If you are planning a trip to Turkey, it’s likely that Cappadocia will be on your itinerary, and if it isn’t then it should be. Cappadocia is located in central Turkey and is famous for its unique landscape of “fairy chimneys” and rock formations. If that doesn’t ring a bell, then you’ll probably recognize it as one of the go-to spots in the world for hot air ballooning.
On my trip to Turkey back in the spring, Cappadocia was one of the stops I was looking forward to the most. I was excited to hike through the valleys, take in the views, and most importantly, check “hot air balloon ride” off my bucket list. The region definitely did not disappoint. You could spend days just admiring the iconic landscapes that just feel entirely out of this world.
The best part about Cappadocia is that you can spend multiple days there, but you can also see a lot in a short period of time. Here is my guide for you to have the best possible trip.
How to Get There
You likely will be coming from Istanbul to Cappadocia. In order to get there, you can take a flight from one of the two airports in Istanbul to Kayseri Erkilet Airport or Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport and then get a shuttle or taxi to Göreme.
Note: You’ll want to centre yourself in Göreme as it’s the main hub, and thriving centre of the area so you can join tours, and get to a lot of key sites from here.
If you are travelling on a budget, you can also take a long-distance bus from Istanbul to Göreme. The buses go directly to Göreme, unlike flights, but of course, this option will take just over 12 hours.
Last, but not least, you can rent a car and drive yourself to Göreme. The drive will take about 8-hours.
Where to Stay
As mentioned above, you’ll want to stay in Göreme. We stayed outside of Göreme and it was incredibly inconvenient. Although this tourist area is well connected, it’s best to stay right in the centre of everything. If you have access to a car, or have multiple days in the region and are okay with spending time travelling, you can also stay in: Uçhisar, Çavuşin, Ürgüp, or Ortahisar.
One of the most unique, must-do experiences in this area is to stay in a cave hotel. These are hotels built right into the rock formations and are incredibly cool. Elaine and Dave of The Whole World is a Playground have a great guide with some hotel recommendations. However, it’s not hard to find great cave hotels in this area, just book in advance if you are travelling in high season.
What to Do
Hot Air Ballooning
Since the hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia are weather dependent, and the tiniest bit of wind can cancel your trip, if this is something on your bucket list, try to make sure you will be in the region for at least 2 full days.
Hot air balloons take off before sunrise, very early in the morning. Price is dependent on time of year and company, but expect to pay anywhere from $300-500 euros. I know it’s expensive, but if you are able to fit this into your budget, make it work because it is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
There is no shortage of balloon companies to choose from, so you can definitely book a couple of days in advance. If you prefer to book further out, reach out to your accommodations for their recommendations on the best company. I say this because there are definitely a few companies that don’t take off from the central take off point. The only downfall of this is its only half of the magic is not just the scenery from above, but also seeing all the other balloons among the scenery.
Hiking & Viewpoints
There are several fantastic hikes to do in Göreme National Park and area, plus many great lookouts in the area if hiking isn’t your thing.
- Red Valley: The sandstone of Red Valley glows a vibrant, you guessed it, red, when the sun burns onto it. The red is the most vibrant during sunset every night so if you can plan this hike around sunset, you’ll be rewarded
- Rose Valley: Rose Valley and Red Valley trails are joined in most cases and a popular hiking route. Rose Valley. The rock formations are truly indescribable and tinted pink, especially during sunset.
- Pigeon Valley: Among one of the most popular in the region, Pigeon Valley is dotted with old cave dwellings, ancient paintings on the rocks, and amazing landscape. There are a few different loops on AllTrails you can choose from that are inclusive of Pigeon Valley.
- Zemi Valley: Walk alongside a small stream through valleys and caves, this hike may not be the most popular out of this list, but it’s incredibly underrated and with that, of course, less “busy” during high season.
- Red Valley Viewpoint (best spot to watch the sunset)
- Lovers Hill Viewpoint (best spot to watch the sunrise)
- Monk’s Valley
- Pigeon Valley
- Uchisar Castle Viewpoint
- Ortahisar Castle Viewpoint
There are two main underground cities you can visit while in the Cappadocia region, Kaymakli and Derinkuyu. Of course, if you have the time, visit both since they are both spectacular and truly out-of-this-world. If you only have time for one (like I did), I’d choose Kaymakli over Derinkuyu.
Now a bit about the history of the underground cities:
Derinkuyu: This city is 8 levels deep (but you can only explore 4) and was once home to 20K people. As you walk through it you’ll pass dwellings, churches, schools, stables, and more. It’s truly crazy to envision what life underground would have been like. This is the most popular of the 2 cities but that’s because it’s on the itinerary for many major tour groups because it’s larger.
Kaymakli: Considered the oldest city in the region. You’ll explore several tunnels and passages that are all lit up, but warning that many require you to duck to walk through. Similar to Derinkuyu, you’ll see dwellings, stables, churches, etc. Kaymakli may be smaller but it’s not as busy as Derinkuyu and only attracts smaller tour groups.
Warning: If you are claustrophobic in any way, this excursion may not be for you, or you may want to opt for Derinkuyu over Kaymakli as since it’s more touristy, the passages and tunnels are wider.
Open Air Museum
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Open Air Museum situated right in Göreme is a must-do on your itinerary in the region if you have an opportunity. For me, if I had to choose, I’d choose hiking and the Underground City over this, but if you have a chance to do all three, it’s worth it. It also entirely is dependent on your interests as well.
The Open Air Museum is a monastic complex of monasteries placed side-by-side, each with its own amazing church built into the rock formations. In each of the churches you can see beautiful frescoes that somehow managed to be preserved over all these years.
If you are tired of hiking, or hiking just isn’t really your thing, an ATV tour can be a great alternative. Ride the quads through the different valleys to take in the unique landscape. There are a ton of companies offering this in the region so you don’t have to worry about booking it too far in advance.
Another great way to explore the area is by horse. Taking a sunset horseback ride can be absolutely breathtaking and there are so many companies that offer a variety of different tours depending on how much time you have to spare. Here are some you can consider.
Catch Sunrise or Sunset
The best place to catch sunrise, in my opinion, is from a hot air balloon, but if you want the view you see in influencers photos of all the balloons taking off behind you, there are several spots you can view the sunrise from the ground from. Here are the most popular:
Another popular option is to view the hot air balloons from terraces and rooftop patios of hotels. These hotels are very popular and often, expensive, so book in advance: Sultan Caves Hotel, Mithra Cave Hotel, Koza Cave Hotel. Be prepared to know that you will also not ever have the rooftop to yourself.
Note: Hot air balloons do not fly every day because it’s very dependent on the weather and the wind
Why is Cappadocia famous? This region in Turkey is famous for its unique landscape of rock formations, historical heritage, and of course, the hot air balloon trips that you see plastered all over social media.
What is the best month to visit Cappadocia? Late spring and early fall are the best months because they are the shoulder season of the busiest time in the region. The weather is also not too hot, but still warm enough, and you’ll fall within the best time of year to fly in a hot air balloon.
Is it safe to go to Cappadocia now? Absolutely! Cappadocia is very safe for tourists, females, and solo travelers. It’s easy to get around, catered to tourists, and has lots to see and do.
Is Cappadocia really worth it? If you don’t include this area on your Turkey itinerary you’ll leave disappointed. This part of Turkey is truly out of this world and you’ll not want to miss it. Even if you don’t plan to ride a hot air balloon.