Turkey is one of those amazing countries where tourism runs the show (and the economy) by and large. While it is fair to say, that the more you see this culturally and historically rich country, the more you’ll want to explore it deeper.
Today, I will talk about Cappadocia – a natural wonder in the Central Anatolian region of Turkey covering the provinces of Aksaray, Nevsehir, Nigde, Kayseri and Kirsehir. Cappadocia means the ‘Land of Horses’ and the region is best known for its quiet, serene and soothing aura. You can call it either Cappadocia (cap-a-doshia) or Kapadokya, both are correct.
After a lot of thinking, I decided that the best way to share my experience would be to put down a bucket list for Cappadocia for all travel buddies, highlighting what all can you expect from this unique region of underground cities, cave churches, cave houses and natural rock formations. So here goes:
1. Take a Balloon Flight
You can’t be in Cappadocia and miss taking a balloon flight. Cappadocia is one of the very few tourist spots in the world where balloon flights are carried out. Being a rare adventure, it is a bit pricey, but it’s absolutely worth the once in a life time experience. Basically, each balloon is divided into four compartments and can carry about 5-6 (adult) passengers. The fun is in the view seriously; fly amidst the clouds with so many colorful balloons in the air and look at the beautiful valleys on the ground.
The balloon goes really high in the air…I mean seriously high (anywhere between 500 to 1,000 metres, depending on how windy a day is), so if you are afraid of heights, you’ll have to scrap this adventure, sadly. It is a 45 min to 1 hour ride and a photographer’s dream come true kind of activity. It might get a bit boring though for some, after the initial 20 minutes. Once you get back on the ground, which is quite fun by the way too, the pilot and passengers celebrate and all passengers receive their flight certificates.
* Ticket per person: $105
* Universal Flight Company is 100% secured with certified pilots
2. A visit to Kaymakli Underground Cave City
This cave city was built in 8th or 7th century BC. History tells that the inhabitants, mostly Christians used the caves to protect themselves from their enemies to avoid persecution. The city is planned over nine floors, of which only four are open to tourists. It is best to take a guide, who can give you a detailed tour of the cave city and the way people lived in there. It is interesting to note how intelligent the people in those times must have been looking at the construction of tunnels, the ventilation and climate control put in place, their tools and equipment, considering it was all done over a thousand years ago.
* Tall people will find it difficult to walk through the narrow tunnels.
* Not recommended for those who suffer from claustrophobia or arthritis.
* Not suitable for senior lot or people with special needs.
*Don’t forget to take a look at the shops outside the cave city to buy some memorable souvenirs. Oh and you must learn to bargain like crazy.
3. Goreme Open Air Museum
The museum exhibits a number of cave churches from the 10th and 11th centuries. Some of the churches still have their original frescos well preserved. You will come across a few cemeteries in some rooms with real skeletons of the inhabitants. Photography is not allowed inside the caves to avoid flash light that harms the original structure. For the same reason, guides are also not allowed to go in any of the churches and rooms to avoid noise pollution.There is a Dark Church, which has an additional entry ticket, and it is in a far better condition compared to all the other churches. If you’re interested in history, do visit this museum along with the gift shops.
*If you don’t have a guide, get an audio guide to help you through the tour of the museum.
*Not suitable for senior lot or people with special needs as the tour requires plenty of walking and climbing up and down the stairs.
4. Admire the Fairy Chimneys
Drop by at Pasabag to take a closer look at the fairy chimneys, which are naturally stunning rock formations shaped over a 1000 years. They are known as mushroom rocks too and the story goes on to say that the rocks on top of the natural chimneys were placed by a fairy, from where the name ‘fairy chimneys’ originates. When we went, it was too cold along with the unexpected rains that didn’t allow us to fully enjoy or climb the chimneys. So hope to visit Pasabag on a sunny day to make the most of your visit.
5. Use your Imagination
While exploring Cappadocia, do take a 15 minute stopover at Devrent Valley, also known as the ‘Imagination Valley’ to spot rocks with a range of shapes (again formed solely by nature). You will see rocks that resemble the swirling dervish, a huge camel or dinosaur, bird, rabbit, frog, dolphin, ducks and much more. No matter what your guide tells you, the game is to use your own imagination here. Don’t forget to take pictures.
* Keep a close eye on the kids here as these are, at the end of the day simply rocks and you don’t want any unforeseen accidents due to carelessness.
6. Walk with the Pigeons
Do take a walk in the beautiful Pigeon Valley, with pigeon roosts built in the rock formations and a zillion pigeons flying here and there. It is quite a sight really. Look for the tiny holes where the pigeons have built their homes. You will also come across the Evil Eye Tree here, another specialty of this amazing place. This is also a 15-30 minute stop over max.
7. Meet the original Pottery Makers
Cappadocia is the place where pottery making has been a flourishing industry. It is an intricate work of art from handcrafting to designing each piece. We visited Sultan Ceramics, which is owned by a family of pottery craftsmen. They have been in this business for over 250 years now. Yes, there are me too, cheaper versions of pottery too readily available, but the high quality of pottery exhibited by the experts here is fantastic and unique, to say the least. You will get so confused what to buy and why not, the endless variety of items will kill you.
8. And the Carpet Makers
Cappadocia is home to the carpet making business. We visited a carpet factory where we learnt how significant this craft was since the good old days. It is said that a long time ago, it was especially important for girls to make carpets, so much so, that only if a girl could handcraft a particular type of carpet on her own, she was eligible for marriage. Of course, with time the craft is only done by a limited number of women. However, the state is preserving the craft and the tradition by funding the industry and ensuring that young women get trained in this craft. We witnessed how intricate and interesting carpet making is. You will get amazed to see how much effort goes into making a single carpet. In two words, it’s all about getting the ‘knots right’. A cursory look at the carpets exhibited was simply breath taking. These carpets are quite expensive by the way, but those who understand and appreciate the craft, pay any price to purchase them.
8. Try the Turkish Food and Tea
This is of course a given; you can’t possibly not dig into some Turkish food. Although, I am quite bipolar when it comes to food, but surprisingly I enjoyed the Turkish food (well, mostly chicken, cheese, pasta and bread). It is not spicy at all (and that is a bit challenging for Pakistanis and Indians), but I loved the way they served their salads and meals followed by bakhlavas or fruits. Turkish tea is a vital part of their cuisine and while the original Turkish tea is great, do give a shot at the flavored tea as well…the apple tea in Cappadocia was particularly mind blowing.
9. Hog onto some Turkish Delight
If you miss out on having the Turkish Delight (with endless variety) and the other desserts, that would be a cardinal sin. So DON’T! Also, you will find some of the most finest quality of nuts, peanuts, cashews etc. here. Try these out. They are so good!
10 Say ‘Hello’ to the strays
Exploring Cappadocia on your own is necessary. Do step out and take a walking tour on your own. Watch the scenery, the rocks, the simple life of the locals, the barber shops, the tea shops, terrace restaurants and most importantly, say hello to all the stray dogs and cats that cross your path. Be prepared to meet a LOT of furkids. They are harmless, mostly neutered and busy taking naps. But they are huge and can scare those who are not animal lovers. I loved watching them, never disturbed them and just took a few clicks from a distance.
So basically, I had a great time here and loved the simplicity of life displayed in this wonderful part of Turkey with such hospitable and sweet people. Well, here was my recommended ‘Bucket List’ for Cappadocia and I hope you’ll find it useful. Don’t forget to share your experiences too!