Cappadocia is a region in central Turkey that is famous for its arid landschape packed full of incredible rock formations, cave churches and underground dwellings. It’s also the subject of 2.7 million tagged photos on Instagram, many of them featuring the hot air balloons that fly almost every day of the year.
I was a little worried that we wouldn’t be able to move for Instagrammers posing for OTT photoshoots, but thankfully it wasn’t like that at all (despite the fact that we really did see a shop in Göreme that had dresses for hire to use in photoshoots – it is obviously big business). But anyway, back to the other big business of the area: taking a flight in a hot air balloon. I had always assumed that it was such a popular activity here just because it gave a great view of the rock formations from the air, but apparently it is much more to do with the fact that the region has near-perfect weather conditions for ballooning.
It’s not a cheap activity but we’ve been underspending on our daily budget in Turkey and, putting this together with some birthday money, decided that this was not an opportunity to be missed. Mum also joined us, but Dad, perhaps sensibly, decided to keep his feet firmly on the ground and thus avoided the 4.45am alarm.
In darkness, we were taken to a rough field just outside Göreme that was to be the take-off zone for the day (it changes each day dependent on weather conditions). We watched as the balloons were prepared, and I had a surprise when three small hills right next to where we were standing suddenly started to grow and I realised that they were, in fact, more hot air balloons (to be fair, I was quite sleep-deprived). Each balloon is inflated on the ground while the basket lies on its side, and then the burners are used to bring the balloon above the basket and lift the basket upright.
At this point, we hopped in and were given a demonstration of the braced ‘landing position’, which thankfully we didn’t have to use. Then it was time for take-off! We dipped down again briefly without landing as the pilot decided he fancied some coffee so the ground crew reached up and passed him a cup – this was probably showboating, but I could sympathise with his need for caffeine!
We climbed up to a maximum height of 800m, but at other points we were only metres from the ground as we flew around the valleys, over view points and watched as the sun peeped over the horizon, all the while surrounded by countless other colourful balloons. It was pretty stunning, although I did get wobbly knees when I realised quite how high we were at times.
All too soon, it was time to land. We grazed several trees on the way down, but the pilot didn’t seem overly concerned! We landed directly on the basket trailer, which was very impressive, but then had a slightly surreal few minutes where we were towed along on the trailer with all the passengers still in the basket and the balloon still above our heads. I assume this is because the area where we landed didn’t have sufficient space to pack up the balloon (there were the aforementioned trees, after all).
Finally, it was time for the landing ceremony, where the crew opened (and sprayed much of) two bottles of bubbly and then shared the remainder between glasses of fruit juice for each of the 20 passengers on the flight. Mum, in particular, was not impressed with her measly helping of bubbly!
Overall, though, it was a great experience. It was certainly more money than we would have normally spent, but it was a brilliant belated birthday celebration and something we’ll remember for a long time to come.
Later that day, we climbed up to Göreme’s sunset viewpoint to (you guessed it) watch the sunset. This was a nice spot but I think we were probably less impressed because we’d already seen the spectacular sunrise from the balloon that morning. Instead, what really impressed Oli was the opportunity to finally get a close-up view of a solar water heater (sigh).
There are a lot of balloon companies operating in Cappadocia, and with obvious safety (and value for money) considerations, it’s worth putting some thought into which company and which flight type to choose. We did quite a lot of reading beforehand to help us decide, but some things weren’t obvious to us until after our flight, so we thought it would be worth making some notes of what we learnt. We won’t bore you with the details here, but if you’re thinking of visiting, you might find our ramblings helpful.