Why would you ever go to Cappadocia, Turkey? Well if you want to find some way to wind-back the clock to your childhood years, then this could just be the place. We will provide a simple guide to Cappadocia for those wanting to enjoy its splendor and revive their inner child.
If you’re wondering, where is Cappadocia? Or even, what is Cappadocia? Then the answer is that is it is a charming region in central Turkey.
As a little boy, I loved scrambling around rocks, finding secret places and exploring caves when I was lucky enough to be taken to one. All that stuff you read about in adventure novels. In Cappadocia, Turkey, you can:
- sleep in a cave (There are some beautiful Turkey caves Cappadocia has to offer);
- enjoy some of the best food in Turkey that is quite different from the rest of the country;
- ride in a hot air balloon;
- see bizarre rock formations;
- imagine that you are walking on the moon;
- visit underground cities that are 8 stories low;
- visit any number of spectacular houses, churches and whole villages built into the rocky landscape;
- enjoy a culture so different, with a weight of history that it can be overwhelming at times.
You might have guessed by now that this is definitely a place worth going. You bet. I would say it is mandatory if visiting Turkey, especially if you’re hiking, you will find the best caves in Turkey Cappadocia.
To make your decision easier, we offer some advice on what to do, where to stay and how to get there as well as places less visited if you are looking for a break from the other tourists in our guide to Cappadocia.
This is one of three posts about Cappadocia, the other two posts cover the unique dining options and Turkish wine and some hiking suggestions to get out into those fabulous valleys with those bizarre rock formations that I mentioned earlier.
So without further ado, let’s get to it!
Logistics: Getting there
If you look at a map of Turkey, Cappadocia is slap-bang in the middle, quite a distance from other major cities. You can certainly drive or catch a bus from Istanbul, Antalya, Ankara, Izmir, and other locations but the long distances and the cost of fuel, if driving, really brings air travel into the picture.
We flew from Istanbul to Kayseri and it was cheap. (For more information about getting around within Turkey check this longer post about travel.)
In Kayseri, we hired a car for 5 days and drove to Goreme, about 1-hour drive away. You could also arrange transit to Cappadocia but the cost of transit both ways was more expensive than the 5 days of car rental.
Note: there is another airport in Nevsehir, within the Cappadocia area, which is heavily serviced by Turkish Airlines.
Be aware: the weather can be somewhat extreme in Turkey. Winters are northern hemisphere cold and summers are hot. Cappadocia is situated at around 1,000 meters (more than 3,000 feet).
If you want to know the best time to visit Cappadocia, we suggest the end of April to June, as well as between September and October, when the weather is at its prime.
We visited in late April and it was unseasonably cold. Despite being on the summer side of the equinox, it snowed on 2 of the 5 days that we were in Cappadocia. The remaining 3 days were sunny but quite cool. Here is a link to “average monthly” minimum and maximum temperatures in Goreme.
It can be quite hot in the middle of summer, and there is not much shade, so plan accordingly.
The Best Cappadocia Towns
The major towns in Turkey, Cappadocia are:
- Urgup; and
The first 3 towns on the list above are right in the action, with lots of cave accommodation built into the cliffs and fairy-tale like rock formations. One of the great pleasures is walking around these towns. The architecture and character of the place is fantastic. You feel like you are walking in a fairy tale or fantasy novel.
Uchisar and Goreme are pretty close to each other. You can take a public bus, drive or hike through the Pigeon Valley between these two towns. On the main road between the two, there is a scenic overlook of Goreme that is worth a stop for some great pictures, you can also enjoy The Goreme National Park.
Urgup is a bit larger and a bit more congested at times. The main attraction here is the classic 3 Beauties, a cluster of three fairy chimneys, although we managed to have 4 in our picture! It is worth a stop as it is the quintessential photograph opportunity in Cappadocia.
Avanos is about 15 minutes’ drive away from the major locations and it is more commercial. There are many, soulless looking hotels (some of the big chains are there) and apart from the ceramics shops, there is not much to do or see there. Many of the tour groups stay here. It is well known for its ceramics.
If you don’t have a car in Cappadocia, your options are somewhat limited as the towns and attractions are some distance apart. You can take a day tour but the cost of the tour for one person for one day was the entire cost of the car rental.
So unless you are alone or unwilling to drive, hiring a car is more economical and provides a lot more freedom to visit what you want when you want (outside of the tour bus schedule.)
Public transport was frequent, but not always direct, and very (unsafely) over-crowded. (There are a lot of tourists in this area.)
Don’t stay in some generic, global-branded hotel in Avanos. Stay in a small cave-hotel with some character, Turkey cave dwellings are wonderful!
There are many of these family-run businesses in the towns of Urgup, Uchisar, and Goreme. Some of them have cave-rooms where you literally stay underground and other hotels are built into and around the rock formations. They are really cool, in every sense of the word.
We stayed in a cave-room at the Ottoman Cave Suites in Goreme. Ibrahim and his crew will take good care of you. They all speak excellent English and were most helpful at helping us to plan a daily itinerary. This saved us lots of time and gave us insider tips. Their restaurant suggestions were always great.
Our room at the Ottoman Cave Suites Cappadocia was large, nicely heated (it snowed 2 days while we were there)! Fantastic shower (size, water pressure, and hot water!). The view from the top of the hotel is not to be missed. It provides a great place for an evening drink. Breakfast had a huge selection and fresh eggs cooked to order.
It was close enough to walk to everything in Goreme, including the Goreme Open Air Museum.
You will find hotels for all price points. Ottoman Suites was mid-range pricing and we would happily stay there again.
What to do in Cappadocia
Along with enjoying Cappadocia history, there are so many major attractions and activities to take part in during your trip! With our guide, you will know all the best and most awesome adventures to go on.
If you have never been ballooning, then Cappadocia is a perfect place to go. Serenely floating over such a dramatic landscape at sunrise is a very common activity.
Like ballooning elsewhere it is not cheap. Figure on at least $220 USD per person. Your hotel can make the arrangements with the tour operator (of which there are many).
Goreme Open Air Museum
The Goreme Open Aur Museum is a must-see on any visit to Cappadocia. It contains many nunneries (one is 8 stories high) and churches, most with beautiful frescoes. It is incredible how many churches there are in such a small area. All of these “buildings” are carved into the surreal rock formations. As I said earlier, the kid in all of us will love this place! There are even turkey cave houses!
It is easy to walk around on paved paths but be aware that there are many steps to climb into the “cave buildings” on the Cappadocia rocks. Go early in the morning (opens at 8 am) as by 10 am it is busy with large tour groups and you will find yourself waiting at stairs continuously.
It takes 15 minutes to walk from Goreme village. Cost to enter the museum is 25 TL (USD $10). There is an additional charge of 8 TL (USD $4) to enter the Dark Church. As well, you can rent an audio guide (we didn’t as the signage was good – if you can read English or Turkish). We noticed that 2-hour tours with pick up from/to your Goreme hotel and with a guide were about USD $85 per person.
Derinkuyu Underground City
Another must-see is The Derinkuku Underground City. If you like the tunnel scenes in the Indiana Jones films then you will enjoy the experience.
There were 36 inhabited underground cities in Cappadocia. Derinkuyu is the deepest at 8 levels (85 meters, 280 feet). It contained stables, schools, churches, houses, and wine cellars!
Clearly, there are lots of stairs, quite a bit of stooping (and a few bumps on the head) to negotiate the tunnels of the city, but the rooms are quite high and you can stand upright in most of it. It is well lit and most of it is “one-way” but there are some small sections where it is 2 way up and down some of the more narrow tunnels. You may have some wait time but we didn’t find that to be a major problem. If you are claustrophobic then don’t go.
It takes about 30 minutes to drive from Goreme Village. And by public transport it is 2 busses. One to central Derinkuyu and then another from there to the underground city (1 ½ to 2 hours and USD $2 each way). Cost to enter the underground city is 20 TL (USD $7). There are no audio guides here and the signage is poor.
We didn’t hire a guide. It looks like the cost is about 10 TL (USD $4 per person). Opinions on trip advisor were mixed. The Australian couple we met thought that the guide rushed them and there was basically no detail. We spent about 30 minutes underground.
There are other underground cities which are open for you to tour, Derinkuyu is the deepest, largest and most extensive.
If you want a break from the crowds at the main attractions then consider a visit to Soganli Valley. There were no crowds, no touts and a great little restaurant at the entrance that might just have been the best value lunch in Turkey. The valley has a little of everything; churches, fairy chimney dwellings, and nunneries built into the stunning rock formations.
You need a car to visit here. Entry fee is only 5 TL (USD $2). You can drive through the valley and get out and take 2 shortish walks to visit all of the points of interest (churches, houses, etc.) or you can hike through the entire valley. And yes, very few people. So a real mental break.
After our visit, we returned to the little restaurant outside the entrance to the village (on the left just before where you stop to buy the admission ticket). It was a very cold day and we had a wonderfully warming red lentil soup, a vegetable stew, and a meat stew.
As usual in Turkey, there is complimentary bread (a whole loaf served hot) a huge slab of village butter, village cheese, a spicy pepper dip, and honey. The cost was 24 TL (USD $9). Great value with a lovely host.
This is a lovely valley connecting Ihlarato Selime village via the town of Belisirma. It is very walkable along a lovely trail alongside a rushing stream. Again there are fantastic dwellings and churches carved into the rocks. A most pleasant experience.
As it was actually snowing that day, we parked our car at Belisirma and walked to St George’s (of the dragon fame) Church. If the weather was better, we would have hiked more of the gorge.
The same ticket provides access to all of the attractions in the valley including Selime Monastery, a very impressive monastery built into the rocks.
Entry was 10 TL (USD $4). Cost of a tour from Goreme was about (USD $65)
Seek out a Caravanserai
No, it is not just a classic Carlos Santana album (Mark showing his age), Caravanserai are ancient enclosed square-shaped hotels that sprung up along the Silk Route, some dating back to the 6th century. There are a number of these in Cappadocia.
We visited the Agzikarahan Caravanserai between Askaray and Nevsehir. It was built in the 13thcentury. Do your research about caravanserais. They are very cool and well worth a visit!
Hooray. It is free to walk around this area and well worth it. It is easy and quick to get there from Goreme via public transport. It is very accessible with concrete walkways but lots of exciting areas for off-track exploring.
There are fantastic mushroom-shaped rock formations and I would not miss this. There are a lot of souvenir shops, vendors, touts and tour buses here so plan your visit accordingly. The kids loved this and if you need a place to get the kids out of the car to run wild- this is it!
Another free place to walk around is Devrent Valley. It is very close to Pasabagi, so very accessible to Goreme.
Spectacular rock formations exist and its second name is Imagination Valley. There are a number of informal paths around the rock formations. A great place to just wander around.
Shopping in Goreme & Manzara Bar
Goreme is a great place to shop for souvenirs.
And for the sake of matrimonial harmony, I heartily recommend a great bar called Manzara with a stunning view over Goreme for those that would only impede and annoy the serious shoppers.
End of our Guide to Cappadocia
Cappadocia is a true gem in Turkey, and all who travel this magnificent region will feel like a child all over again! The magic and the many places to explore ignites a spark of imagination, fun, and curiosity. Oh to be a kid again…
Have you been to Cappadocia? Are you traveling to Turkey? We would love to hear from you, leave a comment and let us know.