That’s the reality of travel: you’re bound to find a few tourist traps, overcrowded attractions, and overpriced excursions that can’t live up to the hype. But a sunrise hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, Turkey is not one of them.
You don’t trust me? Just look at this.
My wife and I traveled to Turkey last month with our eyes set on Cappadocia, an Instagram-made region that has pretty much cut a dollar by offering hot air balloon rides over its otherworldly landscape. Images of bright orange skies punctuated by hundreds of balloons seem too good to be true.
That’s way up to snuff…and it did. From takeoff to almost half a mile into the clouds and back down, we spent about 90 minutes in the air soaking up the sights – each one magical. And yes, by taking pictures, of course.
Here’s why taking a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia should also be on your list – and how to achieve it.
Choose your hot air balloon company
Choosing which balloon operator to fly with during your trip to Cappadocia is like choosing a USB cord maker or a toaster. There are dozens and dozens of choices.
Sure, there’s more to see, do, and eat in the villages that make up Cappadocia, but this region of Turkey is built to lift thousands of tourists thousands of feet off the ground. That means there’s no shortage of companies to choose from for your hot air balloon ride at different price points – and picking the right one can seem daunting.
While I’m sure every company has a great, safe ride – and the view is the view, after all – I’ve heard and seen the same two names over and over again: Royal Ball and Butterfly Balloons.
After just enough testimonials, we ended up choosing Royal Balloon – and it was an excellent choice. Whichever airline you choose, your flight day will likely follow a familiar pattern:
- A surprisingly early wake up call, usually around 4am or so to get into a van from your hotel
- A ride to company headquarters for a light breakfast, both included with your ticket
- Head to the open fields of Cappadocia as your balloon gasses for takeoff
- Jump into the basket and head for the sky for about an hour
- A champagne toast after landing
- Back to the hotel – and probably take a nap!
Just because there are dozens of balloon operators to choose from doesn’t mean it’s a cheap experience. And it shouldn’t be.
Many companies don’t publish their prices online, but you can usually expect to pay at least US$150 per person for a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia. You may be able to get a better deal by booking through your hotel in Cappadocia and/or combining it with other excursions. But with rampant inflation in Turkey, those prices are only likely to go up.
How much you will pay is in your hands. For starters, you can choose a cheaper package from some hot air balloon operators that take off shortly after sunrise. But that will rob you of incredible views in the middle of the sunrise like this.
But more importantly, many hot air balloon companies like Royal Balloon offer two- or three-tier options for their rides, each a bit more expensive than the last:
- The basic ride, with up to 20 passengers (or more) in each basket
- An intermediate option, with up to 16 passengers in each basket
- The high level ride, with only 8 passengers in total
The baskets floating in the skies of Cappadocia are large and heavy, so there’s no need to worry about safety with these numbers. But fewer passengers means more space in your compartment to move around, take a few photos, and just a better overall experience.
At the very least, I would recommend skipping the cheapest package and opting for at least the mid-tier option with fewer passengers. Using a free upgrade for advance booking online with Royal Balloon, we booked this 16-passenger ride for around $190 each.
Give yourself some leeway
The weather is coming. And the weather is the greatest enemy of a hot air balloon flight.
In addition to the amazing view of the sun, that’s why most hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia take off before the sun, before the wind speed picks up. But that’s also why you’ll want to treat yourself to a tampon on your trip to Cappadocia. Only booked one night and your morning flight is cancelled? Well, you’re probably out of luck.
That’s why I would recommend staying at least three nights in Cappadocia. This way you have backup options if your flight is cancelled. And by timing your hot air balloon ride on your first full morning in Cappadocia, you can maximize your chances of success – and even turn those morning wake-ups caused by jet lag into a positive.
Wondering when is the best time of year? Balloons fly in Cappadocia all year round – again, weather permitting. But our pilot told us that September and October tend to have the best weather for a ride, followed by early spring.
A word about the heights
I am not afraid of heights. But I also can’t say that I like to look from very high up.
Look, flying thousands of feet in the air with gas and flames roaring above your head is no small feat, no matter what. Although I can’t speak for anyone with full-blown acrophobia (fear of heights), I never felt unsafe or scared, or even the least bit worried during our 1+ hour drive. Even when we reached the top of our course nearly 3,000 feet in the air, it was all smiles and laughter.
The baskets and balls themselves are heavy duty, operated by professionally trained pilots. From takeoff to landing, the basket felt completely stable and never the least bit shaky. The basket walls are almost four feet high, giving you plenty of security when you’re in the air.
Stay in Goreme
There are plenty of villages to choose from in Cappadocia, but I would go back to Goreme.
It is the epicenter of hot air balloon rides in the region, where the vast majority take off each morning. That makes for a short morning ride to get up in the air…but also means the sky is positively filled with balloons at first light.
But even after your ride is over, you’re in for a treat. The next morning you get that bright, early view right outside your door, as we have since Zara Cave Hotel.
Nothing beats morning coffee with a view like this.
Göreme itself is a charming but obviously touristy town, easily explored on foot in about an hour. There are other nearby attractions like the Goreme Open Air Museum, Al Nazar Church, plenty of hikes and long walks, and almost as many mountain bike tour operators as there are hot air balloon companies in town.
We had a few favorite places during our three-night stay in Goreme:
- Have lunch with meatballs, salad and baklava at Omurca Art Cafe
- Head toward Upper deck cave restaurant for a classic and tasty Turkish dinner
- Get an evening cocktail and a platter of mezze at Haruna Cappadocia for the sunset with a view
- Go to Cafe Safak (Dawn Cafe) for Turkish coffee, then return for a freshly made manti for dinner
- The adana kebap we had lunch at Kebap Dunyassi was one of the best we have eaten in all of Turkey
- Hop in a taxi to Nar for an amazing Airbnb experience cooking a homemade Turkish meal
Not sure if you should fly to Nevsehir (NAV) or Kayseri (ASR) for your trip to Cappadocia? Nevsehir is much closer to town – and often cheaper for ground transportation to and from your hotel.
It’s not just a clichéd phrase: photos can’t do that justice.
I wasn’t sure a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia could live up to expectations beyond being a magnet for influencers and Instagrammers. But it transcended them.
For an hour or more, we were lighter than air in a breathtaking setting. Checking this off our bucket list was worth every penny.
Many thanks to Bailey from Whole Kitchen Sink, whose advice and guidance was invaluable in making our trip to Turkey (and this story!) possible.