Cappadocia, pronounced Kappa-Dokia, is a region in central Turkey famous for its unique moon-like landscape filled with houses carved in caves, underground cities, and cave churches. This region has become hugely popular in the last few years as it brings in 3 million people a year and is Turkey’s third most visited destination. Sadly, we only spent 1 night here as that was all our 9 day Turkey itinerary would allow us but we made good use of all 24 hours of that.
Tourism in Turkey
I’ll use this space to talk about Turkey’s tourism and transportation. All in all, I found Turkey to be incredibly organized and structured when it came to booking tours and getting things done. There are hundreds of tour companies all around the country and they somehow know everyone else around the country and can book tours for any part of the country or can put you in the right position to do so.
There are plenty of non-Turkish tour companies that organize group trips through Turkey (like a more luxurious overland trip). From the American tour buses, to the South Korean buses, we saw no shortage of these tour groups and we were in Turkey in April, still considered the low season. I can’t imagine the shitshow it must be during the summer months. Because of our schedule, we couldn’t fit in one of these organized tours so we planned out our itinerary which means booking all our flights and tours on our own.
We ended up booking 3 internal Turkey flights, 1 bus ride, and five day tours. I thought for sure that something would go wrong but miraculously, everything went to plan. We experienced no hiccups and were picked up at the stated time, on time, every time. Big thumbs up for Turkey tourism!
Turkish Lira or Euro?
Turkey has been trying to get into the European Union for some time now. From talking to people, the feels are mixed on this subject. The official currency of Turkey is the Lira. Most things like restaurants, shops, and entrance fees are all quoted in Lira. The only things quoted in Euros are some tour companies that will list prices in Euros on their websites since most of Turkey’s visitors are from the EU. Nevertheless, the people here know their currency is not as sound as it once was and many vendors will accept Euros around whatever the spot rate is. Some of the ATMs all around Turkey will dispense Euros, Pounds, Dollars, and Liras.
Getting to Cappadocia
Perhaps it was the time of year I visited (April), but I found internal flights to be incredibly economical. Turkish Airways is the largest carrier flying out of Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul throughout the country. Pegasus Airlines, Atlasjet, OnurAir, Anadolu Jet, and Sunexpress are all airlines that fly within Turkey offering cheap fairs. I ended up getting my ticket on Turkish Airways for 90L (~40$) from Istanbul to Kayseri. There are two airports, Kayseri, and Nevsehir that both service the Cappadocia region. Kayseri is about 1 hr drive from the Cappadocia region and Nevsehir is about 40min.
The Turkish bus system is very sound. With Cappadocia being one of Turkey’s most visited sights, almost every bus company will have a bus going from all major cities to Cappadocia. We met numerous people that caught the overnight bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia for 50L. Some of these buses have free wifi and seats that recline all the way down. The advantage of the bus is that it will drop you off in the towns, therefore saving yourself am expensive taxi ride from the airports.
There are numerous tour companies in Turkey that will book you Cappadocia tours. One I can recommend is One National Travel which I’ve used to book a few tours in the country.
Learn more about Cappadocia tours
Where to stay in Cappadocia
There are no shortage of accommodation options in Cappadocia but the question is where to stay? Cappadocia is not a city, but more of a county. There are a number of small towns in the region and the main tourist hubs are Goreme, Urgup, and Uchisar. After doing some reading on the net, I decided to stay in Goreme.
The hotels and guesthouses in these towns were all once houses of Cappadocians that had lived the there for generations. With the huge influx of tourism, some of these families made the decision to turn their cave homes into cave hotels. I read about these cave hotels and decided that no questions asked, I’m staying in one of these. With about 40 different accomodation choices in Goreme alone, it can become overwhelming to choose one.
Erenbey Cave Hotel
We ended up staying at the Erenbey Cave Hotel. The owner inherited the “cave”, if you will, from his grandfather and decided to remodel it into a hotel. After staying here for a night, my reviews of this place are overwhelmingly positive and I absolutely recommend staying in one of these. The experience is 100% unique and it would just be a travesty not to stay in one!
The Erenbey Cave Hotel was nothing short of spectacular. Our room was big and with a small window to the outside world. With its calcite walls and cozy feel, it really made us feel like we were in a cave. The furnishings in the room were all new and comfortable. The bathroom was on par with any 5* hotel I’ve stayed in.
Most importantly, the owners were some the friendliest and helpful people I’ve ever come across. They actually emailed me a few weeks before to ask me if I wanted them to book an airport shuttle service for 20L per person which was far cheaper than the 50 Euro taxi ride we would have paid. Highly recommended!
Where to eat in Goreme?
With such short time, we only had time a few meals here. There are many restaurants to go along with the spectacular views. Most of the restaurants in Goreme are pretty damn good so you’ll likely not end up disappointed. The town of Goreme is small and you can walk from one side to the other in 10 minutes. Along the main road, there are dozens of restaurants and we ended up eating at a place called Manzara as it is perched up at the top of the town allowing for great sundowners and Anatonlian Kitchen.
Again, most of the restaurants here are great so you can’t really go wrong. However, one Anatolian cuisine unique to this area of the country are clay pot kebabs, also called Teste kebabs. They make a stew of beef, lamb, or chicken with vegetables and spices, and marinate it in a clay pot for a few hours before breaking the pot right in front of you. They also serve it with a huge loaf of bread and rice. A cool experience, and a damn good meal.
Other great restaurant choices in Cappadocia
Old Cappadocia Restaurant
My Mothers Restaurant
Seten Anatolian Cuisine
Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia
Without a doubt, the most popular activity here, Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia is world renowned and if you have to do one thing while you’re here, this is it. The cost is anywhere between 80-150 Euros depending on where you go and how good you can bargain. There are different duration choices and obviously the longer rides will cost more accordingly.
I did plenty of research before I got here and many of the websites online were quoting me 150 Euros. After sending out emails to various tour companies, I got a quote for 89 Euros from Gallipoli Tours, a tour company based out of Istanbul that specialized in tours to Troy and Gallipoli, which proves all tour companies in Turkey, no matter where they are based, have the hookup throughout the whole country.
We were picked up at 5:30am on the day of, and we got lucky. April is a variable month in terms of weather but it was sunny on our day and cloudy the day before. When we arrived at the takeoff site, there were hundreds of people huddled around loads of balloons. Free coffee and pastries were served and within half an hour, we were taken to our balloon.
Our balloon had 16 people and the ride was just over half an hour. The scenery is stunning and reminds me somewhat of the Grand Canyon in the United States. I think the hundred other balloons in the air made it the that much picturesque. It really made me wish I had done Hot Air Ballooning in the Serengeti because as I could just envision how amazing it would be to be so close to herds of animals that no car could get to.
We got as high as 700m before descending slowly. When it ended, I could have stayed on another 15-20 minutes but I suppose that’s what paying the big bucks is for. We had a little champagne toast afterwards which is customary and taken back to our hotels at 8:30, just in time for breakfast.
Green, Red, Blue Tours of Cappadocia
There are three day tours around Cappadocia that see different highlights. They strategically start at 9:30 so people can do the hot air ballooning and these tours in the same day. The tours run 30-35 Euros a person and are absolutely worth it. After doing some reading online, I went with the Green Tour. The Green tour consists of in order
- Goreme Panoramic view point
- Derinkuyu Underground City
- Ihlara Valley
- An Onyx factory (optional)
- Back to Hotel around 5:30pm
Our driver picked us up promptly at 9:30am, and we made our first stop and the Goreme panoramic view point. All tours stop here and it’s a great picture opportunity. Don’t be shy. We then visited an underground city where people used to live during times of war to hide from enemies. This place was fascinating to see how people managed to convert a cave into living quarters without modern technology.
Moving on, we visited the Ihlara valley which is a long gorge cut into a volcano. We walked this area, about 3km, on foot. What makes this area unique is not just the landscape. Due to the plentiful water supply and hidden areas, this was used by the Early Christians escaping Roman persecutions. There are hundreds of churches and dwellings carved into the cave that you can see as you walk through this valley. The walk takes about 1.5 hours but is a leisurely stroll.
After lunch, we moved on to our last stop, the Selime monastery. Among the numerous churches we saw carved into, this was by far the most impressive. Looking like something out of a science fiction movie (this was actually the inspiration to some of the settings of Star Wars Ep4), this place was once the center for the military and the clergy in the Byzantine era. It has been kept in great shape and was cool to imagine what life would have been like living in these caves a thousand years ago.
We saw this museum as we drove into Goreme. Sadly, we didn’t have time to do this but it is highly recommended and a must do from everyone I spoke to. It is a collection or churches and fairy chimneys. Next time!
What else to do in Cappadocia?
There is some amazing hiking to be done in these parts. Walking routes throughout the region are available and popular. I also saw mountain bike rental shops and what an amazing place this would be to mountain bike. Plenty of things to do here, but just never enough time.
One Day Itinerary in Cappadocia
This itinerary is if you have roughly 24 to 30 hours in Cappadocia. In other words, this pretty much means you have a full day to explore the area and you can start at 6am so you’ll need to spend the night somewhere.
5:30am – 8:30am: Hot Air Balloon Tour
8:30-9:30am: Breakfast at your hotel
9:30-5:30pm: Full day tour: Green, Blue, or Red Tours
Evening air or bus departure onwards to your next destination
Two Day Itinerary in Cappadocia
With two full days, there is much more time to do the area justice. You don’t NEED to do the hot air balloon tour and a day tour in the same day. Personally, I think it’s still a good idea to do these two things done in the same day as I didn’t feel like I was overwhelmed by doing too much. So here is a sample two day itinerary
5:30 – 8:30: Hot Air Balloon Tour
8:30 – 9:30: Breakfast at your hotel
9:30 – 17:30: Full day tour: Green, Blue, or Red Tours
17:30 – 19:30: Hike up the cliffs for a sunset. Some incredible views and sunsets to be had here. Just walk up the hills to where you’re facing due west with a bottle of wine and enjoy!
19:30 – 22:00: Dinner and your choice of activities
6:00 – 7:00: This is totally option and you might value sleep more than this but the sunrise in Goreme is breath-taking. Hundreds of hot air balloons dot the landscape as the morning sun just so slightly touches the rock chimneys. It’s likely that your guest house will have a roof area where you can enjoy this but if not, just head back to where you were the previous night!
8:00 – 9:00: Breakfast
9:30am – 17:30: Do another day tour that you didn’t do the previous day.
17:30 and onwards: Dinner out or transfer to the airport
Video of my Turkey Trip
Something I created for our Turkey trip, including video footage of the hot air balloons!
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