Many tourists visit Turkey for Cappadocia alone. If you haven’t already done Google Image Search of Cappadocia, you should. You will find a ton of breathtaking photos of hot air balloons floating over bizarre rock formations. The landscape is absolutely unreal. I was in Turkey for nearly a month and this may have been my favorite place to visit. Here are my highlights from Cappadocia…
I love hiking, and Cappadocia is a hiker’s paradise. The region of Love Valley is famous for its huge, phallic-shaped rock formations known as fairy chimneys. The person who named Love Valley certainly had a sense of humor.
Love Valley and Pigeon Valley are probably the most famous and easiest hikes in Cappadocia, but there are more challenging hikes with panoramas that are just as incredible. The only downside to visiting in July was the heat – I was hiking in temperatures of 90° plus.
Visiting a Cave Home
There are tons of cave hotels in Cappadocia and I really would have liked to stay in one, but I didn’t. I did visit a family who resides in an authentic cave dwelling though which is pretty exceptional and rare. Most cave dwellings no longer serve as residences because they are deemed unstable and dangerous. The Ozcelik family’s cave is an exception.
Their cave dwelling is around 1500 years old and is now federally protected. Mrs. Ozcelik, her husband and daughters rent their government-owned cave for only 100 Lira a month (only about $40 USD under the current exchange rate). Can you imagine how well this place would do on AirBnb?!
Anyhow, Mrs. Ozcelik told me she originally moved into the cave because her family didn’t have enough money to live in a proper flat. It was apparently very hard for her to initially adjust to cave-life due to the lack of running water inside (the toilet is still outside in the yard but there is running water in the kitchen today). That said, now that she’s used to living in the dank cavern, she gushed about how much she loves it and expressed her reluctance to ever move. She makes and sells beautiful, intricate beaded necklaces to fund her rent, so I swooped one up.
Crawling through the tunnels of an Underground City
The subterranean metropolis the Christians had constructed for protection during the Arab-Byzantine wars are truly masterful. The tunnels run extremely deep and the narrow passageways span for miles and miles to connect with neighboring underground cities. The cities are mapped out and carved very strategically as defense against the Muslim-Arabs was crucial for Christians during this time. These underground cities have kitchens, bedrooms, churches, toilets, communal rooms and even private living quarters for wealthier families, with traps placed between chambers to offer additional layers of protection from their enemies.
Driving an ATV
Going on an ATV tour was a last minute decision I am SO happy I made. This was the first time I drove an ATV and the adrenaline-junkie inside of me absolutely loved it. It’s a neat thing to do in Cappadocia because there are a ton of narrow passageways between the rock formations that are inaccessible via car. I went in late afternoon, just in time to watch the sunset and capture an amazing photo of a groom and his bride.
Dondurma is the Turkish word for ice cream and you can find it anywhere and everywhere. It’s freaking amazing. This local, traditional ice cream is made with Orchid Root which makes it super thick, chewy and adherent. Many Dondurma vendors like to put on a crafty act to mess with customers who are anxiously waiting their velvety dessert. While this little act is in no way unique to Cappadocia, my first dondurma experience was in the magical land of fairy chimneys, so it made the list.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Waking up at 4am is brutal, but it’s not so bad when you know you’re going to go hot air-ballooning over Cappadocia. Every travel publication in existence claims hot air-ballooning over Cappadocia is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it truly was. If anyone is curious because they are planning a trip, I used Voyager Balloons and had a positive experience.
I had a few other noteworthy experiences in Cappadocia including the time a dude named Tuna played guitar and sang Hotel California to me after I told him I was from California. He only knew half of the words and profusely apologized to me before presenting me with a potato shaped like a heart.
I visited a Turkish Hamam and was bathed by a Turkish lady.
I visited a local pottery studio and the potter made me the smallest pot I have ever seen.
I tasted the local wine of the region at a Turasan Winery.
And lastly, it’s very important to note the best Gözleme I ate in my 3+ weeks in Turkey was in Göreme, Cappadocia at a place called Mulberry cafe. What is gözleme, you ask? Think about the best quesadilla you have ever had in your life. Now imagine one that’s even fresher and tastier – that’s Gözleme. There are different kinds: honey, cheese, potato, spinach. It might as well be called crack because it’s so good.