Where fairy chimneys are scattered throughout barren Anatolian plains, and ancient caves and monasteries hide the secrets to civilisations thousands of years old, Cappadocia possesses an almost ethereal, otherworldly beauty. I loved exploring Cappadocia, and I’ve written this Cappadocia Travel Guide with the hope of helping you enjoy it to the max too.
The region of Cappadocia is vast. Though “Cappadocia” tops the bucket lists of many world travellers, what so many people do not realise is that Cappadocia encompasses an entire region and is comprised of several towns and cities – from the iconic rock formations of Göreme where you can watch on as the Cappadocia balloons take flight every morning, to the quieter towns of Urgup and Uchisar.
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Getting to Cappadocia
There are two airports that service Cappadocia – Cappadocia airport and Kayseri Erkilet International Airport. Both offer regular flights from Istanbul that are relatively cheap, even in the peak season (less than $50 provided you book in advance!). Pegasus Airlines and Turkish Airlines both operate routes to Cappadocia.
Many international airports fly into one of the two Cappadocia airports, however, if your starting point does not, then you could also fly to Ankara International and take the bus to Cappadocia (circa 4-hour journey).
There are also night buses (around 8 – 10 hours in duration) and trains that run from Istanbul to Cappadocia. While I maintain that Turkish public transport is actually pretty nice and comfortable, the prices for long distance trains and buses are not that much lower than the flights so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this option.
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How Long to Stay in Cappadocia
If you followed my Turkey stories on Instagram then you may remember that I spent an entire week in Cappadocia because my balloon flight kept getting canceled and rescheduled (agh!).
While I don’t necessarily believe that you need that much time in Cappadocia, I would definitely recommend dedicating at least three or four days to your Cappadocia itinerary. With scenic hiking trails, churches carved into cliffs and huge underground cities, you will be surprised by how much there is to do in Cappadocia besides the typical Cappadocia balloon rides.
When to Go to Cappadocia
The “high season” for travel to Cappadocia runs between May and September since this is when the weather is at its best. With that though, you should expect a slight increase in prices and the number of tourists. My personal recommendation would be to travel in mid-spring (late March/April) or October so that you can still enjoy the nice weather but with fewer crowds and expense.
It’s important to note that the balloon rides are actually managed by the Turkish air force who decide each day whether the weather conditions are suitable for a flight. There is simply no getting around this (besides, it’s for your safety!) and so if your trip coincides with wind or bad weather, your balloon ride may be canceled or rescheduled. Cancellations are more common during the autumn and winter months.
I visited Cappadocia in January 2018 and though the snow-capped rock formations made it look even more like a fairytale, it meant that I never had the opportunity to take my balloon ride since the weather was just too bad. (Learn from my mistakes, folks!)
When you arrive in Cappadocia, there is plenty to do to occupy your time…
Take to the Skies in a Cappadocia Balloon Ride
The balloons are without a doubt one of the major reasons that people from around the globe flock here and that was the main draw for me also. Every morning, around 50-100 balloons are launched into the air, filling the skies with incredible pastel colours and deep hues of oranges and reds.
Your balloon company will organise a pick up from your hotel in the early hours of the morning (around 5 am) and take you to the departure spot.
Balloon tours do not come cheap (they are to the tune of around €105 per person) but for a once in a lifetime experience, they certainly provide a unique way to see this rugged landscape from an aerial viewpoint. A balloon tour is a must-see on any Cappadocia itinerary for sure.
Watch the Balloons
If you are afraid of heights or for any reason have decided not to go ahead and organise a hot air balloon ride for your Cappadocia itinerary then you can still enjoy views of the balloons over the valleys of Cappadocia. Many of the hotels in Göreme and surrounding areas have balconies and rooftops with incredible views allowing you to just roll right out of bed and have your breath taken away by the scenery.
If you can, try and wake up in time for sunrise as the skies are illuminated in incredible hues of pinks and orange. Even if you have booked to stay at a hotel that does not have a balcony for viewing the balloons, the vast majority of hotels will let travellers up onto their rooftop to see the balloons at sunrise, provided that you buy a Turkish tea or something.
Go Horseback Riding
Cappadocia actually translates to “land of beautiful horses”. There are plenty of spots around Göreme where you can go riding with a guide into the valleys for a few hours. For more experienced riders, you can also organise 5 or 6-day tours into the Taurus mountains – a perfect Cappadocia itinerary extension.
Bizarrely, there are also some people in the area that offer camel rides. Camels are not native to this region and they did not look very well taken care of. I would advise you to be mindful when considering any animal-related experiences in Cappadocia.
Go Hiking in Cappadocia
I love a good hike and there is plenty of opportunity for that in Cappadocia. You could easily dedicate 3 or 4 days of your Cappadocia itinerary specifically to hiking! The scenery is just as beautiful when you are in and amongst it as it is from up high (at least that’s what I like to tell myself since I couldn’t go in the balloon!)
Whether you are an experienced hiker or not, there are plenty of different trails that you can enjoy in Cappadocia, all with various different lengths and difficulties. I have summarised some of the best/most popular Cappadocia hiking trails below for your reference.
You will notice that many of the hotels and tour agencies around Göreme offer organised hikes and Cappadocia tours that follow one of three trails – Red, Green, or Blue. Since I had so much free time I opted to do all three!
Hiking in Cappadocia: Red Cappadocia Trail
The Red Cappadocia Trail takes you through the Northern part of the region. If you are staying in Göreme and you don’t fancy being lumbered onto a bus with a load of tourists then you can do this route alone (I did!)
You can start early and head over to the Göreme Open Air Museum. From here you can take a long route through the Red Valley, the Rose Valley, past Zelve and up to Cavusin where you can stop for a cup of tea and visit the castle. On your return journey, pass through Love Valley (On the opposite side of the road to Red and Rose) and get back to Göreme in time for dinner.
Hiking in Cappadocia: Green Cappadocia Trail
The Green Cappadocia Trail was my personal favourite. I actually hired a car for this one (You can hire a car in Cappadocia for around $35 a day) The distances between sites are a little greater but you are certainly rewarded for your efforts.
Start by heading over to Derinkuyu for the underground city and then continue on to Güzelyurt which is an Ottoman-Greek town filled with centuries-old churches. From here, you can head to Ihlara Valley and hike its length until you reach the Selime Monasteries carved high in the mountains. The Selime Monasteries were made in the 8th century for religious purposes and then later transformed into caravansaries on the old silk road trade route. The site made a pretty great end to a long day’s hiking.
Hiking in Cappadocia: Blue Cappadocia Trail
The third and final Cappadocia hiking route is the Blue Cappadocia Trail which takes you along the picturesque Soganli valley filled with Cave churches and underground settlements.
One of the highlights of incorporating the blue tour into my Cappadocia itinerary was stopping by the town of Mustafapasa – an old Greek settlement where affluent traders settled during the 18th century. The remains of old Orthodox churches and the faded Greek letters on the sides of buildings hints to the Greek population that once called this townhome. There are several Greek settlements in the Cappadocia region, but Mustafapasa was the largest. The Greeks lived here until the 1920s at which point they were forced to return to their country.
Hiking in Cappadocia: Which Route to Choose?
Assuming you only have a few days to dedicate to your Cappadocia itinerary, I’d highly recommend you explore the Green tour route. You can explore parts of the “red zone” on foot from Göreme. The blue route has some beautiful sites but assuming you are limited on time, it doesn’t come close to comparing to the other two.
Cappadocia Hiking Tours
The organised Cappadocia tours and hikes entail being loaded into a bus with other tourists. The price is very economical – at around $25 for a day’s touring including lunch. The number of people that you are exploring with will no doubt vary depending upon the time of year that you decide to travel to Cappadocia. If travelling during the winter months, I wouldn’t expect this to be more than 5-6 other people. During the spring, summer, and “peak” times, it may be jam-packed.
If you are like me and prefer not to be lumbered with a load of other tourists, I would recommend doing this independently. You can rent a car and a driver for a price that is only slightly more than the organised tour, or you can self-drive. That way, you aren’t having to accommodate other people, nor do you have to rush at any particular stopping points.
Taking an Organised Tour of Cappadocia
Getting to Cappadocia by public transport can be time-consuming. If you are travelling alone, it can be a little frustrating to deal with the various buses, planes, etc. For this reason, you may prefer to explore this magical region on a Cappadocia tour. Such tours are affordable, and take a lot of stress out of the logistics of organising your trip.
Cappadocia tours also make it easier to access some of the sights that are not easily reached on foot from Goreme. For example, Ihlara Valley and the underground cities at Derinkuyu and Kaymakli. Because it was quite tricky to get around some of the hiking trails alone, I took two tours while in Cappadocia. You can browse One Nation Travel’s Cappadocia tours here.
Explore Mysterious Underground Cities
There are several underground cities scattered around Cappadocia. The caves date back as far as the 8th century and they have been used as hiding places for people of various religions over the years. They are not insignificant in size – Derinkuyu was eight storeys deep and is thought to have the capacity to house over 2,000 people! There are still cities around the region which are only just being discovered which is fascinating to me. Another underground city in the region that is well worth visiting is the city of Kaymakli. This city is covered on the blue Cappadocia trail.
Explore the Pottery Town of Avanos
Situated on the Kızılırmak Red River, the quaint little town of Avanos is famous for its pottery. Travellers can step inside one of the pottery making workshops here and watch how the Potters work their magic. It’s even possible to try your hand at pottery making here if you do so wish.
The locals have been making pottery in Avanos for thousands of years – all the way back to 2000 BC in fact! The Red River is a source of red clay for the locals which is why Avanos quickly became known for the pottery trade.
It is completely free to watch the potters in action, however, it should be noted that you will be taken into the store afterward and the prices are very steep and touristic. Do haggle if you are interested in anything – this is expected here and nobody takes the initially quoted price.
While in Avanos, stop by one of the homely restaurants on the riverfront and order up a “testi kebab”. This unique local delicacy is also known as a “pottery kebab” and the meat is prepared in a clay pot. The people of Avanos really are pottery crazy, eh?
Marvel at Uchisar Castle
Uchisar castle is not actually a castle, though it certainly looks like one. The strange, perforated volcanic rock has become one of the main landmarks of Cappadocia. The castle can be seen from miles around, towering above its namesake village which sits at the base of the rocks.
The rock itself has actually been hollowed out and an intricate network of tunnels, and small rooms and annexes lies within. For centuries, the local villagers would hide here when enemies invaded the area. Unfortunately, a lot of the rooms are now taped off because of erosion, however, you can enter the tunnels and the view from the top of Uchisar castle is incredible. Standing tall at 4,000m, this is the highest point in Cappadocia and it offers breathtaking views over the fairy chimneys and the unusual landscapes.
Go Off-the-Beaten-Path to Ortahisar
In a similar vein to Uchisar castle, there is Ortahisar -a small town that has escaped the attention of most travel blogs and magazines. Here you can find the Ortahisar Kalesi (“castle”) – another unusual rock formation that you would be forgiven for believing was an actual castle. Ortahisar is more off-the-beaten-path than Uchisar but well worth the trip, and the castle here is no less beautiful. The rooms inside are now used for storage.
There are several short local walking trails around Ortahisar that lead to breathtaking viewpoints. The centre itself is also charming, filled with numerous ramshackle antique stores that sell a vast array of weird and wonderful trinkets.
Visit the Goreme Open Air Museum
Most of the activities I’ve mentioned so far in this Cappadocia travel guide are relatively off-the-beaten-path. The Goreme open air museum, however, is perhaps the most popular attraction in the region after the infamous hot air balloons.
The Goreme open-air museum is the perfect depiction of how people used to live in these caves amid the surreal landscapes. Many of the caves were used as chapels during the 12th century and many of the paintings and frescoes remain inside, albeit slightly worn by time and weather.
The chapels have obscure names such as “the spider church” or “the dark chapel”. The open-air museum can get very crowded during the summer months but is well worth a visit nonetheless.
Zip Around the Landscapes in an ATV
If hiking and horseback riding aren’t really your thing, a more fast-paced alternative is opting to explore the region by ATV. It is possible to explore the “red zone” on an ATV tour or have a guide take you through the various fairy chimneys and other-worldly valleys that exist in the Goreme region.
Book a Turkish Nights Experience
When you are in Cappadocia, you will probably notice a lot of hotels and tour companies advertising a “Turkish Nights” experience. This is basically a dinner where you are served traditional Turkish delicacies as various shows and performances take place in order to give you an introduction to Turkish culture.
Whirling dervishes and belly dances are just a few of the things to expect. Honestly, this is a little pricey and touristic, but if this is your first time travelling in Turkey, it can be a nice introduction to the culture.
Sleep in a Cave Hotel
There are literally hundreds of hotels in Cappadocia for you to choose from. Staying in a Cappadocia cave hotel is a wholly unique experience and you can enjoy luxury in Cappadocia without breaking the bank.
I stayed at the Guzide Cave Hotel in Göreme which I cannot recommend enough. Murat, the owner was super nice and attentive and helped me organise my hikes and excursions around Cappadocia, plus the hotel puts on a huge fancy breakfast! Other cave hotels with excellent ratings are Sultan Cave Suites, and Aydinli Cave Hotel.
Cappadocia Travel Guide:
Where to Stay in Cappadocia
The “Cappadocia” region is quite vast, and the best area to stay in depends on your personal preference and a number of different factors.
Goreme is one of the most popular places to stay in Cappadocia. It is also the most touristic. Though a few locals still inhabit the cave houses here, most of them have been transformed into hotels and restaurants. With that said, nothing can detract from the charming landscapes of the fairy chimneys that are scattered throughout Goreme. I chose to stay here, and since the hot air balloons and regional tours start in Goreme, the location is perfect.
Goreme centre boasts ample restaurants, supermarkets and stores making it a super convenient base for your Cappadocia itinerary.
If you enjoy a little luxury when you travel, and you want a central location without being in the midst of all of the tourist hordes then you can opt to stay in Urgup during your Cappadocia itinerary Perched atop a hill, the sophisticated town offers incredible views over the region and boasts plenty of luxurious boutique hotels, in addition to upscale dining and nightlife spots.
Famed for the Uchisar castle, the town of Uchisar is relatively quiet when compared to bustling Goreme. There are a number of comfortable budget and boutique hotels here, though there are only a small few dining options.
Uchisar is a great choice for accommodation if you want to get away from the crowds and have your own transport. From here, it is also a great point to hike through pigeon valley towards Goreme.
Ortahisar is missed off the Cappadocia itinerary of most people. That said, this rural town is utterly charming and possesses a more “local” vibe. If you want to get off the beaten path in Cappadocia and have a more authentic experience then the working agricultural town of Ortahisar is the perfect choice.
Cappadocia Travel Guide:
Is Cappadocia Safe?
Unfortunately, Turkey is still trying to shake off its reputation as being a “dangerous” travel destination. More and more travellers are starting to return in recent years though which is a positive for tourism in the country.
Solo Female Travel in Cappadocia
I felt completely safe during my week in Cappadocia and the general consensus is that the region is very safe. I enjoyed solo female travel in Cappadocia and never felt uncomfortable.
Since Cappadocia is so accustomed to tourism, I would probably say that this is the best place in Turkey for solo female travellers. There are always plenty of English speaking locals willing to help you. It’s also the first place I travelled in Turkey that I actually noticed a lot of other fellow solo females wandering around. When I asked the owner at my hotel if he saw a lot of women travellers, he said that most of them were solo women!
Cappadocia Safety Tips
Cappadocia is a very tourist-friendly part of Turkey. That said, as with anywhere that you travel, you should follow a few basic precautions as detailed below:
- Be mindful of hiking by yourself in remote areas. Though I hiked the red trail independently, I saw no-one else doing the same and I was a little anxious at times. If hiking alone, tell someone from your hotel where you are going.
- There are many wild/stray dogs in the Cappadocia area. If approached, try to stay still and stay calm.
- Try to arrive in the day time if possible so that it’s easier and more comfortable to locate your hotel.
Have any questions about this Cappadocia Travel Guide? Feel free to reach out to me via the comments below. Cappadocia is best enjoyed as part of a wider Turkey itinerary.
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