I had no idea that hot air ballooning was on my bucket list. I knew watching 100 balloons ascend above the Cappadocian landscape at sunrise was, but not actually riding in one. After seeing all of the balloons at sunrise, and talking with my tour guide and hotel, however, I knew I had to experience it. Let me tell you, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Hot air ballooning is incredible!
I was worried that it was going to be scary. I don’t have a fear of heights, but I imagined it would be a much rougher ride. It is exactly the opposite, perfectly smoothing and secure feeling. The only downside is that you have to get up incredibly early, but honestly it’s worth it.
I went with Voyager Balloons, and like everything else in Cappadicia/Turkey they had the process down to a science. They pick you up from your hotel and bring you to their store front. There you sign the waivers, pay, and enjoy a little breakfast. Depending on how many people are in your balloon, it costs between 160 to 225 euros. I went with the medium-sized balloon, which held 16 people (that might sound like a lot, but it really wasn’t bad). Once you’re checked in, you head to your launch site and watch your balloon get blown up. When it’s ready, everybody hops in and you start to ascend as the sun begins to peek out over the horizon. The ride lasts about 1.5 hours and takes you low into lunar looking valleys and then supper high to see everything. The landscape coupled with the rising sun and 99 other colorful hot air balloons all around you, makes it a breathtaking and once in a lifetime experience.
After toasting our successful balloon ride with champagne (apparently this is a hot air ballooning tradition), I headed back to my hotel to fuel up on some delicious breakfast for another day of sight seeing. My guide picked me up at 10 and we were off to see the famous Fairy Chimneys, the Zelve open air museum, and the Devrent Valley.
Our first stop was to see the so-called Fairy Chimneys. These are actually natural rock formations named for their interesting appearance. They look like fairy chimneys because of their unique rock composition and how it has eroded over time. The area was formed by volcanic eruptions, which created mountains of mixed minerals and rocks. As erosion slowly cut into the valley, the soft rock wore away while the hard rock remained. That heavy and harder rock compressed the soft rock that it sat on top of, preventing it from wearing away as well. The end result, after thousands of years, is funny looking darker rocks perched precariously on thin rock columns, which the locals termed fairy chimneys.
Our next stop was the incredible Zelve open air museum. What is today an open air museum was once three rock valleys that housed a Byzantine Christian monastery. Like other rock valleys in the region, these early Christian monks honeycombed the valley with interconnecting tunnels and caves. They even cut a large church into the rock. With the decline of the monastery, the valleys were inhabited by local residents until 1952, when the government deemed the area too dangerous after part of one of the valleys collapsed.
After another delicious Turkish lunch, we stopped in the Devrent Valley to see more interesting natural rock formations. Unlike the Fairy Chimneys, this valley’s erosion produced lots of different and unique rocks shapes. It is game to see what shapes you can detect. I immediately saw a camel in the last picture above (do you see it?).
As you might have guessed, after getting up at 4 am and seeing lots of incredible sights, I was pretty exhausted by the afternoon. Fortunately, there was plenty of Turkish tea to keep me going and time to relax a bit at a carpet-lined cafe before returning to the airport for my flight back to Rome. It was a quick, but amazing trip. One that I will remember always!
You can read about part one of my adventures in Cappadocia here!
Thank you Argeus for an incredible tour!