We boarded an overnight bus early on the evening of August 12th in Istanbul bound for Cappadocia. Cappadocia is a region is central Turkey best known for its unique moon-like landscape, underground cities, cave churches and hotels and houses carved into the rocks. In addition, it is widely known as being one of the top places in the world to ascend into the sky on a hot air balloon. Before leaving Istanbul, Will and I booked ourselves on a two-day tour of all of the major sites in Cappadocia and we also deviated slightly from our budget and reserved a spot in the clouds on the first hot air balloon trip of our lives.
Our bus arrived to the Cappadocia region early in the morning on the 13th of August and after a couple of quick transfers we were at the entrance of the cave hotel we would spend one quick night in. Luckily for us we had a few hours to spare before departing on a full day tour that morning and we were able to grab a couple quick showers to clean up after the exhausting bus ride. While our hotel room was technically in a cave, the “cave” didn’t create any memorable atmosphere in the room. I’ve heard great stories about the cave hotels in Cappadocia (there are probably a hundred), but I think you need to book into the higher end to actually get much out of the cave experience.
At 9am we were on our way with a packed van of fellow tourists from around the world. Most notably we met a few Japanese friends and also a couple traveling from Paris that we hung out with while we were in Cappadocia. Our first stop of the day was at the Red Valley where we set off on a several mile walk through the valley. The views up the sides of the valley were interesting and picturesque, but they paled in comparison to what we saw in Petra earlier on the trip. In addition we didn’t really see any of the really dramatic, iconic rock formations that Cappadocia is known for. I wasn’t really that impressed with my first walk around Cappadocia. Although, I’m being really picky here and if I hadn’t been on the tail end of a 10-month RTW trip I probably wouldn’t hesitate to call the cave houses and moonscape nothing short of amazing. What can I say, the more you travel, the more you start comparing everything you see to somewhere where you have seen something similar, but better.
Our second major stop of the day was at an ancient underground city that is carved through the rock deep underground. There are several underground cities in Cappadocia and we only took a tour of a small subsection of one of the underground cities. Even though we only scratched the surface of the total area of these combined cities, what we walked through was MASSIVE! We walked/ducked through several large underground floors of the city and we passed by literally hundreds of rooms. I learned on the tour that some of the cities go down more than five and close to ten stories underground which is absolutely mind blowing to me. Writing about the underground city we toured brings to mind the Cu Chi tunnels that we explored back in Vietnam. The Cu Chi tunnels are an absolute joke compared to the ancient underground cities in Cappadocia. It’s like comparing your local church to St. Peters Basilica. The underground cities in Cappadocia are amazing and I had no clue they even existed until we were randomly dropped off at their entrance on the tour we signed up for.
The remainder of our first day of our Cappadocia tour and the second day of the tour was split between exploring different areas of the Cappadocia region that had beautiful landscapes and being forced into numerous tourist trap shops by our tour company. The landscapes were amazing; the tourist shops were, well, hell. I have a TON of pictures that I’ve included with the blog to try to give you an idea of what Cappadocia looks like. It is truly a unique place and some of the natural features you see there are unlike anything else you can find on the planet. In an ideal world, the tourist trap shops we visited, which included an onyx, leather, ceramics and rug shop, would have been left off our itinerary and we would have had more time to explore the beautiful area, but we’re on a budget and taking you to these ridiculous shops keeps the price of the tour down.
Really there isn’t much more I can say about the landscape you will see in the pictures below besides the fact that it is just odd. The uniquely shaped rock structures you are looking at were not built by man (I’m not talking about the obvious houses and windows) and are remains of volcano eruptions during geological times. There are mushroom shaped, pinnacle, capped and conic shaped formations. Another name used for the bizarre shapes is Fairy Chimneys. Alright, Picture Time! Enjoy!
I mentioned earlier in the post that Will and I booked ourselves on a special hot air balloon ride outside of the generic two-day Cappadocia tour that we were doing. It was a little pricey at around $125 USD a head, but a former colleague of mine at Accenture who is an established traveler, Alan Ng, convinced me that it was an absolute must do while in Cappadocia.
We were picked up from our hotel at 4:30 in the morning so that we could be in the balloons and floating through the sky before sunrise. The balloon had one basket split into four sections with around 5 or 6 people in each section. We were paired up with our Japanese friends, one of which who is terrified of heights, so we had a lot of fun with them. The balloon ride consisted of two parts. We spent the first half of the balloon ride hovering within just a few feet of the ground and slowly gliding within what seemed like inches of the incredible Cappadocian landscape. Numerous times on the ride it looked like we were going to run into the side of a huge rock but at the last second we would barely rise above it. We also ran into several balloons which was scary to me at first, but I suppose it is perfectly normal for them as the captains in the balloons would just start laughing and yelling at each other to get out of the way!
The second part of the balloon ride was rising up 800m above the ground and taking in the Cappadocian region from a bird’s eye view. There were probably 50 other balloons in the air with us and the views were incredible. We were floating with the clouds during sunrise and looking across one of the most beautiful and unique landscapes in the world. The balloon ride was simply one of the best things we did on our entire trip around the world and something I will never forget. Thanks for the tip Alan!
After two days in Cappadocia with our newly found friends, it was time to board another overnight bus and make our way west towards Pamukkale and Ephesus. So far Turkey had been great to us and we were excited to check out two more highly anticipated destinations on our whirlwind tour around the massive country.