The First-Timer’s Guide To Cappadocia, Turkey’s Central Gem


Atiqah Mokhtar •  Sep 21, 2019

A lot of us have probably seen the photos on Instagram - of a sky filled with scores of large, pastel-hued hot air balloons floating over a one-of-a-kind landscape covered with interesting rock formations.

Credit: Giphy

This majestic scene can be seen in none other than Cappadocia! Cappadocia's hot air balloon rides have become a world-renowned activity that's on many people's travel bucket list. But despite the popularity of Cappadocia's hot air balloons, not many know much about the region itself. We're here to remedy that - this is the ultimate guide for first-timers to Cappadocia, with everything you need to know about visiting this Turkish destination!

Overview of Cappadocia

So where exactly IS Cappadocia?

Credit: Google Maps

So let's set the record straight. Cappadocia, in and of itself, isn't a city. It's an area within the Anatolian region, located in central Turkey. The history of this area goes a long way back (we're talking pre-500BC, ancient civilisations-type long way back!). In today's modern times, the area covers a few towns, most notably Göreme, which is the base for exploring Cappadocia for most tourists,  along with other towns like Ürgüp and the Ihlara Valley. Cappadocia's natural landscape is characterised by stone stacks and formations (often called fairy chimneys), which is a result of volcanic ash during ancient periods that solidified into rock that was chiselled away by natural elements over time.

Getting there

Cappadocia is quite a distance from Istanbul (some 700 plus km southeast), so visitors typically fly from Istanbul to one of two airports - Nevşehir Kapadokya (Nevşehir Airport) and Kayseri Erkilet (Kayseri Airport). Nevşehir Airport is closer to Göreme (about 40 minutes drive away), however, Kayseri Airport (which is about an hour's drive) is bigger.

Flights from Istanbul to Nevşehir or Kayseri typically take about 1 hour 20 minutes. Turkish Airlines and its subsidiary Andalou Jet operates routes from both Istanbul Airport and Sabiha-Gokcen Airport in Istanbul to both Nevşehir and Kayseri, while Pegasus Airlines operates routes from Sabiha-Gokcen in Istanbul to only Kayseri. Tickets can cost anywhere between RM200 - 350 or SGD60 - 115 for a round trip, though we do note that based on our checks flights to Kayseri appear to be cheaper than flights to Nevşehir.

#HHWT Tip: Be sure to arrange your transport from the airport to your hotel ahead of time, as getting transport on the spot upon arrival, such as through taxis or shuttles, is reportedly expensive and much more of a hassle to arrange. Check with your hotel or tour provider (if you're booking your hot air balloon experience through a tour) if a transfer is included. Otherwise, you can book your transfer ahead of time through service providers such as Argeus, Peerless Excursions or  Turkish Heritage Tours.

There are also buses that run for Istanbul to Cappadocia, which tend to be cheaper, however, they do take about 10 -11 hours per one-way trip, so flying might be the way to go! You can see more about the bus timings and ticket prices here.

Best time to visit

May to September is generally seen as a good time to visit Cappadocia due to the warmer weather, with crowds peaking in the summer months of June to August. The spring months of April - May as well as the autumn months of September - October tend to be seen as ideal months to visit, as the weather is pleasant (daytime temperatures between roughly 15 - 24 degrees Celsius) and Cappadocia is not as crowded, meaning flights and accommodation prices are cheaper.

It's also important to consider your hot air balloon ride when planning on your visit. While hot air balloon rides are available all-year-round, given that the rides are strongly dependant on weather conditions, visiting during the fairer weather months outside of late autumn and winter tends to provide better chances of your ride not being cancelled or rescheduled due to poor weather.

Should you stay overnight in Cappadocia?

The short answer is, yes! Given the distance from Istanbul, and the need to be in Cappadocia the night before for your hot air balloon ride early the next morning, visitors typically stay overnight. Many also recommend spending about three days in the region to explore its other sights. In addition, spending a few days in Cappadocia provides back-up time in the event your hot air balloon ride gets cancelled due to the weather. Göreme is the easiest option for where to stay, as it has several hotels and accommodations to suit everyone's budget, besides being the hub for where most tour and service providers in Cappadocia are located.

#HHWT Tip: Schedule your hot air balloon for the first available morning of your stay in Cappadocia. That way, if your ride gets cancelled, you still have the remainder of your stay in Cappadocia available for a potential rescheduling of your ride.

Planning your hot air balloon experience

The main reason why people visit Cappadocia in the first place is for the hot air balloon ride, so it makes sense to put some careful thought and planning into this! You'll need to book your hot air balloon experience through one of the many hot air balloon operators in Cappadocia (there are about 25 of them!). Some notable ones include Royal Balloon, Kapadokya Balloons, and Voyager Balloons. Prices per person typically range between EUR150 - 250 (RM690 - 1150 0r SGD230 - 380), depending on whether you go for smaller baskets (e.g. 16 people) vs. larger baskets (up to 24 people), and also the duration of the flight (usually standard rides are for one hour). Packages usually include transport to and from the hot air balloon, breakfast and insurance. Rides happen in the morning, so do expect an early wake-up call (with tour operators picking you up around 4.30 - 5am in the morning.

Our videographer Amir actually went for a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia with his family and shared his personal experience with us! Read more about it here (he also shares some useful tips for getting the most out of your experience).

Other things to do in Cappadocia

Credit: @jonreid on Instagram

Cappadocia may be most known for its hot air balloon rides, but there's so much more to this region that's calling to be explored.

1. Go for a day tour

One of the most popular ways to explore Cappadocia is by taking a tour. There are two main tours - the Red Tour, which explores the north of Cappadocia, or the Green Tour, which explores the south.

For the Red Tour, common attractions covered include Goreme Open Air Museum, Cavusin Old Cave Village, and Pasabag. Goreme Open Air Museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (located in Goreme National Park) where you can see the incredible remnants of past civilisations that carved dwellings and churches into the intriguing rock formations that are so prevalent in the region.

Cavusin Old Cave Village is an old village that used to house Greek inhabitants un until the early 20th century when the great population exchange between Greece and Turkey happened following the Treaty of Lausanne after the fall of the Ottoman empire. The houses in the village, which were cut into the rock formations, date back to ancient times but were eventually abandoned as erosion made them unsuitable for living in. Pasabag (or Monk's Valley) features iconic fairy chimney views.

Another popular stop is Avanos, where you'll get to see the traditional art of pottery-making in Cappadocia.

For the Green Tour, the highlights include underground cities that Cappadocia is also famous for, particularly Kaymakli and Derinkuyu. These massive networks of tunnels and chambers below ground make for a fascinating visit.

Credit: @elenarokho on Instagram

Many different tour operators in Cappadocia provide the Red and Green tour routes, though exact attractions visited may differ slightly for different companies. You can find many of these operators through a quick Google search, or even book your tour through third-party vendors like Klook! Tours typically cost anywhere from around EUR35 (RM160 or SGD 53) onwards. You can also opt to explore on your own by renting a car and driving to the attractions, however, signing up for a tour may be more convenient in terms of having the operators transport you from location to location.

2. Go on a horse or ATV ride through the valleys

Credit: luckyhorsescappadociaon Facebook

Did you know that the name Cappadocia is said to come from a Persian word that means 'land of the beautiful horses'? It seems fitting then to explore the valleys of the region on horseback. There are a number of spots that offer opportunities for horseback rides (typically anywhere from 1 - 4 hours) such as Goreme National Park, or you can also book a horseback tour through tour operators or via third-party vendors like Klook.

Credit: @cappadociaredline on Instagram

If you want something a little more exciting, ATV tours are also popular in the area. Typical ATV routes wind around Love Valley and Rose Valley, letting you pass by the charming old villages in between.

3. Stay in a cave hotel

Looking for a one-of-a-kind overnight experience in Cappadocia? Then you have to try staying in one of the cave hotels that can be found here.

Credit: @sultan_cave_suites on Instagram

You'll easily find a selection of cave hotels in Göreme. A very popular option is the Sultan Cave Suites, which has become famous on Instagram thanks to its rooftop lounge where you can soak in the views of the hot air balloons in the morning. However, if you're looking for a cheaper option (Sultan Cave Suites' nightly rates are around RM420 or SGD140 per night), there are plenty of other hotels that may also offer rooftop access with the coveted views, depending on the location.

Credit: @sultan_cave_suites on Instagram

If the idea of a cave hotel room doesn't sound particularly appealing, don't worry - they're usually furnished and decorated with all the modern amenities you need ?

Credit: Kelebek Hotel

4. Visit Uchisar Castle

Credit: @anniiibax on Instagram

Uchisar Castle is sometimes included in Red tours, depending on which company you go for, but even it's not, this stunning attraction is still worth visiting! Located in Uchisar (a town neighbouring Goreme), this medieval castle is located on the highest point in Cappadocia, making it a spot with amazing views. The castle itself is an imposing structure and another hallmark of civilisations past.

5. Go for a hike

Cappadocia is filled with scores of valleys that make for wonderful hiking trails.

Credit: Moyan Brenn on Flickr

There are five easily accessible valleys (Zemi, Rose, Red, Pigeon and Love) from central Cappadocia, each varying in difficulty level so expect to spend 2 to 4 hours exploring one. Pack some water and a light snack before heading out for an exciting hike. You may come across cave churches whilst hiking in some valleys, but be reminded that some of these cave churches do warrant an entrance fee, so be sure to carry some notes with you on your hiking expedition!

5. Try testi kebab (a.k.a. pottery kebab)

Credit: @veggi.bella on Instagram

As with any visit to a foreign place, trying the unique local cuisine is a must, and in Cappadocia, you'll get to try pottery kebab! This intriguing take on an otherwise familiar dish features meat slow-cooked inside a sealed clay pot. Once cooked, the pot is served and cracked with a hammer in front of you for you to then eat the contents. One recommended spot to try pottery kebab in Gerome is Keyif Cafe.

Halal status: Uses halal ingredients (though please note, as with many restaurants in the region, alcoholic beverages are served. We recommend that you dine at your own discretion).

Address: Orta Mahalle Karsibucak Caddesi No:16/A, Goreme 50180, Turkey

Phone Number: +90 384 271 2353

And there you have it! Now not only do you know the fundamental info for planning a trip to Cappadocia to tick the hot air balloon ride off your bucket list, but you also know that Cappadocia has so much to offer travellers! With the majestic landscapes, rich history and historical sights, it'll be a trip like no other. Cappadocia is calling, and it's time to make your way there ?Check out our 6D5n Turkey itinerary to get you started!