One of the unavoidable and mandatory stops during any trip to Turkey is Cappadocia (or Kapadokya, like some people write it, there is no agreement…potato-patato).
Upon arrival, it made me feel like I was entering the town of Bedrock (if you’re wondering where Bedrock is…..if you’re wondering who The Flinstones are…..I’m freaking old).
An UNESCO Heritage Site, Cappadocia is an awesome site to spend a few days in. There are plenty of activities for both the budget conscientious and the not so budget conscientious. The town of Göreme is the headquarters for tourists in the region. This area has the best views, hotels, restaurants and is the transportation hub for that budget conscientious group I proudly make part of.
ISTANBUL TO CAPPADOCIA
A bus ride from Istanbul will take approximately 11 hours, and a good option is to take an overnight bus to save some money on accommodation for the night. If you’re pressed on time, a flight from Istanbul will take about 1 hour 30 minutes to get to Cappadocia.
Göreme is surrounded by “Fairy Chimneys”, rock formations shaped as, well, chimneys, or simply really tall rocks, depending on the power of your imagination. Many of these rocks have been carved to build homes and hotels, the latter being the (sometimes ridiculously) expensive option when staying in Cappadocia.
Many of the activities in Cappadocia are based on seeing different types of rock formations, and while it might sound as repetitive at first, there are so many options that you can easily get through a couple of days without seeing the same things twice.
Most of these activities can be done on your own, therefore making Cappadocia an affordable option. But let’s start with the most expensive activity and move from there, shall we?
HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE
For many, the hot air balloon ride is the main reason why they made their way to Cappadocia, and with good reason. Having done it I must agree that the views of Göreme from the air are simply breathtaking.
Costs: In town, pretty much everyone and their mothers offers the hot air balloon ride option. Most (if not all) offices will offer the same Standard, Deluxe and VIP (or private) options, which are very much the same flights with fancy names purposely named so to charge you more. The cheapest option is the Standard, which will set you back between $100 to $150 USD.
What is Included: Included is pick-up at the early hours of the morning (between 4:30AM and 5:00AM) from your hostel to the office in Göreme for check-in. The wait time is anywhere between 15 minutes to 30 minutes, and you are provided with a small breakfast (good ol’ coffee, tea and snacks). Make sure the departure time is agreed to when you book, as you do not want to miss the spectacular views the early morning sunrise offers when 100+ balloons start flying up in the air.
The ride lasts for about 60 to 90 minutes depending on the option you took and you get to witness much of the beautiful landscape Cappadocia has to offer. Make sure to arrange to have an English speaking pilot, as this will become important when you want to get closer to that awesome shot once you’re up in the air.
WATCH THE SUN RISE AND SET OVER GÖREME
The second best thing after the hot air balloon experience is actually seeing these take flight from my favorite view point in Göreme, Sunset Point. This spot is right above the town of Göreme and will take around a 10 minute hike to get to the top. Once up there the view of the balloons going up in the air are spectacular.
As its name says, this viewpoint is also a really good place to look at the sun set over Göreme. Get there early to secure a good spot, as pretty much every tourist has the same idea for an early morning and evening activity.
HIKE THE ROSE VALLEY TRAIL
There are several trails connecting Göreme to neighboring towns, the closest one being the Rose Valley trail. From Göreme take Müze Cd. towards the Open Air Museum. Although you can start your hike at any point past the halfway point between Göreme and the museum, the start to the trail is extremely unclearly marked and is very easy to miss, so keep an eye on your left as you start your way.
Make sure to bring lots of water especially on very hot days, as you may go various hours without encountering anyone or anywhere to purchase a bottle of water. Even if you’re lucky to find these well-hidden spots, do not expect the water to be cold (but if you want a cup of hot tea…they’ll have it).
You can do this activity on your own without a guide. I started the trail on my own and befriended two hikers along the way. Although most of the hike is quite easy, there are some parts which will require climbing some steep areas. Start this activity early as the trail takes about 4 to 5 hours to get through, and will leave you a few kilometers away from the city.
You will hit a road at the end of the trail which, follow it east and it will lead you directly back to Göreme.
VISIT THE OPEN AIR MUSEUM
Göreme’s Open Air Museum is a set of amazingly well preserved stone churches from the 10th to 12th century. Many of the churches still have frescoes (paintings) which still retain their original freshness, which is the reason why flash photography is not allowed inside the sites.
Going through the complex and visiting all the churches takes about 2 hours. The entrance fee to the museum is about 25TL, and an additional 10TL if you wish to enter Karanlık Kilise, the most popular of the churches within the Open Air Museum.
Fun Fact: On your way to the museum there will be this guy selling “Flying Carpet Tours”. Of course the “tour” itself is simply a montage video he makes of you on a flying carpet, it is very low c-movie quality, but still fun to watch (it’s not). Check here for a Youtube sample of what this looks like 🙂
TAKE A TRIP TO IHLARA VALLEY
Many tour companies offer a one-day tour to Ihlara Valley. Included in the tour are visits to the Underground Cities of Derinkuyu, a visit to the town of Güzelyurt, a hike on the Ilhara Valley, and a visit to the Stone Churches of Belisırma. Booking through an agency can cost you between $50 to $60 USD per person. However you can reach many of these sites on your own, with a little bit of flexibility and a sense for adventure. See the map below for the most optimal route if staying in Göreme.
Renting a car for the day is not a bad option, as many of the sites are far from each other. Public transportation is also an option and it is described below, however you should consider spending the night in Aksaray as the journey can be exhausting if departing from Göreme, and some back-and-forth and long bus rides are required.
Göreme to Derinkuyu
To get to Derinkuyu from Göreme you must first take a bus to Nevşehir. Buses depart from the Göreme station every half-hour to Nevşehir, and from there take another bus to take you to Derinkuyu. The buses take 30 and 40 mnutes respectively.
Derinkuyu Underground Cities
Derinkuyu to Güzelyurt & Ihlara Valley
While I was in Cappadocia I could not find a bus route which could take me from Derinkuyu to Güzelyurt, which meant heading back to the Nevşehir Otogar in order to take a bus from there to Aksaray. Once in Aksaray you must take another bus to Güzelyurt and to Ihlara and/or to Belisırma.
Belisırma Stone Churches
WHERE I STAYED
Emre Cave House: This place gets high points for its location and price. It isn’t really a cave hotel, but more rather a house built in stone. The owners are helpful and the rooms comfortable. If you’re looking for a bed and don’t mind not living the so-called “experience” of spending a night in an actual cave (I’ll never understand people throwing money away for a bed), this is a good place.
And you, how did you manage to keep Cappadocia under budget? Was this information helpful? Let us know in the comments section below 🙂