Turkey’s UNESCO-listed Cappadocia is a sight to behold from above.
A rocky landscape of natural wonders and human aptitude, Cappadocia is Turkey’s very own fairy-tale kingdom. Initially shaped by volcanic eruption and erosion, locals and religious refugees worked the already-breathtaking topography into an impressive network of underground chambers, tunnels, and cities thousands of years ago.
Now a World Heritage Site, Cappadocia’s rich and diverse cultural and political history is enough to attract anyone to the region — but what brings tourists to Cappadocia these days is the chance to see it from a hot air balloon.
With fairy chimneys and pillars, river valleys, and cliffs, the region is certainly a magnificent sight to behold from the air. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to book a trip to the area and see it for yourself.
Read on to learn how to plan your Cappadocia hot air balloon excursion and take your next favorite travel photo.
1. How Do I Choose the Right Tour?
Depending on the tour you choose, your hot air balloon experience could differ greatly. Most tour operators offer both “comfort flights” and “standard flights,” with comfort flights having fewer people in the basket and the flight duration being 15 to 30 minutes longer than standard flights. Many operators also offer private tours for special occasions. Some companies may be more expensive because they offer a better breakfast, post-flight Champagne, or a more comfortable method of transportation to the takeoff site.
Companies that have been operating for more than a decade like Cappadocia Voyager Balloons and Royal Balloon also tend to be pricier because their pilots are more experienced. Skilled pilots are adept at safely flying at different heights including low in the valley where you can get better views. In general, it’s recommended to do your own research by reading reviews on Tripadvisor, asking your hotel for recommendations, and contacting the tour operator to ask questions like “how skilled are your pilots?” or “can I book a flight with your most experienced pilot?” to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable experience.
2. How Much Does It Cost?
Prices can vary greatly depending on the time of year you fly and how far in advance you book. For example, a ride on Butterfly Balloons’ Butterfly Flight in the peak of summer can cost upwards of $250 per person, but that same flight costs about $190 in January and February. Likewise, private flights cost a lot more than group flights. Group flights with Hot Air Ballooning Cappadocia, for example, start at around $160 per person while private flights start at $4,900.
3. How Long Is the Flight?
Flights can last anywhere between 45 minutes and three hours. It depends on who you book your tour with and which flight deal you pick. For example, Kapadokya Balloons’ Standard Program lasts 45 to 65 minutes, while its Deluxe Program lasts 90 minutes.
4. How Many People Can Fit Inside a Basket?
The capacity of the basket again depends on the company and the flight. Urgup Balloons’ Classic Flight carries 28 people, while its Deluxe Flight carries 16. Butterfly Balloons’ Butterfly Beyond Flight carries up to two people per compartment, which amounts to no more than eight passengers total.
5. When Is the Best Time To Fly?
You can take a hot air balloon flight any time of year, but with Cappadocia’s hot, dry summers and cold — and sometimes snowy — winters, the best time to go is during the spring (April to June) and fall (September and October).
Hot air balloon flights are weather dependent and may be canceled if it’s windy, rainy, or a storm is approaching in the immediate area. In that event, many companies will offer you a full refund or help you reschedule. Plan to spend a few days in Cappadocia so you can rebook if this happens to you.
6. How High up Do the Balloons Go?
While balloon companies can take their passengers thousands of feet in the air, with hot air balloon flights in Cappadocia, the real treat is seeing (and photographing) the geological details of the different rock formations, so it’s not necessary to climb too high off the ground.
7. When Do Flights Take Off?
Balloons usually take off early in the morning — about 5 to 5:30 a.m., depending on the season — because the wind conditions are best around sunrise. Tour companies will pick you up at your hotel, so there’s no need to worry about getting to the take-off site while you’re half asleep. A lot of tour companies change their take-off site on a day-to-day basis. They base the location on the day’s wind direction and speed.
8. What Should I Wear?
It’s cooler up in the air than on the ground, so if you go during the warmer months, consider wearing layers and a light jacket. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes since you’ll be on your feet for a long time. It’s a good idea to bring a hat since you can usually feel the heat from the burner flame.
9. Is It Safe?
While hot air ballooning is considered a relatively low-risk activity, accidents still happen. In October 2022, CBS News reported that two tourists were killed and three others were injured when a hot air balloon in Cappadocia made a hard landing. While the incident left many wondering about the safety of balloon rides, it’s important to note that fatalities are rare. According to data from Turkey’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation, only 12 accidents occurred during the flight hours examined between the summers of 2013 and 2017 in Cappadocia. All of these accidents occurred during the landing phase of the flight, resulting in 33 passengers being injured and three deaths. Since hard landings are the most common cause of accidents, it’s important to listen to the instructions given during the safety briefing. Choosing a reputable hot air balloon company with pilots that have more than five years of flying experience can also increase your chances of having a safe flight. Statistically speaking, driving a car is more likely to result in injury than flying in a hot air balloon.
10. Is There Turbulence?
If you typically get sick on airplanes, rest assured: Balloon flights are so smooth you can enjoy the flight without the discomfort of airsickness.
11. What Happens After Landing?
In line with balloon tradition, you can usually expect a Champagne toast (and maybe a slice of cake) upon landing. At the end of the trip, tour companies generally hand out certificates or medallions to commemorate the event.
12. Where Can I Take the Best Photo From the Ground?
If you’re wanting to re-experience your time in the air (or hoping to get a sneak preview), head to Göreme’s Sunrise/Sunset Point early in the morning to watch the balloons rise with the sun.
13. How Do I Get to Cappadocia?
The airports that serve Cappadocia are Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport (NAV) and Kayseri Erkilet Airport (ASR). Ask your Cappadocia hotel if it offers airport transfers. If not, you can reserve a shuttle through Argeus Travel and Events or Turkish Heritage Travel, or take a taxi to your accommodations.
You can also take a bus from Istanbul or Ankara to Nevşehir on the outskirts of Cappadocia. From Istanbul, it’s a 10-hour bus ride, but for about $25 one way, it is a far cheaper option than flying. Book your tickets through Metro Turizm.
14. Where Should I Stay?
Cappadocia is a region composed of multiple cities and villages. The most popular destinations for tourists are Göreme, Ürgüp, and Uçhisar.
Most tourists go to Göreme because it’s easily accessible and it’s within walking distance of the Göreme Open-Air Museum. Decorated with colorful frescoes in the Byzantine style, this collection of rock-cut churches is worthy of its spot on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
Similar to Göreme, many travelers also flock to Ürgüp. If you love wine, consider staying here since it’s the capital of wine production in the Cappadocia region.
At the highest point in Cappadocia, Uçhisar is another popular town for visitors. Home to Uçhisar Castle, this rock citadel offers a beautiful panoramic view of the region and Mount Erciyes.
15. Where Should I Eat?
If you’re staying in Göreme, try börek, gözleme, and böregi (pastries that are typically filled with spiced meats or spinach and feta) at Nazar Börek Cafe or a mezze platter at Topdeck Cave Restaurant. Order a kebab at Old Cappadocia Cafe and Restaurant for a taste of true Anatolian fare.
16. What Else Is There to See and Do?
While the view from the skies is unforgettable, Cappadocia is just as beautiful on the ground. The region is made up of underground cities, so make time to discover its unique history. Take a tour of either Derinkuyu or Kaymakli to see perfect examples of what it was like for previous residents to live underground.
Cappadocia is also known as the “Land of Beautiful Horses,” so you should explore the landscape by horse as well as by hot air balloon. Outfitters offering tours by horseback include The Dalton Brothers and Cemal Ranch.