What to do in Cappadocia?
Hoş Geldiniz! ¡Welcome!
Kapadokya (in Turkish) is one of those places that you have to visit at least once in your life. Flying in a hot air balloon is, by far, the best way to get to know the area. Wherever you see, the panorama is amazing: it seems that rocks and multicolored balloons come alive in the enchanted valley.
When I arrived at Cappadocia I had the feeling of being in a fairy tale. It is a unique landscape located in the region of Central Anatolia, in the Asian continent (remember that the country is between Europe and Asia), recognized for its spectacular rock formations in a type of stone called calcareous tufa.
This extraordinary place has its origins in geological formations, in natural erosion and in the form given to it by the different millenarian civilizations that settled in the area, with the objective of building shelters against the invaders.
What makes this Turkish region special are the caves, the unique rocks shapes, its underground cities and, of course, the possibility of fly in a hot air balloon to appreciate one of the best views on the planet. The flight experience is unique!
Although today it’s a Muslim city, in its beginnings, Cappadocia was an important Christian settlement. Evidence of Christianity can be found in the hundreds of churches that are still preserved and also in the intensely colored frescoes that date back to the 13th century. In Göreme Open Air Museum there are good examples of this frescoes that were carefully painted on the interior of multiple caves.
During the persecution of the Christians, the citizens were kept safe in the caves, some of them with depths of up to eight or ten floors.
The charms of this region, World Heritage since 1985, go beyond what I just told you. The food, the unique design of Turkish ceramics and people’s warmth, which transcends the barrier of the language, make it an unforgettable destination.
Things to do in Cappadocia
Cappadocia hot air balloon
It’s a dream and you cannot leave Cappadocia without flying in a hot air balloon! You can hire the service at the hotel or a tourist agency. Cappadocia hot air balloon price is about 150 euros in a basket of 16 people; the amount varies if the tour is more personalized or with fewer people in the basket. I booked the tour through Pupa Travel (super recommended!), their offices are located in the Ürgüp city center, where many hotels are located.
Usually, the tour includes pick-up service at the hotel around 4-5 am, transportation to the meeting point, light breakfast before departure, and a toast after you arrive.
The balloon ride takes about 45 min (it may take a little more depending on the weather conditions). During the ride, you are going to see the best sunrise in your life and the most incredible and unimaginable rock forms. Believe me! the experience is much better than what you see in any photo or video.
The basket movement is almost imperceptible, which allows an atmosphere of relaxation that will make you forget about the world. Don’t worry, it’s not an extreme activity! Apart from the other people in the basket, all that is heard are the flames controlled by the pilot to stay in the air.
Wherever you see, the view is incredible. It seems that rocks and multicolored balloons come alive in the enchanted valley. You never know with certainty where the balloon will land, but wherever it does it, the transport will arrive to pick up you.
We landed in the middle of a field that seemed to have no end. The experience gives you a feeling of satisfaction and peace that is difficult to describe. Finally, the staff in charge of the tour improvised a toast to celebrate the fascinating experience.
TIP: Plan to stay in Cappadocia at least two mornings. The meteorological authorities and the government decide every afternoon if it is allowed to fly the next morning. In our case, we were able to fly until the second morning of our stay, since the first day of our trip, the flight was canceled due to weather conditions.
Goreme Open Air Museum
If you stayed in Ürgüp or in Goreme, you will be very close to this museum. It is a magical place where you can see hundreds of churches in caves with medieval paintings, some in perfect condition. The most popular temples are Las Monjas, Santa Bárbara, Apple, Serpiente, Oscura (with the best-preserved frescoes).
The visit to the museum may take you from 1.5 to 2 hours. Ideally, your guide will accompany you and explain the history of each place.
Tickets are sold outside the museum, the price is around $7. Also, keep in mind that there are some churches where you cannot take pictures.
Pigeon Valley Cappadocia
It is called Pigeon Valley because of the rocks have carved houses for pigeons, and of course, in the place, you can see this type of birds walking or flying over the area.
The valley extends between the towns of Goreme and Uchisar, with a beautiful panoramic view. Although everything looks alike, if you look carefully, each rock has a different shape and color.
In the valley, there are services such as souvenir shops, cafeteria, and bathrooms. There is also a tree with dozens of Turkish eyes, also called Nazar, which are eye-shaped amulets that are believed to protect against the evil eye.
Surrounded by exceptional views, Uchisar Castle is a stone fortress on one of the highest points of the city. It’s located about five kilometers from Goreme and walking distance from Pigeon Valley, so you can visit both places at the same time. The castle offers a privileged view of the area and admission is free.
Devrent Valley (Imagination Valley)
It is the best place to finish your tour day in Cappadocia. Here I found the rarest and creative rock forms, that’s why they called it the Imagination Valley.
I loved the landscape! The place looks like a desolate road surrounded by rocks with many forms, scarce vegetation, and few apricot trees. From the distance, you can see a rock with the figure of a camel that looks molded by a sculpture. It’s a nice place to take pictures!
The main underground city complexes are located in Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, which are 40 kilometers from Goreme. Declared by UNESCO World Heritage Sites, these ancient underground cities have several levels that extend to a depth of approximately 60 meters (200 feet).
Kaymakli is recognized for being the widest of all the underground cities that exist in Cappadocia. This, and many others that exist in the area were excavated by the Hittites, ancient people settled on the Anatolian peninsula.
This town is known as the cradle of Turkish ceramics. The shapes, textures, and colors of vases, kitchen utensils, and other decorative elements are impressive. This is a tourist stop on many tours, but it is a nice way to learn how they work the ceramics.
2 days in Cappadocia
Limited time to spend in Cappadocia? My recommendation to maximize your visit is:
- Fly to Cappadocia late at night so on your first day you have the chance to do the balloon flight in the early morning. After the balloon flight, take a tour in the area (usually they starts at 10 am, so you have time to finish the balloon flight). At night, if you still have energy, you can book a Turkish Night where you can have traditional dinner and enjoy a show.
- The second day is your back-up day to do the balloon flight if it wasn’t possible during the first day due to the weather conditions. You may do another tour and book your flight for the afternoon or early night. Take into account that the trip to the airport can take an hour.
Istanbul to Cappadocia
I was in Istanbul and I took a flight from the Sabiha Gökçen airport, located on the Asian side, to the Kayseri airport. If you are going from Istambul to Cappadocia there are some airlines that offer the service and if you book with time you would find very good deals, in our case we used Pegasus Airlines that is a Turkish low-cost airline.
Kayseri is the closest airport to the Cappadocia, and the time to go from the airport to Goreme or Uchisar is about an hour. You can arrange the transportation prior to your arrival, it’s about $20 for the round trip, or contract the services at the airport. Kayseri to Goreme shuttle information is on this link.
There is another airport near Cappadocia named Nevsehir, however, the majority of the airlines arrive at Kayseri Airport.
Food in Cappadocia
Turkish cuisine has a Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Balkan influence. It is very common to see kebab in restaurant menus, which can be lamb, veal or chicken. The kebab or, in Turkey, the shish kebab, is the meat cooked on a skewer.
If you are in Cappadocia, you can not miss the Testi Kebab, an absolutely delicious specialty. It is lamb meat, with other ingredients, which is cooked in clay pots that are covered with dough and then introduced in large ovens on the coals.
Best cave hotels in Cappadocia
I had never been to a cave hotel and this hotel was exceptional!
Hotel Dere Suites Cappadocia besides romantic and cozy, it is an ideal place to rest: it is quiet and with the lights off you can not even see your hands.
After a pleasant night, I had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, which is located on a terrace. Besides served varied and delicious food, the restaurant is perfect to see the balloons flying. Turkish breakfast is healthy, with many choices of vegetables and fruits. The hotel staff is very friendly and offers impeccable service.
The other option I recommended is Kayakapi Premium Caves Cappadocia, that is 1 km from Urgup city center. They also have elegant suites and great views Cappadocia.