Is ballooning in Cappadocia worth it? If being entertained at dawn appeals to you, then set the alarm and prepare to be wowed. Admission is free, so the price is more than right. As the kaleidoscope of hot air balloons glides majestically across the Anatolian sky, they rise, dip and dodge each other, and the fairy chimneys in their paths. It’s quite the performance.
Cappadocia is remarkable from ground level but for a heftier admission price, admiring it from above is an extraordinary experience. It’s a purse-emptying one at that, but well worth it. The advantage, especially for those short on time, is that the one-hour flight can be squeezed in before breakfast.
Many visitors consider ballooning a necessary activity if one is to truly appreciate the full expanse of Cappadocia’s unique landscape. As a result, demand for space on balloon flights is on the increase. If one books ahead, there’ll be ample choices between companies, dates and timing of flights, subject to the vagaries of the weather. Leave it until your arrival in Cappadocia, and you might have to take what you can get. Or, miss out completely. In October, we almost fell into the latter category.
Choosing your flight
Many people dream of a flight during sunrise, the balloon rising in darkness except for the blasts of flame expelled into the envelope from the control centre. This is the first of two flights each day. At least, that was the case during our visit.
The second flight takes off in daylight, about an hour after sunrise. On October 1, this was at 07:30. I quite liked this option for the heightened sense of anticipation from seeing so many balloons airborne while travelling to the launch site. As a bonus, we were also able to observe many in various stages of preparation for lift off.
We were fortunate to secure spots with Butterfly Balloons, rated #1 on TripAdvisor. The first clue we were in capable hands was when the van taking us to the company’s office for a light pre-flight breakfast arrived precisely at the pick-up time of 06:35. From that moment on, everything worked efficiently, like a well-oiled machine. At the office, names were quickly checked off a list. Each passenger was given the name of the pilot, and directed to the breakfast room. After refreshments and a bathroom break, we were shepherded to the two waiting vans, each clearly marked with the name of the respective pilot. Each van contained the exact number of seats for the sixteen passengers in each balloon.
The launch area for our flight was about 5 kilometres to the north of Göreme near the village of Çavuşin. I assumed the launch site varies from day to day, according to the weather. We arrived at a scene of organized chaos, with balloons from several companies in various stages of readiness. Ours lay limp, with the basket lying on its side. As the crew readied the balloon, it became clear there was a lot of work involved in getting it airborne. It was an impressive show, and a delightful indication of what was to come.
A powerful fan slowly inflated the fabric envelope, followed by a few blasts of flame from the burner system. This heated the air, building pressure until the envelope inflated and started to lift off the ground. The basket remained tethered to the support vehicle, and steadied by the crew. We were helped on board, and after a safety briefing, were soon airborne. Amazingly, the whole process took about 15 minutes.
Throughout the flight, our pilot Captain Fatih Doğanay varied both the altitude and the flight path, taking into consideration the speed and direction of the wind. I also noticed he rotated the basket at regular intervals so everyone had the opportunity to see and photograph similar views. There was just the right mix of fairy-chimney panoramas, valley vistas, and views of villages, stables, pigeon cotes, vineyards and orchards.
Throughout Cappadocia, there are plenty of viewing points from which to appreciate the landscape. No roof terrace or mountaintop can eclipse the view from a hot air balloon. Or watching the skill of the pilot guiding a balloon so close to the fairy chimneys, you can almost touch the black crowns perched precariously on top of each one.
Another advantage of ballooning in Cappadocia is that you’re sharing the sky with scores of other colourful balloons. There could have been as many as one hundred at the time of our flight. Just when it looked like two would “kiss,” one rose above the other with a burst of flame. It was like watching a well-choreographed ballet.
We landed about 10 kilometres to the south of Göreme, on the road to Uçhisar. The ease and precision of the landing was fascinating to experience. Landing on the trailer of the support vehicle involved a deftly managed performance with the pilot and driver as well rehearsed dance partners. Bracing for impact was unnecessary. Our pilot landed softly, with proficiency and finesse.
A celebratory toast
Back on terra firma, we capped off the adventure with a champagne (or orange juice or mimosa) toast. Drinking sparkling that early in the morning is obligatory. After all, it’s dictated by tradition.
Legend has it that on one of the first successfully manned balloon flights, the pilots carried along a bottle of champagne to enjoy on the flight. But instead of doing so, they eventually used it as an offer of goodwill to the farmers working where they landed. The champagne convinced the farmers that the balloonists were not, in fact aliens, and was offered as an apology for disturbing the land and the grazing animals.
Who were we to argue with tradition?
Is ballooning in Cappadocia worth it?
Absolutely! Need help choosing a company? Captivating Cappadocia has done some excellent research.
Have you experienced hot-air ballooning in Cappadocia? If you’ve written about the experience, please include a link in your comment.