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Cappadocia: Is the Instagram-destination really worth the hype?

Maybe the name "Cappadocia" doesn't ring a bell immediately, but we've all seen the famous hot air balloon pictures from the region in central Turkey. But is the destination really as great as it seems on social media?

View over the landscape in Cappadocia at sunset with hot air balloons in the sky
© Lucy Binder

This travel story is brought to you in collaboration with Uber 🖤

 

The flight from Istanbul to Kayseri, a small town near Cappadocia, takes about one and a half hours. As we leave the bustling city behind, the landscape slowly transforms from green trees to sandy rock formations, visible from above, with small rivers winding through them. During the flight I eagerly scan the horizon for the famous hot air balloons – with no success. Perhaps because it takes another one and a half hour drive to finally reach our destination: the small town of Göreme in Cappadocia, an UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Arriving in Cappadocia


It's quite clear, especially during the drive from the airport to Göreme, that Cappadocia is truly known for its hot air balloons. Not because the entire sky is full of them (which is honestly what I imagined), but because there are balloon excursion providers at every corner. In addition to numerous booking stations, it seems like there are more ATMs than in a big city. Tourist restaurants with colorful neon signs line up one after the other and everywhere you are lured into small shops offering jewelry or textiles. My first thought: Where the hell am I? My second thought, after ignoring the tourist attractions: How beautiful is this place? And the following days show me that, despite the many tourist attractions that evolved from social media over the past few years, there are still places where you can peacefully enjoy the wonderful nature and surroundings.

View from the bus window onto the landscape of Cappadocia.
The drive from Kayseri airport to Göreme takes approximately 1.5 hours © Lucy Binder

What to do in Cappadocia?


Of course, a balloon flight is a must in Cappadocia and even though it's the number one tourist attraction, the experience never loses its magic. Seeing the balloons from a distance is already a highlight, but sitting in the basket of a hot air balloon and seeing the world from above, free from noise and hustle, is truly something special. As mentioned earlier, balloon flights in Cappadocia can be booked at every corner. However, you have to choose from the many providers, verify their reliability and possibly negotiate a deal. Moreover, many of the providers do not speak English and may not be able to explain exactly how the balloon flight works.


I don't know about you, but I don't regularly fly around in hot air balloons. Consequently, I had a slightly uneasy feeling and was glad to have a reliable provider – Uber's new Balloon Ride feature, which was the reason for my trip to Cappadocia. Since October 23rd 2023, you can easily book a hot air balloon flight via the Uber app, even spontaneously (at least 12 hours in advance).


The best news is: the first 100 flights are free. So, if you happen to be in Cappadocia or plan to visit soon, act quickly. But let's start from the beginning.


Book a hot air balloon flight via the Uber app

Screenshot from the Uber booking page
Screenshot from the Uber booking page

Through the Uber app you can now easily book a balloon excursion during the high season, in October and November. You even get a hotel pick-up that takes you directly to the take-off point and back. The hot air balloon rides start at sunrise in Göreme and last about 1.5 hours. During the flight, you'll fly over the Göreme National Park, known for its "fairy chimneys" and architecture carved into the limestone. More about the history of Cappadocia later on.


Here's how to book a (free) balloon ride:

  1. Click on "Reserve" in the Uber app and enter the address of your hotel or prefered pick-up location as the starting point.

  2. Type in "Cappadocia Balloon Flights" as the destination and select the date.

  3. Be prepared to wake up early, as all flights start at 6 am.

  4. After booking, the provider will contact you to confirm the pick-up address and request a copy of your passport, which is mandatory for all flights.

  5. Flights must be booked at least 12 hours in advance and they cost 150 Euros per person.

Woman with mobile phone in hand in a hot air balloon
© Kayra Sercan Photography/ Uber

More things to do in Cappadocia


So a balloon ride is a must during your vacation in Cappadocia – thanks to the new Uber Reserve function easier than ever. However, I would like to mention that balloon flights can only take place in good weather or calm wind conditions. In case of uncertainty, a "code red" might be issued, prohibiting all flights. However, since October and November are peak seasons, you should definitely be able to secure a slot for a flight if you plan to spend several days in Cappadocia. Apart from the balloon ride, there are many other fantastic things to experience in Cappadocia.


Excursion to Love Valley


"Love Valley" is the valley known from the famous balloon shots. But you don't necessarily have to sit in a hot air balloon, you can also overlook it from one of the many viewpoints. The "fairy chimneys", upward-standing rock formations, are considered landmarks of Cappadocia. My tip: Visit at sunset when the "Love Valley" is covered in beautiful light – this looks even more impressive. It's only about a ten-minute drive from Göreme. Where the name "Love Valley" comes from is something you can figure out yourself ;-)


Stay in a Cave Hotel


When traveling to Cappadocia, you have to stay in one of the countless cave hotels. The accommodations are built directly into the rock formations and are truly something special. You can find many simple, affordable hotels, but also more expensive and exclusive options. During my trip to Cappadocia, I had the pleasure of staying at Carus Cappadocia, which I would fully recommend. Each room is unique, depending on the shape of the rock, and one thing you should definitely pay attention to when choosing a hotel is the rooftop terrace. Most hotels in Cappadocia have one, offering a fantastic view over the landscape and the hot air balloons. Another hotel that you might know from Instagram and one that is supposed to be great is the Koza Cave Hotel.



Visit a traditional pottery place


In Cappadocia there are many craft workshops and small shops where you can buy handmade products, such as carpets, traditional jewelry or clothing. However, pottery is particularly famous, as working with clay has a long tradition in Cappadocia. Therefore, there are several pottery workshops around the town of Göreme that you can visit. There you will learn everything about the process of making ceramics and at some places you even have the opportunity to create something yourself. During my visit to Cappadocia, I went to Venessa Seramik. By the way, there's also a huge showroom where you can buy everything from espresso cups to bowls and even large sculptures, all of which can be delivered directly to your home.


Quad-bike tour through the mountains


For those seeking a bit more action, a quad bike tour is a great choice. In a guided group, you'll ride a quad bike through the landscape, experiencing everything from a different perspective. You can book these trips, just like the balloon rides, at almost every corner. Depending on how comfortable you feel, you can either ride a quad bike by yourself or share one. Tip: It gets extremely dusty during the ride, so don't wear high-quality clothes and put on sunglasses and a covid mask during the trip. Thank me later! Also, only take what you really need for the trip, as there's no room for large handbags or anything like that on the quad bike (backpacks are fine).

Man on a quad bike
Quad-bike tour through Cappadocia © Lucy Binder

Dinner with a View over Cappadocia


The many restaurants built on top of the hill in the rocks are truly a highlight. From there you have a breathtaking view over the valley (and the balloons), and the food is always excellent. The cuisine in Cappadocia is very meaty and they almost automatically assume you eat meat. If you're a vegetarian, it's best to mention it directly so that you get more plant-based dishes. Our dinner at the Museum Hotel was an amazing experience because not only was the food incredibly good, but the location itself was also extraordinary. You can just stop by for a meal, as I did, or stay overnight.



View of the mountains and balloons from a restaurant
Lunch at "Senza" © Lucy Binder

Horseback safari at sunset


Another thing you should do in Cappadocia is a horseback safari. Similar to the quad bike tour, you'll ride through the beautiful landscape, ideally at sunset. That's when the light is most beautiful, providing the full experience. By the way, you don't need any prior knowledge here as the tours are all guided and the horses are very chilled. You can also book the tours at one of the many providers in and around Göreme.


Woman riding a horse through a canyon towards the sunset
© Unsplash


Walk through the underground cities


In addition to its balloons and rock formations, Cappadocia is also known for its underground cities. These cities were formed thousands of years ago and primarily served as hiding places. Derinkuyu is one of the most famous underground cities in Cappadocia, a 40-minute drive from Göreme. It was likely built in the 8th to 7th century BCE during the Phrygian era. Derinkuyu was able to accommodate thousands of people and was equipped with ventilation shafts, wells, kitchens, stables and even a church. The underground city was a fully functional community offering protection against invaders. Today you can visit the underground cities and stroll through the many passages. Thinking about how people lived down there thousands of years ago is a fascinating experience.

Brown wooden door with lanterns on the left and right in a rock
© Unsplash

Visit Cappadocia in winter


Cappadocia is only worth visiting in summer? Nope, definitely not! It's just as beautiful during the winter months and even the balloons hit the sky. When the entire landscape is covered in snow and the colorful balloons are in the air during sunrise or sunset, Cappadocia turns into a scene from Game of Thrones. The good thing about visiting in the winter months: It's less crowded, Göreme is not as touristy and the prices drop. However, it's also extremely cold so bring plenty of warm clothes because not all cave hotels have heating.

View of snow-covered Cappadocia with hot air balloons in the air
© Unsplash

Adopt a dog


Joking, but something you should be prepared for if you love dogs just as much as I do: You'll constantly be wanting to take every.single.one. home with you. Like in many parts of Turkey, there are plenty of stray dogs running around the streets. Big ones but also so many cute puppies and eventually the UNESCO World Heritage Site becomes secondary.


Small white dog in the foreground and landscape at sunset in the background
© Lucy Binder

About Cappadocia


Looking at the landscape in Cappadocia with its caves and fairy chimneys, it becomes quite clear that there's an interesting history behind it. The unique rock formations of Cappadocia, which used to be completely underwater by the way, were formed by volcanic activity. At that time, there were several volcanoes in the area regularly spewing lava and the ashes released settled over time as a type of rock called tuff stone. This kind of stone is very porous and easily malleable, which is why wind and weather shaped the rocks into what it is today. It continues to do so, which is why Cappadocia will likely look quite different in a few hundred years.


Getting to Cappadocia


There are two tiny airports you can fly into if you want to visit Cappadocia. My outbound flight went from Munich to Kayseri (ASR) via Istanbul and the return flight (also via Istanbul) was from Nevsehir Airport (NAV). Both airports are easily accessible by car, with Nevsehir being a bit closer to Göreme (about 40 minutes). While there are car rental companies at the airports, I would recommend organizing a private shuttle for the time in Cappadocia, as it's probably cheaper in the end. Never forget to bargain, it's very common in Turkey.


Good to Know


Since Turkey is not part of the EU, I had no data allowance on my phone during my stay which made everything a bit complicated. Not because I wanted to check my Instagram feed all the time but because I wanted to look up something, listen to music or send a message while on the road. Therefore I recommend buying an eSIM with data for the time in Cappadocia or asking your mobile provider for a temporary international allowance.


Also it's very helpful to have cash in Cappadocia to give tips or buy small items at the market or in the shops. My tip: Exchange your currency to Turkish Lira upon arrival at the airport (before you get to Cappadocia at a larger airport) and exchange any remaining cash back to at the end of your return flight.

Woman with black coat in front of landscape with hot air balloons in the sky
Fun Fact: Because it was too windy on the day I took these images, no balloons were allowed to fly, so Photoshop's AI function had to handle it. Not too bad, right? © Lucy Binder

And now, have fun in Cappadocia, get your hands on one of the few free Uber flights and

let me know what you think! 🎈

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