Floating over Cappadocia in a Hot Air Balloon
The balloon basket gently lifts off the ground, its passengers clutching to anything within reach for balance. Our confident captain presses hard on the lever, releasing more flames and heat into the balloon. Up we go!
I don’t enjoy heights. I never have. I often feel nauseous when I’m too high off the ground (bungy jumping and skydiving won’t be making an appearance on my bucket list any time soon).
This was my first time in a hot air balloon, so you can imagine the thoughts that were running through my head as the balloon continued to rise. Excitement competes with nervousness and anticipation. Why am I doing this again?
Ah, yes. To witness the peculiar fairy chimneys and infamous “Love Valley” from high above the clouds. I’m told by many that Cappadocia is one of the most spectacular environments to take a hot air balloon tour, competing with the likes of the Serengeti National Park in East Africa.
For those that are unfamiliar with Cappadocia, it’s a historical region in central Turkey that’s famous for its eerie rock formations, colourful canyons, bizarre looking fairy chimneys and ancient cave cities.
Sunrise over Cappadocia, volcano in the distance
The journey begins at the awful hour of 5:00AM. Whenever I find myself rising before the sun I know it’s going to be a special day.
I exit my moist cave hotel room and make my way across the street to the office of Kapadokya Balloons. I join about 20 other sleepy guests as we are guided towards white tourist vans. We pile into the vans and arrive at the grassy departure zone about 20 minutes later.
The Kapadokya Balloons team quickly jumps into action. Giant fans blow the hungry flames towards the balloon, filling it with hot air. Gradually the colourful balloon takes shape and starts to rise. It’s a safe mode of transportation, but my nervousness intensifies. This parachute of hot air will soon be carrying me and 15 other passengers hundreds of feet above the ground.
It doesn’t take long to fill the sturdy basket with eager passengers. The sun is starting to rise, so our pilot quickly gets our group off the ground. The time has come to witness Cappadocia’s magic.
Unlike a plane at take off, this balloon departure is quite smooth and quiet. If I wasn’t paying attention I probably would have missed it.
…and we’re off!
The balloon passes through otherworldly rock formations as the sun rises in the distance. The air is cool and fresh. It’s quiet and peaceful at this hour, but the energy in our basket is at an all time high.
Our pilot guides the balloon within mere feet of the pointy rocky cones, slowly rising and dropping to expose new view points. It seems unnecessary to get so close to the rocks, but it does provide another layer of entertainment.
Evidence of ancient civilizations is visible everywhere, with thousands of caves carved directly into the side of steep canyons. The caved cities are unimaginable. How did they do it?
I’m amazed at how smooth the hot air balloon ride is; I expected to feel turbulence or periodical drops. I don’t like the feeling of falling you get when on a roller coaster, so I am pleasantly surprised at how calm and peaceful everything is – I actually begin to enjoy floating like a bird.
We continue to pass through colourful canyons until we are joined by another 25 hot air balloons. I’ve never seen so many hot air balloons in one place before – it’s quite the show.
The soothing “Call to Prayer” echoes from the nearby city of Goreme, vibrating off the rocky canyons. The city is miles away, yet it feels like we are within meters of the minarets.
Our pilot’s name is Graham, a native of England that has been living in Colorado in the off season. With 25 years experience piloting balloons, he’s seen a lot of magical landscapes in his day, including the deserts of Egypt and wild plains of Kenya.
Graham points to landmarks and gives the group a brief explanation. I know I should be listening but I’m occupied. My trigger finger is out of control, snapping photos every few seconds.
I’m conflicted. I want to put the camera down and soak up every minute of the experience, but there are so many incredible photo opportunities. I do my best to find balance, but it’s a struggle. The camera is winning the battle.
As the sun rises, the rocks and canyons turn to a fiery orange colour
Our balloon floats high about “Love Valley”.
I’ll let you use your imagination…
Inside the colourful balloon.
Pilots take their turn descending into Love Valley, getting up close with the strange rock formations.
The city of Goreme is surrounded by eroded canyons and fairy chimneys.
Colourful balloons and clear blue skies.
The vistas are truly one of a kind.
It’s impressive to watch the pilots guide the balloons through the canyons.
As this photo illustrates, the giant balloons dip deep into the canyons for a closer look.
This is one of my favourite photos from the tour.
The small vans and people add a sense of scale.
Notice the years of erosion in the canyons, creating lines and different colours
Traffic jam over Love Valley
Floating high above the other balloons.
A sea of balloons preparing to land as the morning sun rises.
This pilot actually landed his balloon on the back of the jeep trailer!
The hot air balloon deflates as passengers prepare to unload.
Our group celebrates the wonderful experience with some breakfast bubbly.
A nice finish to the tour!
And that’s a wrap!
Read more from our travels to Cappadocia:
- Photo Essay: The Magical Landscapes of Cappadocia, Turkey
- Video: Hiking the Goreme Valley in Cappadocia
- Video: Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Tour in Cappadocia, Turkey
- The Cave Churches of Göreme in Cappadocia, Turkey
Have you taken a hot air balloon tour before? If so, where was it and what did you think?
Share your experience in the comments section below, we’d love to read about it!