Visiting Cappadocia completely changed my perspective on Turkey. I traveled to Istanbul a few years prior, and found myself in a bit of a love/hate relationship with the city the place, and the people.
But I guess it was just in the cards for me to return to Turkey. My cousin and her husband just moved to Istanbul, and my family decided to meet me there, since they had never been. Not thrilled about Istanbul, my cousin invited me to Cappadocia with them. Interested, yet anxious to see more of Turkey, and to see the world famous hot air balloons, I decided to spend a week in Cappadocia.
Plus, I remembered reading this post from a friend named Andrew who I met in my Vipassana meditation course in India. He recommended it highly, so I figured it must be worth the trip.
And it was! Cappadocia was one of the highlights of my year long adventure. After arriving in the main tourist town, Göreme, I realized we were far from Istanbul in every sense. The hills, cliffs, and valleys of Cappadocia present unlimited exploration, and breathtaking views.
But, what I really adored about Cappadocia was the people. Since we traveled to Cappadocia in mid-October, it was the off season, and there were only a limited number of tourists in town. So, my friends and I got to know many of the locals who owned restaurants and guest houses there. It was a small, tight knit community, as I quickly found out, everyone knew each other, and everyone was so friendly, open minded and welcoming to us.
Traveling to Cappadocia restored my faith in Turkey as a whole, and after hours of tavla (backgammon), endless cups of chay (turkish black tea), and intriguing, often spiritual conversation, I fell in love with the Turkish people, their culture, and their way of life.
So what should you do in Cappadocia?
I spent 6 days there, out of about 2 weeks in Turkey, and even though I’m not really fond of hiking, the energy in this town could have enticed me to stay more, and even hike more.
When you arrive you will likely be greeted with several maps of the area, offering a layout of the various hiking trails and valleys.
We hiked through red/rose valley on one of the first days. This is a well-marked trail with cafes and shops along the way. You can do a long or short hike. My friends, who are in my opinion, big hikers, went for the ambitious long hike. Luckily along the way, we met a solo Canadian traveler who was like me, less motivated to continue, and he and I stopped for a chay with the sunset instead, while my group carried on.
Good thing, because half of the hike was long enough for me! So if you are not so into hiking, I’d say go for the short walk, and make sure you go early if you want to add on any additional trails.
Besides this path, we invented many of our own trails, by wandering around the town and it’s surrounding areas. There are so many valleys to explore, and you can spend a full day in each one.
Avanos is a little town known for it’s clay pottery, and large Friday market. It’s nice to spend an afternoon here to see something different, and maybe take a pottery course.
Open Air Museum’s feature cities built into caves. There are many churches, some with paintings still intact. I am generally tired of viewing churches, as I have seen so many in Europe, but churches inside a cave was a new thing for me, and it was actually pretty amazing to imagine people living their lives inside these caves.
Zelve Open Air Museum is more off the beaten path, and it’s churches have fewer paintings, but general group consensus was that this museum was more interesting, and happens to be cheaper, than the more popular Göreme Open Air Museum. Zelve is bigger, and feels almost like a mini hike with gorgeous landscapes. Plus there were less tourists, which is always a plus.
Göreme Open Air Museum is located in the town of Göreme. You can easily walk here from your accommodation in Göreme, but get here early in the morning, or around sunset to beat the crowds. The churches here are well maintained, and there are many to view. But, if you have to choose between Zelve Museum and Göreme, I say skip Göreme and go only for Zelve.
Kaymakli Underground City is exactly what it sounds like, an underground network of caves and tunnels, allowing people to safely live during times of unrest. I had fun checking out this underground city and I would recommend paying it a visit.
Should I take the world famous Hot Air Balloon Ride?!?! Whether or not to do the hot air balloon was my biggest debate, and seems to be a difficult decision for many travelers. Going on a ride will cost you a minimum of $150 but I heard it can be much more during the season.
After much debate, I decided to do it!
And it was incredible. I can’t believe how well they can control the balloons; we rode into the valleys, narrowly passing by the ancient rock structures. I could have reached out and touched the rocks on several occasions. At first we went up quite high, which gives a great aerial lay of the land, and at some points we were floating just above the ground.
I flew with a company called Voyager Balloons which was recommended to me by some friends in town. The company picked me up at my hostel early in the am, and dropped me off at their headquarters for a light breakfast. Sadly, breakfast was not vegan, but ok I wasn’t hungry at 5am anyway. But I grabbed a coffee and waited for the other flyers to arrive. The ride itself was great; the pilot, Osman, was a skilled pilot, and an entertaining tour guide. I enjoyed by trip with Voyager.
Due to my indecisiveness, I rode the hot air balloon on my second to last day. Be aware, it’s better to schedule your ride early, so you have the option to reschedule in case of bad weather. Also the ride provides you with a good mental picture of the area, which would have been helpful the many times we got lost looking for some of the valleys.
If you don’t end up riding the balloon, do wake up around dawn one morning and head to the sunset point above Göreme. Here you will have a panoramic view of the balloons floating above the incredible landscape. This is also an incredibly beautiful experience.
Stay and Shop:
Normally I rather dislike reading, seeing, or engaging in posts about where to stay in a location, but I met so many kind hosts in this town, they deserve some good reviews!
Hasan Cave Apartments: We stayed in a cave apartment first, with a really nice guy named Hasan. The apartment was clean, had a gorgeous bathroom and shower, and a modest kitchen where we could prepare food. Sleeping in a cave is a cool experience, you really sleep like a rock! You can find Hasan’s property on Air BnB.
Göreme Guest House: A nice property with a great view. Shahin, who’s name means Falcon, is a wonderful guy with a nice, well priced, guest house. He is currently building some tree house bungalows, and a pool! How exciting.
Köse Pension: I stayed at this hostel for a few days, and met many interesting travelers there. This pension is a family business, and I had the pleasure to befriend the daughter of the owners. It is really “cozy” here and they have a variety of well-priced rooms, and a cool rooftop down.
Turquoise Rugs and Bags: If you need to buy a rug, or a bag handmade from a rug, do it at this shop! Here you will find Mustafa, the shop owner, and probably a group of foreigners hanging out. We used his shop as our daily meeting point, and he even made a bonfire outside after the shop was closed a few evenings. His rugs all tell a story, and are collected from different areas around Turkey. Cool shop – even cooler guy.
And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the most important thing -food, but that will come in a later post.
All in all, I loved Cappadocia, and I have vowed to one day return!
Have you visited Cappadocia? What was the highlight of your trip?