Cappadocia! A land straight out of a surreal fairytale – with incredible natural rock formations, underground cities, and balloons filled skies – it’s a place with an irresistible charm. Hot air balloons with their smooth gliding are perhaps the most tranquil and peaceful way to fly, giving an incredible bird’s eye view of everything around. And with the stunning natural architecture of Cappadocia, this is one of the best and most popular ways to explore the region. True to that, with hundreds of balloons soaring at the break of dawn nearly every single day, tourism in Cappadocia has soared to great heights in recent years. Read on to find out more about experiencing a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia.
How it started.
The unique landscape and it’s popularity as a travel destination recognized towards the end of the last century, hot air ballooning seemed to a great idea and since the early 2000s the investments in this area really took off. In the last decade, flight schools and pilot training programs were initiated. The Cappadocia balloon commission and recently a business agency was established, bringing together all the companies to develop the market, monitor the services and manage the everyday balloon festival that happens in this region.
With this great surge in tourism has come concern for the sustainability aspects. A few locals we met have lamented on the deforestation that has been carried out by the balloon companies in recent years. We hope that more sustainable solutions are soon applied as this stunning place deserves to be preserved.
What to Expect?
HIgh prices, lots of tourists, changes in schedules and sometimes, nothing at all.
Although ballooning is a year-round activity in Cappadocia unlike the other regions, the schedules are entirely at the mercy of wind speeds and weather forecast. The balloon companies have to always secure a clearance from the Civil Aviation authority of the region for the flights. Hence last minute cancellations are quite common. That means two things for you. Firstly, make sure they have a refund policy (most likely they will and they should) Secondly, it is advisable to stay in this region for at least 2-3 days to increase your chances.
With its unique beauty, Cappadocia gets the attention that it deserves. The only locals you are likely to encounter is either your hotel staff or a tour guide associated in some way with your itinerary. A well-loved travel destination, it welcomes millions of tourists from all over the world every day, some solely coming for the hot air ballooning activity. High demand means high prices. So be prepared to shell out a bit for this unique experience.
Exceptional views, great service, and truly memorable experience.
It’s not every day that you are gliding in a wicker basket over what looks like the topology of the moon. Be it in the summer or the snowing winters, Cappadocia is a marvel set in stone. And when you are flying with at least a 100 other balloons at the same time, it only gets better. Being the most popular hot air ballooning site in the world has led to competitive service, stringent regulations, highly experienced crew, a good safety record and hundreds of happy customers every day. Worth every penny you spend.
How to book?
There are more than a score of balloon companies and hundreds of balloons in Cappadocia. So you have the option of online booking, booking through your hotel owner or booking directly at the company office. The choice depends on too many factors to pinpoint one particular direction to go. Do your research and choose the best you can.
During my research, I came across the suggestion to book through our hotel owner as they have partnerships with companies and can help you get a great deal. I decided to go with it and relied on our hotel owner. However, had I gone with this choice – which was presented with a pressing need to confirm within a few minutes as there were limited spaces – we would have paid almost 50 euros extra.
We decided to call up a few balloon company offices and get their quotations. Soon enough we realized that there seemed to be enough availability and we chose a little easier with our pockets.
Hence our top tip would be that if you are spending a few days here, do not book online. Once there you can talk to your hotel owner, the travel agents in the umpteen travel agencies located in Goreme (which anyways contains a little more than hotels, restaurants and travel agencies), compare prices and services, check their reviews and make your choice.
Average Price: 160 Euros or 215 USD per person for a large basket, standard 1-hour flight.
What to look out for when booking?
- The size of the basket and the number of people.
- The time of flight.
- The training and experience of pilots, general safety guidelines and about their equipment.
- The linguistic ability of your pilot. A good commentary on the region you are flying is a must for a truly memorable experience.
- whether or not they provide you with breakfast/tea before the flight.
On a cold December morning, probably the coldest temperature I have ever witnessed outdoors in my life (bearing in mind that experiencing a snowfall is still the topmost item in my bucket list) we had the luck of securing our flight on our second day in Cappadocia, when the balloons took to the sky after 6 straight days of cancellations. Many of the tourists had even extended their stay. But even at the flight site we were met with uncertainty. After witnessing the blowing of balloons for a few chilly minutes, suddenly the fans stopped as a heavy mist descended from nowhere and enveloped everything around. We were to wait, we were told.
When booking the person had informed us that they will not be serving breakfast but only a few bites (and tea we presumed). However, we were disappointed when this did not happen. Too numb with cold to argue with the representative (who hardly spoke any English anyway), we let it go and there wasn’t a restaurant in sight. Only more people and more huge half filled and now slowly deflating balloons around, we went back to the slightly warmer interior of our minibus and waited.
After one more hour of freezing toes, witnessing a misty sunrise and praying for a clearance to fly, finally, everyone rejoiced as the air machine began their loud hum again and the whole area was a flurry of activity.
Within minutes the humungous balloons had burgeoned to their max size lifting upright the wicker baskets that would now be our only barrier between the hot air above and rocky precipices below. One by one, we climbed and stepped into the basket, which had four sections and one for the pilot in the middle. We squeezed in with 4-5 other people in our section and took our places near the edge. The gas burner above was methodically ignited, ropes were manipulated and before we even realized we were off the ground in slow ascent. A little later as we emerged outside of our takeoff valley, what came into view were hundreds of other balloons rising over the misty moonscape of Cappadocia.
What followed was 50 memorable minutes of admiring the creation of Almighty in the wonder that was below us and the intellect of man for coming up with ingenious ways to touch the skies. Gently adrift, our pilot chose to fly us over the pigeon valley, taking full advantage of the only control he had, vertical, descending in and rising out of the valley while the wind guided our path.
Soon enough, rather too soon, the ground crew came into view, the 2-way radio communication between them and the pilot got more intense and we were on our way down, ready to land on the grasslands at top of another cliff. In what seemed to be a dramatic fashion, a lot of hollering and pulling and manoeuvring of ropes, we finally touched the ground frighteningly close to the edge of the cliff.
We tumbled out of the basket happily, stretched a bit and assembled again for a little post-flight show. With a glass of cherry juice to warm up, we enjoyed the warmth that the sun brought while the balloon company tried to get more money out of our pockets for photographs and a usb with the entire flight footage. I wasn’t having any of it.
We collected our certificates and piled back into the minibus that dropped us back to our respective hotels for a much-needed breakfast.