Gently rising through the crisp morning air, we huddled together as we gazed out towards the unworldly landscape that surrounded us. Hues of grey, purple, reds, greens and yellows marked the gigantic rock formations that jutted out of the ground. The morning sun was just starting to peek through the clouds, the skies dotted with balloon-shaped silhouettes…
Where exactly were we? In the UNESCO World Heritage town of Goreme, in Cappadocia, Turkey. World renowned for it’s unworldly natural sights, ‘fairy chimneys’, spectacular landscapes, underground houses – and also for hot-air ballooning.
Picked up from our accommodation in the early hours of the morning – perhaps around 5.00AM – we were taken to the offices of the balloon company we’d chosen to fly with. We had a few bites of breakfast and hot tea and coffee, before being allocated a van with the rest of the tourists whom we were sharing a basket with. From here, we were driven to the launch site, around a twenty minute drive.
Along the way, we passed many other balloons being prepped to fly, only adding to our excitement! On arrival at our launch site, we were given a safety briefing on what to do in the event of a crash landing. Whilst this was 99.9% unlikely to happen, there had been previous incidents of balloon crashes (with other companies) so it was better to be aware of what to do.
As our balloon inflated, we took some happy snaps before jumping into the basket, eager to get going. I can’t quite describe how it felt to take off – basically, we didn’t even realise we had until all of a sudden the people around us began to disappear, shrinking before our eyes. It was so incredibly smooth – we were literally floating through the air.
In just a matter of moments, we were 1200 metres above ground. Peering over the edge of our basket, the people and vehicles on the ground looked like ants. Our balloon operator, Mehmet, showed us how they ‘steered’ the balloon. Whilst largely dependant on the wind, they can adjust the balloon to different heights to move faster or slower – pointing out other balloons in the distance, you could see that those that were closer to the ground moved faster, and those at a greater height were drifting much more slowly.
Ballooning is big business in Goreme. At the time we visited, there were 23 different balloon operators in town. However, local laws stipulate a maximum of 100 balloons in the air each day for safety reasons. The weather is perfect for flying in Goreme – Mehmet told us that you would find balloons in the air around 330 days of the year – not bad!
Hot air ballooning in Goreme is a fantastic place to try out the experience for the first time – not just for the surreal views, but for the safety standards. Obviously an elusive business, a lot of locals wish to become balloon pilots – however the training is gruelling, with theory and hundreds of hours of flight time required to be logged over a long period of time before a licence is approved. Compare this to the United States, where balloon pilots are only required to log 25 hours before being able to take others up – we were astounded, and also much more at ease and confident in our pilots abilities.
By now the sun was well and truly up. Unlike most experiences where we quietly grumble about so many other tourists – hot air ballooning in Goreme is one of those experiences where the tourists ADD to the experience. How so? Well, not only is the incredible landscape one of the highlights of flying – but all the other balloons in the sky are simply MAGICAL. We felt especially lucky – even though our balloon was probably one of the last 100 to get up into the sky that morning as our launch site was quite a distance out of town – this meant that we were actually away from the other balloons and therefore in a unique position to be able to watch them all rise and float. At one point, we counted 73 other balloons in sight!
As we rose higher into the morning sky and drifted over Goreme, Mehmet pointed out the various sights – the archaeological park, Rose Valley, Red Valley, Love Valley – named after the rather uh, phallic like stone structures that populate the area! All of these sights can be explored from the ground by foot, but to get a birds eye view of such incredible terrain was amazing.
We’d read most balloon flights were up and down in an hour and a half, and sure enough we started seeing a majority of the balloons in the sky drift back towards the ground – but we were still up and flying. At the 2.5 hour mark, when we finally began to descend, we’d been one of the only balloons left in the sky. The way the balloon was steered in between the rocks and landmarks was incredible – but then, Mehmet told us we were coming in to land faster than expected, and to assume the brace position. Hearts racing, we got into positioning, silently praying that it wouldn’t be too bad a landing….
And with the softest of thuds, our balloon landed square on the back of a a trailer – just like that! Mehmet had us on, and we laughed, seriously amazed at the abilities of these pilots! As we hopped out and the staff began to pack up the ballon, we celebrated our flight with a ‘champagne’ (actually grape juice!) toast and had our photos taken and were presented with our flight certificate.
Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia was our must-do before we arrived in Turkey and we are SO glad that we did. It’s an absolute must-do experience both on your ultimate bucket list as well as your travels through Turkey. A birds eye view, floating in a basket by absolute professionals, watching the sun rise over surreal, out of this world landscapes, surrounded by dozens of other colourful balloons? Yeah, we’ll take that!
- How to get to there?
Goreme in the Cappadocia region is home to hot-air ballooning. You can either fly to the nearby Nevsehir airport (1 HR flight from Istanbul) and take a shuttle to town, or you can take a long distance bus from just about anywhere in the country. These generally travel overnight and are pretty comfortable, arriving at the main otogar (bus station) in Goreme.
- Who to fly with?
With so many providers in town, competition is fierce amongst the balloon operators to get you in their basket. Cost is obviously a factor, but so should flight time, safety record and inclusions. We chose to fly with Voyager Balloons, and booked with them prior to arriving in the country. They ranked highly on TripAdvisor and had a huge social media following and a professional website – those first impressions really helped make our decision. They weren’t the cheapest option, however when we look back on our experience – pick up and drop off at our accommodation, a bit of food prior to the flight, 2.5 hours flight time, incredibly professional team, post flight celebrations AND a free hat – it was well worth it. We paid $240.00 AUD per person for our flight. It was the most expensive activity we did in Turkey – but it was the best.
- Top tips for visiting
Give yourself a few days in Goreme and book your flight for your very first morning. If the weather is no good, they’ll reschedule your flight to the following day. You’d hate to come all the way and miss out!
Warm clothing is a must, as it’s chilly in the morning, even in summer – wear layers so they can be removed.
Do NOT forget your camera! You’ll be unlikely to come across a more photogenic place!
For daily wanderlust, follow @voyagerballoons on Instagram, where they post shots from every flight – if these photos don’t make you put this on your bucket list, nothing will!