When in Turkey, I must say that Cappadocia is the place one shouldn’t miss. The surrealistic landscapes and volcanic rocks naturally shaped through erosion by snow, rain, rivers and wind are sure to take anyone’s breath away. The experience felt like having my sense of sight on steroids.
Aside from the out of this planet feel, Cappadocia also has a lot of stories to tell of the past. For one, the soft volcanic rocks that can easily be hollowed out into caves and its unique rock formations made the place an ideal hiding place for early Christians fleeing away from Roman persecution.
It’s impossible not to enjoy Cappadocia with its fairy tale sights and richness in history. Here are my top 7 things to experience in Cappadocia, based on our 3 and a half days stay:
1. Catch a bird’s eye view of the region with a hot air balloon ride
If a hot air balloon ride is in your bucket list, then Cappadocia is the best place to experience it. The aerial view and the magical experience is worth the precious euros and the early wake-up call to be at the take off site before sunrise.
2. Get off the beaten path and hike at least one of the valleys
Central Cappadocia is composed of many valleys, giving you a lot of options for hiking. We have hiked two of the valleys (Red and Rose Valley and Ihlara Valley) and exploring each was not that hard because the hills were not that steep. Moreover, I didn’t feel that exhausted because I can’t help but stop every a few meters or so to marvel at the sights and of course, press my cam’s shutter.
There are no standard trails, though we occasionally found signs along the way. There are countless different trails, it’s like doing Bantam Book’s Choose Your Own Adventure, where you choose your own ending of the story (maybe only those from my generation could relate to this). Well, I guess any which way you choose, it’s always gonna be a happy ending. 🙂
Took us 2 or 3 hours to hike Red and Rose Valley from Göreme
Descend into the valley from Ihlara, follow the river and you’re good to go
Some of the other valleys you can hike:
- Magic or Imagination Valley (Devrent)
- Monks Valley (Paşabağ )
- Pigeon Valley
- Love Valley
- Imagination Valley
3. Discover early Christian life at the Göreme Open Air Museum
Göreme Open Air Museum depicts the life of the early Christian monastic community that had made Göreme their home. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the open air museum contains not only the stunning rock formations characteristic of Cappadocia, but more importantly several rock cut churches with beautiful frescoes or wall paintings representing scenes from the Bible and the life of Jesus Christ.
“The Nunnery” is a 7-storey rock cone composed of a dining hall, kitchen and other rooms
A hole new world…a dazzling place I never knew
Photography (even non-flash) is not allowed inside the churches in an effort to preserve the wall paintings. Good thing they have this because my memory is not as photographic as my camera. 😉
Okay, I shot this while no one was looking (without flash, of course)
4. Dig deep into the history of at least one underground cities
Underground cities, dating back to 1600 BC, were built by the early Christians to serve as shelter to avoid Roman persecution. It has been “developed” over time to be more habitable. It’s hard to imagine how people lived in this bizarre environment, where all the amenities found on the outside, such as kitchen, food storage, wine and oil presses, stables, toilet, school and church, can also be found underground.
Derinkuyu underground city is one of the popular ones. In fact, the site is included in the Green Tour. It is also said that these underground cities are interconnected. What’s also interesting is that the city had been used in different historic eras (Roman, Byzantine, Mongolian, Ottoman) all for the same purpose – to take refuge from their enemies. Who the enemies are depend on which empire period we are talking about.
Claustrophobia is not an option when you want to preserve your life
5. Choose your color – do the Color Tours
If you only have limited time and want to cover sights as much as you can, then pick your color and join a guided tour. Tours in Cappadocia are color-coded, representing different areas. The tours are somewhat standard, except for one or two differing sites when comparing the same color tour from different operators.
We asked from our hotel and according to them, the Green Tour is the most popular because most of the sights included are those that are further away from the center, and are otherwise not easily accessible the DIY way. We chose the Green Tour and the Red Tour.
This is what the hotel owner gave us when we inquired about the tours:
- Uçhisar panorama
- Göreme Open Air Museum
- Love Valley view point
- Lunch in Avanos Village
- Avanos traditional pottery demonstration
- Paşabağ fairy chimney rock formations
- Devrent Valley
- Göreme panorama
- Derinkuyu Underground City
- Selime Monastery
- Lunch in Ihlara Village
- 3.5 km walking in Ihlara Valley
- Pigeon Valley
- Three Beauties of Ürgüp
- Sinasos, old Greek Village now known as Mustafapasa
- Taskinpasa Village
- Sobessos Excavation
- Sahinefendi Village
- Short Walk in Soganlı Valley
- Lunch in Soganli Village
- Kaymakli Underground City
Paşabağ fairy chimney rock formations
6. Meet locals and spend time in the villages
Different villages in Cappadocia have their own unique charm. We were able to visit the Çavuşin village, Avanos and Göreme, our home base.
Göreme in Turkish means “Invisible City”, and the town in named as such since it is tucked away in a valley. This is where we stayed and where most of the hotels, cafés, restaurants and tour operators are concentrated. It is expected to have many tourists around the center but the town is generally a quiet place to stay.
View from our hotel, Vista Cave
Main road going to the Göreme center
Even spiderman loves hanging out in Göreme
Çavuşin is a village linking Göreme with Avanos. We reached the village after going down from a hike in Red and Rose Valley. The rock formations with the rock cut dwellings look like huge chunks of swiss cheese. We had to be careful climbing to the top because of some loose soil and rubbles.
Say “swiss cheeeeese!”
The climb up the St. John the Baptist Cave Church, located on top of the hill is worth the risk as the view from the top did not disappoint
This town is the pottery capital of Cappadocia. Most guided tours include Avanos as a stop, where tourists can watch pottery making. You may already know well that the next thing after the demonstration is the tour to the show room where the selling and buying or just looking around, takes place.
I had to say, though, that people who love decorative items would have a hard time resisting the colorful items on offer.
Other towns you can visit:
Other options available which I myself would want to visit are as follows:
7. Get adventurous with an ATV/ Quad tour
Being a UNESCO World Heritage site, ATVs are only allowed on certain paths. It was my first time to try an ATV and what a better place to do it than through the extraordinary landscape of Cappadocia. Our tour operator have ATVs that are fully automatic so I only have to worry about pressing the accelerator and the brake. We did the two hour sunset tour. I was nervous and excited at the same time, but I ended up having fun. 🙂
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