hot air balloons in cappadocia

Cappadocia: Three Day Itinerary

Cappadocia is a region in central Turkey with unique geological structures and lots of history.  There are lots of things to do while visiting the region which includes several small towns such as Ürgüp, Göreme, Uçhisar, and Avanos to name a few.  Hiking, taking a hot air balloon ride, and exploring an underground city are a must while in Cappadocia.

Where to Stay

We stayed three nights in Avanos and the hiker in me didn’t feel like this was long enough.  I could have easily stayed a week.  Our accommodation, called Sofa Hotel in Avanos, was absolutely fabulous.  The hotel, made up of 15 restored cave houses, features individually decorated, charming rooms. 

The genuine atmosphere is complete with modern comforts including internet and central heating.  I could have spent an entire day in my room and hotel courtyards photographing all niches filled with antiques.  Guests may also order dinner from the neighboring restaurant, Bizim Ev, and they will bring the food to your door!

I also loved staying in Avanos.  It was slightly further from some of the main attractions, but still close and far less touristy.  The town sits on the bank of the Kizilirmak River which invites a nice evening stroll.  Quiet in the midst of shoulder season, locals sat in backstreets playing backgammon.

I just really enjoyed this area and all that it had to offer.  Below is a list of things to do in Cappadocia that I loved.

Eat at Fat Boys

I can’t say the name Fat Boys enticed to me to visit this restaurant, but I’m glad I did.  Fat Boys, located in Göreme, serves traditional Turkish meals that are very tasty.  Stop in for lunch after visiting the Göreme Open Air Museum.

mushrooms and cheese at fat boys

Visit the Göreme Open Air Museum

Just a 15- minute walk from the Göreme Village Center is the Göreme Open Air Museum.  At the heart of Cappadocia, this museum is a monastic complex which encompasses twelve rock-cut churches.  The churches are cut into the formations called fairy chimneys.  The fairy chimneys formed from years of erosion after a volcanic eruption 2.6 million years ago.

The top of these hoodoos is hard while below the rock is soft enough for carving.  As a result, many communities of homes and churches dating back to the Roman times were formed.  The churches in the Göreme Open Air Museum belong to a later date of the 10th-12th centuries.

goreme open air museum in cappadocia

The churches feature a variety of frescoes, though in many, the faces of the paintings are vandalized.  Fortunately, the Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is now protected.  A guard sits in each church, ensuring there is no damage and photos are not collected.

The Göreme Open Air Museum is a top attraction in Cappadocia and is 25TL to enter.  While it is very interesting, I like the less traveled places like hiking through the Rose Valley. 

Take a Hike in Red Rose Valley

The are a few trails in Red Rose Valley.  We took an easy one called Meskendir Trail.  There wasn’t much of a sign, so it was nice to have a guide as the trail splits off to a viewpoint and then descends through the rocky formations.

Within 10 minutes of the trailhead, we reached a food stand.  After a short chat with the local, we carried on through tunnels and past cave dwellings.  Walls of windows and pigeon holes pepper the landscape.

pigeon holes and windows on hike in Rose Valley cappadocia

Our guide took us to an old church up in the hills.  What a treat!  We crossed a bridge built over a moat to wander around inside.  It was really cool.  I could spend days hiking through the valley while looking at these old rock-cut structures.

inside a rock cut church in cappadocia

Eventually we backed tracked slightly, before we followed the trail to the end where there was a juice and nut stand.  After a small snack, we strolled into a small town past locals working their field and a cemetery to meet our driver.  I wish we had more time to hike while we were in Cappadocia, but there was much to do during our three days.

Take A Hot Air Balloon Ride

Of course, any visit to Cappadocia requires a hot air balloon ride.  Hundreds lift off before sunrise.  We booked a standard flight with Voyager Balloons.  The company shuttle picked participants up at various hotels before we arrived at their headquarters.  Here, we checked in, were assigned a number for transportation, and given a limited buffet breakfast.

hot air balloon ride in cappadocia

Soon we headed to the launch site where we loaded 20+ people in the giant basket of the hot air balloon.  In the crisp morning air, the operator fired the propane to raise the balloon and steer it across the valleys.  The views were breathtaking, and one moment was slightly exhilarating with another balloon getting quite close to us. 

top of hot air balloon very close to us
very close!

The hour of excitement went by so fast and masked the feeling of our numb fingers and toes until we landed on the other side. Here they served us flavored, non-alcoholic champagne and presented us our flight certificate before driving us back to our respective hotels.

A 12 second video of our flight and close call video.

Enjoy the Views

Along with the views from the sky, be sure to check out the viewpoints all around Cappadocia.  We stopped for photos at Pigeon Valley, Uçhisar Castle Valley, and Love Valley.  Hikes may be taken at these places too, but they were not scheduled in our itinerary.  While exploring the valleys are very cool, so is visiting an underground city.

view of Pigeon Valley
view of Pigeon Valley

Explore an Underground City

There are several underground cities in Cappadocia.  We spent an hour or so at Derinkuyu Underground City.  What a fascinating place!  Derinkuyu is a five-level city which reaches 200 feet deep.  It can hold up to 20,000 people with food storage and livestock.

derinkuyu underground city in cappadocia

The underground complex includes staircases, storage rooms, wine and oil presses, chapels and even graves.  The hallways could be blocked off with big circular, stone plates.  The only way to remove them was to break them!  Derinkuyu was built in the Byzantine era from 780-1180, and the city has been used for protection through several time periods, even as late as the 20th century!

Walking to the grave video

First, the Eastern Roman Empire took refuge from the Muslim-Arabs during the Arab-Byzantine War.  In the 14th century Christian natives seeked protection from the Mongolians.  Later, Turkish Muslim Leaders hid from the Ottoman Empire.  And the Cappadocian Greeks took refuge in 1909 during the massacres at Adana.

The underground cities, which were connected by tunnels, were abandoned in the 1920s, only to be rediscovered when a resident found a room behind a wall in his house in 1963.

Derinkuyu has been open to the public since 1969, and the ticket is well worth the price of admission.  We arrived early to avoid crowds, and shoulder season along with the beginning of COVID19 allowed us to have the city to ourselves.

Relax at a Turkish Bath

For those who don’t like hiking and caves, don’t worry there are other things to do in town like relax at a Turkish Bath.  I was a bit leery about the bath portion, but the whole process was great!  We started with a face mask, then sat in a sauna and steam room before getting a soap massage.

We laid on the marble center piece while ladies sponged soapy water over us and gave us a brief massage.  After this, we showered and cooled off in a small pool before getting a deep tissue massage for an extra fee.  It was so great! 

the spa in cappadocia

While there are many Turkish Baths in Istanbul, it is cheaper in Cappadocia and very nice.  Little did I know how much I’d need to cherish it since I can’t get my weekly massage now that I’m home due to COVID19!

Watch a Whirling Dervish Ceremony

Another nice cultural experience in Cappadocia is the Whirling Dervish ceremony. The beliefs of the Mevlevi Order were inspired by Mevlana Calaleddini Rumi in the 1200 and the whirling dervish ceremony, also known as a sema ritual is a journey to perfection called ascension.

It is believed that revolutions are a natural part of the body, such electrons and protons revolve in atoms and the blood circulates through the body. While man experiences these natural, unconscious revolutions, he has the mind and intelligence superior to others to revolve the entire body.

As a result, the in Sema ceremony, whirling dervishes spins towards truth, love and perfection. The ceremony lasts about one hour and features seven specific parts, chants, instrumental music, but mostly whirling from right to left around the heart.

beginning of whirling dervish ceremony

The ceremony now is simply touristic, as Sufi Islam was banned in Turkey in 1925’s when Atatürk became the first president. Though done for tourists, there is no applause for the religious ceremony, so it didn’t feel touristy. Instead the sema was very interesting cultural experience. Check out this 30 second video.

whirling dervishes in cappadocia

Overall, there are many things to do in Capadoccia, and the area is wonderful.  I highly recommend visiting and hikers should add extra time!  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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