Cappadocia was one of the places I was most excited about during the planning of the trip. I had spent hours scrolling through photos and blogs reading about other peoples experiences and literally squealing with excitement. Despite my research I could never have been prepared for the beauty that was Cappadocia at sunrise.
Cappadocia is located in the central Anatolian region of Turkey and the entire city was a result of volcanic eruptions some million years ago. Every morning as the sun rises, hot air balloons take to the sky, filling the rocky valleys with a million colours. The area is also known for its unique lunar landscape, underground cities and cave churches.
We arrived at midnight after our flight was delayed by several hours to find the most surreal landscape imaginable. Even in the dark we couldn't believe our eyes, it felt like we were on the set of a sci-fi film. Our excitement kept us awake and we explored around in the dark and found somewhere selling pide for a late dinner. We stayed for 3 nights although as long as you have 2 free mornings (1 to watch the sunrise and 1 to go on a balloon) you would be fine/better with 2 nights here. As Cappadocia is in the desert it is incredibly hot during the day (and cold at night) with not much in the way of trees to relieve the heat.
There are direct flights from Istanbul to Kayseri in Cappadocia for around $35 that take about 1.5 hours or you can travel by the overnight bus from Istanbul, which takes about 11 hours and costs around $25 (would recommend to avoid the hassle of the airport even though prices are similar). At the end of our stay here we got the overnight bus for $25 to Ataylya (Olympos) which took 12 hours. You can book these buses online or at the bus station in town the day or so before you wish to travel. We saved money on accommodation and we didn't waste a day with travel although I can't say it was a pleasant trip and we arrived in Olympus the next morning with Ebbs in a very bad mood (he doesn't like buses!!).
Where to stay
We stayed at Yasin's Place Backpacker Cave Hotel, where for $13 each a night we had a private room in our very own cave and an included Turkish breakfast. It had the coolest courtyard and rooftop sitting area and the hotel next door had a pool that we snuck into all the time. The hostel was in Goreme which is one of the 3 main towns that make up Cappadocia (and after visiting the other ones arguably the best). Uchisar and Ugrup are the other 2 towns and are within a 15 minute drive from each other. They are worth visiting but are made up mainly of expensive hotels and although less touristy, have less food options and are less accessible by foot (quite hilly). Goreme is a funky town surrounded my fairy chimneys and full of excited backpackers/tourists and was a really fun place to be.
Where to explore
We hired a motor bike for $35 for 24 hours and explored and rode around the region, visiting all the nearby towns and site seeing through all the different valleys which are named after their unique characteristics. Pigeon Valley for example is full of pigeons!! and Rose Valley has a pink tinge to its rock faces. The landscape is surprisingly varied as you travel from place to place making hiring a motorbike to see it all really worthwhile.
There are heaps of 'museums'... both to cater to the huge numbers of tourists and to make money off them. As a rule Ebbs and I didn't spend money where we didn't have to and if we couldn't sneak into a museum we usually didn't go. In Cappadocia however, we found many alternatives to the main museums and attractions. The first was a small church inside a cave that was thousands and thousands of years old. It was free to enter and was just off the main road near the entry to the Open Air Museum.
We snuck into several hotel pools (the easiest being one off the main road just outside town, these instructions may sound vague but when you're there you'll know where I am talking about).
We spent a few hours trawling through carpet shops, dreaming of filling our houses at home and coughing from the dust. The shopping here is incredibly overpriced and although I did see a few unique things pretty much everything can be purchased for much cheaper in Istanbul.
As for exploring the underground cities (an activity that you can pay for through the hostel) Ebbs and I came across an abandoned 'rock city' high up in a cliff face whilst riding our motorbike just outside Goreme. We spent a few hours climbing through all 7 floors of dusty rooms, finding hidden passageways and inscriptions on the walls. It is incredible that people used to live in these places and even more incredible that they are still semi intact today.
If you have the funds there are several tours that leave daily and are the same with every travel company within Cappadocia (labeled by colour eg: blue tour, green tour, red tour etc) that take you to nearby towns/gorges/underground cities and although they are not ridiculously over-priced we found it far more exciting to hire a motor bike and explore these places for ourselves.
Hot Air Ballooning
On our first morning after arriving at 2am Ebbs turned off our alarm in his sleep so we missed sunrise but on our second morning, more determined than ever, we got up at 4am and rode to a spot on the outskirts of Goreme that we had scoped out the day before. It was surprisingly cold so Ebbs made us a fire and we huddled under my sleeping bag as we watched the balloons rising like waking giants in the valley. The roar of their fires echoed through the canyons, filling the silent night air. One by one the balloons left the ground as the sun rose on the horizon illuminating all their colours. It was surreal and we counted 88 in the sky at one time.
On our second morning we went hot air ballooning ourselves which we booked through our hostel for $170 each including transfers. We hadn't originally planned on doing it due to the cost but after watching it that morning we figured it would be worth going hungry for a few days (or weeks aha).
In each balloon depending on how much money you pay there will be 10 to up to 30 people. We had around 15 people in our balloon which seems like a lot but there was actually plenty of space. As far as the actual experience goes apart from saying how amazing it was words won't properly describe it, so just go do it yourself!!!!