There is little else in this world that could take all the enervation from a 12-hour overnight bus journey away in an instant than Cappadocia (pronounced Kapadosha outside Turkey, or Kapadokya locally); or more specifically, Göreme, probably the most famous town in the Cappadocian region. I distinctly remember the moment we took a bend and suddenly we were in this magical landscape of rock-cut structures and just mind-blowing geological wonder. So awe-struck was I that I wasn’t even able to take photos for the first few minutes, and if you know me, that’s saying a lot.
Göreme Open-Air Museum
8:00AM – 5:00PM
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984, the Göreme Open-Air Museum is an easy 30-minute walk from the town center. But if you had just come from an overnight bus with little sleep, the mild uphill walk towards the museum could feel a little bit like climbing mountains! The entire area used to be monasteries of the Byzantine monks in the early 4th century B.C. that later became pilgrimage sites. Other than the carvings required to make it a functioning monastery or chapel, the structures are actually all sculpted by erosion, the first soft rocks having been formed from the ash and lava from the surrounding volcanoes. The beautiful frescoes inside add to their charm and make for beautiful stories of saints and early monastic life in Turkey.
The Monk Valley (Paşabağ)
Taxi from Uchisar to Paşabağ and back to Göreme: ₺50
These mushroom-shaped fairy chimneys, some with twin or triple rock caps, are in the middle of a vineyard area, just a few minutes from Göreme by taxi, and can be combined with a trip to nearby areas (Avanos, Zelve, Çavuşin) for a full day activity.
The White Valley
The White Valley is famous for its tall, thin phallic symbols called the fairy chimneys.
8:00AM – 8:15PM
Uchisar is at the highest point of the Cappadocian region, hence probably the next best thing to a hot air balloon, and one of the top ways of getting a panoramic view of the fairy chimneys. If you’re up to for a 2-hour walk, you can do so from Göreme. There are also minibuses from the Göreme center every 30 minutes during weekdays and every hour on weekdays. Lucky for us, we were driven by owner of the cave hotel we stayed at.
Derinkuyu Underground City
8:00AM – 5:00PM
Guide (required): ₺40-100 depending on the number of people
Don’t miss the chance to visit one of the many underground cities in Cappadocia, the two most popular of which are Kaymakli (widest) and Derinkuyu (deepest). These are a bit tricky to do on your own by public transportation, so we decided to take the Green Tour (₺100/pax). All tour agencies offer the same trails: red, green and blue — I regretted getting the tour because of all the unnecessary side trips included – should’ve hired a taxi instead. It would’ve amounted to the same amount and saved us half a day which we could’ve spent elsewhere. Anyway….
I loved the Derinkuyu Underground tour – one of my absolute favorites in Cappadocia. These underground cities were first mentioned as existing during the 4th century B.C., were expanded by the Byzantine Christians in the 6th-7th centuries B.C. to hide from Muslim-Arabs, and were later used by Christians against Mongolian incursions. Getting a guide is required, which is really helpful – you could easily be lost inside. Plus, seeing the mechanisms employed to trick the attackers and make sure they could survive for months underground – the sheer ingenuity is really inspiring. And if you’re lucky, you could even get a guide who looks like Jesus and knows more about Christianity than you do even if he’s Muslim. A bit embarrassing, but I’ve started reading the Bible now (although haven’t made much progress. Sshhhh, I’m trying to do better!).
Unfortunately, it was hard to take good photos inside, hence:
Hot Air Balloon
EUR150-175/pax (cheaper in winter)
Granted, it’s a bit expensive for regular people like me – the same justification I gave myself when I passed up the chance to ride a hot air balloon over the Bagan temples) – but I figured I’ll never get the chance to try this if I keep on scrimping; and if there’s any place where it will probably be worth the $$$, it had to be Cappadocia. And so I did.
My top two choices were Royal Balloon and Butterfly Balloons – the two top-rated providers in Cappadocia. My criteria were: (1) reputation for safety, (2) customer experience / feedback, (3) number of people per trip (the smaller, the better), and (4) price. I eventually went with Butterfly Balloons, just because I had to choose (or maybe I have an attachment to butterflies…). I think I would’ve been equally happy with Royal. So, yes, the 1 hour 20 minutes spent above the magical fairy chimneys with 9 other people was absolutely worth it. Seeing the many valleys of Cappadocia – Pigeon, White, Rose, Red, Love, etc etc – all within 80 minutes, without having to hike (I’m sure the hikers loved the different perspective and experience they had as well) – I always say the only thing that could top that would have been a magic [Turkish] carpet ride! Our wonderful pilot Tamer, the sumptuous breakfast, and the celebratory champagne after the ride were all just delicious icings on the cake.
– If you do not intend to get a guide at the Goreme Open-Air Museum, you may use this as guide
– If pressed for time, the three absolute must-sees are the Goreme Open-Air Museum, a trip/hike to one of the valleys, an underground city, and one of the top three ways to get a panoramic view – a hot air balloon, on top of the Uchisar castle, or over the Göreme panorama.
– Again, all tour agencies offer the same trails: red, green and blue tours – all of which you can do on your own for much cheaper.
– Stay at least 2 nights if you intend to do the hot air balloon ride – sometimes they get cancelled due to bad weather
– You can reach Göreme by bus which you can book in Istanbul, or by plane – check Pegasus Airlines, Turkish Airlines, and Sun Express).