TL;DR for our Cappadocia Post:
When we first decided that Turkey was on our destination list one of the reasons was the photos we had come across of the hot air balloons and strange geological formations in Cappadocia.
Outside of knowing that there were balloons and “fairy chimneys” we knew very little about the area, but it was definitely on our must-see list.
(this is a picture of Love Valley. I don’t know why they call it that!)
Given all of the other destinations we planned to see it turned out a bit more challenging to get there than we had realized, but after a 9 hour bus ride from Pumukkale (it’s 12 hours to Istanbul) we arrived very early one morning. We stayed at the SOS Cave Hotel (save them a usurious booking fee and contact them directly instead of one of the aggregators) and were grateful that they had a room available almost immediately. While the buses in Turkey are quite comfortable (we rode on both Metro and Pumukkale) you definitely still need a nap after being on a bus all night. We were fed a traditional Turkish breakfast (tomatoes, cucumber, cheese) and then it was naptime!
A Magical Balloon Ride
Tony spent some time on our first day researching what to expect from a hot air balloon ride and I’d say it was time well spent (this article was the most useful– that site is a gold mine of Cappadocia info). While now there are dozens of companies providing balloon rides, just 12 years ago there were only two pilots in the area. It does seem like it’d be hard to go wrong with most companies getting 5 star reviews on TripAdvisor.
Ultimately, we decided that we cared most about the pilot’s ability to speak english well, getting a small basket, the pilot’s ability to navigate high above the chimney fairies and low into the valleys, the flexibility to take off in varied locations depending on the wind, and the overall safety consciousness of the company. We chose a 60-minute flight with Butterfly Balloons (it turned out to be a full 80 minutes), which cost $200 per person. We requested Mike as our pilot who is a British ex-pat that has lived in the area for 12 years and was one of the first two pilots flying in Cappadocia.
We were picked up at our hotel at 4:30 (in the MORNING), served a light breakfast and were in the air before 6:00 a.m. to catch the sunrise. Our company had 4 balloons in the air that day, all with walkie talkies, as well as jeeps with walkie talkies on the ground so that they could talk with one another and provide safety information on other balloons flying nearby (sometimes under or above you). Mike flew high and low, touching the tree tops on four occasions to slow us down and bringing us down into a valley just feet from the ground so that we could watch a fox. After we landed we enjoyed champagne and Turkish delight and spent time asking our pilot questions. He was quite a personality and it turns out he is also a beekeeper!
Hiking and Fairy Chimney Views
There are some fantastic hikes in the area which are well worth the effort in terms of amazing views of both the strange rock formations and the carved out dwellings (ranging from primitive caves to painstakingly carved and painted churches).
We based ourselves in Göreme and were able to easily do three hikes in our four days in the area: Zemi Valley, Valley of the Swords with Rose/Red Valley and Pigeon Valley. During one hike we followed a carved narrow tunnel through the middle of the rock for close to half a mile.
Other Things to Do
There are plenty of other activities in the area should you not wish to take a hot air balloon ride or go hiking. We visited the Uçhisar Castle on our way to the Pigeon Valley hike (you can take a taxi there and hike back to Goreme if that’s the town you’re staying in). Given the small entry fee, it is worth a quick tour. In addition you can visit underground cities (Derinkuyu & Kaymaklı) dating back to the 8th century B.C. and eventually built large enough to house tens of thousands of people with their livestock. It’s also worth checking out the Open Air Museum in Göreme.
Would we go back?
A resounding YES! And we’d definitely do a hot air balloon ride again too. If we were to do it again we would probably stay longer than the four days we allotted for the area. The climate is more moderate than other areas of Turkey with cool mornings and evenings, there are great restaurants, and there is much more that we could have seen if we had more time.