much companies charge, and it’s mostly due to reputation, how many people are allowed in the basket, and whether or not you get sparkling grape juice or champagne.
Our hotel recommended three companies: Butterfly Balloon (175€/1 hour), Turkiye Balloon (185€/1 hour) and Assiana (150€/1 hour). All of them offer a 10€ discount if you pay with cash and have more expensive/more luxurious options available. We went with the cheapest, Assiana, and found them to be professional and highly skilled. We were pretty crammed in that basket though!Soaring through the sky, overlooking Cappadocia’s lunar landscape was, for lack of a better word, magical. In my opinion, an hour was the perfect amount of time, and we were back to the hotel at 7:30, right when breakfast started.
After a quick rest, Luke and I were dropped off at Goreme Open Air Museum (although it’s only a 15-minute walk). Here, you can explore a large collection of cave churches with original frescoes. Entrance is 25 TL per person (approx. 5€). I recommend going early, as the tour busses arrive between 10am-11am. We only spent an hour here, but I assume you could spend more if you were really into cave churches.
We spent the next few hours hiking through the Red Valley and Rose Valley. Make sure to get a walking map from your hotel or from the tourism kiosk in front of the Open Air Museum, head to “Camping” on the map, then follow the path to Panorama Cafe. I would suggest bringing it up on Google Maps on your phone, just in case.
For about an hour and a half we didn’t see another person. The walk was easy and the terrain is flat. Opportunities to climb into abandoned cave dwellings and churches are abundant. Make sure to pack water and snacks, as you’ll only see one “cafe” (i.e. pomegranate and orange juice stand) for the entire trip.
This was a long day, but totally worth it. If we hadn’t been so tired, we would’ve gotten a ride to Pasabag (AKA Valley of the Monks) to walk around and admire the fairy chimneys close-up. Instead, we headed back to town to grab an early dinner at Topdeck Cave Restaurant. The chef prepares four dishes each night and there’s a selection of meze. Do it.
Day 3: Check out an underground city and explore by foot, ATV or horseback (not by bus).
I am never one to join a tour, but Luke and I opted for the “Green Tour” (there’s a red, blue, and green) because there was just too much to see and everything was pretty spread out. It was fine, and we saw a lot of great sights (including the Derinkuyu Underground City and Ihlara Valley), but if we had to do it again, I would have gone to the closer Kaymakli Underground City and done some more hiking.
Here’s a look at what you see on the Green Tour:
Every Morning: Get up early, whether you want to or not, and watch the balloons fill the sky.
Additional Information & Tips:
- Flights are cheap and quick from Istanbul (we paid 40€ each, roundtrip through Pegasus).
- Book your hot air balloon well before you arrive (we booked ours two months in advance) and book it for the morning after you arrive. This way if it’s canceled (due to weather), they can reschedule you for the next day or the following.
- Every meal we had in Cappadocia was amazing. Just ask for local recommendations. I would especially recommend Topdeck Cave Restaurant, a place called Cappadocian Cuisine, and Seten Anatolian Cuisine.
- I would recommend visiting the end of April through June and September through October. Balloons fly year-round, but not in windy or rainy conditions.
- Stay in a cave hotel. Like I said previously, Aydinli Cave Hotel was amazing. Great hospitality, views, location, and the price was right (we paid 72€ a night, including breakfast).
Have you been to Cappadocia? I’d love to hear what you’d recommend!