Visiting Cappadocia, Turkey: Is it worth the hype?
Visiting Cappadocia is one of those unique experiences in the world; I don’t believe that you can replicate it anywhere else. From looking at the photos, you would see this charming town, filled with weird rocks, hot air balloons, bustling bazaars and luxurious rugs. It looks perfect. Who wouldn’t want to go there?
Watch my video about my trip to Cappadocia!
If you are unfamiliar with the Cappadocia region (where have you been living?), you should know that it’s a central Anatolian destination famous for its underground cities, houses carved into rock and volcanic cones called “fairy chimneys”. Take a look at the map below to orientate yourself.
Here is a quick PPG- Panda’s Progressive Geography lesson.
The main town of Cappadocia is called Göreme & was inhabited as early as 1800 to 1200 B.C. It later sat uncomfortably on the boundary between rival empires; first the Greeks and Persians and later the Byzantine Greeks and a host of rivals. This precarious political position meant that residents needed hiding places—and found them by tunneling into the rock itself.
The town also became a religious refuge during the early days of Christianity. By the fourth century Christians fleeing Rome’s persecution had arrived in some numbers and established monastic communities here. The monks excavated extensive dwellings and monasteries and created Byzantine frescoed paintings in cave chapels beginning in the seventh century, which endure in well-preserved isolation to this day.
Now before you read the title and assume the worst- I didn’t write this post to knock Cappadocia; I have been there twice- in two different seasons- and I simply love the landscapes of this small little town. However, since my first visit 6 years ago, the town has succumbed to the rise of the Instagram- ruled regime and it has evolved accordingly. While I think its smart & ingenious how the locals are generating money while riding the wave of social media, its also worth knowing what you are getting yourself in for before you go.
Panda’s plane choice
I visited Cappadocia on a weekend trip from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Airlines: Pegasus Airlines
Price: 1300 AED
Layover city: Istanbul (You can book the entire journey in one go through the Pegasus Airlines website).
Note: Most flights from outside of Turkey will have you connect in Istanbul. International flights arrive at the new Istanbul International Airport (on the European side). Domestic flights leave from the smaller, Sabiha Gocken Airport (on the Asian side). If Pegasus Airlines flies directly from your country, you will land in and connect at Sabiha Gocken Airport (like us). If you fly with another airline and land at the new airport, you will have to travel to Sabiha Gocken Airport in order to take a domestic flight with Pegasus. The travel time is an approximate 90 minutes with a connection in Taksim if you take the airport shuttle buses. For more information about that, click here.
We stayed at the infamous Sultan Cave Suites while visiting Cappadocia. It’s a gorgeous 4 star cave hotel with impeccable service. The novelty of staying in a cave is super cool but I only recommend this is summer (its freezing in winter and pandas don’t like the cold).
The hotel has the famous terrace where you can take photos with the sunrise and hot air balloons in the background (more on this later). You can book your stay with them using my booking.com referral code.
The hot air balloon ride
The main purpose you’re probably visiting Cappadocia is to fly in the sky on a moving fiery balloon. People have asked me if its worth the money and the answer is a resounding YES. Polar & I did our first hot air balloon ride in Dubai and while we loved it, we both agreed that the one we did in Cappadocia was simply far more magical.
There isn’t a lot of information online about which are the best companies to book a hot air balloon ride with in Cappadocia. I spent hours of my time researching and reading blog posts online to see the fine print at the end…
I don’t count sponsored experiences as a real recommendation for many reasons (that’s a separate post on its own) so it proved a colossal waste of time.
Eventually we read the reviews on Tripadvisor and booked with Royal Balloons. The cost was 170 euro per person in cash (if you use your credit card, its 10 euro more). You only pay in person on the day of the flight as flights are weather dependent and can be cancelled at a moment notice.
Note: The Turkish Aviation Authority controls balloon flights based on climate conditions from meteorological reports. If the weather conditions are not favourable, you will know around 3pm the day before your flight.
Royal Balloons was amazing in terms of emails, booking and confirmation. We felt confident that we had made the right decision even before the day of our flight.
What does your money buy you?
The hot air balloon day is an early one. We were fetched from our hotel at 3:30am and transported to the Royal Balloons headquarters where we paid for our flight and indulged in a large and varied breakfast buffet. Upon arrival you will know the number of your bus, hot air balloon and name of your captain- I told you it was super organised. After 30 minutes of eating we were divided into our buses and sent off to the balloons. The balloons take off very close to Goreme as the drive was only a 10 minute one. From there, you’re helped into your balloon (if its already inflated) and your flight begins.
What is it like in the air?
You will be in the air for 1 hour. During this time the colours of the sky will change and eventually the sun will rise. The great thing about Royal Balloons is that they only allow 12 people in their balloons whereas other companies cram in 18 people. While that doesn’t seem like a lot more additional people, it becomes crucial when you’re in a small space with no room to manoeuvre. The hot air balloon is compartmentalised and we had our own compartment for 3 people. There was enough space to move around and keep our bags on the floor. (When we went in Dubai we were squashed in with 6 people and could barely take any photos). The ride is smooth and even if you have a fear of heights (like me), you won’t feel terrified. Its not bumpy or choppy either so motion sickness isn’t an issue. However this may have been due to the talent of our pilot who was so skilful that him & his ground crew were able to land us smoothly on to a narrow trailer!
Once you’ve landed and disembarked, the ground crew sets up a table of eats with chocolate covered strawberries, raisin cookies, orange juice and champagne. This takes less than 10 minutes to set up!
Soon you receive a medal for your bravery and are dropped back off at your hotel around 7am.
Taking a hot air balloon ride while visiting Cappadocia is a once in a lifetime, bucket list experience that is a must do!
Is there anything else to do when visiting Cappadocia?
A lot of people often wonder if there is anything else to do or see in Cappadocia other than going up in a hot air balloon. Unsurprisingly, in a town catered speficially toward tourism, there are plenty of things to do & see. On a recommendation by a fellow blogger- Native Globalites- I booked a sightseeing tour with the local company, Old Town Travel.
We just walked into their offices and booked it however you can book in advance via their website.
Due to the layout of Cappadocia (attractions are not within walkable distances) and the fact we wanted to learn more about the region, we decided to book a local guide. We were rewarded with Ozzy who was witty, incredibly knowledgable and fun to have around for the day.
Their company also kept the tour numbers extremely small so we only were 8 people in total.
The tour encompassed the regions highlights from 10am-4pm. I will not go into a detailed itinerary of what it entailed but we did get to witness the interesting geological formations in the area, learn about the history of the caves, witness pottery being made and take a ton of photos. Ozzy also advised on what the best places to buy things and we had a huge buffet lunch. Here are some photos from our day of exploring:
So is visiting Cappadocia as picture perfect as it seems online?
If you are active on Instagram and follow even 1-2 large travel influencers then you have seen pictures of Cappadocia whether you know it or not. 90% of these photos don’t reflect any natural situations. For example, our hotel served this breakfast as a prop for guests to take photos with…
No one eats this.
Everyone just gets the same photo from different angles. The actual breakfast is from the buffet and my selections looked like this…
Those gorgeous photos with the stunning bejewelled lamps? You pay 50 Turkish lira to stand in the store and snap a few photos.
Those gorgeous rugs you lay on and take photos? You choose your package (which includes drone shots) and pay accordingly. There are also props and costumes you can wear for additional payments.
You can sit on pretty cushions and watch the sunset while you pretend to smoke shisha… that comes at a price too.
While I support the fact that locals have found clever ways to make more money from photo-hungry tourists, its also sad that this entire town has succumbed to the Instagram Effect. People line up to get the shot that they want and then go on to the next place for the next shot. Truthfully there is nothing wrong with wanting to support local business when visiting Cappadocia, and in this way get some pretty photos but I just want you to know what the influencers will never say,
Everything comes at a price.
Cappadocia is such a unique destination. Where else can you explore old cave churches, walk through valleys lined with cave and pigeon houses, and explore fairy chimneys while sipping a mint tea? Where else can you wake up to the view of rising of about 100 or more hot air balloons, all reaching slowly above the rocky surrounds of the town? It was the perfect place to spend my 30th birthday with two of my favourite expat animals.
Don’t be put off by hefty price tags and curated photos- come to Cappadocia to experience the enchantment of this town for yourself!
Where do I fly into to visit Cappadocia?
You fly into Nevşehir or Kayseri Airport. Nevşehir is closer to Göreme but has less flights. I flew into Kayseri Airport and it took 1 hour to reach Göreme. Book your shuttle through your hotel, there isn’t any other viable way to get there.
How long should I go for?
A minimum of 3-4 nights would be ideal when visiting Cappadocia. This would give you at least 2 opportunities to have a hot air balloon ride should the weather be unpredictable.
Should I purchase a SIM card?
I found the internet to be unpredictable in Cappadocia. Sometimes lightning fast and sometimes slower than a snail. However, this can be used an an opportunity to disconnect.
Did you apply for a visa?
Yes. An eVisa is enquired for most nationalities and can be easily obtained from this official government website. Other sites may not be the official sites. The Turkish visa is 100% FREE for South African passport holders and is granted IMMEDIATELY.
What should I pack?
Sun protection is key in this region. I recommend sturdy walking shoes with soles that have grip if you plan on visiting the regional highlights (just my personal opinion, my sister got by with flat sandals). You can also pack your pretty dresses for photos!
Have you been to Cappadocia? Or did I just put it on your list? Let me know in the comments below!