When most people think of Cappadocia, the image of colorful balloons floating over a dreamlike landscape is often the first thing that springs to mind. But there are numerous other ways to experience the region’s stunning scenery, and a balloon ride is the most expensive by far. So, does hot air ballooning over Cappadocia really live up to the hype?
Before moving on, I should mention that I visited Cappadocia two times: first in 2015 and again in 2020. And while I did a balloon ride during my first visit, I opted not to the second time, as I was in the midst of a much longer trip across Turkey.
Originally, I wasn’t planning to write about such a distant experience. But I then realized I have a unique perspective to offer. After all, we travel not just to enjoy the moment, but to create lasting memories for ourselves.
How, then, does my experience hold up after all these years? And where does it stand amongst all my other Cappadocia experiences? These are questions I’ll be answering below to help you make a decision for yourself.
After a rundown of what you can expect from hot air ballooning over Cappadocia, we’ll go over how much the rides currently cost. Finally, when considering the price and all the other activities on offer in Cappadocia, we’ll determine if the ride is truly worth it or not.
Hot Air ballooning Over Cappadocia: The Experience
If you’re not much of a morning person, the day can be tough, as all balloon rides start very early. I was picked up from my hotel at 4:30 am by Turkiye Balloons, but other companies leave as early as four.
First off, we were taken to a cafe to enjoy a complimentary breakfast with coffee. Back in the minivan, my group was dropped off at the take-off area, located somewhere in between the towns of Göreme and Çavuşin.
I was a little disappointed that the sun was already beginning to rise before we were even in the air. And with so many balloons already in the sky, it seemed like we were among the last to depart.
But looking back, I think it’s actually ideal to leave a little bit later (not that passengers have any say in the matter). The sky is especially hazy after sunrise, and the scenery becomes much more photogenic later into the journey.
Overall, we’d have about 90 minutes of flight time. Budget companies, in contrast, only take you in the air for an hour. Be sure to confirm this detail before making your decision.
It’s also worth noting that there are generally two types of balloon tours: ‘standard’ and ‘comfort.’ Choosing the comfort option means you’ll be sharing the basket with considerably fewer people.
With the comfort flight, my basket only had about 10 or so passengers, while standard flights can have as many as 20.
At the time of my visit, the standard trip cost about €140, while I just paid €160 for the upgrade. As I wanted to take lots of photos, the extra expense was well worth it.
Making our way up into the sky and first seeing Cappadocia’s surreal landscape from above was a magical experience. All the passengers had smiles on their faces. And as cliché as it may sound, it felt like something out of a dream.
As we ascended higher in the sky, multiple Cappadocian valleys came into view at once. But the colorful balloons themselves also make for a beautiful visual spectacle.
In fact, many people who opt out of the ride still make the effort to wake up early to watch them from the ground.
Our balloon got as high as 300 meters off the ground – definitely not an experience for those with a major fear of heights!
In addition to the bizarre rock formations, we also flew directly above ordinary towns, just as people were beginning to wake up.
Cappadocia’s unique landscape is comprised of tufa, a type of limestone formed from the hardened ash of numerous volcanic eruptions. And over the course of millions of years, it was subject to erosion from forces like wind, rain and snow.
What’s fascinating about Cappadocia is that no two valleys look exactly alike. In addition to the pillar-like rock formations known as ‘fairy chimneys’, some valleys appear as large globs of ice cream.
And from this angle, one valley in particular looked like the wrinkled skin of a Shar-Pei dog!
But the best was yet to come. The real highlight of hot air ballooning over Cappadocia, in my opinion, is not the time when you’re highest in the sky. Rather, it’s when the pilot takes you deep down into one of the picturesque valleys.
As we descended lower and lower, we ended up right in the middle of Love Valley (as I only now know having since hiked it). At some points, we were hovering just above the ground, with our pilot taking us right up to some of the towering stone pillars.
A couple of times, it seemed certain that we were about to crash right into something! But the pilot, who clearly knew what he was doing, always took us out of harm’s way just in time. Needless to say, it made for a thrilling experience.
This was an aspect that I later felt was missing from my ride over Bagan, Myanmar. And considering how much skill is required to maneuver like this, you may not get the same experience with a cheaper balloon company that hires less-experienced pilots.
The icing on the cake was that by this point in the morning, the haze had disappeared and the lighting was ideal for photography. With so much to take in from all angles, I was really glad I opted for the ride with fewer passengers.
We gradually floated south, out of Love Valley and into neighboring White Valley. All the while, Uchisar Castle was clearly visible in the distance up ahead.
Eventually, after several more dramatic ups and downs, the trip finally came to an end.
Our balloon made a smooth landing on the flat grassy area above the valley, and a vehicle from the company was there to meet us. But rather than take us right back, they pulled a table and benches out from the trunk and began setting up.
As is customary at the end of these balloon tours, we all had a glass or two of champagne. A little weird before 7 am, but a nice experience nonetheless.
We also received ‘flight certificates’ commemorating the event, which I’m pretty sure I still have in a drawer somewhere.
After the ride back to Göreme, it was time for a nap. But as hot air ballooning over Cappadocia is such a short and early affair, you’ll have plenty of time for more explorations later in the day.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d recommend a visit to the Göreme Open Air Museum. This can easily be combined with a shorter hike, such as the Zemi Valley Loop Trail or a walk to Çavuşin Castle.
As detailed above, the balloon ride is quite a special experience. But the question remains: Given the prices and all the other things to do in the region, is hot air ballooning over Cappadocia worth it for those on a budget?
HOW MUCH DOES THE RIDE COST?
This is a tricky question based on a number of variables. Before the coronavirus pandemic, peak season prices were greatly boosted by large tour groups from East Asia. According to my hotel manager, the standard summer price prior to 2020 was as high as €300!
But at the time of my 2020 visit, they’d gone back down to as low as €120. This was the price of the cheapest balloon companies back during my 2015 trip.
If you’re traveling outside of peak season, the prices are always going to be lower. Based on recent research at the time of writing, prices are currently as low as €70! But this is a result of the offseason price combined with the pandemic discount.
You also need to take flight duration (60 or 90 minutes) and passenger capacity (‘standard’ vs ‘comfort’) into consideration. Decide which type of flight you want first before getting too enticed by a special offer.
Is Hot Air Ballooning Over Cappadocia Worth it?
It all depends on the price at the time of your visit. If you can book one of the better companies for under €200, don’t hesitate to book.
However, if the prices ever go back up to €300, it’s just not worth it for such a short experience.
And as great as the ride is, when looking back at all my Cappadocia experiences, my independent hikes stand out the most. Not only could I take in the gorgeous landscapes at my own pace, but they cost me nothing at all!
I think a big reason that balloon rides are seen as the thing to do in Cappadocia is that surprisingly few people actually explore on foot. While you obviously can’t get as high, you’ll still encounter a wider variety of vantage points that are just as stunning as what you can see from the balloon.
Ideally, if you can get a good price on the balloon ride, you can combine it with hiking and maybe even a group tour during your stay.
But if you can’t afford the balloon, don’t feel like you’ve missed out on a ‘true’ Cappadocia experience. There’s so much else to do and see around the region. And as mentioned above, the best scenery is accessible for free.
Typically, you can just book through your hotel, whether you’re staying in Göreme or another Cappadocian town. All the hotel managers in the region are in close communication with the various balloon operators so they can arrange everything for you.
But if you’re traveling at an especially busy time, it would be wise to book in advance. Many of the operators allow online booking through their website.
As my only experience was with Turkiye Balloons, I can’t compare them with the other companies. But I had a great experience with them, and you can find their booking form here.
Other top-rated companies include Kapadokya Balloons, Royal Balloon and Butterfly Balloons.
Budget companies include Anatolia Balloons, Discovery Balloons, Göreme Balloons and many others.
To confirm you’re getting the best price, you can ask your hotel staff for the specific names of the companies, and then check their websites for comparison.
Additionally, there are plenty of tour offices all over the region, most of which will arrange a balloon ride for you.
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.