Cappadocia, located in the Anatolia region of Turkey in Asia Minor, is one of the most unique and mysterious regions in the world.
Meaning 'the land of beautiful horses' in Old Persian, it attracts thousands of visitors every year due to its unique scenery, diverse culture and endless option for the most adventurous travellers. Here are some of the multiple activities and day trips that you can enjoy in this incredible region.
Where to stay
We selected Göreme as our base-camp. The main reason was its perfect location right in the middle of Cappadocia, with easy access to all other surrounding villages. Also, most buses arriving in Cappadocia will stop in Göreme. As we were travelling overnight from Pamukkale, this was the best option to avoid any further travel after a 10h bus ride. Göreme is also one of the liveliest villages in Cappadocia, with multiple options for restaurants and a great nightlife.
In Cappadocia’s magical landscape of fairy chimneys, every visitor has to try the experience of sleeping in a cave hotel. This region is famous for its rock-cut houses, many of which have been converted into beautiful hotels to accommodate visitors from all corners of the world.
For our 3 night stay, we chose Falcon Cave Suites. Located right in the heart of Göreme, it offers cave suit rooms with a private spa bathroom, a quiet terrace with beautiful views to the fairy chimneys, as well as a restaurant with delicious homemade food.
The hotel has 5 different suites that can accommodate from 2 people to up to a family of 5. Rooms are very spacious and well looked after, just like the rest of the facilities.
A Turkish or continental breakfast is included every morning, offering a great selection of Turkish products. Staff at the hotel are incredibly welcoming and friendly, and they will be happy to help you booking any activities you might want to do during your stay in Cappadocia.
Sleeping in a cave hotel is a unique experience that everybody should try at least once in their lifetime, and there's no better place to do this than in Cappadocia. We absolutely loved our stay in Falcon Cave Suites, and I'd be happy to recommend this hotel to anyone.
Things to do in Cappadocia
When visiting Cappadocia, many visitors might not be aware that this is quite a large region covering 400km east to west, and 250 km north to south. Some attractions are quite dispersed, so the best option to explore the wonderful heritage that Cappadocia has to offer is taking a professional guided tour.
We decided to book all our day trips and activities with Reliable Travel, a local Turkish tour operator that caters small groups and private visits. Even though they offer visits all over Turkey, they are based and specialised in the Cappadocia region. They are a member of the foundation of Turkish Tour Operators, and have Certificate of Excellence on TripAdvisor thanks to their wonderful reviews.
Magical Cappadocia Tour
We decided to start our first day exploring Cappadocia with the Magical Cappadocia Tour, which offers a great overview of the main highlights of the region.
We were picked up at our hotel in Göreme at 9:30AM, and were brought directly to Uçhisar Castle, the highest point in Cappadocia. Carved in a volcanic rock, it used to be a stronghold used by the population as a refuge when the enemies attacked the surrounding villages.
The inside of the castle is connected with multiple stairs and passages that are still accessible today. Apparently, the top offers incredible views of the surrounding area. Unfortunately, we were unable to enter during our visit, but still, the view from the distance with the fairy chimneys at the base are breathtaking.
Our second stop was the Göreme Open Air Museum, a Unesco World Heritage Site and for many the highlight of Cappadocia. This Byzantine monastic settlement is an incredible place, containing multiple churches, chapels and monasteries cut in the rock and beautifully decorated with Byzantine paintings, most of them dating back to the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries.
When the Cappadocian Greeks were expelled from Turkey in the 1920s, these churches were abandoned, which kept them hidden for years until they became one of the most popular attractions in Turkey. The interior of the churches is very well preserved and offer a great representation of Byzantine art and the Eastern Christianity.
We continued our day trip visiting Avanos, famous for its pottery. Here we got to see a live demonstration of pottery making. Pieces are usually painted in turquoise, always thrown by men and beautifully decorated by women. In Avanos, you also can't miss the suspended bridge in the city centre, offering a very nice view of this small town.
Our next stop was Mustafapaşa, a village home to typical Greek mansions carved in the stone. Mustafapasa, known in Greek as Sinasos, was once one of the most important centres of Greek Cappadocia. The Greek population has decreased considerably since the II World War and today it has disappeared.
But my favourite visit during our first day in Cappadocia was the Love Valley. This valley is home to volcanic rock structures that have been eroded by the wind giving them a phallic shape, which is why the surrounding valley has this peculiar name.
The views of the valley are just spectacular, it's hard to believe that the wind was able to transform these rocks to give them this shape that usually can't be found in nature. We were given quite a bit of time to walk through the pillars and hike up to the top of the hill. This was one of the most unique views that I've ever had and a place that everyone should visit during their trip to Cappadocia.
Our final stop was the Devrent or Imagination Valley, also famous for its spectacular lunar landscape.
Here, the stones have very peculiar shapes. With a bit of imagination, you'll be able to see animal shapes such as camels, snakes or dolphins, as well as human hands and even a pillar that looks like Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus.
Ihlara Valley Tour
During our second day in Cappadocia, we explored a very different part of the region: the famous underground cities, the beautiful Selime Monastery, and a hike in Ihlara Valley.
Our first stop was Göreme Panorama, a mountain that offers a complete view of Göreme village and its valley, with its beautiful fairy chimneys and cave houses. The views from the top are spectacular, and one of the best stops to enjoy the balloons flying over Cappadocia if you're brave enough to get there before the sun rises.
After enjoying the views for a few minutes, we drove for almost an hour until we reached Derinkuyu Underground City, while our knowledgeable guide gave us some great information about Cappadocia and its history.
Derinkuyu Underground City is one of the deepest in Cappadocia, hidden more than 55 meters underground and with 8 different levels open to visitors. These troglodyte caves started to get excavated in 800 B.C.E., serving as a refuge for the inhabitants of Derinkuyu while the enemies traversed Central Anatolia. These underground cities weren't built to be occupied permanently; however, they had anything you may need: stables, cellars, family rooms and even a church.
It's truly amazing to think how this underground city was excavated and enlarged during the centuries and that hundreds of people could live there for weeks until it was safe to go back to their normal lives.
We then arrived at Selime Monastery, the biggest religious building in Cappadocia dated to the 8th and 9th centuries. This monastery, also carved in the rock, as most of the constructions in this region, served as an education centre for clergymen, as well as the military headquarters of the city.
The main highlight in Selime Monastery is the cathedral sized church carved on the rock. It's hard to believe that something like this could be constructed just by carving the tuff.
Inside the monastery, it's still possible to visit the monks quarters, connected through tunnels and corridors. The highest area of the monastery used to work as a fortress. You can get great views of the monastery from the top, but you will need to go through secret passageways and steep stairs carved on the rock to get there. Getting back down was a bit of a challenge, but the views were worth the effort. The surrounding area is so unique, that it was used for some scenes in the original Star Wars movie.
Our next stop was Ihlara Valley, a 16 km long, 100m deep canyon famous for its cave churches decorated with beautiful frescoes. We had a 3 km hike along the canyon, visiting some of the most remarkable churches on the way.
My favourite church was Agacalti Kilise, or the Church under the Tree. This Byzantine church, with a very different style from all other churches in the Ihlara Valley, was carved between the 10th and 11th century. The dome is beautifully decorated with a contrast of colours and a fresco representing Christ being carried up to heaven by angels, surrounded by symbols of Eastern influences. This is one of the best preserved cave churches that you can find in Cappadocia and well worth a visit.
In addition to the churches, the views from the floor of the valley were breathtaking. I really enjoyed the hike, and even though we only followed the short stretch, which took approximately one hour, the hike was quite intense at some points. In any case, I loved the serenity of the place, where all you could hear was the stream of the river and the local people in their everyday life.
The last stop of the day was the Pigeon Valley. This area receives its name from the birdhouses carved on the cliffs, still home to numerous pigeons whose droppings were used by farmers up until recently as fertilisers for their harvest. The area also offers beautiful views of Uçhisar Castle and village at the background.
Turkish Folk Night
One of the best ways to discover a different culture is through its music and culinary. That's why we decided to book a Turkish Folk Night, which took place in a cave restaurant in the village of Avanos.
The show was a great experience to learn more about Turkey's culture and traditions, and the food was just delicious. The meal included traditional Turkish appetisers, and a main course of lamb and rice, the traditional wedding meal in Turkey. It also included unlimited soft and alcoholic drinks, which will guarantee a lively night.
After everyone had been accommodated and dinner was served, the show started with a 10 minute demonstration of the Whirling Dervishes Ceremony. Although this is only a demonstration for tourists, not the real religious ceremony, the folk performers were great and helped us get an idea of this ancestral ritual.
The dervishes are monks who follow a Muslim path known for its extreme poverty and austerity. They reach religious ecstasy through dance, running in circles wearing their traditional clothes. Although a religious ceremony, it has become one of Turkey's biggest tourist attractions.
The rest of the night was accompanied by live music and dancers wearing traditional outfits, showing different folk dances from all over Turkey. They included the bride and groom dance, fire dancing, the Caucasian dance with knives and, of course, a belly dancer, probably the highlight of the night.
The Turkish Folk Show was a great surprise during our trip, and a perfect way to end your busy day exploring the gems of Cappadocia.
The hamam, also known as Turkish Bath, is one of the most important traditions not only in Turkey but all the Muslim world. Back in the times when the Turks arrived in Anatolia, they brought with them this tradition that was already present in the Roman empire. The Turkish bath was seen as a form of cleanliness, but also an excuse to socialise that has been preserved up until the modern times.
At first, I was a bit reticent as I didn't really know what to expect, but I couldn't be happier that I gave this a try. The hamam we went to was Elis Kapadokya Hamami, located in the centre of Göreme. It seems to cater mainly for tourists, which is reflected in the great installations they offered compared to other cheaper hamams used mainly by locals.
After getting changed (note that wearing swimming clothes is perfectly fine, but you will also be provided with a towel to cover yourself), we were brought to the camekan, an area of relaxation with refreshments. From there, we spent approximately 15 minutes in a hot steam sauna, followed by some time at the sogukluk, or cold room, where we took a cold shower.
Next was the araret, or the hot room. In the middle of the room is the göbektasi, a marble platform where we would have our traditional Turkish massage, which definitely was the most intense massage I've ever had.
First, we were scrubbed and exfoliated with a rough glove known as kese. We were then covered with foam and the actual massage started. Although it was more intense that what I'm used to, I could handle it all right and I felt like a totally new person after it. It really helps after an intense day of hiking in Cappadocia.
At the end of the Turkish Bath, we spent a few minutes relaxing in a pool similar to a jacuzzi before going back to the cold room for some rest and a Turkish tea.
Overall, the Turkish bath was a great experience and something I would love to try again if I'm ever back in Turkey. Don't be dubious like I was as there's nothing to be afraid of and you will definitely have a great experience.
Hot Air Balloon
Of course, no visit to Cappadocia would be complete without a Hot Air Balloon flight. There's no better way to enjoy Cappadocia's fairy chimney and lunar landscape than from the skies, which will give you a view that you will never forget.
Let's admit it, the flight is considerably pricey, but that will be the last thing you'll remember after this one in a lifetime experience. The flight starts very early in the morning, usually before the sunrise. This is the moment of the day with the best flying conditions, mainly because there is no wind. This will also allow you to enjoy the beautiful sunrise over Cappadocia's rugged landscape.
The flight will depend on the weather conditions, so as a piece of advice, always book your flight for the very first day you spend in Cappadocia. Unfortunately, flights get cancelled quite often due to the wind, so booking it early during your trip will give you more flexibility to reschedule it if necessary.
All opinions are my own.
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