This Should Be On Your Bucket List: A Hot Air Balloon Ride Over The Cave Houses Of Cappadocia

Butterfly Balloons above the fairy chimneys Goreme Turkey Cappadocia

Butterfly Balloons above the fairy chimneys

It’s 4:15 in the morning, and there’s a knock at our door.

My groggy brain can only come up with two possible reasons for a knock at this hour:  The hotel is on fire or the pizza delivery guy’s ridiculously late.

Then it hits me. Hot air ballooning.

We’re about to jump in a hot air balloon and soar over the sweeping valleys of Cappadocia, Turkey. This area of the world is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with homes and churches carved into fairy chimneys as early as the 4th century.

Rick Steeves calls ballooning in Cappadocia “a travel experience of a lifetime“, and I’m itching to see if he’s right.

100s of  Balloons over Goreme Turkey Cappadocia

100s of balloons over Goreme

The next half hour is a whirlwind, with a minibus ride, a fresh fruit and pastry breakfast, a safety briefing, and another short ride out to the launch site.

Just watching the balloons get ready for the flight is worth getting up at 4:15 in the morning.

Daddy and Jordan inside balloon before lifiting off

Daddy and Jordan inside balloon before lifiting off

Giant fans roar and fill the balloon with air, and four year old Jordan and Charles are dwarfed standing in the mouth of the balloon as Cole and I cover our ears against the fan’s drone.

When it’s time to heat the air inside the balloon, I’m standing 20 feet away, but the fire from the balloon’s burners flushes my cheeks as the crew strains to hold the massive balloon open.

Flame firing before takeoff Cappadocia hot air balloon

Flame firing before takeoff

We’re flying with Butterfly Balloons. Their crew, just for our balloon with 16 passengers, numbers over six people.

Hot air balloon dwarfs kids and truck Butterfly Balloons Goreme

The kids and truck dwarfed by Butterfly’s balloon

Setting the hot air balloon basket upright at sunrise Goreme Butterfly Balloons

Setting the hot air balloon basket upright at sunrise

Take off is spectacular, as our enormous balloon rises like a feather in the crisp air. The burners roar with the effort of heating the air in the balloon.

We rush forward to the edge of a canyon and I hold my breath as the balloon glides past the edge, just as the sun rises over Goreme’s otherworldly rock formations.

Hot air balloon at sunrise in Cappadocia

Sunrise

Rick Steves was dead on right.

We’ve camped in the Moroccan desert, dived the Great Barrier reef, and watched wild orangutans in the jungles of Indonesia. This is on par with any of those travel experiences.

Goreme Turkey Hot Air Balloon Ride Wide View of the Fairy Chimmneys

Looking down the valley

We glide along in the morning light, as our pilot Mustafa guides us over the town of Goreme and along Pigeon Valley.

The fairy chimneys and rock houses of Goreme were beautiful on the ground, but the scope of Cappadocia’s fairy tale landscape is even more breathtaking from above.

Cappadocia's fairy chimneys

Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys

It’s utterly silent in the balloon when the burners turn off and we move with the wind across Cappadocia. We swoon pass above the Castle of Ortahisar, a 86 m rock chimney riddled with doors cut into its stone surface.

This part of Cappadocia seems to have escaped most of the tourism, as cave houses nearby are used to store citrus fruits, rather than house tourists.

Ortahisar Castle and abandoned cave houses Turkey

Ortahisar Castle and abandoned cave houses

We’ve lucked out with our pilot, Mustafa Turgut, who’s one of the most experienced pilots in the area and who’s taught many of the pilots sharing the sky with us this morning. He cracks jokes as he skims so close over treetops that Cole reaches down and grabs a leaf from the branches.

Pilot Mustafa wryly repeats his primary safety rule “Don’t get out of the basket“.

He expertly turns the balloon every so often so everyone inside can take photos as we glide past phallic shaped fairy chimneys bathed in the early morning’s golden light.

Fairy chimneys from a hot air balloon in Goreme Turkey

Fairy chimneys

As the sun rises, we ascend and get a good look at the hot air balloons gliding over the valley. We try to count, coming up with nearly a hundred balloons dotting the skyline.

I don’t want this to end.

Balloons in the rising sun over Goreme Hot air balloon ride

Balloons in the rising sun over Goreme

But it’s time to go back to the earth.

As we descend, Mustafa lets Cole have a hand pulling the ropes to maneuver the balloon. Cole hurls all of his 55 pounds into the task, and as we move to the landing area we see Butterfly Balloon’s trucks racing to meet us.

Child helping with the ropes hot air balloon

Cole determined to land the balloon

Mustafa orders us to assume our landing position, with our backs to the landing site, and feet perched up against the side of the basket.

I brace for a hard bump, but it never comes.

Instead, we plop down gently on the grass as Butterfly’s crew swarms around the balloon, ropes swirling as they tie us down and begin to deflate the balloon.

I hop out, elated from the flight, and sad to be back on terra firma. Meanwhile, Mustafa’s taken Cole to help, and Cole bounces around on the deflating balloon, delighted.

Cole walking on deflated balloon Butterfly Balloons Goreme

Cole walking on the deflated balloon

Somehow, in the short 10 minutes since we’ve landed, Mustafa and his crew have set the balloon basket gently in the trailer behind the truck, decorated it with flowers, and prepared a table set with a white tablecloth, champagne glasses and a celebratory cake.

They’ve even found time to neatly fold the balloon and pose for a photo with the kids on top of the balloon.

Butterfly Balloons crew and kids

Butterfly Balloons crew and kids

Mustafa raises a glass of champagne to toast the flight, a tradition said to be started by the Mongolfier brothers who piloted the first hot air balloon flight in 1783.

There’s chilled orange juice for the kids (and mimosas for us), and then we’re off in the minivan back to our cozy cave hotel (yes, a cave hotel, more on that in a later post).

Mustafa proposing a toast Butterfly Balloons

Mustafa proposing a toast

Only a couple of hours have passed, and I’m back in my comfy bed, snuggling in as daylight warms the rest of the world.

Did you enjoy this post? We’re posting another article with a video of our flight soon. Sign up to get our posts in your email inbox so you won’t miss it. In the meantime, you can check out the video on YouTube.

What you need to know

We flew with Butterfly Balloons, one of the most respected and popular balloon companies in Goreme, and highly recommend them. Check out Butterfly Balloons on their website or Facebook or read their reviews on TripAdvisor.

Cost:  A one hour flight costs around $175 Euro per person (children are half price), and includes minibus transfer to and from the hotel, a delicious light breakfast of fresh fruit, pastries and drinks, and champagne after the flight.

What to bring:  A camera, warm clothes to ward off the early morning chill, and sturdy shoes for climbing in and out of the basket.

Safety:  Hot air ballooning is potentially dangerous. Travelling King has a good discussion of balloon safety in their article on hot air ballooning in the Australian Outback, and this checklist of safety questions is a helpful guide for comparing companies.

Where:  Hot air balloon flights depart from the town of Goreme, in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey.

Getting There:  Flights from Istanbul to the city of Kayseri run every day, and cost as little as 30 USD one way with AtlasJet, Pegasus or Turkish Airlines. Check flights on Expedia. It’s an hour bus ride from Kayseri to Goreme.

Turkish Airlines has flights from from Istanbul to Nevsihir, a smaller city only 12 km from Goreme. Check flights to Nevsihir on Expedia.

We flew Butterfly Balloons at a reduced rate, but they didn’t request a favorable review and definitely didn’t ask us to drink a wee bit too much champagne at the end of the flight.

23 Responses

  1. Jennifer

    This looks fantastic! My husband and I were actually married in a hot air balloon in 2002, but sadly it was too windy to actually fly that day. 11 years later and we’re still waiting for our first flight together.
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  2. Heidi Wagoner

    Wow! This is amazing. I just love your experience and the photos. Now I have yet another place to see and thing to do! :-) Thanks

    Reply
  3. Steve

    Ballooning in Cappadocia is still one of my favourite travel experiences. The control the pilots have over the balloons is incredible – at one point we dropped down into a canyon and flew along with the basket below the level of the walls.

    Finishing with champagne is a great idea – I think we got a strong coffee instead.
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  4. Pretraveller

    Micki, it looks like you had an amazing experience! Thanks for sharing your story and photos.

    I have previously done a hot air balloon ride in the Yarra valley near Melbourne in Australia, and I think any hot air balloon ride is special, but the amazing scenery you saw blows it all out of the water! I definitely want to visit Turkey and do the hot air ballooning in Cappadocia as well!
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  5. Kate

    This looks cool, esp. with lots of balloons flying at once, but I’m a fraidy cat when it comes to adventure activities. I don’t think I’d ever bungee etc. I won’t even rent motorbikes in Asia.
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  6. Arianwen

    This looks fantastic. I contacted a couple of companies about doing a balloon ride over the Canterbury Plains near Christchurch recently, but neither replied. Must either be the season or the effect of the earthquakes on local businesses. I’ll look into doing it in the future though!
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  7. Magda

    this looks fantastic. abroad Turkey is country – Georgia. Georgia is very old and beautifull and very very interesting country. have you been there?

    Reply
    • Micki Kosman

      Hi Magda, we haven’t been to Georgia (the country), but I’ve been hearing a lot about it lately. It definitely sounds like it’s worth a look!

      Reply

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