A trip to Turkey of any length of time over a few days must include a visit to the Cappadocia region. If you’re backpacking through the country, everyone talks about it. Almost everyone goes there, and it’s always recommended in guide books and by everyone you meet. It was one of those few exceptions where the place lived up to the hype. It truly was a pretty amazing place, and here’s how I spent my time there.
I originally thought Cappadocia was a city, but the name refers to an entire region in the center of Turkey. It’s characterized by some interesting rock formations popularly referred to as “fairy chimneys”. I guess one could imagine “fairies” floating up to the entrances and living there?
I was reading on Wikipedia that the rock formations originated from the volcanic activity in the area millions of years ago. Sedimentary rock from volcanos then eroded over millions of years to form the pillar formations seen today. Between the years 300 and 1200 AD, settlers to the area carved out homes and churches in the rocky pillars. In addition, some caves have really beautiful paintings that have been well preserved. Some major cities of the Cappadocia region include Urgup, Guzelyurt, Uchisar, and Göreme which is where I stayed.
Just about one kilometer from the city center of Göreme is an area with a high concentraion of some of the most interesting fairy chimneys and caves. It’s been closed off, and there’s a fee to enter, but that’s cool since it means the area is being protected and well maintained. It’s called the Open Air Museum, and I walked there on my first day in the city. What a cool place, and well worth the small admission fee.
In the photo below, you can see what was a dining table carved into the rock. I sat there trying to imagine the meals and conversations that took place. Was there a family, or maybe a group of tribal elders?. How did they stay warm in the winter? I probably should have bought the audio guide. As you can tell, the landscape there was incredible as well. Without any developments around, it would have looked nearly identical during medieval times when the caves were in use.
One of the most popular activities in the area is to go hot air ballooning. I’m sure the views afforded are spectacular, but at $120-$150 for a one hour ride, it just didn’t fit into my backpacker budget. The balloons won’t go up if there are high winds, and my first day there (which is when I took the photo below) was the only day they flew during my stay. So, it wouldn’t have mattered, even if I was willing to pay.
Day trip tour
Within Cappadocia, there are several established tours of the region. Regardless of the company you choose, they have the same tour, and they’re even color coded. On my second day, I did the green tour which took us about 90 km outside of Göreme and showed off the best of Cappadocia. We had a good group that day, and saw some draw dropping landscapes.
The tour was well worth the price of the ticket considering it included all transportation, guide service, entrance fees into the various sites, and lunch. One of the stops included an ancient underground city dating back to the 5th century BC. The complex could support a city of 20,000 people and had facilties for storing food and making wine, as well as a church. It’s seven levels deep.After walking around down there for about 45 minutes, I think we were all a little creeped out of the idea of trying to live down there for months on end. Our guide told us the civilizations that used it would only have done so during sieges of the above ground cities. Still, this could last for up to a few months which meant no sunlight. There was fresh air though, through these giant ventilation shafts.
In between stops on the tour, we had views of some incredible scenery. Near mid-day, we arrived in a valley where we would hike through the middle of an impressive array of caves. One of the carved out churches had some artwork dating back around 1000 years.
After hiking for a while in what felt like the middle of nowhere, we came upon this tiny cafe in the woods. I guess we weren’t off the beaten track as much as it might have felt. Still, it cracked me up to see something like that out in the woods, even it was fairly planned and part of the tour. Hmmm… turkish tea.
I really couldn’t get enough of all these cool caves cut into the rock formations. I know they all start to look the same, but I felt like a little kid exploring each one. Everyone there was having fun wandering in and out of all the different structures. There weren’t that many restrictions either, although some obvious danger spots were sealed off. Here’s an entire medieval church carved into the rock. It’s been there for like a 1000 years, and will probably be there for thousands more.Afterwards, we got back into Göreme just in time for this amazing view of the sun setting. Perhaps the best sunset photo of my entire trip. It was yet another great day trip that quite possibly was the highlight of my stay in Turkey. I highly recommend doing one of the organized Cappadocia day trips if you’re ever there.
Super Chill Guesthouse Experience
In Göreme, I stayed in a hostel-like place called the Rock Valley Pension. They had the best common room of any hostel I’ve ever stayed in. The place had such a chill vibe, like a log cabin in Vermont type of feel. There was always Turkish tea brewing on the hot stove in the middle of the room. Plenty of comfy couches for reading or surfing the internet. They also had a restaurant with good prices, so if you didn’t feel like venturing out for food, you didn’t have to. The owner/manager was a gracious host, and always there to answer questions, book tours, and help you get the most out of your stay.
Speaking of food, I finally tried a testi kebab. I mentioned this in an earlier post. It’s basically a clay pot with meat and veggies cooked in a fire and then broken open and served.
Here it is after I took a giant meat cleaver to bust it open. It’s more of a gimmick if you ask me. I don’t think the meal is any better because of how it’s cooked. In Göreme, there’s this place called the Top Deck Cave Restaurant. The food is so good, and actually kind of cheap. It’s a small, family style place with very limited seating. They keep it that way so it feels like you’re having dinner in someone’s home instead of a restaurant. I’m getting hungry just thinking of how good the food was there. I was almost never alone in Cappadocia. I met a lot of people at the Rock Valley Pension. Several of which I had already run into at my hostel in Istanbul, so instant connection. We went out to eat almost every night since it wasn’t that expensive and the food was amazing. Good group…
A typical meal in a restaurant could easily be found for 10 lira or less, and I had street kebabs for less than 3 lira. My bus tickets between cities were around 30 lira, and a night in a hostel was about 25 lira. Of course, in Istanbul you just about double or even triple those prices for a city that’s less interesting.
My stay in the Cappadocia region totally redeemed Turkey for me. I should also mention that prior to Cappadocia, I couchsurfed for a few nights in the capital city of Ankara. I had a really cool and gracious host who fed me and showed me around the city. Between these two experiences, I felt I had done a complete 180 on my Turkish experience after the horrible time I had in Instanbul. I still will probably never go back to Istanbul, but I really hope I do come back to Turkey someday and explore more of the country on the Asian side. There are so many historical cities to keep an adventure traveler busy without the need to stop in Istanbul. Plus, Turkey has a first rate bus network throughout the entire country. In fact, it’s one of the best I’ve seen of any country I’ve been to. Tourists visit these other cities as well throughout the country, so they have guest houses and plenty of places to eat. The benefit is you don’t have all the sheeple going to Istanbul to contend with, so you’ll likely have a better time, and won’t get ripped off. For me, the Asian side is the real Turkey.