Cappadocia is one of the most photogenic places on the planet.
World famous for its balloon rides at sunrise, the region’s moon-like landscapes are what make it such a special place to visit.
Once you arrive in Cappadocia, you quickly realize why the region is such a hot air balloon epicenter.
The landscape is unreal, it’s as if you’re on another planet.
Formerly known by its Persian name, Kapadokya, Cappadocia is located in central Anatolia- the heartland of Turkey.
Famous for its fairy chimneys, cave hotels, staggering rock formations and hot air balloon sunrises, it’s no wonder tourism is on a continual rise.
The region’s mesmerising backdrop is the result of a process that began many millennia ago, when a volcano scattered ash across the region. When the molten deposit turned to soft rock, which helped erosion create the unusual landscape that exists today.
It didn’t take long for inhabitants of the region to built underground homes and cities, alongside cave dwellings and peaked churches.
When we decided to visit Istanbul in early December, we carved out 2.5 days to visit Cappadocia.
We knew only allowing two mornings was a gamble, especially in the off-season when weather can be unpredictable. But, we rationalized, even if we didn’t see a beautiful sunrise, the jaunt would still be worth it to experience another part of Turkey.
The five days before our visit, it rained throughout Cappadocia, and was so windy, no balloons flew.
When we checked into our hotel, we were told our timing may be perfect- there was a good chance the balloons would fly the next morning.
During our short stay in the region, we were treated to blue skies, mild temps and practically no wind.
To tout our time in Cappadocia as lucky would be an understatement.
The entire experience was just incredible.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at the Insta-famous, Sultan Cave Suites in Goreme.
Our room was €80 a night, and included breakfast for two. Given our modest travel budget, this was a splurge, but one we couldn’t imagine passing up.
The hotel’s terrace offers an insane view of Goreme, and the surrounding valley- one of the best in town.
It’s absolutely epic at sunrise, and sunset is pretty beautiful as well.
Our rate was an off-season travel perk. It’s my understanding prices increase by 2-3x as much in summer when the hotel is in high demand.
There are plenty of cheaper places to stay in Goreme, but since we weren’t renting a car, having a good view of the balloons (if they flew) was important to us.
Whether you rent a car or not, I’d stay at a hotel with a great terrace. The off-season rates made our cave suite all the more attractive, but the entire experience was so incredible, I’d recommend it to anyone.
HOW TO GET THERE & GET AROUND
We flew in and out of Kayseri, which is about 45-60 minutes from Goreme.
We traveled on Pegasus airlines for $28 USD return.
If going again, I’d rent a car. The roads in this part of Turkey are in great condition, and easy to get around, assuming you have GPS navigation.
We actually forgot about renting a car until right up to our arrival. When we finally remembered to check (the night prior), rates had gone up so much that it no longer made sense to consider it as an option.
Instead, we took a shuttle from the airport to our hotel. There are independent shuttle companies, which you can find via Google, or you can ask your hotel to help coordinate transport.
Either way, make sure you reserve before you arrive. There’s no ‘on-arrival’ transport at the airport, aside from private taxis, which usually run €60-70+ one-way to Goreme.
By comparison, a seat on a shared shuttle is only €8 per person.
There’s also a public bus to Goreme, but it departs from a nearby bus station, so you’ll need to catch an airport bus (if they’re running) or taxi to the bus station, then wait for the next departing bus. If you’ve got plenty of time, this may be alright, but otherwise, I’d advise doing a shared shuttle.
Once in Cappadocia, most people stay in Goreme. It gets a bad rep for being a bit touristy, but it is the most developed of the towns in Cappadocia, and the balloons fly right over it during sunrise.
Assuming you’re staying in Goreme, you can walk around town- it’s small enough.
To get to other parts of Cappadocia, you can reserve a spot on a half or full day tour, pending what you want to see, or do as we did and hire a taxi driver.
In the off-season, our driver cost €35 (for two people) for 6 hours of drive time, and took us to every sight we wanted to see.
We would have preferred a car for flexibility in exploring, but hiring a driver made it easy for us to see and do more than we would have on a tour at our own pace, and for less than a tour would have cost both of us.
Our taxi hire was arranged through our hotel. Sultan Cave Suites were incredibly helpful in discussing what we wanted to see and do.
We went to them with a list of sights we wanted to visit, asked them if there was anything else we should consider doing, and then worked out a rough plan for the day with estimated timings to give our driver.
WHAT TO DO
Watch the Sun Rise
On our first frosty winter morning in Cappadocia, we were blessed with a truly gorgeous sunrise.
Even the hotel photographer said it was one of the best he’d seen all year.
In total, we spent nearly two hours on the roof, enjoying all of it.
Each moment was magic- from a glowing, fiery sun cresting over the horizon, to soft purples and pinks illuminating our surroundings, to a rising sun casting soft morning light across clear blue skies.
The hotel staff kept bringing us coffee and tea to help us stay warm, but we didn’t start to feel cold until the very end, even though it was ~30 degrees Farenheit the entire time.
We couldn’t believe how close some of the balloons flew to town, or how incredible the colours of the terrace pillows and rugs looked against the changing morning sky.
A staged breakfast may seem silly, but the colours and the movement of the softly sailing balloons in the background was mesmerizing.
Because the balloons hadn’t flown for a few days, there were more than usual for this time of the year. The hotel staff estimated there were between 125-150 in the skies around Goreme on that morning.
Another off season travel perk?
There were times we had the entire terrace to ourselves.
The terrace is closed to guests only at sunrise, but in the summer, when the hotel is fully booked, you’ll normally have 60-80 people on the roof, vying for photos and views.
Shots I was able to grab easily, and without even thinking about it, would require queueing to do so in summer.
Go Rug Shopping
I’d waffled over buying a rug in Turkey for most of our time in Istanbul. I was intrigued with the idea, especially since they were so beautiful, but also hesitant since I was still living that ‘digital nomad’ life.
Our first day in Cappadocia however, I accepted a job offer for 2020 that would see me relocate to Europe.
Upon accepting, I decided the best way to celebrate would be treating myself to a Turkish rug. Since we were in Cappadocia at the time, we headed to the Insta-famous rug shop, Galerie Ikman.
Walking in, you instantly feel as though you’re on the set of Aladdin.
This place is popular with bloggers, keen to get a colourful shot with rugs and beautiful Turkish clothes in the background. If you visit, please remember to be respectful- they ask you to pay a small fee to take photos (they are a business after all), and remove your shoes so you don’t damage the rugs.
If you make any purchases while there, photo fees are waived.
We enjoyed watching others take shots, including a drone photoshoot, before heading into the back rooms to look at the rugs.
After a discussion with the owner, they started pulling rugs for me to see, and I was instantly smitten with one of them.
It was just beautiful, and it helped that I loved the story behind it as well- it’s one of a set of rugs, crafted by a small village near Goreme each year. The women who handcraft the rugs only create so many to ensure quality.
Needless to say, I can’t wait to find a flat and see my colourful purchase on display.
Explore the Region’s Unique Landscape
- Love Valley: Be sure to see this valley of unique rock formations (you’ll understand why it’s nicknamed ‘love valley’ when you see the shape of them) from an above overlook, as well as below. Down in the valley itself, there are places to park, where you can walk into the valley to see the formations close-up
- Pigeon Valley: This stop wasn’t initially on our list, but we visited at the urging of our hotel. We spent about 20 minutes here, walking around, and taking in the view of the valley and homes carved into rock. Worth a stop, for sure, especially if you’re visiting nearby Uchisar Castle
- Rose Valley: There’s a 5km hiking trail, which we would have loved to do, but if you don’t have time for it, there’s also an overlook of the valley, where you can still hike a bit, while being treated to incredible views of the rose coloured peaks
- Uchisar Castle: Sunset is the best time to visit the castle, the fading sun creates the most beautiful glow. We loved the castle, and the views of the valley from the top, but were most smitten with looking at the castle head on
- Pasabag: Our least favourite stop of the afternoon, Pasabag felt artificial with its paved walkways. Nonetheless, it’s a great place to actually go inside fairy chimneys, and the landscape is really just unbelievable
- Goreme Open Air Museum: One of the most popular tour spots in Cappadocia, and for good reason- it does a great job of explaining the region’s history. You can actually reach the museum by walking from town- it’s only about a mile from the centre of town, and takes 15-20 minutes to reach on foot
Goreme is small- you can easily cover most, if not all of the town by foot in a day.
Arriving in Goreme late morning, seeing town is how we chose to spend our first day.
We really enjoyed visiting other hotels in the town, especially Cappadocia Cave Suites and the Local Cave House with its beautiful pool.
There isn’t a ton to do in town, so we ended up spending some time just lounging in rooftop restaurants we found, as well.
It was such a chill welcome to a new part of Turkey, and allowed us to rest for the next day, which would begin early with sunrise.
Watch the Sunset
Dozens of balloons may not fly at sunset, like they do in the morning, but if the weather is good, there’ll likely be a few in the sky.
Lover’s Hill provides panoramic views of the setting sun over Goreme.
If you have a car or don’t mind paying for a taxi, there’s a panoramic viewpoint outside of town that’s popular with visitors for sunset.
Calling it a viewpoint is actually an understatement- there’s even a small bar onsite. The viewpoint is near the red valley, and you should be able to find it just by entering ‘Panoramic View Point, Goreme’ or Coffee Club into Google maps.
And, the same rooftop terraces that provide such a special view in the morning are great to head to in the evening again.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK COFFEE
Our hotel offered free breakfast, so we only ate a few meals out during our short stay in Cappadocia.
Also, of note, we weren’t drinking while we were in Turkey, which is why I haven’t made any recommendations for places to have a drink.
Our favourite finds?
- Cafe Safak: Great for your third-wave coffee fix, the lattes are creamy and piping hot. Plus, the guys who run the cafe are so friendly
- Organic Cave Kitchen: This was one of the first restaurants we stumbled upon in Goreme. We had a lovely chickpea stew with Turkish tea here. If you don’t eat meat, your selection is pretty limited, and there are other spots in town that do a better job catering to vegetarians
- Viewpoint Cafe and Restaurant: We visited Viewpoint both days we were in Goreme- it’s one of the only restaurants in town with a high enough rooftop to have a decent view of the valley without climbing into the hills. Both visits, we had a slew of appetisers (cheese, hummus, flatbread, olives, etc.) and hot chocolate- and thought everything was delicious
- Firin Express: Decent flatbread pizza, very affordable
- Dibek: Good for trying traditional, Turkish food
Have you ever been to Cappadocia? Is it on your travel wish list of places to visit someday?
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