Sometimes it’s daunting going to that bucket list destination you’ve always dreamed of! Where should you go, what should you do, or what should you not do!? Well, consider this your ultimate list of do’s and don’ts for Cappadocia, Turkey.
Do forego the fancy ‘cave hotel’ and opt for prime location in a real cave house.
The reason we love Cappadocia has a lot to do with with where we stayed. Sure, the incredible scenery, delectable Turkish food, and those hot air balloon rides all help, but staying out of town in this dirt cheap Airbnb really contextualised our experience as calming, unforgettable, unique, relaxing.
The first time we visited was in winter, and we were the only guests. The owner of the property waited up for us until 1am when we checked in, he roasted us chestnuts, he serenaded us on the sitar, we talked about and listened to music on Turkey’s independent radio station. We felt like we were visiting an old friend rather than being hosted by an airbnb stranger.
The next time we stayed was in summer, and the mood was different. All the rooms (3 or 4) were booked out and there was staff to help run the place. And even though the old man, sadly, didn’t recognise us (I don’t know why we expected to be welcomed like lost children 3 years later..that’s on us), we still felt like we were returning somewhere warm and familiar.
Here’s why you should stay at Natureland Cave Hotel:
- You’ll be sleeping in the rooms of a 6th-century wine cellar. So that’s a casual THOUSANDS OF YEARS OLD.
- It’s a real cave. A lot of the fancy cave hotels in Göreme have rooms built out of the rock formations, i.e. the room is not necessarily a cave. Plus, Cappadocia was only declared a world heritage site in the 1980s, so people having been carving out homes up until then. Most of those hotels are modern carvings and adaptations of cave dwellings.
- It’s out of town. So you feel like you’re alone in the Cappadocian landscape, whilst being only a 15-minute walk from the town and a 5-minute walk from the Open Air Museum. Win-win!
- THIS IS THE VIEW (scroll down) when you step out of your door. See that open space? That’s where the balloons take off every morning.
We’ve stayed at one of the nicer hotels in town once, and…it was nice. But there is no amount of amenities, or comfort, or breakfast spreads that will ever make up for the authenticity of the experience at Natureland, the quiet calm of the location, of waking up and hearing the horses run to the ranch below you, or having the hot air balloons take flight from what is basically your backyard.
DON’T SLEEP IN!
This is probably the most important and well-known rule when it comes to getting the most out of Cappadocia. No matter where you’re staying or what you’re plans are, you have to get up at the crack of dawn to see the hundreds of balloons rise to the sky before sunrise. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, and no, you will not get used to it.
There are viewing decks everywhere – but the best location is from just outside your door because I’ve convinced you to stay at Natureland Cave Hotel. But Cappadocia is kind of the wild west. You can pretty much go anywhere you want, and it’s all good views.
DON’T UNDERRATE SUNSETS
With that said, one of the don’ts that people seem to do the most is to underrate sunsets. Sunsets change the Rose Valley from pink to orange to red, casting long shadows behind the alien rock formations. And then you must remember to turn around and see the silver moon cast its light.
There are two ways to do sunset.
Relax at a viewing deck
The best sunset spot in Göreme is just above the Rose Valley, looking out over it. On google maps – and it’s mapped fairly accurately – it comes up as Panoramic View Point. This the perfect spot – there are a few little stalls where you can buy dried and candied fruit, lots of tables and benches, some sofas, and throw cushions packed along the ridge where you can lounge and sunset (yes, that’s a verb now). There’s also a little kiosk called ‘Crazy Ali’ where you can order beer, freshly pressed juices and nargile. Bring your friends, some snacks, order an Efes, watch the sky go yellow and pink and blue.
2. Go on a Quadbike sunset drive
This is a far less relaxing, far more adventurous way to experience sunsets in Cappadocia. The viewing point will be somewhere in the valley, so instead of an umbrella vantage point like above, you’ll get to see sunset through the caves and spires of the rose valley.
Personally I like to lounge and drink when I sunset (there’s that verb again), so if you have to choose – I’d say do a quadbike adventure during the day, and head to Panoramic View Point for the views.
DON’T GO TO THE OPEN AIR MUSEUM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY
This rule depends on the time of year you are visiting, but if you go in peak season – abide by this rule! Disregard if you’re visiting in or near winter.
By all means, you have to go to this museum! Think of it less as a museum and more of a condensed version of the sprawling landscape of Cappadocia presented in a bit-sized chunk. So if you’re only in town for a few nights, you absolutely should go.
But avoid mid-day if possible. We arrived around 11am to throngs of tourists crowding the security gate and ticket offices. Knowing that all the entrances to the caves inside are narrow, single-lane kind of situations, we stayed away and headed back to our accommodation, which is just a 5/6-minute walk down the hill, because, you know, we are staying at the best-located hotel in the area.
So after zipping around in quadbikes, we went back at 4pm and the difference was remarkable. Way, way less people.
DO GET THE LAY OF THE LAND ON QUADBIKES OR HORSEBACK.
Speaking of quadbikes, this is another thing we would very highly recommend if you’re in Cappadocia for only a few nights. You’ll be able to see much more, must faster and get a better appreciation for the area on the whole.
You can go horseback riding during sunsets too, if you prefer a slower, quieter experience. The region of Cappadocia has historically been well-known for its horses, many even claiming that ‘Cappadocia’ derives from a Hittite word that means ‘Land of the Beautiful Horses.’ I would’ve loved to ride horses during our second visit, but when a horse bit my hand I took at as a message from the universe and back away slowly.
So we’ve went quadbiking twice, and we’ll go again! Besides ‘fun’ – here’s what else you should know:
Quadbiking in Cappadocia: What to Expect
- DUST. If you go in summer. You’ll be given a mouth mask and sunglasses. WEAR THEM.
- It’ll run you around 60 – 100 TL for your own bike, depending on the season.
- The guide is there only to guide you quadbike-wise. Do not expect any information.
- You’ll make 4 or 5 photo stops, each for about 15 minutes;
- An hour tour might last more like 90 minutes.
DO GO FOR A WALK IN ROSE VALLEY
Horseback riding and quad biking may allow you to see Cappadocia much faster, but still better is to go for a walk. Cappadocia is any hiker’s dream destination! There are so many different valleys to be explored, with very little (if any!?) rules about where you are and aren’t allowed to go.
If you’re short on time and have to choose one, go walk in the rose valley. One of the best things about hiking around Cappadocia is getting to see how the locals still make use of caves carved hundreds, even thousands of years ago: as homes, as stables, as cattle ranches, as garages. Cappadocia is also largely a self-sustaining community, so you’ll see tons of small orchards, vegetable patches and vineyards.
Besides a deeper look at contemporary Cappadocian life, the landscape is also littered with ancient cave homes and churches, complete with fading murals – all unmarked, and all just free to be explored.
DO TREAT YO SELF!
One of the most magical, unforgettable, surreal, inspiring things we’ve ever done, ever. Besides these adjectives, hot air balloon riding in Cappadocia is mostly indescribable, so check out our photo posts to see what I mean. If you’re going to spend money on any excursion-type thing in your life, ever – this should be in the top three of your list.
A 60-minute ride (60 minutes spent in the air), will cost in between 100EUR (in winter) and 170EUR per person (in season).
DO GET OUT OF Göreme (AND DO RENT THAT CAR)
First of all, I wouldn’t go to Cappadocia without a car. Sure, you could. There is enough to see within walking distance in Göreme, and there are organised tours, and taxis. But renting a car is cheap! And so convenient. There is no traffic in Cappadocia and there’s usually a parking spot nearby. I can think of so many cons with not having a car, and non with having one. So.
Then, when you have that car, drive to the Ihlara Valley. It’s an hour and 20 minutes away, and it is where the 8th-century Selime Monastery is – an entire religious community’s dwelling, including the chapel, the church, the school, and the winery, carved into a the rock. We loved Selime Monastery. In fact, we enjoyed it way more than the Open Air Museum. It’s cheaper, quieter, calmer, and offers incredible views over the valley.
When you follow the road to Ihlara village and cross a little bridge, you will soon see an unassuming lookout point on your left. Stop the car and take in the enormous Ihlara gorge:
DO NOT SIT DOWN AT THAT FIRST TOURISTY RESTAURANT YOU SEE
We were pretty hungry by the time we had seen and done Selime Monastery and the Ihlara gorge. And we almost made a huge mistake. There is one big restaurant in Ihlara village right on the river, right by the bridge, called ‘STAR’. We were so hungry we almost stayed here, but after seeing tour guide after tour guide leading busloads of people in, we backed away slowly. Which worked out perfectly, because we found this gem.
Now, imagine this: a bubbling creek, dappled sunshine, lush green overhanging trees, and, if you can, a litter of puppies. No, seriously (to be fair, there are Anatolian Sheepdog puppies EVERYWHERE in Anatolia, so not really the restaurant’s doing).
And along and over the river, wooden decks serve as individual seating areas, decked out with Turkish carpets and cushions.
This is where we spent a long lazy lunch along with other local tourists and families, before a dark cloud rolled in and we quickly paid our bill to seek cover, after kicking ourselves for not choosing a deck with a roof.
How to get there:
There are two or three restaurants that are doing the same thing – the most popular being Aslan. It’s pretty simple getting there.
- Head back towards Selime/Göreme/Aksaray the way you came
- When you’re out of Ihlara village (it’s so small it’ll be seconds), take the first right
- This will take you down the valley via two/three switchbacks
- At the bottom of the road you’ll reach a teeny tiny parking lot; it was super busy when we got there!
- If you make a sharp left, there are more spots to park along the river. Just beware! It can be really frustrating getting back out again – it’s a single lane and parked cars cause quite a bit of congestion. But it’s so worth it!
- Skip the first one or two restaurants – hold out until you see those wooden decks!
DON’T FORGET TO EAT MANTI
Speaking about eating, Manti is an Anatolian specialty, and it is one of my favourite meals ever. Sure, you can get in Istanbul or Ankara or Antalya, but it is especially delicious in Cappadocia. Think of Manti as Turkish ravioli traditionally stuffed with spiced meat and topped with a spicy yogurt sauce.
Our favourite plate of Manti (yes, ever) is served by Anatolian Kitchen Restoran in Göreme.
DO VEER OFF THE MAIN DRAG FOR FOOD
Turkish food is incredible – every single time. And the great thing about it is that it’s delicious everywhere! So while we do have our favourite places for certain dishes, it’s pretty much safe to say you’re gonna have a great plate of food wherever you go.
But veer off the main drag in Göreme and go to Omurca Art Cave Café if you want a unique experience. Stepping into the restaurant will make you feel like you’re stepping into an Aladdin’s cave, filled with rugs and pillows and mismatched chairs and swings and lanterns and all kinds of interesting, colourful things. Oh, and cats. There are tons of cats – like, an unusual amount, even for Turkey.
The menu is super simple. It reads something like: ‘chicken, köfte, pork, chicken, chicken, manti’ – basically a list of just the main ingredients. The owner/chef will go through the menu with you and then he and his friend make sure you have enough wine or tea before he goes and cooks it. It’s a two-man operation, so the food takes a while, but it’s worth the wait!
DO NOT GO INTO THE UNDERGROUND CITIES IF YOU’RE CLAUSTROPHOBIC
Visiting any of the underground cities is actually mind-blowing. We went to the Kaymaklı underground city with four or five accessible underground floors, all connected with tiny little tunnels. We were going to just head in ourselves, but a guide convinced us to hire him (of course he did), and the experience was better because of it (there is no information down there). He was also the shortest little man ever, which served him well, because the tunnels are long, narrow, dark and the ceilings are very, very low. I am of average height (ca. 170cm) and half-squatted in most of the rooms and all of the tunnels. If you had any anxiety about enclosed spaces, I would give this one a skip.
We also went in winter, meaning that besides ourselves, there were maybe 12 other tourists there. I really wouldn’t want to be down there in peak season with a ton of tour groups. Because it’s narrow in there, it’s also a one-way kind of deal – backtracking is strongly discouraged when there are crowds.
DO EXPLORE ON THE ROADS LESS TRAVELED
While we strongly recommend staying just outside of the town centre at the most authentic cave home ever, you definitely should take some morning walks in town. But don’t stay in the main drag where all the shop and restaurants are! Work them calves a bit and up the hills and down the winding little roads; this is where you’ll see how people have transformed these rock formations into their urban cave dwellings. If you want to take photos, go in the early morning. This is when the locals are still snoozing or very slowly setting up shop, and all the tourists who woke up for the sunrise balloon show have gone back to bed or to breakfast.
DO GO BACK IN DIFFERENT SEASONS
DO NOT make the mistake and think Cappadocia is fit for one season only. The peak season is generally spring (end of April to June) and end of summer/early autumn (September and November). The temperature is warm, but not too hot, the nights are still cool, very little to no rain, and it is very rarely windy at dawn, which is of course a major factor when you’re planning on treating yo self to that hot air balloon ride.
We’ve gone in the spring, and it is gorgeous: sprawling green hills, flowers in bloom, stunning weather, lively atmosphere. It was perfect.
We’ve also gone in winter (end of November), and we absolutely LOVED it. The first of the snows had brushed the strange valley in a light dusting of snow, even when some trees were still wearing their autumn colours; the restaurants and caves were glowing with the warmth of their coal-stoves; and best of all, we were the only tourists around and sunrise was way, way later so we didn’t have to get up at 4am to get to our balloon like we had to in spring. It was cold and cosy and quiet and wonderful.
Cappadocia changes drastically between seasons; I almost didn’t recognise it with all the budding trees and green plantations when we came back the second time! And the whole experience is something else too. So if you’ve been in winter, come back to see how lush and lively it can be. If you’ve been in spring, come back to experience the utter calm of this bizarre landscape without people.
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