Cappadocia is world-known for the hundreds of hot air balloon scenery rising every day* at the sunrise. But this is also an amazing destination to explore the Anatolian culture and amazing valleys. Briefly said, think of authentic cave hotels, mushroom-shaped rocks, valleys to explore, rock-cut churches & underground cities.
Turks are great with services, including guided tours. You will notice tours being promoted online, in the hotel reception or in the streets as there are many agencies opened from morning till late in the night. So most of the people who came here in the region (Cappadocia or Kapadokya is a region, not a city) will just pick one of the tours. If you know me or you’ve read anything I posted by now, you can imagine I wanted to do something “on my own”. Hoping to explore something not every tour will offer, we had 2 wonderful hikes and one booked tour for faraway locations.
Hot Air Balloons Experience
I saw the balloons on the first morning, from the ground and I can’t deny I’d want that experience again. The alarm was set to 6 a.m. every morning, but I only saw the balloons once.
I didn’t have the balloon experience from the air for various reasons. Briefly, here’s my personal experience:
- Book in advance. We were unable to book online in advance for any of the 4 mornings we had. I searched for offers about 5-6 weeks before going to Cappadocia, with no luck. We even asked our hotel to help us get tickets. Note that we were a group of 10.
- Buying on the spot is almost impossible, especially if flights had been canceled previous days and if you need more than 2 places. We tried with all agencies, but even if we had gotten the tickets, those would have been all in vain due to the cancelations.
- We actually managed to get a ticket for a friend, but you know..weather happened and you only know this for sure in the morning. You wake up at 4 am, you gather with the others for a light breakfast and wait for the ok to go or ok to go back to sleep.
- It’s all in. All balloon agencies get approval daily from authorities – Directorate General of Civil Aviation – who decide whether a flight goes ahead. You can catch either a hundred balloons in the air or no balloons at all.
- Negotiate, but don’t expect low prices in season. Turks love to negotiate but don’t rely on that for the balloons and for the high season. Starting with mid-April many tourists come here, so the prices are high and agencies fully booked. The lowest price I’ve heard is 180 euros and it could go up to 250 euros (beginning of the season).
What else to do in Cappadocia?
Nature, culture & religion
Cappadocia is a wonderful destination for nature lovers, that’s for sure. Wind, water & centuries shaped the volcano rocks that once erupted in amazing ways. Imagine canyons, rocks and valleys you rarely see. For example, people are talking about fairy chimneys when referring to the shapes of the rocks, especially the ones used by the people to live in. Love Valley, Pigeon Valley and Red/Rose Valleys are names that tell you what to expect.
Turks in the middle of Anatolia used the existing natural landscape and shaped it more to be a reasonable accommodation. They’ve lived there, making the mushroom-shaped rocks their homes, underground cities for hiding purposes and secluded churches.
Moving on, Cappadocia is also a cultural destination and especially a religious site. Not sure if you know, but this is highly important for the beginning of Christianity. Many caves were used by monks in the 10 to 13th centuries and anthropologists will probably be amazed by the remaining of the churches, ceilings and painting. We’ve accidentally found rock-cut churches and frescoes while walking on our own. But there are sites you can visit, including the UNESCO World Heritage site Goreme Open Air Museum and Selime Monastery.
What can you do on your own in Cappadocia?
A walk through the valleys to Uçhisar Castle and back to Goreme. Pigeon Valley – Uçhisar Castle – Love Valley
Our accommodation was in Goreme, and from there we spotted Uçhisar Castle, which we decided to visit while exploring some valleys too. From Goreme, you travel through Pigeon Valley – name triggered by the pigeon houses carved into the rocks. To put this into perspective, pigeons were valuable as people used them both as message carriers and fertilizers (due to their droppings).
This short hike will get you familiar with some of the particularities of the region: vineyards, local terraces with fresh juices, Turkish coffee and some bites, dramatic valleys and rock-cut settlements. In this sense, I must add that right before reaching the Uchisar castle, we’ve explored another rock-cut, cave-type settlement. As this is out of the tourist route and not organized in such a way, I found the rooms and organization more interesting.
So, when we’ve reached Uçhisar Castle, we bought some fried fruits and checked the souvenirs. The castle is the main attraction and I feel there is no so much else to do around. The interior of the castle doesn’t have so much to offer, but after some stairs and passages, you get to the top where the panorama unveils amazing views.
Love Valley will be on your way back to Goreme. Many tours stop at viewpoints, but you can walk it all along. And you can explore it from the lower ground, walk through the actual valley, through the interesting rock shapes and vineyards. Chuckle as you want, the love naming comes from the penis-shaped rocks.
Red and Rose Valleys
My favorite day was on the Red and Rose Valleys, a 5ish hours hike. You can tell by the number of pictures. 🙂 Although these are different valleys, you’ll find them pretty close and part of the same hike, especially if you’re up for the entire tour. The landscape is purely amazing, especially from the panorama point (crazy Ali panorama cafe is a recommended stop for the Turkish coffee).
Overall, our exploration was a bit tricky as there are only rare trail marks, but you can ask directions from locals who sell fruits & fresh juices in the middle of nowhere. I found this detailed post and map by Anywhere we roam extremely useful, so we’ve saved the map offline in case we get lost. And honestly, we’ve checked it a few times.
Goreme Open Air Museum is one of the UNESCO World sites which consists of a complex of 13 Byzantine cave churches and chapels. While you may think this is just another cave site, the churches show unique frescos from the 11th century, so you can get the cultural & religious importance of this location. Monks settled here for a secluded life and formed the earliest churches, and in the 17th century, it became a pilgrimage site for Christians.
Goreme is the preferred tourist city to book in Cappadocia and the panorama view is a must-do visit. Recommended time: sunrise, while balloons are rising, hopefully, and sunsets. If you want to avoid the crowds, pick another timeframe.
Visit the carpet shops and be sure you don’t take any pictures inside. Actually, the owners took good advantage of the fanatic touristic pictures and now they require a fee if you want to take a photo. You will be supervised, as they want to make sure the original Anatolian carpets are safe.
I don’t have a list of recommended places to eat, but generally, food is tasteful: look for pide Turkish bread similar to pizza, Manti, which are dumplings and different pottery kebab. Turkish coffee served with Turkish delight is a must-try.
What we’ve Booked Tour in Cappadocia: Green Tour
Some of the landmarks were far to reach by foot in a day, especially Ihlara Valley. So we’ve booked the green tour – tours here are called by colors, so it’s easy to identify them. You can do this on your own if you have a rented car, but do your homework in advance.
Briefly, these are the most important landmarks:
- Derinkuyu underground city – the deepest underground city in the region, with narrow tunnel passages, security doors and various rooms for storage, churches, wineries etc. It was used initially for security reasons, during invasions, but found very useful for extreme weather protection.
- Ihlara Valley – being shaped by a river and it looks different than the other valleys around Goreme. We’ve only walked it a bit and we stopped in a few cave churches and for a coffee.
- Selime Monastery – Though similar to other religious sites from centuries ago, I found this quite impressive in size and architecture. And the panorama is very nice (a small Greek site is nearby).
*dependent on daily weather (mostly wind) & approvals.