When we decided to head over to Turkey again there was one place so high on our bucket list we knew we couldn’t miss it out this time: Cappadocia! The surreal lunarscape of this fairytale destination really captured our imagination, waking up from our night bus in the middle of this strange land it felt like we had landed on another planet. It is almost unbelievable that this really is a real place, visiting Cappadocia really was like nothing we had ever done before. It was like stepping back in time and into another world of existence, a historical, emotional and geographical journey into a fantastical and fascinating land!
How to get to Cappadocia?
Firstly comes getting to this amazing place, in truth it is completely in the middle of nowhere and right in the centre of the country. Travelling overland we had to make a series of journeys to get here from Istanbul, but for us it worked out ok given that we were stopping along the way.
In Turkey the train system is really quite limited and travelling over long distances you really only have 2 choices: Bus or Flight.
We travelled on a 12 hour night bus from Fethiye after taking another 12 hour night bus from Istanbul a week earlier! If you are backpacking then this isn’t too bad. Buses leave on these routes almost every day/ night several times over and the buses are quite comfortable with large seats, an entertainment system, regular stops and tea and coffee along the way, They are also quite reasonably priced for the distance you cover.
When travelling via bus you should make your way to “Goreme”
Otherwise many people choose to travel via air, this is of course so much quicker and if you are coming straight from Istanbul and returning there on a short trip the its really your only option.
The closest airport is “Nevsehir”, but this only serves international flights, otherwise you will have to head for “Kayseri” which is 75km away from Cappadocia. From there you will have to get a bus!!
Where to stay:
Cappadocia isn’t just one single place or city, it is an entire region that is situated in the desert like and barren centre of Turkey, a huge country as it is!
But, we found the best place to situate ourselves to take advantage of the most of this region was Goreme. Here you can stay in one of the many cave hostels or hostel in this city that is right in the middle of the famous fairy chimneys. It is also an ideal place to book a balloon flight, take a bus to one of the other smaller towns and also take one of the organised tours of the region, such as the green and red tours. The area is so big that for once we go actually recommend taking one of these to make sure you see as much as you can!
The centre of life in Cappadocia Goreme is a city that is set right in the centre of many of the famous fairy chimneys that characterise this region. Goreme is easy to get to and also makes it easy to get around the region using this wonderful city as a base. But before you just head out to explore the villages and valleys around the city don’t overlook the city itself.
Here in Goreme you can have a whole plethora of unique experiences. Here you will more than likely stay in one of the many hotels or hostels built into the huge rock formations and caves themselves, an experience that really bring you closer to the traditional lives on the locals. The Goreme valley in which the town sits was also designated a UNESCO world heritage site back in 1985 and exploring the strange streets of this town you can see why.
One of the main things to see within the town itself is the open air museum. This protected area allows you to see the amazing history of these towers and caves that houses important Byzantine monasteries and rock churches.
Here this one time 17th century pilgrimage site still houses many original frescos, tombs and carvings from this ancient era. This world heritage site allows you to experience this place through the people and mysterious times of the Byzantine era and the way in which they used this wonderful landscape.
Another unforgettable aspect to Goreme is the panoramic views it offers over the large valleys. From the viewing point right above the town you can take in the amazing red and orange sunset over the famous Rose Valley and across the whole 360 view of this impressive landscape. Then a little further out of town along one of the highways is what is known as “The Goreme Panoramic” and for good reason. From here the view is much wider and allows you to take in the impressive scene above the Pigeon Valley and cathedral of Uchisar, truly an unforgettable view.
Balloon Ride over the valleys as the sunrises over the amazing Fairy Chimneys
When you think of Cappadocia for many the first things that comes to mind is how famous this region is for hot air ballooning, in fact over 2/3 of the worlds hot air balloon flights take off from here and on any given morning there can be over 200 int he sky at the same time. This area has become known for hot air ballooning due to not only the spectacular and out of this world scenery which this method of transport allows you to float gently over, but due to the predictability of the weather and conditions here, allowing for the highest number of flyable days each year than any other location.
Flying high above the valleys and across this otherworldly landscapes has to be one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. Such a serene and breathtaking ride took us thousands of feet into the sky at points whilst dipping us right into the valleys of the Fairy Chimneys where we saw wild rabbits running free amongst the towering sand stone edifices and the beautifully extraterrestrial geology.
Even if you can’t afford to take this once in a life time balloon ride, it is still a magnificent sight to wake early and watch the balloons float over the valleys as the sun rises behind then. Truly a phenomenal experience and well worth a place on your bucket list!
Read more about our amazing experience here: Hot air balloon as the sunrose
Known as the Rose Valley due to the countless shades of red, pink and crimson shades which form lines of colour thorough out this cream and orange desert landscape. Formed over millions of years by the whistling wind and the explosion of three huge volcanos created the unique pattern of erosion and formations here. The hues of this stunning valley change throughout the day, ranging from subtle rose tones to deep red shades at sunrise and sunset.
Hiking down the long and winding valley through caves, over ladders and into churches and ancient caves is an adventure like no other. The valley is located between Goreme and Cavusin villages and can be seen from above Goreme at sunset!
Pigeon Valley, named so because of many carved out houses for the pigeons used by the ancient people here as a method of communication. This valley runs 4km from Goreme to the traditional village of Uchisar and winds its way between some of the most impressive formations in the whole of Cappadocia. When we ventured down its path we were the only people here, exploring a place like this just makes you realise the sheer power and beauty of nature.
Calling by Hasan’s Tea Garden as we set off from the back of beautiful Uchisar after chatting to him and his son about living in the valley and playing with their newly born kittens! What is amazing about all the valleys and Cappadocia in general is how open and accessible it is, and Pigeon valley is a prime example of that.
There are tracks and trails, but nothing is fenced off or guarded by rails and ropes. It feels like instead of visiting a sterile museum you can walk, feel and touch history and have a true adventure within this amazing natural phenomenon.
Uchisar is one of the many traditional villages that still exist in Cappadocia, here local life hasn’t changed in thousands of years and many of the huge rock formations, pitted with holes carved into the soft sand stone, are still inhabited. Here you can really get a sense of Cappadocia beyond the swathes of tourists that decent on this region each year. In Uchisar you can explore this sleepy village and its stunning valleys and completely immerse yourself within this alien landscape.
Whilst exploring the desolate sandy valleys between the towering fairy chimneys we were invited inside of the cave houses. Mohammed, a local man, gave us a unique opportunity to visit his maze like dwelling.
Generations of his family have called home for thousands of years, he even had his camel parked up outside the front door! This have to be a highlight of not only our time in this region but of our backpacking trip as a whole.
Located on the highest region of this section of Cappadocia the gigantic Uchisar castle towers over the villages. Climbing the connected tunnels, tombs and ancient churches up to the panoramic view over the surrounding region, including Mount Erciyes was yet another memorable and unbelievable experience in this unforgettable place.
The Derinkuyu underground city
The ancient seven level underground city of Derinkuyu is one of the most famous is the world and descends to over 200ft below. It was large enough to shelter over 20,000 people along with food and livestock. Despite being known as an underground city the structure wasn’t in fact built to be used as long term dwelling, but instead as a shelter for the early people of these valleys when the many crusaders came through.
At times of attack people could live down here for weeks and even months at a time and the maze of tunnels were often laid with traps that only locals knew the locations of. As a result those hiding down here could often easily fend off attackers in the narrow passageways and evade capture. It could also be closed off using large mill stones from the outside world as well as each level having several doors and communication systems.
Despite the ancient age of these tunnels, ranging from 8th–7th centuries B.C, they were remarkably advance, having ventilation shafts, wine presses, churches, school rooms, stables, storage rooms and the aforementioned communication and security systems. The city was also connected to the many other underground cities in the region and was most widely used by the Byzantines as protection during the Arab-Byzantine wars between 780-1180.
A lush oasis within the desert this green valley is a stunning break from the heat of the region in the summer. The deepest gorge in Asia Minor it was once home to monks who taught in the many cave churches still decorated with original frescos.
Rather than the stark oranges, reds and creams of the other valleys in Cappadocia what makes Ihlara stand out is the beautiful shades of blue and green painted by the Melendiz river, one of only a small few in this barren landscape.
Ihlara provides a wonderful 14km hike which can be cut down to shorter sections, in one of the areas we trekked down we visited the 4th century Ağaçaltı cave church with original paintings within dating from the 10th century. The path follows towering walls and cliffs pockmarked with hundreds of caves echoing with 1500 years of history.
This gigantic series of cone shaped mounds stand high above the relatively flat surroundings. In this region of Cappadocia many of the valleys full of these strange and wonderful formations seem to have petered out, but this only adds to the air of mystery surrounding this huge cathedral that stands out like a huge ancient skyscraper. Almost as if built for purpose climbing the steep carved stairs into the heart of this collection of stacked chimneys each room appears perfectly placed.
Selime was home to Hittite, Assyrian, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Danişment, Seljuk and Ottoman civilizations and at one time was an inn for passing traders along the silk route, a military complex as well as being the largest religious “building” in Cappadocia.
This complex is simply awe inspiring and to be symbolised the reason why Cappadocia is just so mind blowing. When you combine not only the fascinating, strange and out of this world geology with the ancient history carved into these formations that dates back thousands of years, you have a potent mix that makes this one of the greatest places we have ever been!