Pulling up in our airport shuttle from Kayseri to the small town of Goreme in Turkey we could have sworn that we were on the moon. Well, maybe not the moon – the rocks weren’t quite the right color and there were people everywhere – but definitely some sort of distant planet out of a sci-fi movie. Fairy chimneys and other unnatural-looking volcanic rock formations spring up from the rocky surface. The perfectly pink cliff faces and sandy colored rock ridges rise from the surface void of vegetation and the perfect, clear blue sky is eerily calm.
Cappadocia is one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever been. There’s no doubt that from the moment you arrive you’ll want to do it all. From cave hotels in Goreme to underground cities and hot air balloon rides through the skies, these are the seven things that you absolutely must see and do in Cappadocia.
Stay in a Cave Hotel
Goreme from a distance just looks like a larger rocky hill among other rocky formations and cliff faces. As we come closer we can make out the windows dotting the sides of the cliffs and how the city buildings have actually been carved from the existing stone faces. Our driver takes us up the narrow winding roads with just a little too much speed and extreme confidence, as is the norm in Turkey. People walk the streets, working in the shops and going about their lives, not seeming to realize that they live in the coolest little town on Earth.
We’re dropped off at the “Nomad Cave Hotel”. After everything I had heard about cave cities and cave hotels I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Was this cave hotel going to be some cheesy tourist trap? Let me tell you that these are the real deal. Stone steps carved straight out of the rock lead up to our room. A rounded entrance with a wooden door opens into our room – a literal cave dwelling with a couple beds on either side of the room. The experience is so bizarre and surreal and yet completely normal by Cappadocia standards. Almost every hotel in the region is just like this – so different from anything you would find elsewhere.
Take a Green Tour
Having arrived in Goreme without too much of a plan, it was time to make one. Our hotel staff were happy to offer up a ton of info to us – including the options of red, blue, and green tours. Tour itineraries change occasionally, but all tour operators follow the same basic red, green, and blue routes. We went with the green tour for one big reason – it covers almost 200km and takes you to sites that you wouldn’t be able to get to on foot. Usually if I can get to a museum or tourist site without taking a tour I will save money and go alone.
The next morning began with visiting some scenic panoramic spots. We continued on the tour by exploring the underground city of Derinkuyu (more on that later), hiking through the picturesque Ihlara Valley and stopping along the way for a delicious Turkish lunch. Finally, we hit up the Selime Monastery, which is (you guessed it) built into a rock face on the side of a mountain. The view is spectacular and the architecture makes it looks like Tatooine from Star Wars.
Explore the Underground Cities
Cappadocia is grand and majestic on the surface, but its rich history also stretches deep into the earth. The Derinkuyu Underground City is the deepest underground city in the area and extends 60m deep into the volcanic rock. The caves were used by ancient Christians hiding from enemy attacks during the 5th to 10th centuries. Claustrophobics need not be too concerned as the caves are actually quite roomy most of the time – allowing people to easily stand upright in the main rooms. The stairwells can be a little tight, however.
Try A Pottery Kabab
When we arrived back from our green tour, a little bit tired and worn out, we went on the hunt for something tasty to satisfy our hunger. Having been told that we can’t leave Cappadocia without trying a testi kabab, or pottery kabab as it is more commonly known among foreigners, we set out to find a restaurant that could fill our need. As it turns out, that wasn’t a very difficult goal to achieve.
Cappadocia is known for its pottery, and Turkey for its delicious kababs. What better way to enjoy them both than to combine the two into a delicious, uniquely Cappadocian experience? The kabab (in this case almost like a thick meaty soup) is actually baked inside of a sealed clay pot which is cracked open before being served. The result is a fun and (like most Turkish food) flavorful experience.
Goreme Open Air Museum
The historical highlight of Goreme, the Goreme Open Air Museum is a vast collection of rock-cut churches decorated with magnificent frescoes. The museum is only a short walk from the town of Goreme and can be easily done without any sort of guide so we opted to skip the red tour and do the museum solo.
Get Out and Explore
Want to see some of the most beautiful rock formations in Cappadocia? Get out there and explore! The area around Goreme has some of the best hikes in the region. Rose Valley has spectacular rose colored sand and numerous cave dwellings. Love Valley has some…ahem…alluring rock formations that you have to see to believe. The trails tend to diverge in all directions, so it’s easy to wander off and explore a bit without getting too lost. We strayed from our path a bit but since the region is so sparsely vegetated and wide open it was easy to find your way back again to the start.
Hot Air Balloons
Here it is – the number one highlight of Cappadocia. When I arrived in Goreme I wasn’t sure if I was going to try a hot air balloon tour – it seemed kind of cliché touristy and very expensive. Then I started talking to some of my fellow travelers at the cave hotel. Everybody was raving about this hot air balloon ride, and there wasn’t a single person there who didn’t think it was worth the money. Ok, fine, I’ll do it. I booked through the hotel and away we went the next morning.
Cappadocia is the perfect place for a hot air balloon. The air in Cappadocia is very calm with a cloudless sky almost every day of the year. The very-early morning was a little rough, but as the balloon climbed we could see for miles and miles all around. The sun rose in spectacular fashion over the strange planet just as we climbed into the air, with rock formations and valleys unfolding before us.
Have you been to Cappadocia? Is there anything else on your must-see list? I would love to hear about it in the comments below! And if you have any photos I would love to see them!