Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia has retained poll position on my bucket list for many years.
In fact, I can still remember the day that I discovered this mystical, balloon-filled land. Scrolling through Instagram one dreary Thursday afternoon, I paused as a video appeared of what I presumed to be some sort of film set. Mesmerised, I watched as hundreds of hot air balloons floated through sugary pink skies; a lunar like landscape falling away below them. Entirely awe-struck, I began to furiously research the location of this watercolour landscape; discovering that it was in fact Cappadocia – a remote region in central Turkey.
Within five minutes my mind was set: it would now be my life’s mission to experience hot air ballooning in Cappadocia – despite my severe vertigo.
Five years on, and whilst deciding the second destination for our TTT Tour, I decided that it was an opportune time to create an itinerary that would finally take me to the mythical place that I’d now dedicated four Pinterest boards to. Deciding to plan an adventure that would take in the sights and sounds of both Istanbul and Cappadocia, I spent the next four months obsessing about what life would be like up in those dawn skies.
Having now recently returned from Cappadocia (a trip that was just as magical as I’d hoped), I thought it might be helpful to put together a guide to hot air ballooning in the region. Including details on how to get to Cappadocia, where to stay, and how to plan the hot air balloon experience itself, below is (what I hope is) a comprehensive guide on how to make the best of your time in what is nothing less than Turkey’s Narnia.
Cappadocia, formerly known by its Persian name ‘Kapadokya’ (meaning ‘the land of the beautiful horses’), is located in central Anatolia – the heartland of Turkey. Known for its fairy chimneys, Cappadocia is home to bizarre rock formations and centuries of legends. The region’s curious landscape – something that has long provided the mesmerising backdrop to the balloon rides – is the result of a process that began many millennia ago, when a nearby volcano littered ash across the region.
Quickly, this molten deposit turned to a soft rock, whilst eventual erosion created the peaked landscape that we see today. This unusual topography was soon utilised by humans, who built vast and cavernous underground cities beneath the chalky ground (more on that later), alongside cave dwellings and elaborate churches.
Indeed, whilst balloon riding in Cappadocia is surely its number one draw, there is also plenty else to explore and see in the region.
We hopped on a Turkish Airlines flight, which took just over an hour. From here, we then took a hour-long private transfer from Kayseri to Urgup; one of the centrally located towns in Cappadocia.
For those not on a pre-arranged tour, it’s possible to hire a car at Kayseri airport and to drive into the region. The roads were clear and easy to navigate throughout our visit, and I imagine they would make for a fairly stress free drive. Alternatively, there are shuttle buses from Kayseri airport that run regularly into many of the towns throughout Cappadocia, including Göreme, Urgup and Avanos.
Our hot air balloon experience cost £195.00 per person and was arranged through Kapadokya Balloons.
The company has been running for 25 years and employs experienced pilots and ground staff; all facts that I found very reassuring before our flight. As we were on our own tour, our flight was pre-arranged through Intrepid Travel, but you can book individually here.
We decided to opt for the company’s ‘deluxe’ programme, which included:
Although the price seemed a little steep at the time, I can confirm that it’s worth every penny. It felt like we had plenty of time in the air to really enjoy the experience and despite my initial nerves, I felt entirely safe.
It’s important to note that your hot air balloon flight cannot be guaranteed and may be cancelled due to poor weather. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, enjoying bright clear skies. However, the following two days were cloudy with thunderstorms and rain, and all flights were consequently cancelled.
It’s therefore recommended that you allow a few days in the region so that you can (hopefully) re-book onto another flight if you’re unfortunate enough to have yours cancelled.
Rising groggily from my cosy bed as my alarm buzzed at 4.30am, I momentarily questioned whether this hot air balloon ride would be worth the early start.
With a pick-up time of 5.15am, I dressed warmly (the mornings are cold in Cappadocia) and waited nervously for our transport. Once on board, we began our journey out of Urgup, watching as the mini bus’ headlights highlighted an almost sci-fi like landscape. Arriving as the inky darkness began to dissolve, we sat huddled in the minivan; chewing nervously on Turkish pastries.
Just as we were about to embark on a group nap, I noticed the silhouette of a billowing balloon in the distance. Despite the darkness, it seemed that the landscape was beginning to stir. Piling out of the car, we scrambled up a small hill and watched as the early morning light revealed a sea of inflating balloons.
They looked like giants, waking from a sleep.
So distracted by the scene, we initially didn’t hear the sound of our pilot calling us down. “It’s time”, he shouted, ominously. Turning around, our balloon – which moments ago had been nothing more than a flat mass of fabric – was now a giant dome; its billowing sides obscuring the rising sun.
My stomach gave a small flip – it was time to test my vertigo.
The first thing I noted as we approached our balloon was just how large the baskets are.
With premonitions of me clinging to a tiny picnic-like basket, it was reassuring to see that they were in fact almost the size of my Fiat 500.
Our basket was divided into two, with the pilot in the middle separating two parties. Astonishingly, the basket actually housed twenty people, with room to move to boot. Indeed, rather than being crammed in like sardines, we had room to sidle around the sides of the basket, taking it in turns to make the most of the different vantage points.
Climbing into the balloon, our first job was to practice our manoeuvre for landing. Ready to adopt the ‘brace, brace’ position, I discovered that all we actually needed to do was squat down and hold onto a red rope.
It was a little anti-climactic.
Now reassured that we had mastered the art of landing, it was time to head skywards.
Rather dramatically, fiery orange flames were suddenly blasted into the balloon – an entire dragon fuelling our ascent. As the ground staff gradually untied the ropes, we waited in utter silence as our basket began to slowly lift; gently climbing into the sky like a bubble rising in a pool of water.
Grabbing each other’s arms, we watched in wonder as the people below us transformed into small dots. Gazing around, I watched as dozens more hot air balloons joined us in the sky; the entire panorama filling with a rainbow of orbs.
It was – undoubtedly – the most beautiful scene I’ve ever witnessed.
Over the course of our 1.5 hour long ballooning experience, we would rise and fall like feathers on a breeze; the landscape continually changing as we rounded new rocky formations. Below, we watched as wild horses galloped through ravines and flocks of birds flew past.
The entire experience was utterly surreal.
We reached our highest altitude at 1,500m when – and just for a moment – I grew slightly concerned that we were headed to space. From here, the hot air balloons below looked like tiny, colourful pin balls, scattered across the landscape like a piece of modern artwork.
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Time passed in a blur and soon it was time to descend – much to our disappointment. Giddy on adrenaline, we got into the required position as our hot air balloon made a peaceful landing. Slightly disappointed that we didn’t have a more dramatic descent, we emerged from our basket triumphant and ready for our final treat: a champagne breakfast.
Adjusting to life back on land, we spoke rapidly over the top of one another, still trying to process the experience.
There was not one of us who wasn’t enjoying an endorphin high and, I’m sure, not one of us who will ever forget those early morning scenes.
Aside from the hot air ballooning experience itself, Cappadocia deserves a few more days of exploration. As such, you’ll need to choose from the dazzling array of hotels that now fill the region. Although finances might be a factor, I’d urge you to consider staying in one of the region’s more traditional hotels: a cave hotel.
A visit to Cappadocia would not be complete without a stay in an authentic cave hotel. Replicating how people in the area would have once lived, many of the hotels in this region are built into the caves to recreate (in a far more luxurious way) the troglodyte dwellings of the past.
Keen to experience this ourselves, we stayed at the 4* Exedra Hotel, which is located in Urgup – a short drive from Göreme.
Arriving at this white stone paradise, we were each led to our rooms, all of which were unique due to the quirky cave formations.
Eagerly opening my hotel room door, I discovered a stone staircase that led down into one of the cosiest hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in. With our sleeping area on one side, the room followed a small walkway through to a separate bathroom and open shower area.
Our stay at Exedra was a peaceful one, with light-filled public spaces offering hammocks and swings, bright foliage and attentive staff. For those considering a cave hotel in Cappadocia, this hotel comes with our highest endorsement.
If hot air ballooning isn’t for you, you’ll be relieved to hear that there is still plenty to see and do in the region. Below are just a few highlights that might help you fill a few days in Cappadocia.
On our first night in Cappadocia, we headed for a traditional Turkish dinner at the home of Nuray, a Cappadocian local. Slipping off our shoes, we were warmly welcomed into her traditional cave home, where we enjoyed a night of delicious dishes and excellent company. Having had to leave her job due to poor health, Nuray focused on her passion for cooking and now welcomes visitors from around the world into her home, cooking for them with care and passion.
After a quick (and remarkably refreshing) apple tea, we took our places around Nuray’s kitchen table, where we were set to work helping to prepare the food.
Salivating as the smell of fried onions, mince meat and creamed lentils filled the cosy kitchen, we chatted, laughed and listened to Nuray’s gentle voice guiding us through the recipes.
After two hours of (largely Nuray) cooking, we feasted on creamed lentil soup, fresh salad and aubergines stuffed with mince meat and onions. It was one of the loveliest meals I’ve enjoyed in a long time and we went to bed that night with contented, full bellies.
For those looking to stretch their legs, a soft morning hike through the intriguingly named ‘Love Valley’ is a well, interesting way to begin the day.
We enjoyed an hour long hike after our hot air balloon ride through this area – its name becoming increasingly ironic as we explored the landscape. Rounding the corner from our mini van, we were met with a sea of giant ‘fairy chimneys’, which loomed large on the hilly landscape. These ‘fairy chimneys’, however, bear an uncanny resemblance to a male body part – and the entire scene caused a lot of sniggering.
I’ll leave you to guess what they reminded us of.
There are 36 underground cities in Cappadocia, which are troglodyte cave-cities dating back as far as 5,000 years.
During our time in Cappadocia, we visited Kaymakli Underground city, which is the broadest of all of the cities in the area. So large, in fact, that only 30% of it is open to the public.
Kaymakli Underground City was built by the Indo-European Phrygians during the 8th-7th centuries BC. Christians expanded these caverns to add chapels and inscriptions, which were then further expanded during the Byzantine era. During this time, Christians sought refuge in the underground caverns from the Muslim Arab raids, which were happening throughout the region. The caves continued to be a place of refuge during the Ottoman era and even into the 20th century (1909-1911), when the Cappadocian Greeks attempted to escape Ottoman persecution.
Making our way down into the fascinating tunnels that lead into the underground dwellings, the overhead sunlight was quickly snuffed out. Soon, we were hunched and walking through increasingly tight spaces, built over four levels. It’s said that this is one of the narrowest cities, in terms of tunnels, with Derinkuyu city having more wider and taller passageways.
It’s something to consider if you’re on the claustrophobic side.
The tour was a fascinating one, with visitors free to explore the various rooms that filled this city – including churches, wineries, bedrooms and cellars. In fact, the city is so pristinely preserved that the local village that sits above still uses some of the traditional dwellings for food storage and stables.
Located near the village of Avanos is the pottery studio of Turkey’s famous potter: Galip Korukcu.
Producing some of the best pots in Turkey, Galip (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Albert Einsten), has been a potter for over fifty years. Having learnt his trade from his father, Master Galip now passes his skills down to his apprentices, who are scattered throughout the studio.
Arriving at the studio, we were seated in a room and swiftly served apple tea. Sipping quietly on our drinks, Galip burst into the room in clay splattered trousers and sat down at his unique ‘kick wheel’. Rather than using a peddle, a kick wheel requires you to, quite literally, kick the wheel to make it spin. Within moments, and after some impressive legwork, Master Galip had skilfully created a vase; producing it with a quick flourish of the hands.
He made it look so easy.
Our group were given the chance to have our own go on the pottery wheel, before we explored the gallery and its dazzling plates, bowls, mugs and pots. For those looking to pick up a traditional piece of Cappadocian pottery, this is the place to come.
In a world where social media often portrays a distorted reality, I was unsure whether hot air ballooning in Cappadocia would live up to the online hype. Would the reality be a complete disappointment when compared with the mesmerising video that I’d seen on Instagram all those years ago? Would I discover just one lone hot air balloon?
The answer, in short, is no.
My experience of hot air ballooning in Cappadocia far surpassed any expectations I had, and has left me with one of my most treasured and special travel memories to date. Less than a week on, the entire experience already feels like a dream; one of pastel pink skies, a glowing sunrise and a sense of floating on air.
My only regret? I wish I could have done it over and over.
Cappadocia, you were a dream come true.
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