I flittered between awe and disbelief while trying to ignore the numbness from the cold. Floating in a hot air balloon at 500 meters over a surreal winter landscape tends to do that. What was once just a “bucket list” fantasy became a reality. To some, it may seem a bit touristy. But if you’re like me, it’s a dream come true. So to answer your question, yes, it’s totally worth it. Hot air balloon. Cappadocia. You MUST try it!
Why should you visit Cappadocia?
Located in Central Anatolia Region in Turkey, the historical region of Cappadocia is famous for its striking geological formations known as “fairy chimneys“. These are borne from centuries of erosion of compressed volcanic tuff, resulting in pillars with conical or mushroom-shaped caps. Due to the softness of the tuff, many of these unique rock formations are carved out into pigeon lofts, houses, churches, and monasteries by the villagers. And it’s been this way for time untold.
Some say that Cappadocia has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Period and was an important trading stop along the Silk Road. It is also believed that there are more than a thousand churches in Cappadocia, some of which boast elaborate frescoes.
Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia are also inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Visiting Cappadocia in Winter
Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to November) may be the most popular seasons, but I urge you to consider Cappadocia as a winter getaway as well. There’s no denying the fact that temperatures are often frigid. But there are also certain advantages to traveling during the low season, including smaller crowds and lower costs.
Be ready for snow, rain, and wind though – weather conditions that might make or break your trip. There are flights year round, but flight cancellations are more likely in January and February.
Our experience visiting Cappadocia in December
Before booking our flights to Cappadocia, I searched Accuweather for clues as to what the weather would be like. Fortunately, the forecast for our preferred departure date called for mostly sunny skies and light winds. As we counted down the days, I prayed the weather would hold up.
Upon arrival in Istanbul, I contacted our balloon operator, Royal Balloon. They confirmed that the flight was a go.
The temperature in Cappadocia was even colder than Istanbul, and it dropped further as the night went on. Being only the second week of December, winter still wasn’t in full effect. Early morning temperatures hovered around 0 degrees Celsius and sometimes dipped into the negative.
When we went out for dinner at night, we noticed very few people in the streets. Even at Goreme town centre, the streets were quiet.
There was no snowfall during our 2 nights in Cappadocia, but it had snowed the week before. There was still quite a bit of it on the ground during our Green Tour.
Sunrise Hot Air Balloon ride in Cappadocia, Turkey
My last encounter with hot air balloons was during the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Clark, Pampanga in February of 2016. Though I narrowly missed out on witnessing the famous Bagan hot air balloon spectacle during my travels in 2015.
Admittedly, Turkey wasn’t my first choice for my 31st birthday. I searched Skyscanner for the cheapest international flight from Doha to “Everywhere” in December and voila, Istanbul for the win! Only minutes later, with flight confirmation in hand, the planning began. Having long since graduated from the school of butt-numbing bus marathons, the first order of business was to arrange a domestic flight from Istanbul to Nevşehir.
Fast forward to Göreme, where we stayed for the duration of our time in Cappadocia. We were picked up around 6:15 AM by the Royal Balloon van and made our way to their headquarters. There we enjoyed a buffet breakfast before being whisked away to the launch site. The take-off site is determined by the wind direction.
When we got to the take-off site, there were already a lot of balloons being inflated. Ours was being filled with cold air, so we had time to take photos.
Sunrise is around 8 AM this time of the year. As soon as we were all in the baskets, our cheery pilot, Tolga, gave us the pre-flight safety briefing and had us practice the safe landing position.
I’ve always been open with my fear of heights. Besides, I can’t hide it even if I try. My jelly legs always give me away. And that is why my “bucket list” (I prefer travel list) includes extreme activities like skydiving and bungee jumping. Although not exactly extreme, hot air balloons still involve heights, so of course, it made the list.
But my fear of heights was soon forgotten as the balloon lifted off toward the heavens. Before long, we were drifting above Cappadocia’s carved valleys, as the purple-tinged skies changed to pink, red, and then orange. The balloon ascended gracefully, gradually rising and going in the direction of the wind.
Far below, the snow from the week before still covered the ground. But oh how marvelous it would have been to see it falling from the clouds. But that would also mean more freezing conditions. And at this point, I already couldn’t feel my face. Up and up we go, with Tolga regaling us with his jokes while the wind carries us across the unique terrain.
At times, it seemed we were so close to the tip of a “fairy chimney,” while other times it felt as though we were the highest balloon in the sky. As the sun peeked over the horizon, the area was bathed in its golden rays, but that didn’t make it feel any warmer. I had to stop a few times and put my hands in my coat pockets, for I refused to wear gloves so as to capture as many photos as I could. During those moments, I tried to savor everything and commit it to memory. It was definitely one of those pinch-me moments.
Our pilot was quick to answer our curious questions, except when he was busy navigating. He also pointed out the famous landscapes down below. For the life of me, though, I couldn’t manage to remember it all! I blame it on the cold. Haha!
There wasn’t a time that I felt vertigo during the flight, but only slight irritation when a kid in another basket decided to jump up and down. The problem was easily solved with an evil stare.
The landing was uneventful enough. Our pilot chose a spot in the middle of one of Cappadocia’s many fields. The ground-based crew followed us with the trailer and helped ensure a smooth landing.
Are there sunset hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia?
During our visit to Cappadocia in December, we saw hot air balloons going up in the afternoon. It was around 2 PM, but there were definitely fewer balloons compared to sunrise.
Quick travel guide to Cappadocia
CLICK HERE FOR THE IN-DEPTH CAPPADOCIA TRAVEL GUIDE
How to get to Cappadocia
You can take flights from Istanbul to Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport (NAV) via Turkish Airlines, Anadolu Jet (operated by Turkish Airlines), or Pegasus Airlines. You can also opt to fly to Kayseri Erkilet International Airport (ASR) via Atlas Global, Turkish Airlines, Anadolu Jet, or Pegasus Airlines.
Anadolu Jet flies 3 times a week from Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) to Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport (NAV) with a flight time of 1 hour and 15 minutes.
If you’re fond of long bus rides, you can take an overnight bus (around 10 – 12 hours) from Istanbul, Ankara or Denizli. From Istanbul, the bus ride costs 85 TL.
How to get to your hotel in Cappadocia from the airport?
I booked a shuttle transfer directly from my hotel. We paid 25 TL directly to the driver. Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport is a small airport so after getting out of the airport, you’ll see your driver waving a sign with your name. Shuttle buses are the norm so if your hotel can’t book for you, you can here. They have services for both airports.
Where to stay in Cappadocia
Maximize your stay in Cappadocia by staying in one of the cave hotels! And one of the perks of traveling to Cappadocia in winter is the cheaper cost of accommodation. Most popular towns where visitors stay are Göreme, Ürgüp, and Üçhisar.
We stayed in Artemis Cave Suites in Goreme and loved how accessible it is. We were also considering staying in Uchisar since it offers magnificent views of the region. There is a viewpoint on top of Artemis Cave Suites since it’s located at the bottom of Lovers Hill but we woke up late the next morning so took advantage of their terrace instead.
Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia
Balloon flights in Cappadocia started in 1989 thanks to Robinson Lodge Hotel. The foreigner pilots of the 2 balloons, later on, formed a partnership with a Cappadocian company to start the first commercial balloon company in the region. The rest, they say, is history. There are now more than 200 registered balloons in Cappadocia and more than 20 licensed balloon companies. Cappadocia balloon flights are regulated by the Turkish civil aviation authority.
Celebrating the flight with a champagne toast is a tradition started by Montgolfier brothers in 1783. Balloon flights last between 45 to 90 minutes depending on the package you chose. The cost is dependent on the duration and number of people.
Cappadocia hot air balloon prices can range from 100 USD to more than 200 USD.
How to book hot air balloon flight? How to choose a hot air balloon company?
After scouring the web for hours in search of the ideal hot air balloon company, we settled on Royal Balloon, which is .
Read the reviews so you know what to expect. And make sure to look for a hot air balloon company with experienced pilots that prioritize the safety of their customers. Not all hot air balloons are equal. Make sure to also check how many people will be in each basket. The Royal Queen flight we took only had 16 people on the two baskets. One basket had 2 partitions, with 4 people each so it wasn’t cramped.
Do your research properly for this may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Best hot air balloon company in Cappadocia
It’s hard to declare a winner without first comparing multiple companies, but I highly recommend Royal Balloon, a luxury and high-quality hot air balloon company for your Cappadocia hot air balloon adventure. From beginning to end, our experience was so smooth. They even have Wi-Fi… in the balloon! Can you believe that?
They certainly lived up to their motto: Fly Royal, Feel Royal. At the end of our ride, we received a medal and a certificate. Oh, and did I mention the champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries?
Their Queen flight, which is the one we took, fits up to only 16 people, unlike others. Both of their flights (Queen and King) also includes insurance. And you even get a special internet booking gift!
Essential tips for a hot air balloon ride experience in Cappadocia + winter tips
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Pick up time is early. A good night’s sleep is important so you don’t doze off during your hot air balloon ride.
- Dress warmly and comfortably
- Best to check the forecast in advance. Flying in winter means the mornings are colder, so it’s best to dress in layers. You can always remove some layers as it gets warmer later in the day. Don’t forget to wear comfortable footwear as well because you’ll be on your feet the whole time.
- Tactile gloves are recommended if you want to protect your hands from the cold but still want to use your phone at the same time.
- Leave your fear of heights behind
- No need to worry because a hot air balloon ride is so smooth you’ll barely feel the basket moving. The basket is also high enough that there is no chance that you’ll fall out. And there’s no need for motion sickness medicine.
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Don’t forget to take your camera
- Because of the vast scale of the landscape, it’s better to bring a camera with a wide lens or an action camera that can shoot wide angle. And believe me, you’re going to need those selfie sticks. Just be careful not to drop any of your equipment! If you have a neck or wrist strap, it’ll definitely come in handy.
- Be the last to go inside the basket
- That is if you want to be positioned near the edge of the basket and away from the pilot. This is especially handy if you want to take good unobstructed photos.
- Book the hot air balloon ride on your first day in Cappadocia
- This way, if the morning flight gets canceled, you still have the afternoon option. Or you can reschedule for the next morning.
- Don’t forget to take your camera
Have you tried to ride a hot air balloon?
What do you think of hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey?
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Disclosure: Although we were guests of Royal Balloon, all the opinions expressed here are my own. As always, I only strive to bring you honest feedback on my experience. No additional balloons were photoshopped in any of the pictures included in this post.