Cappadocia. Just the name conjures images of spectacular landscapes with fairy chimneys, cave paintings and hot air balloons. My husband Daniel and I only planned to spend 3 days in Cappadocia during our visit in January 2020 – which made creating a Cappadocia itinerary a rather daunting exercise.
We managed to fit a lot into those 3 days, however, and were really happy with the experience. Daniel and I rode in a hot air balloon, went on two hikes, toured an underground city, wandered through ancient cave dwellings and more – all without renting a car.
Interested in how we planned our visit and structured our 3-day Cappadocia itinerary? Read on…
Planning our Cappadocia Itinerary
Cappadocia is not actually a city, rather it is a region in the Central Anatolia region of Turkey. The Göreme National park and nearby rock sites of Cappadocia are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attract millions of tourists a year. Since we visited in the off season, we were able to avoid the crowds associated with the busy summer months and prices were much cheaper.
When planning our visit to Cappadocia, we were faced with a few choices – where to stay, which airport to fly into and where to sleep. Although there are several towns in the area, we settled on Göreme because it’s the biggest and has many restaurants and hotels to choose from. It’s also located within walking distance to the Göreme Open Air Museum. This particularly appealed to us since we did not rent a car.
While we enjoyed our stay in Göreme and found the city easy to navigate, it was exceptionally touristy. I couldn’t tell if anyone actually lived in Göreme as the entire town seemed be made up of hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops catering to tourists. If we return to Cappadocia we’ll probably pick a smaller less touristy town, such as Uçhisar.
Flying into Cappadocia
When booking our flights to Cappadocia, we were faced with another choice. There are two airports serving the Cappadocia region – one in Kayseri and one in Nevşehir. We decided to fly into the Kayseri airport, located 75 kilometers from Göreme, because it is a bigger facility and has more flight options. Our hotel arranged a shuttle to and from the airport which cost about $17 USD each way (for both of us). More information about choosing an airport is available in this article: Cappadocia Airport: Which One Should You Fly Into?
As far as lodging goes, we really wanted to stay in a cave hotel. The idea of sleeping in a room that was carved out of stone sounded incredible. There are some really amazing cave hotels in Cappadocia to choose from and we had fun researching them as we prepared for our trip.
We eventually found Apex Cave Hotel through AirBnB which had rooms that were carved out of rock (for a cheaper price than some of the other hotels). As advertised, our room was really amazing and was intricately carved out of stone. Since it was located in the basement, it took some time to adjust to the humidity levels – even with the provided dehumidifier. It also didn’t have any windows. So if you’re claustrophobic, then a basement cave hotel room may not be for you.
Cappadocia Itinerary Day 1
The weather was great on the first day of our Cappadocia visit, so we started off strong with a hot air balloon ride at sunrise. We spent the rest of the day sticking close to Göreme and wandering around ancient cave dwellings and the Open Air Museum.
Hot Air Balloon Ride at Sunrise
We began our Cappadocia itinerary with a balloon ride at sunrise. The hotel offered to book the ride for us, which was nice as we didn’t have much time to schedule it ourselves. The cost was €150/person which seemed outrageously expensive at the time. We later found out this price was quite reasonable, thanks to travelling in the low season.
Riding in a hot air balloon was one of the single most exciting experiences of my life. Seeing the sun rise from a hot air balloon over the ethereal Cappadocia landscape was pure magic. I pretty much had a smile plastered to my face the entire time. More information about our experience is available in the following article: Cappadocia Balloon Ride: Sunrise over Göreme.
Exploring Ancient Cave Dwellings near Göreme
After the hot air balloon ride, we had the entire day ahead of us. The weather was really lovely so we decided to walk to the Göreme Open Air Museum which was located about 1.5 kilometers outside of town. As we neared the museum, we were enchanted by the amazing rock formations and fairy chimneys that were scattered all over the area. We spotted multiple trails leading up and through the rocks from the road, so we hiked up the side of the road and explored the area on foot.
Daniel and I were amazed to find many ancient dwellings with rooms caved out of stone and decorated with paintings – just off the side of the road and open to anyone. It was obvious that these ancient dwellings saw lots of visitors as some were filled with garbage or graffiti. We continued wandering through the fairy chimneys until we reached the Göreme Open Air Museum and walked down the side of the hill to the museum entrance.
As we crossed the road to the entrance, we looked behind us to find giant NO ENTRY signs prohibiting access the area we had just been wandering. Oops! Those signs were not posted when we began hiking (which was across the street from the museum parking lot). So if you decide to wander this area yourself, be aware that you shouldn’t get too close to the Göreme Open Air Museum.
Göreme Open Air Museum
Entrance Fee: 25 TL/person ($2.80 USD)
More Information: Goreme Open Air Museum web site
The Göreme Open Air Museum is a collection ancient monasteries and chapels that are carved out of stone and located next to each other. Dating from the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries, many of the chapels are decorated with frescoes which are remarkably well-preserved (although we were not allowed to take any photos of them). The Dark Church is the most famous of the museum’s sights and is supposed to be spectacular. However, since the Dark Church cost extra money to enter, we skipped it – a decision I now regret.
Sunset at Lover’s Hill
The best spot to catch sunset in Göreme is reportedly on Lover’s Hill. We wandered up the hill on our first evening and were rewarded with a view of the city lights at night. We kept meaning to return at sunset but never got around to it. There is a cafe at Lover’s Hill where you can get a drink and a snack while watching the sunset.
Cappadocia Itinerary Day 2
For the second day of our Cappadocia itinerary, I decided to take a tour. There are three basic tour options that all the travel agencies offer in Cappadocia. I elected to go with the green tour because it includes a hike as well a tour of an underground city – and neither were easily accessible without a car.
More information about the various daily Cappadocia tour options are available in the following article: Understanding Cappadocia Daily Tour Options – Red, Green or Blue Tours.
Pigeon Valley Overlook
The tour started with brief stop at the Pigeon Valley Overlook. The viewpoint provides a gorgeous view of Pigeon Valley as well as Uçhisar Castle in the distance. The area is named Pigeon Valley because pigeons have long played an important historical role. Ancient settlers carved thousands of pigeonholes into the region’s volcanic rock to attract the birds which are still visible to this day.
Derinkuyu Underground City Tour
After our photo op was over at Pigeon Valley, we next headed to the Derinkuyu Underground City. The largest excavated underground city in Turkey, the city was primarily used as a shelter during wartime. With construction going as far back as 2500 BC, Derinkuyu was large enough to house as many as 20,000 people as well as their supplies.
Derinkuyu is a fascinating glimpse into a unique ancient settlement. It was difficult to comprehend the sheer size of the underground city, however, as only the uppermost floors were available to visitors. We wandered through a series of tunnels and shafts, most of which did not permit me to stand fully upright. It was an interesting visit although I don’t recommend the underground city for those who can’t easily manage steps or who are claustrophobic.
Ihlara Valley Hike
Since I love to hike, my favorite part of the day was a walk through through Ihlara Valley. The trail follows along Melendiz Stream which winds along the bottom of the valley floor – a stunning gorge carved out of volcanic rock. At only 3.7 kilometers in length (one way), the hike is fairly easy for most fitness levels.
Over 100 ancient churches are carved out of rock along the valley, several of which are open to visitors. Sadly, our group tour was on a tight schedule which did not permit visits to any of the churches in Ilhara Valley, but we did have time for a short break at a tea shop halfway through the hike.
We ended the green tour tour with a visit to Selime Cathedral. The Cathedral historically significant because it was constructed by the first Christians who escaped to Anatolia from persecution by the Romans. Some frescoes are still visible inside, although many are badly damaged by fire.
Cappadocia Itinerary Day 3
I was really keen to go on another hike, so on the third day of our Cappadocia itinerary we took the bus from Göreme to the nearby village of Uçhisar. From there, we planned to hike along the Pigeon Valley Trail back to our hotel in Göreme. But first, we headed over to the city’s main tourist attraction – Uçhisar Castle.
Visible from miles away, Uçhisar Castle is an ancient citadel perched on the top of a hill. After paying a small fee, we hiked up to the top and were rewarded with panoramic views of Mount Erciyes and beyond. It’s one of the best viewpoints in Cappadocia and definitely worth a visit.
Since we visited in the off season we didn’t encounter many other tourists, but I’ve heard that it can get really crowded in the summer. Uçhisar Castle is one of the stops on the red tour and so it also gets a lot of traffic any time a tour bus rolls through. You may want to plan ahead by timing your visit to take place in the morning or later in the afternoon.
Cappadocia Valley Hike
The Pigeon Valley Trail (Güvercinlik Vadısı) connects the communities of Göreme and Uçhisar in Cappadocia. At approximately 4 km in length and with fabulous views of fairy chimneys and whimsical rock formations (not to mention pigeons), the trail seemed like a great option for a scenic afternoon stroll. But during our hike we found a major section of the trail had washed away leaving it impassable. So I actually don’t recommend going on this hike until the trail is repaired (unless you are skilled with wayfinding around detours).
However lots of other great trails are available in Cappadocia to check out. This article is a great resource for those planning a Cappadocia hike: 8 Awesome Hikes in Cappadocia, Turkey
For more information on my ill-fated hike, check out my blog post: The Pigeon Valley Trail: A Cappadocia Hiking Adventure.
Where are we now?
Location: Cappadocia, Turkey
Dates: January 11 to January 14, 2020
Vagabonding Journey Status: Day 103-106
For more details on our vagabonding journey, see my previous posts:
- Day 106: The Pigeon Valley Trail: A Cappadocia Hiking Adventure
- Day 103: Cappadocia Balloon Ride: Sunrise over Göreme
- Day 101: Bosphorus Sunset: A Ferry Ride to Remember
- Day 93: Unmissable Istanbul: The Top 10 Things to do in Istanbul
- Day 92: New Year’s Eve in Istanbul: Street Food and Birthday Pub Crawl Shenanigans