As exciting as hot air balloons and group tours can be, the best way to explore Cappadocia is on foot. And for those staying in Göreme, there are a surprising number of scenic valleys you can simply walk to from town. In previous guides, we covered some of the longer loop trails in the area. But the Zemi Valley loop is perfect for those wanting to take things a bit easier.
And when finished with the hike, you can extend the day by simply crossing the road and heading north. Eventually, you’ll reach the underrated Çavuşin Castle – exploration of which is something of a hike of its own!
Also in this guide, we’ll be covering nearby historic churches such as El Nazar Church, along with additional options for those wanting to explore further around Çavuşin.
Check the end of the guide for more info on transportation and accommodation in Cappadocia.
About this Hike
THE BASICS: The day’s itinerary consists of two components: A walk around the Zemi Valley loop (around 3 km) and then a walk north to visit Çavuşin Castle (about 3 km one-way).
The starting points of the two hikes are just across the road (Muze Cd.) from one another. And it’s an easy 500 m walk from central Göreme to get there.
Of course, you can choose only one of them if you prefer. But given the length of both excursions, it’s a good idea to combine them if you’re looking for a full yet relatively easy day.
As we’ll go over below, you also have the option to do more exploring around the Çavuşin area if you still have the time and energy.
RECOMMENDED APPS: The Zemi Valley has more trail markers than other parts of Cappadocia. But apps are still very useful.
For this hike, we recommend the app called AllTrails which guides you through the entire loop. It’s a free download, but it costs money to use offline. Luckily, most of Cappadocia has a decent signal.
You should also use Maps.me, which clearly marks the El Nazar church just off the main Zemi Valley loop trail. Later on, you can rely on Maps.me to get to Çavuşin, which is a mostly straight walk north.
WHAT TO BRING: Overall, this outing is much easier than other long hikes we’ve covered. Just be sure to wear decent shoes.
Also bring adequate water, though you will be able to restock at several cafes along the way. And don’t forget to put on sunscreen!
El Nazar Church
To reach Zemi Valley from central Göreme, start heading in the direction of the Göreme Open Air Museum.
Once you start heading east down Muze Cd., after 500 m or so you’ll notice a sign for Zemi Valley on your right. (As we’ll go over below, on the opposite side of this road is the path leading north to Çavuşin.)
Make a right down this path heading south. But before entering the Zemi Valley, be sure to visit the El Nazar church – only a slight detour.
You’ll find signs pointing you in the right direction, while the path there is also marked on Maps.me. After passing an open-air cafe on your left, head left down the next fork of the road.
From there it’s just a several-minute walk up to the church. But if you’re starting quite early, note that the church doesn’t even open until 10:30 in the morning. Therefore, you may want to save it until the end instead.
In my case, I happened to get there around 10:20, and the guard showed up right on time. The church, situated within a standalone ‘fairy chimney’ formation, costs 10 TL to enter (as of 2020).
Carved in the late 10th century, El Nazar church still retains many of its beautiful frescoes – at least in the upper portions. The rest have been damaged, as the structure was long used for pigeon roosting! Thankfully, the practice ended following restorations in 1999.
The church was carved in a cruciform shape and the interior is only 7 x 7 meters. All along the arches, you’ll see the faces of numerous saints – 62 in total out of an original 100!
The central sanctuary, meanwhile, features Mary holding baby Jesus, with two angels on either side of them.
The dome artwork shows Christ’s ascension in heaven following his resurrection on earth. And the colorful scene is illuminated thanks to the addition of a small carved window.
Other scenes around the walls depict important events from the life of Jesus. As the guard will likely accompany you during your visit, he can point out many of the details you otherwise might miss.
Just down the path is a separate structure used as a dovecote for pigeons, as their droppings have traditionally been used as fertilizer. (One wonders, then, why locals also felt compelled to use the historic church for this purpose.)
Sightseeing aside, another highlight of El Nazar is the friendly and hospitable guard. During my visit, he invited me into his office where we sat for tea and a chat.
Zemi Valley Loop Trail
As outlined in the AllTrails map, the Zemi Valley Loop Trail actually consists of two loops – one small and one big – connected by a short straight trail in the middle.
You’ll have already passed through most of the eastern portion of the initial small loop on your way to the church. Returning from the church to the highlighted loop trail, make a left, and then continue heading southwest until you reach the start of the larger loop.
You’ll pass by a large restaurant situated in front of some fairy chimneys. And only a few minutes later, you’ll exit civilization and find yourself fully immersed in Zemi Valley’s otherworldly scenery.
If you’ve already been to Love Valley, you’ll notice that Zemi Valley’s formations have a similar look to them. But for whatever reason, Zemi isn’t nearly as popular.
Entering this beautiful valley after such a short and easy walk from town almost feels like cheating. And in my case, I didn’t spot a single other hiker during the trek.
All in all, the hike is pretty straightforward. I started with the eastern portion (the lefthand path when reaching the fork), but you can do as you like. There aren’t many steep parts and overall, it feels more like a walk than a proper hike.
In addition to the formations within Zemi Valley itself, the trail is high enough to offer great vantage points of the valleys beyond.
Walking along the main loop trail, you’ll find yourself encircling an even lower section of the valley lined with massive but highly eroded rock formations.
My curiosity got the better of me, and I ignored the trail for awhile, descending into the lower ring to see what I could find.
There’s no proper trail here but the views from this lower area are excellent. My phone’s GPS stopped working, and I got a bit disoriented trying to find my way back to the main trail.
But with a bit of trial and error, it wasn’t too hard to figure out how to get back.
Back on the main loop trail, I found myself face to face with the towering tufa limestone fairy chimneys. They didn’t look so big from afar, but only by walking right under them can one get a sense of how massive they really are.
Amazingly, some rooms (or possibly dovecotes) were carved out of the very top sections. One wonders how people of the Byzantine era would’ve climbed up and down – a difficult feat even today.
Completing the main loop, you’ll encounter the same restaurant you passed by at the beginning. Then, approaching the smaller loop, it would make sense to stay on the left hand side.
In my case, however, the El Nazar Church guard insisted that I stop by again to sample some of Cappadocia’s famous wine. After another brief stop there, I returned to the main road, Muze Cd., to start my next adventure.
At only around 3 km, the Zemi Valley loop trail is unlikely to leave you very tired, though the overall valley is considerably bigger. But sticking to the short loop will give you plenty of time to explore Çavuşin in the afternoon.
The Walk to Çavuşin Castle
Çavuşin Castle is located in the village of the same name. Returning to Muze Cd., you’ll spot a fairly wide dirt road just opposite the street. To get to Çavuşin, you simply have to take this road straight north.
From here the walk to Çavuşin is about 3.5 km, and it should take around 45 minutes one-way. This is definitely more of a walk than a hike.
If you’re hoping for a more exciting way to reach Çavuşin, you could try walking through Sword Valley and then the western part of Rose Valley – two valleys covered in our other hiking guide.
But here we’ll be sticking with the direct path. Fortunately, there are numerous interesting rock formations on the way over.
Heading north, you’ll get a clear view of Sword Valley over on your right. As I’d already walked through there on a previous hike (and had a hell of a time trying to get out), I was fine with admiring it from afar.
But you can explore for a bit if this is your only chance to see it. It would be wise, though, to return to the same dirt road before heading onward to Çavuşin.
Along the way, you’ll have to watch out for ATV tours and occasionally take refuge from the huge plumes of dust they leave in their wake.
Heading northward, you’ll pass by some large fortresses carved out of the natural rock. This is not yet Çavuşin, though they’re still quite impressive. I tried to find a way in one of them, but the entrance area was fenced off.
I also tried experimenting with some other routes and detours off the main trail. But I ultimately concluded that sticking to the main trail was both the quickest and the most scenic option.
Don’t get too dismayed, as there will be plenty of exploring and climbing to do at Çavuşin Castle itself.
As you get closer to the village, the road will fork, with the right-hand path taking you directly there (check Maps.me).
Once you spot the multistoried castle in the distance, there will be no doubt that you’re in the right place. But figuring out how to get inside is far from obvious.
As soon as you arrive in town, expect to be approached by a local. He’ll likely offer to guide you through a ‘shortcut’ to a scenic area.
Admittedly, I fell for this trick during my first visit 5 years earlier. Not knowing where to go, I had a local kid show me up the hill to the base of the castle. After taking in the views for a few moments, he acted as if he’d done me a huge favor, and then tried to pressure me to buy his souvenirs.
Mistakenly thinking that’s all there was to see, I ended up leaving without exploring the upper levels of the castle. But this time I knew better.
As soon as I arrived this time, an older man tried to get me to come with him to the same ‘secret’ vantage point, but I politely declined.
What you want to do instead is head eastward along the base of the castle. When you see a church-turned mosque, take the road on the left which will loop you back around, gradually taking you uphill.
Note: Even further east are two additional churches. One of them is Çavuşin Church, known for its colorful frescoes (entry ticket required). And the other is the 8th-century St. John the Baptist Church.
Somehow, even after two visits to Çavuşin, I completely missed both of these churches! There are signs in town labelled ‘Church,’ but I presumed they were referring to the one inside the castle itself.
I didn’t realize my error until after my trip, but you may want to check them out before or after your visit to the castle.
Walking along the top of the hill, you’ll pass by some abandoned old buildings as well as some modern restaurants and shops. The area has a distinctly Greek feel to it, as the town was long home to a thriving Greek Christian community.
In the 1920s, a ‘population exchange’ took place between Greece and Turkey. Greek Christians in Turkey were forced to move to Greece, while Muslim Turks in Greece had to come to Turkey. But the number of newcomers to Çavuşin was significantly less than that of its former population, and many buildings were left vacant.
After several minutes of walking, you’ll come face to face with Çavuşin Castle in all its splendor. From this vantage point, it somewhat resembles a massive block of Swiss cheese.
After admiring the exterior views from eye level, it’s time to step inside. As you’ll soon find out, exploring the castle’s various rooms and caverns makes up for the relatively uneventful walk over.
But be careful – it’s very much a ‘explore at your own risk’ type of place. Not all the sections of the castle are connected. And sometimes to get from one set of rooms to another, you’ll have to carefully walk along some of the narrow ledges outside.
The church section is comprised of several rooms. The level of precision in the proportions and carved reliefs are of a noticeably higher quality than many other structures in Cappadocia.
According to a local man, people used to live inside here until as recently as 1962, when a large earthquake made it uninhabitable. Notice the ‘1962’ scrawled on one of the church walls to commemorate the event.
Moving ahead, you’ll encounter a series of rooms which have a much rougher quality to them. One of the larger rooms has blacked walls and was likely used a kitchen. But with no signage around the site, you’ll have to use your imagination.
One of the main highlights of exploring Çavuşin Castle is the excellent views from the window. You can clearly make out some of the region’s distinct fairy chimney formations in the distance.
And as we’ll go over below, you can easily walk over to them later if time is still on your side.
Rather than going back all the way you came, it’s possible to climb down via the exterior. You just have to be very careful. As you descend, take your time and consider your next couple of moves in advance.
Once at the base, be sure to head to the western side of the castle. From here, you can get great views of the modern town of Çavuşin in addition to the landscape in the distance. (This is the ‘secret’ vantage point where the local touts will try to take you.)
North of Çavuşin
If you’re still feeling up for some adventure, there are more scenic areas to see to the north. But you just have to keep your eye on the time, as the further you go, the longer your journey back.
Some 2 km northeast of Çavuşin is Pasabag Valley (Monk’s Valley), known for its distinct fairy chimney formations. While that’s a bit too distant for most people staying in Göreme, you can still see some interesting fairy chimneys slightly north of Çavuşin village.
Taking the main road north, you’ll eventually come across this scenic set of fairy chimneys together with dovecotes carved into the tall ridge. The area should’ve been visible from some of the rooms in Çavuşin Castle (see pic above).
I should mention that my explorations of this area are not from my more recent trip but from my initial trip to Cappadocia several years ago. And this area seems to be around ‘Nikeforos Fokas Kilisesi’ which is labelled on Maps.me.
I wandered further north, checking out the church. It’s known for its beautiful frescoes, while you can also climb up some steps to enter some upper-level caverns.
And from there, I found a path leading uphill, offering more stunning views of the area.
Looking back at these photos, I’m reminded that despite how convenient GPS apps are, there are still plenty of hidden scenic areas that one can encounter through spontaneous exploration.
As mentioned, the pics just above are all older. But on my more recent trip, I made a failed attempt to walk over to Pasabag Valley via a shortcut outlined on Maps.me.
Leaving the castle, I walked north through town and then east. Checking the app, there was supposed to be a trail leading to some fairy chimneys to the northeast that would only take around 25 minutes on foot.
But while Maps.me is usually pretty accurate, this was an exception. The suggested path took me past up a steep hill next to someone’s farm. Walking up there, I realized that the path would lead me all the way over a big mountain in the distance. And I had no idea what was on the other side.
As it was getting late, I cut my losses and decided to walk back to Göreme. While I don’t recommend attempting to walk to Pasabag from Çavuşin via smaller trails, I was at least rewarded with some beautiful vantage points.
Cappadocia refers to a vast region that overlaps a few different Turkish provinces. And the region contains a number of cities and towns.
Cappadocia’s main towns are Göreme, Avanos, Ürgüp and Uçhisar – all of which are situated amongst stunning natural landscapes. And they all provide ample amenities for tourists, like hotels, restaurants and tour agencies.
The two proper cities of the region are Kayseri and Nevşehir, but they’re lacking in scenery and there’s no good reason to stay there.
Having stayed in Göreme during my first visit several years ago, I was considering changing things up by trying a different town. But upon further research, I realized that Göreme is by far the most conveniently located, hence its popularity.
As my main goal was to hike, I found that many of the region’s most well-known valleys, castles and other landmarks are within walking distance from Göreme. While there are indeed other highlights in Cappadocia that require a vehicle, you’ll have to rely on them much less if you stay in Göreme.
Göreme is probably one of the most touristy parts of Turkey. And with that comes both negatives and positives, among which is the large selection of hotels.
You’ll find something for all budgets here – from backpacker dorm rooms to luxury suites.
Many of the hotels advertise themselves as ‘cave houses,’ meaning they’ve been carved out of the natural limestone rock. This not only makes for a special and cozy atmosphere, but the rooms keep surprisingly cool in summer.
During my first visit to Cappadocia, I stayed in a proper cave house which is apparently no longer in business. On a smaller budget my second time around, I opted for the Mevlana Hotel. While not carved into the rock, the hotel is nonetheless made of stone.
The room was a basic private room with a private bathroom, and it also included breakfast. At the time of my visit, the price was reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic.
I was happy with what I got for the price that I paid. The room was fine, but I wouldn’t consider it a great value had I paid the standard rate. Then again, Göreme is a bit pricier overall than most places in the country.
The nearest big cities to Göreme are Kayseri and Nevşehir. Both of these cities have airports, and from either one you can easily take a shuttle bus to Göreme.
Despite being just a town, Göreme has direct bus connections with many major cities throughout Turkey.
For example, I was able to get a direct coach bus to Göreme all the way from Gaziantep with the Süha bus company. I was actually somewhat surprised that there was no transfer in Kayseri, with the same bus taking me all the way.
It’s not unheard of to need to transfer in Kayseri or Nevşehir, though, so it’s best to confirm this when buying your ticket (if they speak any English!).
Conveniently, the Göreme Otogar (bus terminal) is located in the very center of town. It shouldn’t be more than several minutes on foot from wherever your hotel is.
Leaving Cappadocia, I easily caught a direct bus to Konya, and the same bus would be continuing onward to Antalya. You should also find direct buses between Göreme and Istanbul, Ankara and other cities.
While the Turkish government isn’t quite as extreme as China when it comes to online censorship, you’ll probably want a decent VPN before your visit.
I’ve tried out a couple of different companies and have found ExpressVPN to be the most reliable.
Booking.com is currently banned in the country (at least when you search for domestic accommodation). However, there are actually quite a few Turkish hotels listed on there anyway. And many them don’t even appear on Hotels.com, which hasn’t been banned.
Over the course of my trip, I ended up making quite a few reservations with Booking.com and was really glad I had a VPN to do so.
Another major site that’s banned is PayPal. If you want to access your account at all during your travels, a VPN is a must.
While those are the only two major sites that I noticed were banned during my trip, Turkey has even gone as far as banning Wikipedia and Twitter in the past.