Turkey truly is a country with so many fascinating sites. No matter where you go, you are bound to walk away discovering a piece of the world that leaves you speechless. One of the most jaw-dropping places that I visited was the region of Cappadocia, Turkey.
Located in Central Anatolia, Cappadocia is a fairytale-like place that exudes magic and wonder. It is a geological oddity with an abundance of history. A photographer Mecca, I promise you that this destination will not disappoint.
Origins of Cappadocia, Turkey
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This bizarre but captivating landscape was created millions of years ago when volcanic eruptions blanketed the region in thick ash. It solidified into a soft rock, where nature took its course molding the rock into a landscape of mushrooms, pinnacles, and fairy chimneys that stand as tall as 130 feet.
The main town of Goreme was settled around 1800-1200 B.C. where Christians fled to escape Roman persecution. Because it was located between rival empires it became a religious refugee and the perfect place to build an underground city.
Monks excavated extensive dwellings both underground and into the rock formations, where many of them still stand well-preserved today. Interestingly enough Goreme actually means invisible or not seen.
Staying in Goreme is such a unique and memorable experience because not all historic dwellings are museums – some still serve as homes, hotels and even restaurants.
7 Top Things to do in Cappadocia, Turkey
There is no shortage of things to see in this spectacular town. Whether you are a history buff or an outdoor explorer, Cappadocia will cover every traveler’s wish list.
1. Fly Above the Fairy Chimneys in a Hot Air Balloon
Hands down one of my favorite things that I have done in any of my travels is the hot air balloon flight over Cappadocia. There was a peaceful serenity about this experience that is hard to truly describe.
I had my doubts that being in a balloon basket with approximately 20 other people could be peaceful, however, the basket is really large and there is plenty of room to claim your own space.
The balloon rides start at the crack of dawn so that you can be in the air to experience the sun rising. Once in the air, your balloon will hover as high as 1000 feet above the ground and then gracefully maneuver through the pinnacles.
Hundreds of other balloons are also flown at the same time which again might make you think it would feel like an overcrowded tourist attraction. The truth is, the hum of the other balloon’s fire is so rhythmic that it only makes the experience even more mesmerizing.
The panoramic views are absolutely breathtaking and the hour in the air will be one that you will never forget.
Different balloon companies will offer different packages. Make sure that you check what is included in your package as it may even include an overnight hotel stay or even transfers from Istanbul.
My flight included breakfast, champagne upon landing and a personalized flight certificate. The cost may seem pricey with the average being from $140 -$350 per person, but again I promise that this experience is well worth every penny.
If your safety is something you worry about I hope to put your mind at ease. Cappadocia is known to have an outstanding safety record where pilots undergo at least 15 months of training and have over 200 flight hours under their belts before they are allowed to fly tourists.
2. Visit the Goreme Open-Air Museum
Exploring the Goreme Open-Air Museum is an absolute must. This UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of a series of monasteries carved into different rocks that date back to the 10th century.
It is located about 1 mile from the town center and is an easy walk with beautiful scenery to see along the way. There are 11 refectories within the museum complex to visit.
Each has its own unique story to tell and because of the lack of light that has entered the caves, the frescoes have retained their original vibrancy. As well, some still have tombs carved into the ground that you can see the skeletons still under protective glass.
Entrance into the museum is a mere 25TL which is approximately $4US. There is an additional charge of 10TL into the Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise) as this is a way to help recover the recent renovation costs and help preserve the frescoes.
It takes approximately 2 to 3 hours to explore the complex and it is suggested to arrive first thing in the morning or a few hours before the museum closes to avoid the midday crowds.
The hours of the museum are listed as 8 AM to 6 PM, but it does say times may differ so please check ahead when you arrive in Goreme.
3. Discover the Kaymakli Underground City
Another interesting UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Kaymakli Underground City. Deep under the earth’s surface is an entire city that dates before Christ.
These troglodyte cave-cities were excavated as early as the Hittite times. There are actually 36 underground cities in Cappadocia; this being the most spread out of them all.
There are eight levels of tunnels and rooms that stretch into a labyrinth of mazes, however, only four levels are open to the public. Archaeologists believe that there could have been up to 3500 people living in this city at one point in time.
This is definitely not a place to go if you are claustrophobic. The tunnels reflect the size of the people at the time – so small that you must crouch down to get through at some points.
If you think you may be claustrophobic perhaps visiting Derinkuyu Underground City would be a better fit. The ceilings are said to be higher and the tunnels wider, however, it is 21 miles from Goreme instead of 16 miles for Kaymakli.
The other major difference is that there are multiple entry and exit points at Kaymakli and only one at Derinkuyu which may at times cause bottlenecks.
The entrance fee into the Underground City is 25TL which is approximately $4US. You can hire a guide near the entrance or explore the maze on your own. The visit is far more impactful however if you have someone to paint a more vivid picture for you.
Be ready to negotiate a price for a guided tour, but paying around $20US is reasonable. Plan to be down there for about an hour and a half, and like the Open-Air Museum, the best time to visit is either first thing in the morning or closer to the time it closes.
4. Hike or horseback ride through the Rose Valley or Red Valley
If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you will definitely have to take in either Rose Valley or Red Valley. They get their names because of the pinkish hue that the rock turns during different times of the day.
At sunset, the valleys sit in the most perfect position where the sun turns the rock a vibrant red color. Both valleys run parallel to each other and are connected by a trail.
You don’t have to be an expert to hike either of the valleys. The Rose Valley loop is about 1.8 miles and the Red Valley loop a little bit less at 1.2 miles. There are some steeper parts so wearing proper footwear is highly recommended.
Allow for about 2 to 3 hours because not all signs are clearly marked. Getting a little bit lost is part of the adventure but for more of a reference, Google Maps does have the trails marked off.
Horseback riding through the valleys is another way to experience this incredible landscape in all its splendor. Try taking a trail ride at sunset for something extraordinary and different.
Although I did not do this activity myself I have heard that the Dalton Brothers Ranch are the best. The ranch owner is a Turkish cowboy who is known to many as the ‘horse whisperer’ and has been featured in the Lonely Planet guide for Turkey.
5. Enjoy a Turkish Hammam
A Turkish Bath or Hammam is a tradition that was adopted from the Romans and Byzantines and then perfected by the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks.
Originally they were tied to Islam as they were built near mosques and were designed and performed in such a way to preserve the Muslim ritual of purity.
Today Hammams still serve this purpose for locals, however, they have become more of a spa for tourists and are an interesting way to relax and soak in some local culture.
What should you expect? Be prepared to bare it all, so to speak, and get scrubbed down in a room with a bunch of strangers. Women and men are separated, but this is not an activity for the timid or shy.
Leaving my bikini bottoms on, I stripped down and was given a towel to cover myself with. At first, a mud mask was put on my face while I sat in a beautiful room with lavish, colorful pillows and Turkish music playing in the background. While the mud dried I sat in a sauna for about 15 minutes.
From there I was taken to a set of showers where I was able to wash the mud from my face. Next was the bathing room where there was an octagon-like bench in the center.
I took my place along with several other women on part of the bench while the Turkish women massaged and washed me all over. There was this one thing with bubbles that I had never seen before.
It looked like a large pillowcase and it ballooned out with air. Once the ladies squeezed it, an enormous amount of bubbles would come shooting out. Although I was completely out of my comfort zone I do admit that it was absolutely relaxing and worth the experience.
After being scrubbed squeaky clean it was time for an olive oil massage. Lastly, when I was all relaxed and ready to leave I was given a customary cup of apple tea.
6. Shop for the finest Turkish Handcrafts
For those of you who are like me and love to shop, Cappadocia is the perfect place to buy your souvenirs. Jewelry, leather, handicrafts, fabric and rugs – the list is pretty endless with an array of beautiful pieces to choose from.
Kilim rugs are probably one of the most well-known handcrafts to come out of this country. Kilim weaving is one of the oldest design traditions in the world as it dates back to the 11th century A.D.
Turkish families use the tapestries as decoration on the walls, bedspreads, carpets, dowries, prayer rugs and table covers. Shopping in Goreme was truly enjoyable.
The shopkeepers are so friendly and relaxed and it didn’t feel as though I was under pressure to buy in the same way as in the big cities like Istanbul.
7. Try the Turkish Testi Kebab
Last but not least, you cannot leave Cappadocia without trying one of its most popular dishes – the testi kebab also knows at the pottery kebab. This Anatolian specialty is cooked in a sealed clay pot for up to 4 hours so that the dish can simmer in its own juices.
When fully cooked the waiter will come out with a mallet and smash the pot open so that you can have your meal. There usually is an option of chicken, beef or vegetarian to choose from. A couple of recommended restaurants to try this dish is either at Dibek or Top Deck Restaurant.
Cappadocia, Turkey Planning Tips
How to Get There
Located in the heart of Turkey, the Cappadocia region is about 450 miles from Istanbul and 175 miles from the capital of Ankara. There are a few towns which lay within Cappadocia but the main town with the most to see is called Goreme.
The two ways to get to Goreme are either by bus or plane. There are several flights that leave from Istanbul daily so finding a cheap flight can be relatively easy. Flights from Istanbul take approximately one hour so if you are on a time crunch, paying a little bit more might be worth it.
The closest airport to Goreme is in Kayseri and the cheapest way to get from Kayseri to Goreme is by bus. It takes about an hour and ten minutes and costs approximately $10US.
You can shave off about 10 minutes on that journey by taking a taxi, but their rates are higher between $45-55US. There are buses that run all across the country and have taken one myself I can safely say that it was comfortable and clean.
There are several overnight buses that run from Istanbul to Goreme. They take approximately ten and a half hours and cost about $32US. To get the best fare and most up to date schedule try using Busbud.
Where to Stay to Best Experience Cappadocia
It goes without saying that due to the popularity of Cappadocia that you will have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to accommodation. Goreme is the closest town and it offers a full range of options to suit any budget.
The most unique accommodation you can take in Goreme is to stay inside a cave. The Cappadocia Cave Suites offers a luxurious 3-star experience and has a Turkish steam bath on site. It is also within walking distance of the Goreme Open Air Museum. It is also close to Goreme National Park.
More conventional options include the Goreme Inn Hotel, located steps from the Goreme National Park.
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As you can probably tell, spending at least 3 days in Goreme is a must. The beauty and culture of Cappadocia, Turkey is absolutely mystifying. The people are welcoming and of course the uniqueness of this special place will steal your heart. Come discover Cappadocia and let the love affair begin.
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