In June 2014, while on a 3 month journey through Turkey and the Balkans we took a detour to Cappadocia to scratch Hot Air Ballooning off our ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ bucket list. Ballooning in Cappadocia is one the must do things in Turkey and while it cost an arm and a leg, it was undoubtedly one of the most magical experiences of our lives.
Cappadocia lies 750km southeast of Istanbul in the heart of Turkey. In Turkish, Cappadocia means the ‘Land of Beautiful Horses’ – the only horses we saw were pulling carts full of watermelons. What we did see though were the incredible volcanic rock formations unique to this area, that have been hewn by nature into a thousand different columns and sculptures then inevitable hewn by man into cosy little habitats.
*Historical Fact: These columns were created over time by countless volcanic eruptions, surfaced magma, lava and ash compression. Wind, rain, climate, and time transformed the unusually soft landscape into what it is today – a land of towering spires, tabletop plateaus, fanged peaks and altogether alluring natural sculptures. Of course people decided to move into them, you bet your arse I’d be doing the same today. Freakin’ cool!
We awoke to our alarm at the ungodly hour of 4AM. It had been many a year since either of us had seen such a fearful face on the clock. Throwing off the enticing arms of sleep we each felt the kindling spark of excitement, knowing what awaited us this day. Ten minutes later as we stood on the pre-appointed curb, a lone man in a shadowy van approached us. Ignoring our complete inability to communicate, we decided to trust this nice stranger and promptly snuggled in next to him in the front seat. Much awkward silence was present.
Half an hour later our company had grown to include some passively-excited Chinese, a large grumpy German, and a Swiss family with one decidedly stroppy teenager who would absolutely under-appreciate the amazing experience to come. Damn teenagers. Through a series of hand gestures and nods we were told that after a quick Turkish breakfast we would be ready to go!
Now we were really ready to go! The sky was just lightening when our van levelled a peak and a great valley opened before us, hundreds of hot air balloons dotted the plateau, glowing and breathing like some strange company of creatures just stirring to life…
As fate would have it, we were the last to arrive but our balloon was the first to leave. Our company of 12 were upended into the basket and given a short but succinct safety lesson (aka – stay in the dam basket). Lift-off was slow but exhilarating, lurching once, twice before leaping into the air and leaving all sense of security below us.
Our pilot was particularly bonkers that day, distracting us with the beauty of the landscape – the Rose Plateau, the distant mountain range, the bone-white canyons, then he managed to scare the shit out of us by making a very tight squeeze through two jutting peaks. Dick.
Alone in the sky he flew us up to see the sunrise – glorious and endless over the arid land. Then he took us a bandwidth lower and we witnessed it all over again! The sky began to fill with our fellow balloonists, and we floated on ahead in our balloon – the pioneer of this expedition paving the way for the teeming crowds of lesser mortals (we were delighted to be in this one, can you tell?)!
Our pilot took us then on a sweeping tour of the landscape – the Fairy Chimneys over there, the monoliths of Göreme over there, the gaping chasms and ancient rose-red stones which created this geological oddity. Passing over the towns it was a strange sight to see the modern homes interspersed with the ancient stone-hewn dwellings – they themselves dotted with the odd TV satellite dish. We swept low into the canyons, at times almost close enough to touch the walls, then rose again to our highest point of 1000 feet.
After one exhilarating hour we landed not-so-smoothly into a farmers tomato patch – I presume he was duly compensated for the damage. As our mighty vessel was deflated and packed up very nicely, we were treated to a Cappadocian champagne celebration with complementary certificates and cheesy photos with the pilot, with whom Conor fell mildly in love.
The experience was unlike anything I ever expected or am likely to experience again. I was expecting it to be cold, brilliant and terrifying. In reality, however, it was too exhilarating to be terrifying, the occasional flare of the ‘engine’ kept us warm, and it was without a doubt one of the best experiences of our lives.
Location: Göreme, Cappadocia, Nevşehir, Central Anatolia (Map)
Get there: Extremely regular bus services from Istanbul coach station – 50TL (€18) with Metro Turizm and other bus companies. Fly with Pegasus Airlines to Kayseri Airport (1.30hr to Goreme) from Istanbul Sabiha Gocken. Fares start at a remarkable 37TL (€13) one-way including taxes and luggage. There are regular shuttle buses (20TL) to Goreme from the airport. These are usually pre arranged by your hostel/guesthouse so do ask when you are booking.
On arrival: There are numerous ballooning companies in Cappadocia, and prices vary massively. Ask your hostel manager who to go with, we were couchsurfing and our host arranged it with one of his friend’s companies so we’re not actually sure which company we went with. Prices vary due to the individual company, basket sizes, time in the air etc. but be prepared to spend at least €130 for a reputable company.
Essentials: May- September – plenty of water for walking, as it gets very hot. Warm clothes for early morning ballooning, it get quite chilly in the air! Don’t forget to charge your camera 🙂
Where to next?
→ Visit the impressive Sumela Monastery near Trabzon
→ Get lost in the hustle and bustle of Istanbul
→ Reveal your inner India Jones at the enormous lost and abandoned city of Ani