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Aiming for a balloon ride in Cappadocia? How NOT to get scammed

December 9, 2017

One evening, completely out of the blue, I  was struck with a desire to visit Cappadocia. I was still working in Denizli, Turkey, and my friends Gloria & Alba, had been in Cappadocia a week before. They  returned with a bag full of stories, glowing eyes and 2 pairs of swollen legs and red eye syndrome from the night bus ride. On the weekend that they ventured to Cappadocia, I chose to visit Izmir. I spent exactly one hour there, and I had to return to Pamukkale, since two of my Thai friends were visiting and I offered myself as I guide. Besides, what sort of a friend would I be, if I'm not there when my long distance friends visit, right? 


Back to Cappadocia, you can not, not return with a bag full of stories, since the place  is... a whimsical fairy tale, plucked by ancient lava into Anatolian plains ( 60 million year ago volcano eruptions more precisely),  a spectacular geological oddity of honeycombed tuffs and towering boulders of a scary beauty.  Apparently, legends of the Zoroastrians specified a time of ice-age when people were forced to live underground. A god from heavens descended, and taught people how to built underground cities with 30 floors under, where they moved with animals and all. When a historian visited the area, in the 16 th century, he turned back to his country, scared of people disappearing underground in Cappadocia.


The fantastical topography is matched therefore, by the thousands of years of human history there, from beyond the times of Persian kings ( like King Xerxes I), to more modern days when it became a place of hiding for Christian monks, thus the many secret stone monasteries there ( some banished in the roman era by King Leon the II).  People have long utilized the region's soft stone, seeking shelter underground and leaving the countryside scattered with fascinating cavern architecture. The fresco-adorned rock-cut churches of Göreme Open-Air Museum ( where you should chose to stay) and the subterranean refuges of Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı are the most famous sights, while simply bedding down in one of Cappadocia's cave hotels is an experience in 21st-century cave living.  The Old Persian name of Cappadocia, is Haspaduya, which according to some researchers is derived from Iranian Huw-aspa-dahyu- "the land/country of beautiful horses".

                                                           View over one of Cappadocia's many valleys, Photo (c): Nomaddeea


I kind of remember,  the days prior to going myself to Cappadocia, we had such a full week going on at work, followed by a Turkish dinner invitation that we could not miss, and a shopping sprint to the local fashion boutiques in Denizli, in search for the golden fleece ( that would be the legendary high waist, roses embroidered, Turkish jeans), that it was difficult for me to actually plan a trip to Cappadocia. And believe me, YOU should plan! And make it thoroughly. Why is that? Because  since the era of tourism began in Cappadocia, and hundreds of amazing hotels were put on the market, together with thousands of hot air balloon rides agencies, you can very easily get scammed! The place, besides an alien beauty, is also home to an 'alien' energy that has nothing to do with the all known Turkish hospitality.  Though, I'd give up a trip to a 5 stars hotel in Paris to one at a 5 stars in Cappadocia any time.

                                                                                         My cave room at Goreme Palace Hotel

                                                                                    My room at Goreme Palace Hotel


The business owners in Cappadocia, are far from being concerned with your well being,  and they try to shove down your throat all kinds of local excursions and balloon ride sessions, with the  balloon agencies they already have a contract with. Basically, if you do not reserve yourself  online, aside from the hotel, any type of  visiting tour in Cappadocia ( be it Red Tour, Blue Tour, Green Tour), you will be persuaded by the hotel manager,  on your arrival to the hotel, to engage in a tour as soon as they have one ( usually the following morning of your stay). That is, if you can escape the curious eyes of the tens of agency owners, that will also stop you  on your way to the hotel, and try to persuade you to go for their offers.

                                     Cappadocia Hot Air Balloons, make sure you book a flight independent from your hotel


My advice: take your time in deciding! Needless to say, if you are a foreigner, all these tours and the balloon flights will be sharply more expensive that the prices offered if you were a Turkish national,  & if you are on your own, you will have to be a tough negotiator. Bare in mind that your offer on a balloon flight will always be with 50 TL more expensive than those offered to random Turkish tourists. In short I absolutely did not like the vibe of the place, which in comparison to the open heaven  & respect that the Pamukkale/ Laodikeya/ Denizli area, offer to foreign tourists, seemed like a nightmare.

                                                               Cave Monasteries,Red Tour, Photo (c): Nomaddeea


And it was a nightmare, starting with my night bus ride to Cappadocia, that instead of 10 hours took 12, 30 h, with not enough time in the breaks to even go to the loo, my bladder was literally exploding! The bus driver & steward did not in fact realized that I am a foreigner, due to my very Turkish looks, so they did not pay much attention to me, when I tried to explain tthat I need to get myeself to the loo, and were not of much help either when questioned on why the bus is so damn late. Long story short, once we reached  Göreme(  the  huge open air museum, filled with hotels and nice places with a panoramic view, where you should plan your stay),the first thing I did was get myself a bathroom, pay for it, and get rid of my Hello Kitty pajamas that I bought in Lisbon and wore on the bus, so I can be apt to walk around and meet the hotel owner that was waiting to pick me up. In fact, when you book for Cappadocia, all you need is a viable card, no money will be taken off the card, and on spot you can always pay cash.

                                                                                        My room at Goreme Palace Hotel


You also have the hotel pick up option! If you arrive in the early morning, let's say 5 am by plane on Nevsehir airport, or by bus, someone from the hotel can pick you up and bring you to your cave hotel or... straight to a balloon ride that usually takes off at 6 a/m. If you don't get a hotel, and go straight for a balloon ride, know that the balloon agencies offer a quick snack and a warm up gathering to see how the fire is started for the balloons to take off. I recommend you wholeheartedly the  Cappadocia Butterfly Company for best attitude and for best services!

                                                         View from Sultan Cave Hotel, Cappadocia, highly recommended


What does it mean to HAVE A BEST SERVICE WHEN taking a balloon ride? Mainly, less people in it, and a professional pilot! There have been minor accidents in the past, so be aware of it!


IF THE PRICE IS TOO LOW, AND YOU GO ON A COMMON BALLOON, it means it will get SO CROWDED IN THERE, that you will be one sandwiched sardine in the middle, & you won't see much! Go for a balloon that does not host over 20 people in it. Not even your camera stick will help you take nice pictures when you are in the middle of the balloon with many heads and sunshine around.


IF THERE ARE NOT SO MANY PEOPLE IN THE BALLOON, but THE PRICE IS STILL CHEAP, is because the PILOT IS NOT PROFESSIONAL! OR THAT THE PILOT IS A BEGINNER! It means that the balloon will be flown very high, and you will only see the tuffs and the fairy chimneys as dots on the ground. And many times there have been accidents on landing. You do not want that. IF THE PILOT IS A PROFESSIONAL, the balloon will be handled low enough so that you can touch the natural formations in the valleys over which you are flying, or at least see them very up close.

                                                      View from Goreme Palace Cave Hotel, Photo (c): Nomaddeea


That means you can kiss the Red Tour bye-bye, there is no need to pay for that one separately, if your pilot is a master at his craft, and you will see all the formations already up-close, so, you might not even need a Red Tour that carries you through the valleys anymore. That is, if you are not really a fan of history and you do not have that much time to hang out in Cappadocia for monastery hunting. The difference between these tours, is that the Red Tour takes you to see the Cappadocia Monasteries in addition to the valleys, while the others take you, in addition to the valleys ( such as the Pigeon or Rose Valley), to the underground city of Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı . There is also a jeep safari option as far as I know.

                                                                   Cave Monasteries, Red Tour, Photo (c): Nomaddeea


Always, BUT ALWAYS, check for the weather, as they will fly only if the weather is proper. If you plan your visit to Cappadocia in the winter, the air currents are not always the best and you might end up waiting for days to fly, after paying for your flight, you can even lose your money. The flights are otherwise scheduled daily, beginning at  6 a/m and returning you to your hotel at 7:30 a/m. The hotel pick up and drop off are included in the service. I recommend you to take the more expensive version of flying a hot air balloon ( be prepared to pay from 100 euros up for it)  and complete that memorable flight over the land of the Fairy chimneys with Champagne as well ( they will also give you a flight certificate and a full insurance in case of a sudden crash). If you book first the flight, the agency will also try to help you with your hotel booking, againt is up to you, if you let them or not, as they will always try to pick something that is convenient to them and not to you, no matter how nice they seem.

                         A pair of chained camels during Red Tour, I don't get why people photographed themselves with them


To give you just an example, I stayed at Göreme Palace Cave Hotel, which has some fabulous rooms, but not such a fabulous view, is a little too far away from where the balloons are flying), and the hotel manager immediately started to make small advances to me. Seeing I am a solo woman traveler, he kept trying to convince me I should stay one night more, that my fabulous queen sized room is worth to spend one more night in there etc. He also somehow managed to convince me to take a traditional dinner to a nearby village ( i think it was Avanos), where I paid about 100 TL for what was supposed to be amazing Dervish dances that lasted no more than 5 minutes. The place was filled with Asians that came to eat just about everything and gaze at the other dances ( Arabic dances)...featuring half naked girls. The girls dance number was superb, what was gruesome were the men drooling at them. Then, some actors put up a scene with  traditional Turkish wedding imagery and Turkish dances. And then more eating followed. There is no way you can eat all that alone: fish, turkish antres, barbecue, salads, wine, drinks, sweets...if you are not hungry, I suggest you bypass this offer, you can see all those dances in a more professional environment. In total, I don't think all the dancing numbers exceeded 20 minutes.

                                                                                   Dervish Dances at the Avanos Dinner


So what happened after the dinner, since pick up and drop off are arranged by the hotel, the hotel owner came with his personal car to take me. Which was indeed a fancy car, with gyrating doors, central heating on all seats etc, but the issue was, all of a sudden he turned jealous. Why was that? The only thing he and his hotel manage to do right, was advising me, that during the day, I should go on top of Goreme for the panormic view. On the way there, I was stopped by a local to check his carpets store, which they often do, but to my surprise inside the store was a guy that was a philosopher with a degree obtained in Cyprus. We conversed a lot, and the main idea was...that westerners do not hold anything holly in them. Yay! Is the area overly-traditional? Oh yes it is! AND I DID NOT ENJOY THAT AT ALL! At least in the shop, they did not try to sell me any carpets, as opposed to what goes on in the Red Tour. One hand made carpet costs like 5000 USD. I am not saying that hand making those carpets is easy ( there is an unique print in sewing them specific to Cappadocia, a double needle thing), but they way in which they try to sell those carpets to you, is downright aggressive! 

                                                                                                         Carpets in Goreme

                                                                                                   Carpets in Goreme


I went out of that store,  & on my way up to the top of Goreme, there was no one was in sight, apart from a cute little dog waiving its tail at me.  Old locals are not very keen to take pics of you, so if you are alone, better to wait until you get to the top, since most tourists are there. On top of Goreme, befriended a German photographer, that was heading to Iran after Cappadocia with his car, and we exchanged some thoughts over the area.


                                                                                                Goreme View

                                                                                         Goreme Open Air Musem View


He too was disappointed of how much you needed to negotiate your way through stuff there, and it was from him that I heard you need to go from agency to agency, from door to door to ask about balloon prices. Later, I checked with my crazy hotel manager, that informed me of why the prices differ so much, and that is not just about the number of people in the balloons, but it also depends on how professional the pilot is: the less professional the pilot, the cheaper the price.

                                                                                              Goreme Open Air Musem View


My german friend though, did not complain much about his trip the next day when I met him, but did confirm that they flew on higher altitude than normal. A couple of other Turkish friends that I met on top of Goreme, gave me a phone number from an agency, where they tried to mediate for me, so that I could pay like a normal Turkish national. Of course it was a failure! It was only during my disastrous Red Tour,  that a Korean tourist,  assured me that the Butterfly Tour Company is the best for flying a hot air balloon! And believe me, it was.


                                                             View from Sultan Cave Hotel, Cappadocia, highly recommended


Now why was the hotel manager jealous in his car, the night he picked me from the traditional village 'fish fiesta' with the 5 min Dervish dances going on? Because I told him of the friends I met on top of Goreme, and he felt a sudden sense of ownership over a tourist that he knew for less than a hour! Hello! Are Turkish men always horny? Oh yes they are. And given the mushroom shape of the rock formations in Cappadocia, I bet it stands as proof of that! Haha.

                                                                                      But still...you cannot not love camels

                                                                                              "Mushroom" Shaped Turfs


To end this story on an even more bitter funny note, when I took the bus back to Denizli ( I will always regret not taking the plane), I was almost robbed of my Ipad and camera by a family of Turkish gypsies living in Konya * what? did you think gypsies reside only in Romania? No, they don't. And Konya has such a dark frozen energy to it, that I loathed even passing by and seeing it from the bus window! I was saved from those gypsies, by the driver of the bus, that moved me from the number 40th seat, to number 2 in front. Over the night, as I fell asleep, the bus steward saved me again from the same gypsies that were trying to rob me, by moving  me to the front. Thank God they disembarked in Konya. After that people in the bus tried to give me cookies and cigarettes to make me feel better. I took the cookies, the cigarettes were coming from a pair of smelly Turkish men in their 50's.


                                                                                               You get the idea..


What was funny was that, in the bus station in Cappadocia  from which I bought my ticket back to Denizli, they thought I'm going to Pamukkale, which is 20 km before entering the city of Denizli ,when you come from Cappadocia, so they arranged for a driver to pick me up at 6 a/m. When they realized I am not coming down because that's not my final station, a series of laughter emerged. The poor guy that woke up for me over a misunderstanding had to go back home with an empty car. Welcome to the magical land of Turkey! I assure you, there is no country that will  stimulate your senses more than Turkey does!

                                                  View from Sultan Cave Hotel, Cappadocia, highly recommended


PS: Here is more tips on the tours, to help you decide:


More or less, this is how these tours look like:


Blue Tour :  visit to the Devrent Imagination Valley and a quick walk through the lunar landscape. Than, a visit to Pasabaglari (the world-famous Fairy Chimneys) & to  the village of Avanos, where you will witness a Pottery-making demonstration using ancient Hittite techniques ( where, traditionally, they will try to sell you any type of pottery you can imagine,  the pottery is very beautiful indeed, but way to expensive: in fact, some of my Indian tour colleagues said that in India you can buy that same pottery with 90% off that ridiculous price!).  



 My newly wed Indian friends were adorable!


 You will be then taken for a lunch at a local restaurant, where you will eat till you will roll like a legged bubble, but be aware the water is not included and it costs 10/15 TL for the small bottle...Ater lunch, you will see the Uchisar Rock-Castle, (the highest point in the region), Esentepe (a panoramic view of Goreme valley) and Goreme Open Air Museum (Rock-cut churches, frescoes, monastery). In my view this is the best tour! 


                                                                         Traditional Pottery Store in Cappadocia 


Green Tour (RV03):  Pick up from your hotel, visit Kaymakli Underground City, where you will see how the people lived in a multi-level city complete with stables, kitchens, storage chambers and wine making rooms, the Soganli Valley (Relaxing 3km walk through the valley with Byzantine period rock tombs), Sobesos (A Roman Bath from the 5th century and mosaics and  graves from Byzantine Empire Period), Taskinpasa Medresesi (an Ottoman theological school) & Mustafapasa where you will Experience the Ottoman and Greek architecture of the old Greek Village once called Sinasos).

                                                                           Pottery  Demonstration in Cappadocia 


All tours start at around 9:30 and end around 16:00. And do NOT expect that your tour guides will be all rested and funny. My guide was boring and always rushing through. The tours cost 5o USD, and in the price you will have hotel pick up & drop off, plus lunch, air conditioned vehicle, fluent english speaking guide..but what the tours DON'T include is: drinks during lunch ( 1 water inflated price is 10/15  TL..)  the Dark Church entrance fee if you chose the Red Tour, nor tips, if you wanna tip the guide/driver you must do it on your own, but not compulsory. 




The End

Is only the beginning.


©2017 by Deea Wolf. All rights reserved.



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