9th January
written by Hope

It’s not often that party banter will bring you half way around the world. Before we left on our trip, we met a California surfer at a party, and after finding out he had been to Turkey several times, we asked the obvious question: “What we shouldn’t miss in Turkey?” His answer:

“Cappadocia, dude.”

Even with this glowing recommendation, and even though Cappadocia is so stunningly weird that it is featured on our guidebook’s cover, we still weren’t prepared for the sheer surreality of the landscape.

beautiful cappadocia

moonrise over cappadocia
Moonrise over Göreme.

Cappadocia (which is actually a very large region in Central Turkey, though most people only visit the 60 radius miles or so around a town called Göreme) is known primarily for its unique rock formations called “fairy chimneys,” which come in all shapes and sizes. Some look like teepees, some look like mushrooms, some look like little guys wearing hats, and others look like…um, asparagus (or something more X-rated if you are of that persuasion). But like a bottle of wine that you buy because you like the label, only to be pleasantly surprised to find that it actually tastes decent, Cappadocia is more than it seems on the surface. Sure, the multi-colored landscape is incredible, but there are many more sights and activities in this region to sustain a traveler for the better part of a week.

But you gotta start somewhere, right? So let’s start with judging this book by its cover.

Fairy Chimneys and Rock Houses

Cappadocia’s natural beauty is impressive enough as it is, but take that Dali-esque environment, throw some humans into the mix, and that’s when things really get weird. Believe me, I like my nature as unspoilt as the next traveler, but I think Cappadocia’s landscape is fascinating because of the way ingenious locals have altered and interacted with their environment. The volcanic rock that comprises Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys is soft enough to be carved, yet it hardens when it comes in contact with air, so that the interior of these tent-shaped structures can be sculpted into rooms, stairs, and windows—ancient pre-fab homes!

uchisar castle, cappadocia
Uchisar Castle surrounded by rock houses.

dovecotes, capadoccia
Rooms cut into the side of a cliff. The small arched coves are dovecotes. The people of Cappadocia were agricultural, and they gathered pigeon guano for use as fertilizer.

And why would you stop at building houses? In Göreme’s Open Air Museum and Soğanlı Valley (which we reached via scooter after failing to realize that it was more than 50 miles from Göreme, much to the chagrin of our butts), you can wander through rock-cut churches covered in colorful murals. Unfortunately, some of the murals have been damaged by ancient graffiti cut into the rock. We saw names carved with dates as far back as the early 1800s! I guess disrespect is timeless.

cave church ceiling, capadoccia
Interior ceiling of one of the rock churches in Göreme’s Open Air Museum.

How’s the view?

It’s all about the view in Cappadocia. A popular thing to do in this region is to take a sunrise hot-air balloon ride, but at €250 per person, this just wasn’t in our budget. We were happy to save our dough and watch from the roof of our pension as the balloons glided silently over Göreme.

balloons over cappadocia

Lucky for all of us who can’t afford a €250 per person balloon ride, there are plenty of places to catch a breathtaking view in Cappadocia. The most popular viewpoint is from atop Uçhisar Castle:

view from atop uchisar castle, cappadocia
The view from Uçhisar Castle.

Our favorite viewpoint was discovered by accident, when we climbed to the top of Cavuşin Old Village. Unbelievably, this place is not mentioned in the Lonely Planet!

spectacular hiking in capadoccia
Hiking down the back side of Cavuşin Old Village.

The sunset spot in Ortahisar (entry fee=1 TL) ain’t too shabby either, though it is only accessible via car (or scooter). For those on foot, there’s always the sunset spot in town.

sunset spot, capadoccia
Göreme’s in-town sunset spot.

Let’s take it down a notch

Not only does Cappadocia have a lot going for it on land, but below, too! In order to hide from persecuting Romans, early Christians carved out underground cities with up to 8 levels, with ingenious air shafts that allowed ventilation. Our favorite feature of these underground cities were the rolling doors, which sealed off crucial passageways in the event of an attack. These doors have a small hole carved out of the middle of the wheel—just big enough to fit a spear intended for any invading Romans.

rolling door, derinkuyu underground city, cappadocia
A rolling door in Derinkuyu underground city.

There are several underground cities in Cappadocia, but we visited Derinkuyu because it is the one underground city that the tour buses don’t visit. Unfortunately, we failed to realize that a lack of tour buses also meant a lack of tour guides (many other travelers strongly advised hiring a guide because they can make the underground cities come alive). I was just starting to get bummed out about our guidelessness when a local boy and his friend introduced themselves to us and started leading us on their own informal tour. We crawled in and out of passageways (underground cities are not for the claustrophobic) with these two Turkish teens, and even though they only spoke basic English, we had a waaaay better time exploring with the two of them than on any stinkin’ tour!

our derinkuyu tour guides, cappadocia
Jeremy posing with our Derinkuyu tour guides.

At the end of our informal tour, our wary “travelers’ shells” had us anticipating a tip request, but it never came. Which brings me to my next point:

Cappadocian people are awesome

Cappadocia taught us that a friendship could be formed by something as simple as a sneeze. Picture it: we’re walking down the main street in Göreme, when Jeremy sneezes so hard his backpack flies off. A bunch of listless Turkish men suddenly start laughing and a tall, handsome local man with a big gap-toothed smile approaches to invite us into his bakery. He offers us free baklava, with the following explanation:

“It’s not easy to make a Turkish man laugh during Ramazan!”

And this is how we came to meet the best baklava we’ve ever tasted: not too sweet, not too soggy, and not too crispy. Just pure honey-soaked, flaky goodness. After “The Sneeze Heard ‘Round Göreme”, our friend at Nazar Börek always greeted us with his big, gap-toothed smile, and we always stopped to chat with him and eat a few pieces of his baklava. And it all started with that sneeze.

Traveling through surreal lands

Hiking is another big draw in Cappadocia. There are several trails close to Göreme that take you through valleys with abandoned rock houses, though the majority of the hikes (with the exception of the Rose and Red Valley trails) are very confusing and badly (if at all) signposted. Note to Turkish entrepreneurs: someone could make a killing off an accurate trail map.

Our favorite hike was recommended by none other than our baklava friend. There is some confusion as to the name of this trail, as it was called Pigeon Valley on one map and Love Valley on another—just know that it is the valley linking Uçhisar and Göreme. Despite the fact that it is a very difficult trail to find, it’s a winner!

love or pigeon valley hike, cappadocia
Our favorite hike in Cappadocia.

In conclusion, Cappadocia has it all: amazing landscape, incredible people, great baklava, interesting historical sites, and nice outdoor walks. It took us 8 months and who knows how many thousands of miles to realize that the California surfer said it all. Cappadocia, dude.

Transport from Antalya to Cappadocia: There are several buses each day from Antalya to Cappadocia, though most of them are night buses. Ignoring the fact that it sucks to sleep on a bus, we prefer day buses because you get to see so much of the country. Some people might argue that you lose a day traveling, but we feel like you gain a better understanding of the landscape when you bus during the day. It’s a 10 hour ride from Antalya to Cappadocia, and on Metro Bus, the trip’s a cool 70 TL (US$23) each.

Where we slept in Cappadocia: We’re pretty convinced that we found the hostel with the best view in Göreme. Kookaburra Pension is run by a crazy (in a good way), sweet (see “Cappadocian people are awesome”), funny guy named Ihsan. The rooms have a homey feeling and the view on the upper deck is spectacular. At 60 TL (US$38) for a double ensuite, it’s not the cheapest place in town, but it might just be the best.

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