The ultimate travel Guide to Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia has been super high on my bucket list for the longest time! I was so sad to miss it on my previous trip to Turkey and hence my sole reason to plan a second trip to Turkey this time around was to visit the magical fairytale land of Cappadocia. Situated in central Turkey, Cappadocia is unlike any other destination I have been to with its unique landscape of fairy chimneys, rock castles, cave houses, pastel colored valleys, historic underground cities and so much more. It is mystical, magical and ethereal in every way and something you truly need to experience for yourself to know how dreamy it is!

Before anything let me clear a few things up – firstly Cappadocia isn’t the name of just one town, but it refers to an entire region. Cappadocia region is mostly known by the three popular towns of Goreme, Urgup and Uchisar, however Cappadocia is the name of the very big region spread through the cities of Nevsehir, Kirsehir, Nigde, Avanos, Aksaray and Kayseri.

Secondly – its pronunciation! I had always been pronouncing it wrongly. The authentic Turkish way of calling and spelling it is it is “Kapadokya”.  So the english word “Cappadocia” is actually pronounced as “CappaDOKIA” with a strong k.

This ultimate travel guide to Cappadocia will cover everything if you are interested to plan a trip to Cappadocia from where to stay, best sights, etc so definitely bookmark it for your future trip.

 

 

Travel requirements to Turkey :

Turkey has been open to international tourism since this summer. Travelers are not required to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test. If a traveler is showing symptoms of COVID-19, a PCR swab test may be performed. If the test comes back positive, the traveler will be quarantined at a state medical facility at their own cost.

Even though there is no test required to enter, but all passengers are subject to temperature and health checks at airlines, airports, hotels, restaurants, etc. However to be safe we tested a few days before departure as well as tested and quarantined after coming back to the US. We also made sure to have travel health insurance for our trip that covered all pandemic related costs.

Aside from temperature checks, masks and social distancing are required at all public places. While we were there, there was a partial shutdown too ( was announced the day we were leaving!) but it didn’t affect us much. The only thing that changed was all restaurants were only takeout and delivery; and guests could eat at the restaurants of their own hotels. We had no trouble getting any food we wanted as we could try all the delicious street food and take food to go from literally anywhere. So make sure to check these updates before you travel.

You would also need an evisa to travel to Turkey. Its super easy to apply online and only takes a couple of minutes. You can do so a few days before departure.

 

How to get to Cappadocia ?

If you are coming from Istanbul, you would have to fly in to either Kayseri (main airport) or Nevsehir. From Kayseri its about an hour’s drive. Most hotels will help you arrange for a transfer from the airport to your hotel in Cappadocia.

 

Best time to go ?

Because Turkey experiences hot summers and cold winters, the spring and fall seasons (April, May, and mid-September through mid-November) are usually the best time to visit. However if you want to make sure you want to visit the beach towns of Turkey mid November might be a little late as many places close for the season. We went at the end of November which is the very beginning of the off season. It was comfortable fall temperatures in Istanbul and a little mild winter weather in Cappadocia. But off season also means – better prices and lesser crowds which is what we loved about going this time around. Cappadocia also has a pretty cold winter in the months of Jan – March with many things being closed around then, so its best to travel in the spring, summer or fall.

 

How to get around Cappadocia ?

You would need a car to go around all the sites in the Cappadocia. You can either rent one on your own at the airport or in one of the towns , or hire a car and driver like we did for the duration of your time in Cappadocia. We opted for the latter and booked it through our hotel.

Within the town of Goreme, you can walk around everywhere. Its very walkable and such a pleasure to walk the hilly terrain of this charming town.

 

Where to stay in Cappadocia and how many days ?

We stayed 4 nights in Istanbul and 4 nights in Cappadocia for our trip. In Cappadocia I would recommend to have a minimum of 3-4 mornings to be able to have atleast 1 balloon experience. The balloons are completely weather dependent so to guarantee a chance to experience them whether you want to watch them on a rooftop, in a valley or actually ride one make sure you have extra mornings to have all the sunrise opportunities that you want.

In Cappadocia, most people either stay in the towns of Goreme or Uchisar. I personally liked Goreme more because the balloons come super close to the hotels here. It had a livelier downtown and more restaurants, attractions around here too. Uchisar is a just about a 10 min drive away and had hotels on the more luxurious side. Uchisar is still stunning nonetheless but the balloons are a further way when they go up at sunrise. If you had enough time like 5 or more days you could always split your time between the two.

And no matter where you stay, you are guaranteed a hotel experience like none other! Almost all hotels are built into fairy chimneys and have the dreamiest cave suites with unreal panoramas. Here are a few recommendations :

1 ) Koza Cave Hotel (Goreme)

Cappadocia we stayed at the beautiful Koza Cave Hotel in the town of Goreme and our choice couldn’t have been more perfect. The main town of Goreme alone has over 350 cave suites (isn’t that crazy?!) so finding one that stands out from the rest was super important to me.  If you plan to travel to Cappadocia, where you choose to stay will definitely add to your overall experience, as much as going on a hot air balloon ride, checking out the beautiful valleys, etc.

Koza Cave Hotel is a cozy family run boutique hotel with just 10 authentic cave suites and the highest rooftop in all of Goreme! I have stayed at a ton of places through my travels and there are a few gems that really really stand out from the rest – Koza Cave Hotel was certainly one among them. This charming family run boutique hotel literally felt like a home away from home in the exotic fairytale land of Cappadocia. The family that runs it are some of the most kind and genuine hosts I have met, and gave us such an authentic and intimate stay. Read more about our stay in my blog post here. 

I am also super excited to share an exclusive offer with you – You can experience staying at Koza Cave Hotel for yourself in 2021 and avail a 50% OFF with code JYO50. Code valid till 12/31/20 for stays in 2021. *conditions apply.

 

2 ) Local cave house (Goreme)

It has the dreamiest pool setting against the fairy chimneys and is located close to Goreme town.

 

3 ) Argos in Cappadocia (Uchisar)

One of the most luxurious hotels in Cappacodia is Argos and it also has this gorgeous sweeping view of Uchisar! Argos is a beautifully redesigned ancient monastery and has about 50 luxury cave suites and a restaurant on the property.

 

4 ) Museum Hotel (Uchisar)

We were also supposed to stay here for 2 extra days initially before our itinerary changed last minute. Museum Hotel is the only Relais and Chateaux property in Cappadocia and is absolutely stunning. Perched on top of a hill it has an epic panoroma of Cappadocia from here. Museum Hotel has been designed and created from a distinctive combination of the land and historical features and ruins, some intact and some beautifully restored to their original glory. The hotel features 30 rooms & suites and a beautiful Roman style heated outdoor pool.

 

Things to do in Cappadocia :

For a first timer in Cappadocia I will be honest it was overwhelming! There is SO much beauty and so much to do ! Looking back I am so glad we had 4.5 days as we were able to cover a good amount of the region. The most magical part of the day in Cappadocia regardless of the time of year are the mornings! So all days start super early so by the end of the day we were pretty exhausted. For this reason too it helps to have extra days on your itinerary. As I mentioned earlier to be able to cover most of the top attractions make sure to have atleast 4-5days (with a minimum of 3-4 mornings) on your trip.

There are several tour companies that offer many of the top attractions in a package (known as “red tour” or “green tour”, etc) or you can also choose to do it on your own schedule if you have your own car or a car+driver. You can speak to your hotel concierge/reception and they will gladly help you out. I have to say Turkish people are some of the most kind and helpful people I have met in all my travels! So you will have no trouble trying to get the help you want. With that being said, here are some of the things to do in Cappadocia :

1 ) Ride a hot air balloon at sunrise

Listing this out as the no 1 thing to do! Riding a hot air balloon in the first place is something I have always wanted to do. To do it in the no 1 place for hot air balloons in the world – Cappadocia, was indeed a dream come true. We did this redeeming a gift for each other via Tinggly – which is such a cool company that lets you gift experiences! The company that we ended up being booked on was Urgup balloons and they were excellent.

While Cappadocia looks gorgeous from the ground level, seeing it from a bird’s eye perspective especially at sunrise is beyond incredible! The whole experience of watching the balloons light up at the break of dawn, taking off over the valleys and gliding through the skies along with hundreds of other balloons is nothing short of pure MAGIC! I am literally getting goosebumps as I type this; it was just.so.magical ! We saw about 80-100 balloons in the sky and I was told that during summer months there are usually 150-200 balloons in the sky; isn’t that insane?! Again I highly recommend doing this activity and not missing out. It was most definitely the highlight of our entire trip. Here are some photos from our ride :

Views for days! This was such a bucketlist moment.

 

 

2 ) Catch the balloons from your hotel’s rooftop

Almost all hotels have outdoor decks or terraces to watch the magical sunrises in Cappadocia. Koza Cave Hotel has the highest rooftop in all of Goreme and the best seat in the house for an unforgettable sunrise experience! This bucket list experience of watching the hot air balloons light up at the break of dawn and glide through the skies during sunrise was beyond breathtaking. Something that we will cherish for the rest of our lives.

 

3 ) Fave valleys : Love Valley, Rose Valley and Red Valley 

Cappadocia is known for several of its breathtaking valleys – each more unique than the other! Most of these are reachable by car; but you can also choose to hike in them as well as explore them on an ATV, horses, etc.

Love Valley at sunrise (above) and at sunset (below ; here you can also see rose valley in the background)

My absolute favorite valley is Love Valley (especially at sunrise!) and Rose valley (at sunset). Love Valley at sunrise is perhaps one of the best spots to catch the balloons from the ground! We drove to the balloon launch site to catch them there first and then to Love Valley next.

 

4 ) Horse Riding through the valleys

Beautiful horses and valleys

Did you know that Cappadocia means “the land of beautiful horses” ?! The region is known to have several wild horses too! There are many ranches in Cappadocia that offer horse rides through the valleys at different times of days (sunrise, sunset, mid-day, etc). We did this with Dalton Brothers Horse Ranch and it was absolutely incredible. Going on a horse ride through the enchanting valleys in Cappadocia truly gave us a unique and indepth experience to see these valleys from a different perspective. I totally felt like I was in a scene of Westworld!

 

5 ) Vintage Car Tour through the fairy chimney valleys

This was such a fun evening driving around the fairy chimneys and chasing the sunset with Skyway Travell. I even tried my hand at driving the classic car and I’m glad to report that I didn’t completely suck haha. A must do on your trip to Cappadocia is to go on a sunset / sunrise tour in a classic car , it totally felt like I traveled back in time to a different era. Here are more photos from our tour :

Cruisin’ through the valleys and fairy chimneys in my epic ride

 

6 ) Uchicar Castle

Uchisar castle looks so mystical!

Rock castles, fairy chimneys and cave dwellings – can Cappadocia get any more fairy tale like?! It truly is such a unique destination. Uchisar castle is a centuries old citadel perched on a rock spur, with commanding views of Cappadocia from the top.

 

7 ) Handicraft Shopping – rugs, lanterns, pottery and so much more!

Downtown Goreme is absolutely charming! It felt extra quaint especially when we were there as it was off season and also had very few tourists being amid the pandemic. I loved shopping for traditional Cappadocian pottery in some of their souvenir shops, delicious sweets like Baklava and Turkish delights as well as handicrafts such as rugs and pillow covers.

Pottery of Cappadocia

Turkish rugs are world renowned for their incredible quality and craftsmanship. They are known for their intricate patterns, sturdy weaves and gorgeous colors. What began years ago as a homemade everyday comfort has now become a thriving industry in Turkey and an embodiment of their beautiful culture.

But often times Turkish carpets are imported from neighboring countries and there are a lot of shops that might try to sell you inauthentic “Turkish” handicrafts so doing your research on local shops that sell authentic ones that are 100% made in Turkey is so important if you want to invest in one !

Turkish rug heaven at Sultan Carpets

If you find yourself in Cappadocia – head on over to Sultan Carpets for the most beautiful rugs in town and of course an added photo opp ( at a small fee ). We bought a few handicrafts for home and are loving it! Another similar store is Galerie Ikman.

 

 

8 ) Explore the charming alleys and backalleys of Goreme

Quaint streets of Goreme

You can spend hours getting lost through the quaint little meandering streets and alleys of Goreme town. The hilly terrain and cave living reminded me a lot of Oia in Santorini.

 

8 ) Pasabag 

Magical vibes at Pasabag

Pasabag valley contains some of the most striking fairy chimneys in all of Cappadocia with twin and even triple rock caps. These unique style of chimneys are nicknamed “mushroom fairy chimneys”. This part here used to be a church that was built into natural rock formations – one of the most popular spots in Pasabag! Tip : Go here super early in the morning or late in the evening (as we did) as that would be your best bet to get no tourists here!

 

9 ) Zelve Open Air Museum

Fairy chimneys that date back to the 9th – 13th century! this place was so mystical and the history behind it is incredibly fascinating. Close to Pasabag is Zelve Open-Air Museum, which once housed one of the largest communities in the region is an amazing cave town, honeycombed with dwellings, religious and secular chambers.

 

10 ) Goreme Open Air Museum

The Goreme Open-Air Museum is a UNESCO World Heritage List and is a vast monastic complex composed of scores of refectory monasteries placed side-by-side, each with its own fantastic church. It contains the finest of the rock-cut churches, with beautiful frescoes whose colors still retain all their original freshness. Its very close to Goreme town and is walkable from here.

 

11 ) Kaymakli Underground City

There are 36 known ancient underground cities in Cappadocia ! 36 known and several unknown – this fact is just bonkers! There is SO much history in this region it is a history buff’s paradise. Kaymakli Underground City is the widest underground city with 8 floors below; 5 are open to the public. If you don’t mind tight spaces this place is a must visit to learn about the amazing story behind it. It was originally built in 2000 BC (isn’t that insane!) and then used till the 12th century by different civilizations during times of war. It could house about 5000 people and hand everything from a church, central kitchen for the full city, separate living for different classes of society and more.

 

12 ) Lover’s point at Goreme

Views of Goreme (above) and Uchisar castle in the far background (below)

We went here during the day, but it would be so beautiful at sunrise or sunset! You can se all of Goreme town and Uchisar castle in the distance.

 

13 ) Pigeon Valley

Pigeons and evil eye tree at Pigeon Valley

A great pitstop for an epic photo opp with hundreds of pigeons and this scenic backdrop. Don’t miss the Turkish evil eye trees here!

 

14 ) Other attractions :

  • Lake Tuz (salt lake) – google this it looks insane! Its a bit of a drive so we skipped it due to lack of time. But if you have the time I highly recommend it!
  • Avanos town – known for their pottery (center of pottery since the Hittites!)
  • Sword Valley
  • Cavusin castle
  • Devrent Valley
  • Ilhara Valley

 

Where to eat in Cappadocia ?

As for restaurant recommendations I only try and recommend ones that we personally ate at. As I mentioned earlier while we were there, there was a partial shutdown in Turkey and the only thing that affected us that all restaurants were only takeout and delivery; and guests could eat at the restaurants of their own hotels. For this reason the only few recommendations I have are these. Some we ate at, some we got takeout/delivery from  and others were on my list but we couldn’t dine there this time around. Most of these are in Goreme unless otherwise mentioned :

1 ) Seten Restaurant at Sultan Cave Suites

We ate here over 3 times both because we loved it as well as cos it was the only restaurant we could physically eat at as they had a partnership with Koza that their guests could also eat there. Try their Meze platter and the Turkish Ravioli.

 

2 ) Firin Express

Loved their Turkish pizza and pottery kebab. Pottery kebabs are a must try ! Testi or pottery kebab is an Anatolian speciality prepared in a clay pot or jug. It’s usually made with lamb, beef, chicken or just vegetables and is mixed with spices, onions, garlic, and potatoes. We got the vegetarian version and it was so good!

 

3 ) Dondurma icecream ( any cart in downtown Goreme!)

I can eat ice cream even in the dead winter ! And Turkish Ice cream was super high on my list to try. The speciality of “Dondurma” or Turkish Ice Cream is its creamy chewy texture and resistance to melting, brought about by inclusion of the thickening agents such as salep, a flour made from the root of the early purple orchid, and mastic, a resin that imparts chewiness.

 

4 ) Namaste India

After 11 days in Turkey, we were craving a little bit of Indian food and wow this was such a great find! Delicious Indian food in the heart of Goreme.

5 ) Fat Boys

The doner kebab rolls from here are to die for! So so good..

6 ) Reserved Cappadocia (Uchicar)

Trendy Turkish restaurant , great for a sit down.

7 ) Lila Restaurant at Museum Hotel (Uchisar)

Beautiful restaurant with a view, great for a date afternoon/night or a special meal.

8 ) Topdeck Cave restaurant

One of the most popular restaurants in town ; intimate setting within a cave and delicious Turkish food.

9 ) Cappadocian Cuisine Restaurant

Loved their “Kunefe” dessert from here.

10 ) Dibek

Another Turkish restaurant in the heart of Goreme.

 

Other things to know  :

1 ) Is it safe ?

I got this question a bunch so I wanted to answer it here. From our experience on Turkey we felt 100% safe in Istanbul and Cappadocia. The media definitely tends to hype things so please do your research properly before jumping to any conclusions. Yes there are parts in Turkey to avoid (close to Syrian borders), but the main tourist cities and towns like Istanbul, Cappadocia, etc are absolutely okay for tourists. In Cappadocia especially we felt so safe everywhere! Istanbul is a big city and like any other city there are neighborhoods you would want to avoid. But the main attractions are all located in great neighborhoods and it felt safe to walk around here everywhere. That being said like any place in the world, its always best to be cautious, aware and street smart about your surroundings.

Like I mentioned before Turkish people are in general so kind, generous and friendly. We are always cautious when we go to any foreign place and so this generosity initially seemed so unusual for us!  But after much interaction, we learnt that being helpful and welcoming is a big part of their culture. For instance many shopkeepers offered us tea and chatted with us about our travels with no hidden agenda of trying to be overly pushy salesmen to us.

 

2 ) What to wear / pack :

Most parts of Turkey are super cosmopolitan and you can wear whatever you want for the most part. Only when you enter religious buildings such as mosques it is preferred to be modestly dressed. I always wore full sleeved maxi dresses and carried a scarf with me in my handbag so that I could use it as a headcover whenever need be.

Turkey has extreme seasons and such a diverse landscape so definitely check the weather forecasts before you go. You will need a total differnt packing list if you go in the summer v/s the winter. When we went it was mild fall weather in Istanbul and early winter weather in Cappadocia. Some things I packed for fall/winter in Turkey :

  • maxi dresses, blouses and maxi skirts
  • sweaters and warm pants/trousers
  • a warm jacket or two
  • layers to wear underneath. Long Johns were a savior under maxi dresses on freezing early morning days in Cappadocia.
  • boots, sneakers, etc – comfy shoes to walk in.
  • warm accessories like hats, beanies, gloves, scarves

All that I packed :

3 ) Other places to consider in your Turkey Itinerary :

From its incredible history, rich culture, delicious food, friendly locals and diverse landscapes Turkey has so much to offer. This time we only split our time in Istanbul and Cappadocia. Other destinations that you can consider adding to your itinerary – Izmir & Ephesus ( I did this last time around), Pammukale (salt pools), Mediterranean beach towns such as Kas, Bodrum and Fethiye (great during summer months).

 

Get Inspired to visit Cappadocia 

Felt like I was in a scene of Westworld..

Or in a stunning vintage era!

At the balloon launch site at the crack of dawn! So incredible watching them fire up and take off at sunrise.

Scenic panoramas on our hot air balloon ride

Cappadocia has so many friendly dogs! This guy wouldn’t leave our side , he even followed us back to our hotel room (below :))

Convinced there are magic carpets in this store!

Staying in Ancient cave dwellings was such a cool experience

Head over heels for you Cappadocia! You are pure magic!

Hope this guide helps you. Check out my guide to Istanbul in this blog post. Thanks for stopping by. xo

Jyo

 

 

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