Once on a cross-country flight, my aunt was sitting next to a man who had toured more than 100 countries. When she asked his most favorite, he thought for a brief moment and replied, “Turkey.” After living in Turkey for the past four years, I heartily agree. While Istanbul is my favorite city, my favorite part of the country to visit is Cappadocia, a beautiful and historic region in central Anatolia. The area teems with colorful scenery, hospitable people and unique boutique cave hotels. When planning a visit to Turkey, I highly recommend at least a three-day visit to this amazing place. While there are numerous lovely towns around the region, I suggest staying in Göreme, a surreal village centered amidst the many beautiful canyons and boasts a wide range of accommodations. More upscale boutique hotels can be found in nearby Ürgüp.
- Awaking early to watch the colorful hot air balloons take flight
- Exploring an underground city and hiking the Ihlara Valley on the Green Tour
- Discovering a forgotten cave church while walking in the canyons around Göreme
- Tasting the tasty testi kebap while relaxing at dinner
- Gazing at the ever-changing colors of the fairy chimneys at sunset
Day 1: Ballooning and Göreme Open Air Museum
- If you have never taken a hot air balloon ride, this is the time and place to do it. While very expensive (150-200 euros), it really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If your budget does not permit a flight, I suggest waking up before sunrise and walking to a high point to photograph the balloons in flight. Those just arriving on an overnight bus will get a chance to view the balloons before checking into your hotel.
- After breakfast, take a walk or taxi to the Göreme Open Air Museum (Açık Hava Muzesi) to explore the ancient artwork among these unique cave churches.
- Return to your hotel for a nap or swim and a lazy afternoon (you deserve it after being up so early this morning!)
- Enjoy gözleme (stuffed pancakes) or pizza-like Turkish pide for dinner
Day 2: Explore the region’s vast diversity, including an underground city and the oasis-like Ihlara Valley, on the “Green Tour”
- I have taken this tour twice and highly recommend it – you will see areas farther away and not accessible by public transport at an incredibly reasonable price. Your hotel can easily book the tour for you at no extra cost.
- One highlight is visiting an underground city – these ancient multi-level labyrinths, which hid Byzantine-era inhabitants from invaders, are still being discovered around the region.
- Another highlight is a short hike through the Ihlara Valley, which typically includes a relaxing riverside lunch.
- Another delightful stop is an ancient rock-cut monastery that looks like something from a Star Wars movie!
- After a long day of touring, return to your Göreme cave hotel and relax.
- Enjoy a testi kebap for dinner, a regional specialty baked in a clay pot and then broken open at your table.
Day 3: Explore the neighboring valleys on foot, on horseback or by ATV
- The main reason I suggest staying in Göreme is the walkable proximity to the beautiful valleys. There are several routes to choose from, depending on your time and fitness level. Your hotel should have a simple map of the surrounding area.
- If you like hiking, one option is to walk through the rose and red canyons toward Çavuşın. You can catch a ride back up the hill to Göreme town.
- Another nice hike is through the Love Valley. I did this route in a counter-clockwise direction from Göreme through the valley, ending near Uçhisar in the late afternoon. A relatively short downhill stroll through the Pigeon Valley back to Göreme completes the walk. None of the walks are overly strenuous, though it can get quite hot in summer.
- If you would rather ride a horse or ATV through the canyons, these are available as well. We enjoyed a late afternoon ATV tour through the rose/red canyons.
- You could also opt to celebrate your time in Cappadocia with a Turkish night, a dinner show featuring local food, music and dancing.
Another possibility is to take the Green Tour on your first day, which provides a good overview of the region. In reality, you could do the suggested daily activities in any order. Whatever options you choose, I believe the hospitality, memories and tastes of this incredibly unique region will linger long after your visit.