I’ve heard people say “we’ve been to Turkey” and when asked about where they’ve been, they may say Istanbul and perhaps Ephesus. My reaction is to think “then you really haven’t seen Turkey.” The Cappadocia region, located in central Turkey, is unique in geography and history. With the spectacular rock pillar formations, and thousands of troglodyte dwellings and churches carved into the soft stone, this area feels like it belongs on another planet, and hence why it’s been an inspiration for a number of movies (see my post on Selime Cathedral). The odd landscape is due to volcanic activity millions of years ago in the form of ash and lava, some of which is very hard and some of which is very soft (called tuff) and easily eroded or carved out. A hot air balloon ride is a great way to get a feel for the topography of the area and was one of our most memorable activities on a two-week trip in Turkey.
We stayed right in Göreme, a fairy-tale looking town with gnome-like homes in the heart of the Cappadocia region. The town of Göreme is ground central for the Cappadocia hot air balloon industry. Having flown all the way from the U.S. to Kayseri (about 80 km from Göreme, one of two airports serving the region) the day before, and after finally getting to bed at 1 am, we arose about 3 hours later to in order catch our 5 am shuttle van to the balloon center. Every morning almost year round about 100 balloons rise above the landscape to give up to 2,000 tourists a one-of-a-kind view. Some balloons hold as many as 20-25 people, ours held eight, and since there were six of us, it was almost a private tour. Our grogginess soon gave way to excitement as we neared the balloon launch area—seeing the balloons being fired up against the pre-dawn clear sky was exhilarating.
Here is a photo timeline of our balloon ride:
The scoop on the balloon rides:
We made our reservations (Ürgüp Balloons) via our hotel in Göreme, prior to our arrival in Turkey. The shuttle van picks you up at about 5 am from your hotel, and takes you to the balloon center, where you’re offered some breads, biscuits, coffee and juice. At about 5:45 am you then head to the balloon launch field, and based on your ID sticker you’re directed to your balloon and crew. At your balloon, you are given a short safety demonstration on how to position yourself for landing and by about 6 am, you’re going aloft. Bring a light jacket, even in the summer. For most of the ride, the balloon is only perhaps 100 feet off the ground, and sometimes less, giving you a close look at the rock formations and dwellings. At one point we went up to about 1,500 feet above the landscape. This ride was a great thing to do on our first day; it gave us a visual overview of the area.
The ride is not cheap, and costs about the same as a ride in the U.S: €130 per person (about $100 US), and this was about €15 more than if we had been in a group of 20. At the end of our ride (60-75 minutes) we made a landing on a flat hill top, and then were treated to champagne and juice to celebrate a safe trip!