Ballooning in Cappadocia – Photos!

Call me an optimist, if you will, but I only remember that I have vertigo as the alarm bursts into life at 4am to wake us for ballooning. Ballooning in Cappadocia!

Despite my best efforts, I am still phenomenally bad with heights.

And, you would think, ascending 500m with only a thin polyfibre canopy between you and a fiery death is a recipe for vertigo.

Part-inflated hot air balloons: ballooning in Cappadocia photos.

Göreme, Cappadocia, is famously one of the best places in the world to go hot air ballooning. The weather’s predictable, so flights are rarely cancelled.

And the rock formations… Well, the rock formations are just insane.

So watching teams inflate the balloons with giant burners in the predawn dark, all I felt was a childishly happy excitement.

Crew inflate a hot air balloon: ballooning in Cappadocia.

Not as much childish excitement as my spawn, obviously.

Because this is one of the great things about travelling with kids. You get to share in their excitement, experience it vicariously, and, for that matter, get up close to folk going about their work and simply gawp.

While exclaiming repeatedly, “FINALLY! FINALLY! I get to go ballooning!”

An excited Zac framed by two balloons, outside Goreme, Cappadocia.

Ballooning is about the only adventure activity where it is actually kinda cool to have lots of people doing the same thing that you’re doing.

There are few things as magical as a sunrise sky full of balloons.

And it’s even more magical if you’re up there among them.

I’ve never been in a hot air balloon. It’s something that, despite my vertigo, I’ve always wanted to do (and something I think everyone should do at least once in their life.)

Sky full of hot air balloons, ballooning in Cappadocia.

Slowly, cautiously, our half-inflated balloon – the third biggest on the planet, fact fans! — tips to vertical.

The guys position the giant basket, and, one by one, we climb in, even as the balloons ahead of us begin to ascend, so close together that it looks, quite frankly, perilous.

Two hot air balloons besides one another in Göreme, Cappadocia.

And, at once, I feel a sense of real relief.

Firstly, the basket’s divided into sections, meaning it can’t become unbalanced. And, secondly, the nicely padded barrier tucks in well above waist height, closer to chest height, making it impossible to fall out, and impossible to envisage Zac falling out.

I’m just… Excited!

“Woooo! Ballooning!” says my spawn.

Hot air balloon silhouetted against the sunrise, ballooning in Cappadocia photos.

Even an ominous safety briefing on positions to adopt for landing fails to dent my general sense of zen. The burner roars. And roars some more.

Flame illuminates the canopy.

Then there’s a slight jerking feeling, a wobble that makes me giggle, rather than squeal, the cables are disengaged, and…

We’re flying!

We’re ballooning in Cappadocia.

Hot air balloons over the valleys near Göreme: ballooning in Cappadocia.

And, yes, sunrise over Cappadocia, in the plains behind Göreme and Uchisar, over canyons, and through valleys, is the place to experience ballooning.

It’s magical, it really is.

Both Zac and I have big, stupid grins on our faces.

Hot air balloons hovering over Göreme, ballooning in Cappadocia.

Ballooning isn’t silent. In fact, I’m surprised by how not silent it is.

There’s the heat of the giant gas burner, its patchy roar.

Our pilot is on his radio. “Charlie Papa, this is Charlie Papa, am I clear above, over. Repeat, am I clear above?”

Oh god, we’re going up!

Burner filling hot air balloon canopy.

There is no steering mechanism for hot air balloons. Pilots ascend, descend and hover to catch the air currents that will take them where they want to go, guided, in this instance, only by a simple GPS and visuals.

Typically, the higher you go, the faster the currents. And, for something so big, at least at height, our balloon moves incredibly fast.

All of a sudden, we’re over the valley they call (for snigger-inducing reasons), Love Valley.

Hot air balloons amid phallic rocks, Love Valley, Cappadocia.

And we’re descending. We drop down so low, in fact, that we almost scrape the treetops.

Low enough that a tall man could reach out and grab a leaf or two.

There’s a pillar of rock ahead of us. The burners roar.

We rise, gradually, just enough to amble over the top of it.

And still no vertigo! I realise that I trust our pilot.

Ballooning in Cappadocia over vanilla valleys (photos).

We’re over white canyons now, lined with the vanilla ice cream rivulets that for me will always make me think of Cappadocia.

The burner roars, a long, continuous burst, and all of a sudden we’re rising fast.

Oh Jesus, I think, aware all of a sudden that my hand is clutching the padded edge in a rictus grip. I squat down in the base of the wicker basket under the camouflage of changing camera lenses, then rise, position myself firmly against the edge and brace myself to look down.

Ballooning over Uchisar, Cappadocia.

We’re so high up! Great sweeps of Cappadocia open up before me, the cave-castle of Uchisar like a jagged tooth, broad canyons, the roads that meander across the rolling plains, little cave houses with orchards and vineyards, the flat expanse of Göreme.

It’s dazzling. I put my arm around Zac.

“Isn’t this amazing?” I say.

“Yep,” he says.

We drift a while, and then we slowly, elegantly, descend.

Ballooning over tree-filled valley, Cappadocia.

“Remember the landing drill,” our pilot says. “Knees bent, facing in the direction of travel. Small people in front of bigger people. And, this is the most important part, do not exit, or try and exit, the balloon until I say you can and the crew are here to help you.”

I look down. Below us, a grounded balloon is deflating gently amid the farmland.

D’oh! I think. Of course! You land wherever you can.

Radio chatter. “Can you bring the truck over? I want to try and land the balloon on the truck…”

The burners roar. We start to climb. “I’ve lost the wind, ascending, over.”

And then we have our spot. Below us, a flatbed truck is rolling into place.

Landed hot air balloon deflates: ballooning in Cappadocia.

“I should warn you,” says our pilot. “When the balloon deflates on landing it’s not uncommon for the canopy to fall on top of you. If that happens, do not panic. Do not try to extricate yourself: the crew will do it for you.”

We’re only a few feet above the ground now, the truck in position, two minibuses by it, constant chatter on the radio.

This is, I think, impressive flying. We drop a foot or so. The crew catch the ropes.

And, with a jolt, and a little bit of rocking, we’re earthbound, on the truck. And draped in the shockingly flimsy-feeling textile that has kept us airborne for over an hour.

Zac toasting his first hot air balloon flight in Russian "champagne".

Earthbound again, the crew pours Russian “champagne”. Zac makes puppy eyes at me. “Go on,” I say. “It’s not every day you fly in a balloon.”

I nod to the crewman who’s doing the honours. He pours my boy a glass.

And Zac toasts his first balloon flight. Because ballooning in Cappadocia is really, honestly, beyond cool.

24 Responses

  1. Mary says:

    Amazing and so nice to hear the perspective of someone who has heights issues. I am nervous about it but I know when we are there we are doing it!
    Logistics question though, how much does it cost?? Do I need to sell off my first born before heading there?

    • Theodora says:

      Not your first-born, but with all those kids, quite possibly a kidney, Mary.

      Longer flights are more expensive (we did an hour, which ran over slightly, and that was perfect), and smaller balloons (they go as little as 2-person) are also more expensive. For yer tightwad bulk volume balloon, like the one we took, prices seem to hover between 150-175 euros for an adult, with half-price for littlies.

      Not everyone does half-price for littlies, I think, and some have it as under-12 and some as under-16, and many won’t allow under-7s for safety reasons, so you’d probably want to shop around, and perhaps try and cut a deal. We went with, who were excellent — got us down into Love Valley and landed on a flatbed truck — based on my limited understanding of such matters. Butterfly Balloons are also recommended but marginally more expensive.

      The centre of Goreme, where the buses drop you, is pretty much wall-to-wall balloon shops, so I’d start there. If there are any super-cheap ones, I’d be cautious, because safety’s an issue and the good operators basically have a price cartel. Also: you should only do a sunrise tour, which is all most operators offer, because that (according to my guidebook) is the safest time to do it, as currents can get weird later in the day.

      If I were you I’d go for the splurge and even treat yourselves to a night here: We stayed in one of their little suites, and it was lovely and atmospheric for 77 euros…

  2. Victoria says:

    Those photos are beautiful. Steve and I are desperate to give it a try – especially considering the name of our blog!

    • Theodora says:

      I think it’s a brilliant place to do it, Victoria. Although a dawn balloon safari also sounds tempting…

  3. Dalene says:

    Hmmm…when we did it, “Love Valley” was given two other names: “Viagra Valley” and “Bill Clinton Valley”. 🙂

    • Theodora says:

      I am not at all surprised. I have an extremely childish post planned featuring Cappadocia’s phinest phairy phalluses. Perhaps I can also deploy my secret stash of “Turkish viagra for sale here” pictures?

  4. Michael says:

    Well, one good thing about this is you got great shots from up there.

    • Theodora says:

      Oh Michael, I’m sorry to tell you, it is almost impossible to take a bad photo in Cappadocia. Zac and I had a competition to take a bad photo of Cappadocia, in fact, but I ruled that zooming in on a wall, slowing the shutter speed and then moving the camera to include some blurry sky was cheating. It is the rubbish photographer’s paradise. Seriously. There were loads of us, all at it. Because it is one place where even the most indifferent holiday snaps will look good.

  5. Jenn says:

    Breathtaking. That is all I can say.

  6. tyrhone says:

    We ballooned in cappadocia, your dead on, it was an amazing experience in an amazing location, those fairy chimney things are incredible. Have you been to the underground city (kaymakli i think)? a kids dream.

    • Theodora says:

      Yes! We went to Kaymakli. Should perhaps have gone to Mazi: there are over 20 of them in the region. We also went to “the Star Wars place”, which was pretty darn fab, and lots of churches, and, and, and… I really need to write up Cappadocia.

  7. “Beyond cool” doesn’t even begin to describe it! So awesome…

  8. Lisa wood says:

    Oh how magical it all sounds! You were so very brave to trust your pilot.Glad you landed safely.Looks amazing in the photos.

  9. Andrew says:

    Ali and I went through here on our honeymoon in August. It was a fantastic adventure. I have a fear of flying, enough to take drugs when I stuff myself on planes. I was pretty nervous getting up to the balloons, worried my fear of flight would kick in. Once we took off, it really didn’t. I got nervous twice when he went really high, but other than that it was the highlight of the trip.

    • Theodora says:

      That’s interesting: the only point when my fear of heights (I’m fine with flying, oddly, and zipwiring, for that matter, it’s sheer drops I can’t stand) was when we went up high as well.

      It is a beautiful place. I’ll put up one more post about it and then stop, but it really has lived up to the hype. What a great choice for a honeymoon thing, as well. Did you take the two-person balloon?

  10. Wow! This is on my bucket list, and just moved up higher. What beautiful views you had, and such an exhilarating experience!

  11. Michael says:

    Wow. This is something to be envy. Everyone needs to try this to have a real blast like you had Theodora. Thank God you brought your cameras up there.

  12. aysegul says:

    It looks amazing! I should definitely do it!

  13. Mike says:

    That must be the coolest experience ever, to be in the hot air balloon. I have done this before but this one is different and a lot bigger and better. Hope I could ride on the third largest hot air balloon in the world soon.