Turkey Travels: Cappadocia

The landscape of Cappadocia could make you feel like you’re on another planet. It’s like a desert, peppered with the occasional oasis of a village hewn straight out of the rock formations rising from the arid ground. You could be in a scene from Dune but the locals here are much friendlier.

The main reason to visit Cappadocia, besides the hot air ballooning, is to experience what living in a cave might feel like. This extraordinary region with it’s unusual mushroom shaped rocks still had cave homes occupied by later generations of families till into the 1990’s. The government then passed a law that the these sites could no longer be used as homes and repatriated those people. Many still have title deeds to those dwelings and are now developing and renting them out to be used as guesthouses for tourists.

Cappadocia is in fact not just one town but a region made of several little towns. Most tourists stay in Goreme or Urgup. The cave hotels are an interesting experience as long as you are not claustrophobic. There are some normal hotel options as well if you are.

We stayed in Urgup at The Romantic Cave hotel. The accomodation was comfortable with the full on cave experience. Dim lighting, cavernous stone spaces and a huge well-equipped bathroom. It is a guesthouse with maybe 6 units available. Breakfast was prepared by the manager and his wife in an open plan kitchen and dining room. It was the same each day, a mini buffet of eggs, meditteranean veggies, cheese and pastries served at each table. It was simple, but intimate and personal and I enjoyed our stay here.

We were booked for 3 nights and had 2 full-day tours planned. On the first day, we explored the Cappadocia stone formations and the underground city. This entailed quite a bit of walking in some cases uphill on a long flight of stone steps. But the view from the top is worth it. We made some tourist stops along the way where you could buy souvenirs and handmade Turkish clothes, rugs and tableware. At all these stops you could trade with Lira, Euro or Dollars. We also stopped at the official tourist centre for precious stones. We learnt about the 3 main gemstones which are mined in Turkey, onyx, zultanite and turquoise. Zultanite in particular is very rare and only mined in the Ilbir Mountains of southwest Turkey. It is yellowy green and changes colour by the light source.  It can be purchased here with a certificate of authenticity. I also found it readily available and cheaper at souvenir shops in town though you would not necessarily get the certificate. Turquoise jewellery is also popular to buy as souvenirs.

Lunch was included on both tours and each time was at a massive hall designed to accommodate all the tour busses. A variety of Turkish food was available and you could eat yourself silly on all the desserts. The food was much the same at most of these stops. Turkish soups, a variety of cold mezze, salads, grilled meats-shawarma style and chicken, sometimes fish.

The town itself is quaint and you could walk the entirety of it in about an hour. There are many little souvenir shops, restaurants, dessert shops, and a few clothing shops. No mall to speak of. There is a distinct coffee culture, and the smell of roasting pumpkin seeds hangs in the air. Late evening you find them sweeping up the debris of pumpkin shells discarded by the locals in the streets. I loved the roasted seeds and brought a bagful home with me.

That evening we found a colourful alley lined with boutique shops and hanging Turkish lanterns. After supper at one of the many restaurants on the main street, we headed there to a biker-themed coffee shop named Corridor Coffee. They had all the paraphernalia for serious coffee drinkers with an elaborate pouring mechanism on the counter. That night, the owner was not there to manage it, and we ordered off the menu instead. We had hot chocolate, coffee and Sahlep, a warming spicy Turkish drink made with milk and cinnamon. It was so thick it came with its own mini whisk and a side of roasted chickpeas. Our order took a bit long but the presentation here was everything. The coffee was served with little candy-coated chocolate nibs which you found at most of the Turkish Delight shops as well. 

The next day’s tour was at the Goreme open-air Museum. What we saw was much of the same landscape as the previous day though. We visited the official tourist centre for Turkish ceramics where you can purchase beautiful handmade and one-of-a-kind pieces. Very pricey compared to the markets, but if you want originals with some after-sales service, you can get it here. We also visited the leather centre where they did a leather fashion show and enticed us with expensive leather garments. Be strong!

I would cut down the tours to half days if it’s your first time especially if you’re there for more than one day. Although, for this area, you will need a tour company to arrange to get around.

Cappadocia is famous for hot air ballooning, but the weather dictates whether the balloons go up at all. On both days we were there, the wind was too strong and the flights were cancelled. It’s fairly easy to arrange. You can do it online on Viator.com, or in the towns, where there are many tour operators who can arrange it. Prices vary from $140 to $240 per person depending on the season and how early you book. You can also get first a flight option which goes up earlier than the other balloons and have a less full basket for a higher price.

Image source: AdobeStock

You will be collected from your hotel and taken to Goreme where the balloons take off from. They typically go up with about 16 people on board and a pilot. Make sure you book your flight early as you are always refunded if it gets cancelled due to wind. Be sure to rebook for the next day as the flights are around 5 am and you are back at your hotel in time for breakfast and checkout. Always make double sure you will be refunded if it’s cancelled.

We got to do the hot air balloons in Pamukale, but there are far fewer balloons than in Cappadocia and the landscape is not as dramatic. So if you want to get those quintessential balloon pics for your Instagram feed, it’s best done in Cappadocia. I’ll tell you more details about the hot air ballooning in a separate post just for that coming up soon.

We learnt of a Whirling Dervishes ceremony happening in one of the nearby towns from the tour guide on our day tour. We decided to book it there rather than wait till we got back to Istanbul. After we returned from our day tour we were collected from our hotel and taken to a nearby town. The ceremony was held in an underground theatre which added to the drama. It is a religious ceremony, a zikr, so no pictures were allowed for the actual ceremony. However, they did come back afterwards for just a few minutes to reprise a few minutes of the whirling so we could take photos. It lasts about 45 minutes at a cost of about $25. It’s not a show and can end up being boring for some or deep and meaningful for others.

I enjoyed Cappadocia and would have liked more time to explore at my leisure. I would suggest doing a tour one day and exploring by yourself the next day. Check out a little clothing store called Mavi for excellent quality affordable clothes and a popular restaurant called Ciğerci Bahattin Ürgüp for the most amazing grills and service where I almost ordered sheeps testicles for dinner.


Turkey Travels: Planning your trip
Exploring Istanbul Part 1
Exploring Istanbul Part 2
Exploring Konya and Pamukkale


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