Updated: 10/12/2019: Turkey is one of those amazing destinations that seems to stay with travelers long after they’ve gone on to other adventures. The unique vibrancy and culture that pulsates through the country’s bustling cities such as Istanbul and Ankara is nothing short of enthralling.
Adding even more intrigue to the country is its unique rural landscape that seems to be from another world. Debi Lander from ByLanderSea is here to tell us all about visiting Cappadocia, made even more memorable thanks to a bird’s-eye view.
Visiting Cappadocia, Turkey
Driving past acre upon acre of farmland, no matter what country, makes me feel lost in the middle of nowhere. Such was the case as I approached Cappadocia in central Turkey until all of a sudden, the landscape transformed before my eyes.
Giant rock formations surrounded me. I felt like a tiny gnome in a field of giant mushrooms. The whimsical rock formations look like mushroom caps and are called fairy chimneys. Others were rounded domes with windows and doors, like Fred Flintstone’s house, and still others looked like smooth sand dunes. The otherworldly scene enchanted me, as it does nearly all tourists to this region of Anatolia.
My room in a cave hotel proved to be spacious, but windowless with curved walls. I felt comfortable inside, but don’t worry, most cave hotel rooms contain windows. I opted for less expensive lodging, an incredible value at $33 per night including breakfast.
Over the next two days, I explored Cappadocia’s highlights by joining small groups tours. These sojourns included WiFi enabled van transportation, entry into ticketed sites, lunch and an English-speaking tour guide.
Exploring the Goreme Open-Air Museum in Cappadocia
Among the stops, the Goreme Open-Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site shines. The park-like setting showcases preserved rock-hewn and frescoed churches from the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries. No photos are permitted inside, but tourists discover vivid color and exquisite detail in the religious frescoes. I snapped the photo below while standing outside peeking in, and I promise, I didn’t use a flash. The pic provides a better than nothing ghostly glimpse of the church’s design.
The group tours also proceeded to more UNESCO sites: ancient underground cities with tunnels and rooms carved to hide up to 10,000 inhabitants from invaders. Visitors must occasionally bend forward and squeeze to get through a few of the passages.
Soaring high on a Cappadocia hot air balloon ride
I saved the best for my third day in Cappadocia (although some fit all activities into two days). I reserved a place on the most astonishing travel experience, a hot-air balloon ride. To float in the sky over the mysterious and fanciful landscape is a wondrous gift to yourself. However, being up in the air surrounded by as many as one hundred additional balloons is gobsmackingly awesome.
The morning starts early with van pick-up from hotels around 5:00 a.m. I joined other groggy participants at a building where coffee, tea, and pastries were offered while the necessary waiver and release forms were signed. Then, we were split into groups for a ride to the nearby balloon launch site.
Teamwork is necessary to launch and land a hot-air balloon with the pilot acting as commander-in-chief. At this pre-dawn hour, I captured the crew filling the balloon with heated air coming from a propane burner. (The heated air is less dense than the outside air, confirming the fact that hot air rises!)
As soon as the balloon began to lift upward, the ground crew held down the basket and asked the riders to climb in. I’m 5’ 6’” and the basket height came almost up to my chest while standing. I felt secure. The pilot, standing in the center, fires the burner as needed to continue to fill the parachute with heated air. A self-sealing hole or valve in the top of the chute allows hot air to escape when lowering. The pilot pulls a chord attached to the valve to do so.
My balloon’s basket held eight participants in four compartments plus the pilot. Some baskets hold many more, in my opinion, making the experience less personal. I found it fascinating to watch the pilot work when I wasn’t busy taking photos or looking out.
Lift-off surprised me as nearly an unevent; the morning temperature hung cold without a whisper of wind, perfect for ballooning. The basket beneath my feet felt as if a magician’s trick levitated the contents skyward. Our inflatable lifted gently, seemingly without the constraints of gravity and the riders excitement grew.
Quickly, we gained a birds-eye view, marveling at the alien earth in Cappadocia and treasuring this particular moment in time, a memory not to be forgotten. I stared, mesmerized by the strange moonscape of humps and rocky lumps, domed cave houses, fairy chimneys and sand dune-like shapes dotting the ground.
The pilot maneuvered the craft in a slow circular turn allowing each participant 360-degree sight. We saw many other hot-air balloons lift-off, joining us in time to catch the somewhat less than spectacular sunrise. (Guess you can’t have everything go your way.)
Our basket hovered fairly close to the ground, never ascending to scary heights. At times, the pilot lowered us down into the strange volcanic cone-strewn valleys and then shot us up and out before we crashed into a rock wall. With so little wind, he was in expert command of our vessel.
I felt sad when the 50-minute to an hour ride began the descent, all too soon for me. Fortunately, I snapped many photos to help capture the scene. We landed ever so gently on target with the assistance of the chase team. Our pilot placed us exactly on the rear of the transport van, an astounding performance of a professional.
Afterward, the group participated in the traditional champagne toast, saluting our pilot, crew and the day. We each received a certificate; I suspect in case you wanted to prove you had taken the flight.
Cappadocia is the ballooning capital of Turkey
Cappadocia is known as a ballooning capital, and approximately 25 companies run their operations there. On weather cooperating days in spring, summer and fall, the early morning skies are filled with colorful balloons.
With such frequent flights, the pilots acquire expert knowledge of the terrain. The crews know one another and work together to maintain the safest experience for tourists.
Cappadocia captivated me with childlike wonder. I felt safe the entire time I traveled in Turkey (March 2016) and would highly recommend it as an inexpensive destination with world-class monuments.
Helpful hints for choosing a Cappadocia hot air balloon tour
When choosing a balloon company consider the following:
- Skill: Are both the company and pilot experienced in the region?
- Equipment: Ask about the age or condition of the balloon you will fly in.
- Launch site: Can the launch site be changed for varying weather conditions?
- Time of the day: If demand is high, some companies make more than one morning flight. Air conditions are typically best at dawn; take the first flight.
- Balloon Basket Size: Some huge balloons carry baskets with 32 passengers. Take a smaller basket where you can see and talk with the pilot.
- Pilots Language Ability: Will the pilot and the other passengers speak a language you understand? Pilot commentary can be a huge contributor to flight satisfaction.
- Cost: Longer trips cost more.
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