In more ways than one, Cappadocia will leave you breathless.
The rough, yet elegant landscape of Cappadocia kept me daydreaming for many years. We were able to visit this famous region of central Anatolia this year, at the end of May.
From the ground with its caves and selenic look to the hot air balloons flying over the land of Fairy Chimneys, Cappadocia will take your breath away. We’ve been to many beautiful places during our travels but none as remarkable as this. Without a doubt one of the unique landscapes on the planet, if Cappadocia isn’t on your bucket list, then it should be
1. Stay in a typical Cappadocia Cave Hotel
Cappadocia is honeycombed with caves. Many were built by hand in the soft volcanic rock hundreds if not thousands of years ago. The caves have been used as homes, monasteries, churches and now hotels. In Göreme alone there are over 30 cave hotels offering everything from one-star to five-star accommodation.
We chose to stay at the Bedrock Cave Hotel and it turned out to be a great choice. We had a cave room with an exotic feel with beautiful pillows covered with colorful Turkish fabric.
To sleep in a cave hotel, will definitely be one of the most exotic and unique experiences you can have, right in the middle of hundreds of years of history and an amazing landscape. You have to try it!
2. Go on a Hot Air Balloon Ride over Cappadocia
Without a doubt, riding in a hot air balloon over this selenic landscape is the most epic thing you can do in Cappadocia. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Sure, it isn’t cheap, but sometimes you just need to forget about the money and this is one of those times.
As the sun rose from the horizon, it spread its rays of morning light over Cappadocia. Slowly it glided over the valleys, bringing this lava-sculpted landscape back to life.
I wished that my friends and family were with me to share in this magical moment.
Floating on a gentle breeze high above the fairy chimneys. It was so quiet, with the only sound of the burner in our basket. The beauty of Central Turkey was only made more incredible by seeing it from above, flying in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia. The experience had left us speechless.
3. Discover the land of Fairy Chimneys with the Red Tour
In my opinion, the Red Tour is one of the best things you can do in Cappadocia beside the hot air balloon ride. It’s a great introduction to the area and takes you to the most striking spots in northern Cappadocia. If you were to do just one tour (other than the hot air balloon), then I suggest doing this one.
We prefer exploring on our own so we rarely go on tours unless it’s necessary. In Cappadocia, it was necessary. Its points of interest are spread out over large distances and the public transportation system isn’t as developed as it is in bigger cities, so going on a guided tour is the best way to get around.
The most popular tours are the Red and Green Tours and they’re offered by nearly every travel agency in Cappadocia. We took all the tours and rental from Gorgeous Tours and we were very pleased with them.
They picked us up from our hotel at 9:30 AM and our first stop of the day was Goreme Panorama over the Uchisar Castle. It’s a great place to get acquainted with Cappadocia’s famed fairy chimneys.
And then, we stopped at the Goreme Open Air Museum which is the most visited site in Cappadocia.
We continued our visit to Cavusin, one of the oldest Greek cities, and after a short break for lunch, we headed for a pottery workshop in Avanos, an important pottery center since antiquity. There we had so much fun just trying to create something… anything.
Then we went at the place I liked the most: Pasabag or the Valley of the Monks. The spectacular volcanic spirits make it magical. It’s an unreal image.
By the end of the tour, we saw the Devrent Valley, so-called imaginary valley, that invites you to imagine what it might look like these volcanic tuffs.
4. Visit the Derinkuyu undergrown city with the Green Tour
It is recommended to hire a guide or a tour to visit the underground cities and the best one is the Green Tour.
Beneath Cappadocia’s rock formations are underground cities, not just one or two, but 36 of them! Believed to have housed up to 10,000 people each, they were used by the first inhabitants of Cappadocia to escape the harsh winter and wild animals. Later, they became the place of hiding of the first Christians who escaped persecution at the hands of Roman soldiers. I visited Derinkuyu Underground City, believed to be the largest one, which consists of eight floors below, out of which only four are open to the public. I was amazed by this architectural masterpiece and the excellent engineering. There was a winery, ventilation shafts, storage rooms, bedrooms, stables, even a church; hard to imagine how they could have built all this with hand tools and no electricity!
Later, they became the place of hiding of the first Christians who escaped persecution at the hands of Roman soldiers. I visited Derinkuyu Underground City, believed to be the largest one, which consists of eight floors below, out of which only four are open to the public. I was amazed by this architectural masterpiece and the excellent engineering. There was a winery, ventilation shafts, storage rooms, bedrooms, stables, even a church; hard to imagine how they could have built all this with hand tools and no electricity!
Travel Tip: Between rooms there are tunnels where you would need to bend and crouch to get through, so be prepared.
And then we continued with Selime Cathedral which is one of the most unexpected surprises in Cappadocia. This wonderful rock-cut monastery, at the end of Ihlara valley, was home to Hittite, Assyrian, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Danişment, Seljuk and Ottoman civilizations. One of the most important aspects of Selime fortress-monastery was that many leading clergymen were educated there. The military headquarters of the region was also located there. While the monastery is dated to 8th and 9th centuries, the frescoes in the structure date back to late 10th and early 11th centuries not to mention that it is an amazing place.
We had lunch in Ihlara Valley just before entering the canyon. Lunch is already included in the tour fee though you’ll need to pay extra for drinks. Ihlara Valley is one of the most popular places in Turkey for hiking. A river runs through it. The Melendiz River cuts through the valley making it pleasant for a hike. it is nice to hear the sound of the water while you walked.
5. Watch The Hot Air Balloons at 5 am.
In my opinion, this is the best thing to do in Cappadocia. Wake up every morning around 4:30 – 5:00 am and head to a rooftop or sunrise view point and wait for the balloons to appear along with the sun
Although, it was so difficult to do it every morning but somehow were addicted to it.
Imagine up to a hundred balloons filling the sky every morning and, along with the fairy chimney, cave hotels, and spectacular landscape, this may well be the most beautiful sight your eyes will ever see. First, we tried the rooftop of Sultan Cave hotel and for the second day the Sunrise viewpoint above Goreme. We will let you decide with was the best, because we can’t decide. For us, it was like magic.
6. Don’t miss the delicious Turkish Food
Turkish food is one of my favorite cuisines in the world. I just can’t get enough of those tables full of olives, cheese, dips, pide, kofte, enemen, börek or kebap.
7. Go Quad Biking
After we finished our tour we decided to try for two hours ATVs, which is another popular activity in Cappadocia. I have to admit that I was rather disappointed when I found out that you can’t rent the ATV by your own but only participate in the tours already set up with a guide and a few other people. It is not very pleasant, but it is probably a measure of protecting the area. However, the experience is one to try.
8. Take a hike
A great way to see Cappadocia is on foot. There are several valleys that connect Göreme to the neighboring towns of Uchisar and Cavusin. Depending on how sporty you are, walking speed, the number of people on the trails you can hike many of the valleys in just 2 or 3 days. The best hiking trails are Pigeon & Love Valleys (3.5 – 5 hours), Rose and Red Valleys (2.5-5 hours, depending on which path you choose) and Zemi Valley (2-3 hours).
9. Explore Cappadocia’s Moonscape on Horseback
Cappadocia is the perfect place for riding. Of course, we tried this too. Deep canyons and strange rocks are perfect for a riding adventure. Cappadocia has hundreds of years of old cult for raising and training the horses. Persians came here to prepare their horses for battle. This is also the reason why they gave this name to the region: Cappadocia means “The Land of the beautiful horses”.
We were not lucky enough to find some calm horses. They were so agitated around us that made our tour to end much earlier. Although we had some incidents, riding in Cappadocia is a must experience.
10. Try biking
We didn’t plan to rent bicycles, but we had to. In Turkey, you need Category A driving license to drive a scooter. So we chose bikes instead. It was so nice to ride it among these volcanic tuffs. A summer rain caught us in the middle of nowhere making the trip more interesting.
11. Drink Turkish tea all day long
Turks drink a lot of tea and usually, they sit and talk while drinking it. Another wonderful way to spend your time is to grab an hour-glass shaped glass of steaming black tea, pull up a chair, and connect with a local English speaker. Chances are your hotel manager, restaurant waiter, or shop owner speaks some English and is eager to practice with you. Take the time, you will not regret it. In fact, it is my contention that the relationships you make with Cappadocians will be the most memorable part of your trip.
I love our morning on the roof top of our hotel just relaxing, enjoying the spectacular view, the morning sun and a glass of tea.
12. Visit the pottery and ceramic shops in Avanos
The town of Avanos is located on the shore of the Red River, the longest one in Turkey. It has been the center for potter and craft since the Hittite period. The red-brown clay that is harvested from this river is used in the workshops to make exquisite handmade ceramics. You can witness a demonstration by a potter in one of the many family-run pottery shops and then make your way to the showroom. This is a great place to shop for souvenirs.
Photo credit: Tiberiu Arsene si Costin Nicolae