Hot air balloon ride of a lifetime, Kapadokya / Cappadocia, Turkey

Everyone who has looked up the term ‘Cappadocia’ on the internet have come across the incredible photos posted by numerous travellers over the years. First thing (and probably the only thing) you notice among the results is the hot air ballooning activity. The sight of hundreds of balloons in the air, the moon-like landscape. It is impossible to miss.

Most people know Cappadocia only for the hot air balloon ride. Many instagrammers from around the world flock there just to get pretty pictures. I saw folks coming dressed up in special occasion attire at 5:30AM on a chilly morning when its 0-5 degree celsius and windy, just to get that pretty shot. People lost in taking photos that they missed seeing the spectacle with their naked eye.

When I first added Cappadocia to my solo trip itinerary, I did not intend to take the balloon ride. I wanted to go to Cappadocia to walk around the area, to explore the terrain, to do the numerous hikes around the region and explore its underground cities. I was intrigued by the landscape. I thought the balloon ride would be a waste of money, to spend 130-150 Euros for an hour or so. I thought it was overrated (except of course for the photo opportunity).

However, once I landed at Kayseri airport and started driving towards my hotel, the landscape amazed me. It was weird and mesmerizing. I hadn’t seen anything like that before. That is when the thought of taking a balloon ride popped up in my head. I started wondering what the aerial view would be like. Now, I wanted to take the balloon ride. I have come this far intrigued by the landscape and I’m not missing the chance to have the best views of the landscape.

I had gotten in touch with Butterfly balloons for inquiry, but after making the decision, I confirmed my balloon ride for the next day.

 

What makes hot air ballooning at Cappadocia special?

Cappadocia (Kapadokya in Turkish) region of Turkey is a unique place on earth. The region was formed three to four million years ago when a series of volcanic eruptions happened in the Central Anatolian plateau. The volcanic ash and lava from the eruptions settled on the ground and solidified to form Tuff. The entire region is made up of weirdly shaped rocks, valleys and fairy chimneys of different sizes, shapes and colors.

The landscape is what makes the hot air balloon ride at Cappadocia unique. You are not flying above a concrete jungle, a vast area of green cover or a water body. It is an other worldly landscape as far as the eyes can see.

 

Is hot air ballooning in Cappadocia safe?

Hot air ballooning started in Kapadokya in around 1991. It is a highly regulated and safety controlled enterprise in the region. Every day, a maximum of 150 balloons take flight to give its riders an experience of a lifetime.

All balloons are flown by trained pilots, who go to flight schools to learn the tricks of the trade. Since it is a big business in the area, all of them have conversational English speaking skills as well. The pilot of my balloon had 2000+ hours of flight time.

 

Before the ride

Once I confirmed, they asked me for the hotel I’ll be staying at and some other basic details like Date of Birth, Passport number etc. The payment was to be made before the flight. Once I provided them the details, I was told that I’ll be picked up from my hotel at 6:00 AM. The night before the ride, I was as excited as a kid would have been, if he were going on a picnic.

I got up at 5:30AM, got ready, packed my camera and lenses. It was already chilly outside. An extra layer of clothing was put on to tackle the cold winds up there.

I went up to the hotel reception at 5:58 AM and the pick-up van was already waiting. Five other excited tourists and I got in and off we went, at sharp 6:00AM.

We were taken to Butterfly Balloons’ office (which was only 250 metres from my hotel). We were given a card with some instructions and the assigned pilot’s name on it. I was to fly with Ziya.

Next up was payment. I was told that I can make my payment at my hotel itself. Other folks who stayed in different hotels had to make the payment there using card or cash. There is a 10Euro discount if you make a cash payment. Once that is done, breakfast awaits you. Fresh fruits, pastries, cakes, fruit juices, coffee and tea were available.

Once the breakfast was done, around 6:30 AM, we were asked to board the buses/vans with our pilot’s name on it. The town is still sleeping, except for all the balloon companies and the excited riders.

All of us (15 other riders and I) boarded and we headed to the launch site.

 

The ride

The launch site was a flat land, next to a few hillocks, filled with a number of hot air balloons preparing to take flight. We were taken straight to our balloon where our pilot was preparing the balloon.

Our pilot Ziya, preparing the hot air balloon

Our pilot Ziya, preparing the hot air balloon

It was a spectacle to watch. Balloons of different sizes, colors and designs warming up creating an explosion of colors around you.

Another balloon by Butterfly Balloons, almost ready to go

Another balloon by Butterfly Balloons, almost ready to go

A treat to the eyes indeed! I spent some time photographing other balloons around. Some of them were taking off.

A balloon taking off

A balloon taking off

Hot air balloons taking off before day break

Hot air balloons taking off before day break

A few minutes later, our balloon was ready. All aboard!

Boarding our balloon. Look at those flames!

Boarding our balloon. Look at that flame!

The pilot gave us some information and landing position instructions. Balloon was heated up. The riders are heated up. Everyone’s ready! Take your positions for take off!

We slowly began to take flight, around 7:00AM. Ziya, our pilot, masterfully controlled the flame and the windows of the balloon to let air in appropriately to take us airborne. The sun has not risen yet. Sunrise was expected around 7:30AM.

Hot air balloons taking off before day break

Hot air balloons taking off before day break. View from the air.

The vehicles on the road soon became hot wheels sized. More balloons took off. All of us were in awe of what was happening around us.

Hot air balloons taking off before day break

Slowly rising up!

There were balloons taking flight below us.

Hot air balloons taking off before day break

A hot air balloon taking off below us.

More light started seeping in and we were treated to breathtaking views of the landscape. The whole host of balloons flying around made it seem more magical.

More balloons going up while the day breaks

More balloons going up while the day breaks

Hot air balloons flying over Kapadokya

Hot air balloons flying over Kapadokya

Hot air balloon cruising up in the sky during sunrise

One balloon flying high up above us, while the sun rises in the horizon.

At one point, after receiving some information from his radio set, the pilot told us that 100 balloons were airborne at that moment. Hundred!

Hot air balloons over Kapadokya

Hot air balloons over Kapadokya

Ziya, our pilot, skillfully took us a great tour of the landscape. The balloon was brought closer to the land when there were interesting features. He pointed out love valley, rose valley, Goreme Open Air Museum and many other landmarks of the area and took us up close.

Hot air balloons over Kapadokya

Love Valley as seen from the balloon

Flying over the Cappadocian terrain

Flying over the Cappadocian terrain

Our pilot kept taking us up. We went as high as 1550 metres! The sun had started coming up by then.

Hot air balloons over Kapadokya

Sun rising up over the horizon.

We spent an hour soaking in the mind blowing views. After an hour in the year, Ziya started descending and looking for a landing spot.

One thing to note about a hot air balloon is that, the pilot cannot steer it anyway he wants. He can light up the flame to heat the air inside the balloon to take it up and he can let in cold air inside to take the balloon down. That’s all. Wind direction determines where the balloon goes. So, its the pilot’s duty to assess the wind speed, directions and control the altitude accordingly.

Hot air balloons over Kapadokya

On the way down

A road section as seen from the hot air balloon

A road section as seen from the hot air balloon

About to land

About to land

Ziya, our pilot decided on a direction and communicated with the truck driver on ground to head there. The truck driver did some fast and furious style driving to get to our landing spot, while the pilot managed altitude. He skillfully landed the basket on the back of the truck bed and the ground crew strapped the basket on to the truck bed. Once it was done, we got out.

After the ride

Once all of got out, the ground crew and pilot secured the balloon and deflated it.

The balloon being deflated

The balloon being deflated

It was celebration time! The ground crew ‘decorated’ the basket, set up a table with fruits and cake.

Ground crew setting up 'party' scenes

Ground crew setting up ‘party’ scenes

Ground crew setting up 'party' scenes

Ground crew setting up ‘party’ scenes

Ziya, our pilot, finishing his duties on the balloon

Ziya, our pilot, finishing his duties on the balloon

Ziya, our pilot spoke a few words, congratulated all of us on our successful flight and popped open a Champagne bottle.

Ziya, our pilot, popping a Champagne bottle open

Ziya, our pilot, popping a Champagne bottle open

The teetotalers among us got cherry juice. They had asked for the information before hand and preparations were done accordingly.

After the cheers and toasts, we were all given a flight certificate and a medal too!

The flight certificate

The flight certificate

The medal

The medal

We all finished our drinks, some took photos with the pilot while the sun started to shine bright and warm on our faces.

After my hot air balloon ride

After my hot air balloon ride

Once done, all of us got back on the van and were dropped of at our hotels.

What a start to the day it was!

 

I am interested, which company to fly with?

There are many hot air ballooning companies in and around Göreme. All of them have flights at different price points giving you different levels of comfort and duration. You can choose the one that best suites you or your group. A simple google search would give you a whole host of names. Some of the names you would find are Voyager Balloons, Royal Balloons, Kapadokya Balloons and Butterfly Balloons. I flew with Butterfly Balloons and based on my experience, I highly recommend them.

 

How to get to Kapadokya?

Kapadokya is a region, with the town of Göreme being the central location. Nearest airports are Nevsehir (12 kms) and Kayseri (70 kms), with Kayseri being the bigger one. Both airports are connected to the major airports in the country such as Istanbul and Antalya.

Buses are also available from the major spots around the country.

You can get rental cars at airports if you decide to drive yourself. If not, taxis as well as tour operators are available.

All balloons companies operate out of Göreme or Urgup.

 


 

I hope you enjoyed taking this ride through me. Feel free to put down your thoughts as comments. Did I miss something? Put that in comments as well! 🙂

Thanks for reading!