Cruising Cappadocia: In the land of fairy chimneys
February 4, 2014
GOREME, Turkey -- While countless years of erosion shaped the unique landscape of the Goreme Valley, for centuries, residents of the historic region of Cappadocia used the natural resource to create sustainable dwellings.
Filled with fairy chimneys, moonscapes, and cave dwellings of yesteryear, Cappadocia offers sights that resemble the set of Star Wars. It was actually rumored that one of the franchise films was filmed on location here, but it isn't true. (Although that doesn't stop a few locals from stretching that truth as a selling point).
Regardless, the region still has star power. Set on a high, dry plateau in the middle of Turkey, the scenery changes with the season, boasting hot, dry summers and views of snowy rock formation in the winter.
Sleeping in a cave hotel, exploring an underground city, navigating the honeycombed structures on horseback, and hiking through the tangled web of curvaceous landscape will make this fairytale world a reality for the venturesome traveler.
The best introduction to the region is viewing it from thousands of meters in the air. Hot air ballooning is big business in Cappadocia. Every morning, weather allowing, hundreds of colorful balloons take to the sky, offering pristine views of the landscape.
Numerous companies provide essentially the same service. Generally speaking, the more people they pack into the basket, the cheaper the price per person. The sights are the same, so if you don't mind snuggling up tightly with a few strangers, (and I do mean snuggling up tightly) you can easily save a few bucks.
As a World Heritage Site, the Goreme Open-Air Museum is also an essential stop on any itinerary. The assemblage of rock-cut churches, chapels and monasteries is less than a mile from the town center and offers an intimate look into former monastic communities.
Impressive frescoes, dating from the ninth to the 11th century, vibrantly dress the walls inside the complex.
Euphemistically named, the Love Valley is home to a cluster of 50-meter-high, phallic-shaped rock structures. The strange pinnacles are not so much an homage to male fertility but eroded volcanic ash, gifted by Mother Nature.
The neighboring Red and Rose valleys combine, offering a more "PG" exposure of the landscape.
They are the easiest to access and well-marked for hiking. Inundated with flowers, fruit trees and grapevines, trails lead through water-sculpted tunnels and rock-cut structures and across sharp ridges, which offers a bird's eye views of the surrounding farms.
Near the city of Nevsehir, less than an hour from Goreme, the Kaymakli underground city, eight stories deep, invites travelers to channel their inner Indiana Jones and explore the maze of low, narrow tunnels, wide storerooms, steep steps, deep holes and ventilation shafts.
Flying into a major city like Istanbul or Ankara is the easiest way to enter the country. From there, travelers have numerous options. A flight from Istanbul to Kayseri Airport (the closest airport to the region) is about an hour and tends to run a few hundred dollars.
The neighboring town runs a very tight network, so hotels will generally arrange transport from the airport for a nominal fee.
For the budget traveler, a daily night bus runs to and fro for a mere fraction of the cost (usually less than $40). It is a 10- to 12-hour ride though, so remember, you get what you pay for. On the plus side, it delivers you right in the town center of Goreme.
Ankara, the country's capital, is a four and a half hour bus ride away and is super cheap at around $15. A train is available as well, but is double the price and takes twice as long. Not to mention the bus is much more scenic.
Turkeytravelplanner.com is a good site to begin your search, with loads of information about navigating the transport systems, as well as sample itineraries to get you started.
Currently, visas can (and must be) purchased upon landing in Turkey. The cost is $20 or 15 euros. However, in April, the policy will change.
Beginning April 10, 2014, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs will no longer provide visas on arrival to foreign travelers. All foreigners must obtain their Turkish visas from Turkish missions abroad or from the e-visa application system, depending on eligibility.
Note: The e-visa system is only usable for travelers entering Turkey for tourism or commerce. For any other travel purpose the applicant must obtain a Turkish visa in advance from a Turkish diplomatic or consular post.
Information regarding Turkish e-visas and the application process can be found at: https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/.
General information on Turkish visas can be found at: