Cappadocia, Turkey. Famous for its magical hot air balloons that fill the skies at sunrise, this region has so much to offer. From hikes to caves to underground cities to pink lakes, this region never ceases to amaze me. We could have stayed here much longer than just the 3 days that we had to visit, but here are some of the “can’t-be-missed” places to see.
We stayed in Goreme, probably the most famous of Cappadocia’s towns and the best if you want to be able to see and explore everything the region has to offer.
1. Hot Air Balloons at Sunrise
This is definitely the main cause of Cappadocia’s fame. It would be hard to miss the hot air balloons even if you tried. Every morning at sunrise around 100 the balloons take off into the rosy sky ! The skies fill with whimsical beauty. A once in a lifetime experience. Whether the balloons are just admired from a distance or you actually get a ride in one, you can’t miss this incredible experience (no matter how much you hate waking up early).
When I went to visit Cappadocia, some of the Corona virus restrictions were still in place. Unfortunately I was not lucky enough to see the skies filled with a plethora of balloons. Despite my initial devastation, I was grateful to at least catch a glimpse of the few balloons that did take off with trainer pilots. Better than not seeing any at all!
View the full post: HOT AIR BALLOONS IN CAPPADOCIA – EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME
2. Rose Valley and Red Valley Hike
This region is famous for its beautiful valleys, uniquely shaped rock formations, and cave dwellings. The hike through Rose Valley and Red Valley is, in my opinion, among the most beautiful of the options. The trail loops are wound together in a way so I would recommend doing them at the same time.
Why is it called rose and red valley? You certainly won’t be seeing any roses in this dry deserty region, but if you go for the hike around sunset you will be amazed to see the pink and rose tinges of color pulled out of the rocks. During normal hours of the day, it’s hard to see, but at sunset the color is revealed magnificently.
The hike will take you through cave dwellings that you can climb through, ancient churches, and more. A relatively easy hike, just remember that it can get very hot in the summer in Cappadocia and there is little shade! So make sure to bring a lot of water and a hat.
3. Sunset Horse Back Ride
I would have to say that this was possibly the highlight of my trip to Cappadocia. Beyond my love of horseback riding, it was simply an incredible experience. Although it was only walking (more oriented towards beginners), it was so stunning and beautiful. We stopped along the way to see cave churches and to relax at a tiny “cafe” among the rocks. When we reached the pinnacle, the Sunset Point, we were embraced with the burning, golden sun on one side and rose colored rocks on the other.
Any of the hotels in the Goreme area will be able to help you find and schedule a horse back riding tour.
4. Pink Lake (Lake Tuz)
One of Turkey’s most underrated tourist attractions, the Pink Lake is seriously an incredible sight! It is a bit far away from Goreme itself (about 2 hours drive)so we hired a private driver for the day and visited a few sights along the way.
The Pink Lake (Lake Tuz) is huge. There are multiple areas that you can enter the waters and depending on the season, the lake ranges from a surreal white to vibrant pink.
5. Ihlara Valley Hike
Ihlara is an incredibly remarkable place. In the middle of a desert region, with no water around except for the undrinkable Salt Lake, all the sudden you find the beautiful, lush Ihlara Valley. A fresh water river runs through the gorge and it even boasts a few small waterfalls. It’s an amazing oasis with adorable little cafes built literally on top of the river throughout the hike.
We stopped here on our way back from the Salt Lake. The “hike” is more of a nature walk, but there are a few trails that are longer and more difficult if you’re up for the challenge.
6. Sunset Viewpoint
The first evening we arrived in Cappadocia, we wanted to see the sunset over the entire city. Fortunately the Sunset Viewpoint was right next to our hotel! Literally a 5 minute walk up hill and we were there (along with many others eager to take in the views). It was the perfect way to begin our stay in Cappadocia.
7. Eat at the Best Restaurant in the World
Now I’m really not exaggerating here. The BEST food I have ever had in my entire life was in Goreme, at a cute mom and pop restaurant on the way to the Sunset Viewpoint. Fresh from the garden, perfectly cooked, heavenly flavors…I still crave the food. We even went back twice (despite my rule never to go back to the same restaurant twice while traveling). Both times it did not disappoint! Be sure also to try their homemade wine! It is all delectable.
8. Pigeon Valley
Although we did not have a lot of time to explore this interesting valley, we did have the chance to stop here at sunset on our way back from the Pink Lake and Ihlara Valley. As I’m sure you can guess, the name comes from the many pigeons that flock to the area. You can even see in the rocks the MANY ancient dovecotes (Pigeon Houses) carved into the rocks for the carrier pigeons many years ago.
If you have time, there is also a small hike that can be done in the area, a cute gift shop, and lots of pigeons to watch.
9. Stay in a Cave
One of the most unique experiences about Cappadocia is the ability to stay in a cave! As it’s famous for it’s ancient cave dwellings, it’s only fitting that up until today most of the hotels are actually built into the rock just as in ancient times. We stayed at the amazing Elite Cave Suites in a lovely room with a remarkable view (we even saw hot air balloons from our balcony).
It is such an amazingly authentic experience. There is no need for air conditioning in the rooms as they stay cool even on the hottest day because of the way they were constructed.
10. Goreme Open Air Museum
Just a few minutes walk (about 15) from the city center, you’ll reach the Goreme Open Air Museum. It is an amazing place to see and understand more about the history of the area. An audio tour can guides you through the many ancient paintings, cave churches, and dwellings, explaining a lot about the history of the people who lived in the region.
11. Bonus: Underground City
The whole region of Cappadocia has many Underground Cities available to visit. The most famous being Derinkuyu Underground City. As the name suggests, it is a full city built underground. Large enough to house 20,000 people, livestock, and built on multiple levels, it is said to be truly incredible. Bearing a secret of its own, this ancient city was only discovered when a man started renovations to his home, and stumbled upon it – giving a lot of insight into how people lived in this region historically. The Underground City can be visited along the way if you take a day trip to the Pink Lake and Ihlara Valley.
How to Get to Cappadocia
Cappadocia is in the heartland of Turkey. About a 9 hour drive from Istanbul, there is always the option of a road trip or a bus ride (10-11 hours). However, as domestic flights are very cheap, I would recommend a flight. It is about 1 hour and is far more convenient in my opinion.
You can fly into Nevsehir or Kayseri airport. Nevsehir is much closer to Goreme, but the flights tend to be fewer and more expensive. Kayseri is about a one hour drive away. The taxi ride is a bit expensive (400 TL), so consider shuttles that run often (or can be arranged by your hotel) and are as cheap as 45 TL per person.
When to Visit Cappadocia
The hot air balloons can be seen all year round! Even in the winter, with snow covering the rocks, you can still gaze upon the hot air balloons. Most of the other activities can also be done year round (if you don’t mind the cold)
However, the best time to visit Cappadocia is the summertime-from beginning of May to September. The weather is mild and comfortable, making it unlikely to have to worry about canceling balloon rides due rain, snow, or wind. The weather can get hot in the summer (around 32 degrees), but at night it’s still cool and comfortable.
Transportation within Cappadocia
BY FOOT. Within Goreme the easiest method of transportation is by foot. The town is fairly small and quaint so most places will be an absolute maximum of 20 minutes walk away (usually closer to 10). Of course there are taxis within the city if need be, but while staying in Goreme I would recommend just walking around by foot. It gives you a better opportunity to explore the narrow streets and cute shops.
PRIVATE DRIVER. For a day trip outside of Goreme, to go see the Pink Lake, Underground City, or Ihlara Valley, I would recommend getting a private driver. You do have the option of just renting a car instead, but the price difference is negligible, especially considering the convenience of a local driver who knows all the best spots to go. I don’t think we would have ever found the pink portion of the Pink lake if it weren’t for our driver, and Ihlara Valley can be tricky to find.
How Long to Stay in Cappadocia
Cappadocia offers so much to visitors. We stayed for three days but hardly tapped all of the many things to do. I definitely would not recommend spending less than 3 days in the area and for relaxing stay 5-6 days. If you do, you run the risk of not only missing hot air balloons (sometimes they cancel flights due to weather), but also missing all the amazing things this area has to offer.
I really hope that one day we’ll be able to visit again and explore more of this truly incredible place!
Looking for more incredible things to do in Turkey? Check out our FULL 12 DAY TURKEY ITINERARY.
Lots of love and safe travels,
xoxoxo Danielle and Brooke, Colorful Sisters