If you are thinking of going to Turkey, Istanbul is fantastic…but there is so much more to this beautiful and diverse country. Cappadocia, Turkey is one of those special – and rare – places where the often-overused phrase “A Must Do” is actually very appropriate. It really is a MUST do!
Flying to Turkey
We flew from Istanbul, Turkey on Turkish Airlines. The flight left from the SAW airport, which is the secondary airport in Istanbul and it was about 45 minutes from city central. When you enter any airport in Turkey, you actually go through two security lines. First, you go through a security line just to enter into the airport. Then, after you check-in, you go through another security line to get to the gate waiting area. It was a little frustrating, but the lines did move fairly quickly.
The flight is a quick one 1 hour, 15-minute, flight into Nevsehir Kapadokya Airport. You could also choose to fly into Kayseri Erkilet Airport and your decision as to which airport to use depends on several factors, including price, number of flights and flight options. Nevsehir is a smaller airport, but it is a little closer to most of the areas visited by travelers. For comparison purposes, Nevesehir is about 23 miles from Goreme and it takes about 40 minutes. Whereas Kayseri is about 46 miles away and it takes about one hour to get to Goreme.
Perhaps the biggest reason you may find to pick one airport over the other airport will be price and the flight options. Typically, Nevsehir is more expensive than Kayseri with fewer flights per day and with more limited connections. For example, Nevsehir had several flight options from Istanbul, but had substantially less options when it came to flights originating from places not named Istanbul. Still, when I did my comparison, Nevsehir came out slightly cheaper, had a slightly shorter commute and was slightly more scenic.
Renting a Car with DiscoverCars
I scheduled a rental car using DiscoverCars.com. They are a third-party website that searches for the best and most affordable options. I am typically hesitant to use third-party providers of any service, but I had a good experience with DiscoverCars. Here is a link to check out what they have to offer.
The local rental company had a “meet and greet” in the parking lot of the airport, which was a nice (and convenient) touch. With insurance, my rate was about $25/day, which I thought was very reasonable. At first, I was worried to drive in Turkey, but it turned out to be a great decision because the roads were wide and well-kept. And even though you can easily get around the region with shuttles and tours, I was glad to have the freedom that the car allowed.
Getting to Goreme
Before heading to Cappadocia, I scoured the internet looking for things to see and where to stay. We ended up staying Goreme, which was centrally located, with lots of places to stay as well as great restaurants. There are many hotels that claim to be “cave hotels”, but just realize that most of such hotels are really hotels made to feel like caves. For me, the most important feature was the view. And, we found a great view at the Mithra Cave Hotel. It was a great place to sit outside in the morning to watch the hot air balloons float by. And, even better, the breakfast fantastic and was served in the hotel restaurant which was perched at the top with walls of glass that allowed the perfect view while eating.
Preparing for our Hot Air Balloon Adventure
Before heading to Cappadocia, I reached out to Butterfly Balloons. Specifically, I asked about their Beyond Flight which has a few more bells and whistles than their ordinary flight. For starters, the actual flight lasts longer that most of the other balloon flights. We were aloft for over an hour and we went both higher and further than almost every other balloon. The flights are also more controlled as far as the number of people who were allowed in the balloon. For the Beyond Flight, there were basically 5 compartments in the wicker basket. There was one compartment in the center that help the pilot as well as all of the necessary equipment. Then, on each corner, was a compartment that held 2 people each for a total of 8 guests. To me, the extra cost was worth the ability to easily look in every direction without having to worry about getting in anyone else’s way. I shared the space with my son and my wife and youngest daughter were in the next compartment. My 17-year-old son loved the experience, but it took a little while for my 9-year-old daughter to relax enough to truly enjoy the ride. We could easily move around and switch positions and I strongly suggest this upgrade, which cost $230 per person.
Further, I would schedule your balloon flight on your first available day just in case you have bad weather. For example, very few flights were launched the week before we arrived due to strong winds and snow was expected the day after we left. This way, you might be able to make-up that missed flight the next day after bad weather. And, be sure to schedule your flight as far in advance as possible as I understand that the balloons get pretty full very quickly during the busy season.
The Day of Our Hot Air Balloon Flight
They came by to pick us up at the hotel at 6:30am sharp and brought us to their office where they had a nice breakfast laid out. There were a lot of people there, but everything went smoothly because they were so well organized. After breakfast, they assigned us our pilot and told us which van to get in. We rode there with the other riders. It was still dark, but it was amazing to see the occasional flares from the flames filling up the balloons.
There were balloons everywhere! We drove down a dirt path and stopped at an area where it was apparent that the company regularly launched this balloon. There were several members of the ground crew that were assigned to this particular balloon and they also made up the people making-up the chase crew. The pilot stepped into his balloon and I could tell that he took his job seriously. He made sure that we stayed safe and also answered all of our questions.
We slowly left the ground after our brief instructions which were mainly “Do not to climb out of the basket!” It was breathtaking to see the other balloons in various positions of ascent. Once we began to rise, we could see more of the valley just as the sun began to peek out from its sleep. The unique shape of the rock formations added to an already out-of-this-world experience and we slowly rose to be the highest balloon flying.
From this vantage point, I really enjoyed looking at the many balloons flying on horizon. Most balloons had a unique color scheme with various images to include branding and the country of Turkey. Each balloon also had identification numbers so that each operator could potentially call another operator if needed. Our pilot really concentrated on our position, especially when the balloons were flying closer together. He would check the airspace not only surrounding us, but also the airspace below and above us. We felt very safe.
Up in the sky in our hot air balloon!
Flying at Higher Altitude
To be honest, while I did enjoy flying at the higher altitude, I most enjoyed the experience when we flew lower because it was easier to really look at the landscape below. The scenery was so unique and we passed several of the most popular valleys with both their uniquely shaped Fairy Chimneys (think Love Valley). We also floated past history as we passed more caves than you could count. I thought about the people that once called the caves their homes, how they were able to build their homes and how they used their sometimes-hidden homes (the underground cities in this area are another “must-do”) to evade enemies. We also floated over the city of Goreme, which was so beautiful.
Our Smooth Descent
After about an hour, several balloons had landed or were in the process of landing. You could spot the chase vehicles following behind the balloons, trying to figure out where the balloons would land. We started our slow descent. It was amazing how much control our pilot, Azi, had over the balloon. He had previously explained that not only could he control the ascents and descents, he could also control our direction through vents that could be opened and closed inside of the balloon.
The balloon continued to an open patch of land. Our chase crew had arrived, driving a vehicle with a trailer attached. Several of the chase crew got out and began walking toward our location. But, the pilot needed to change our course and as he made his adjustments, the crew and the vehicle followed his changes. The truck moved into position and our pilot actually landed the balloon on top of the trailer and in perfect position. The landing was so slow and deliberate, that you could barely tell that we were barely moving. Our pilot had some serious skills!
Exploring the Deflated Hot Air Balloon
After we landed, we climbed out of the basket, assisted by the chase crew. The balloon was being deflated and we were all invited to actually walk inside of the balloon. As big as it looked fully inflated, it looked even bigger as we explored the interior of the balloon. This was an unexpected bonus and they took pictures of us inside of the balloon! We entered through the bottom of the balloon and exited out of the top of the balloon.
Us inside the deflated hot air balloon!
Celebrating Our Successful Flight
We then popped some champagne (and juice for the kids) and celebrated our successful flight. We were all awarded a Flight Certificate as well as gifted a medal at we proudly hung around our necks. The pilot also took 360 video while we were in-flight and we gladly paid to receive a thumb-drive of such footage. We tipped the pilot and crew, took several more photographs and then got back into the van. We were then transported back to our hotel.
Popped some champagne (and juice for the kids) after our ride!
As you can already surmise, I highly recommend this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don’t hesitate. Just go. Just do it!