It’s worth waking up at 4:00 a.m. to go hot air ballooning in Cappadocia.
The surreal moonlike landscape of this region in Turkey is rivaled only by Africa as the best place in the world to float in a balloon. More than half a million people a year safely enjoy a balloon ride in Cappadocia; up to 100 balloons take off each day.
If you’re wondering if you should book a balloon ride, dither no more – just do it! The experience is unforgettable and will turn out to be a real highlight of your trip to Turkey.
Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia – our experience
The sun is just starting to burst over the horizon when we arrive at our take-off spot.
Our pilot and ground staff start to inflate the balloon (which is lying on the ground), using a giant fan and blowtorch. This is done so pressurized hot air can be safely fired into the balloon’s large open mouth.
And it’s quite the noisy and fiery spectacle!
Once the balloon is upright, we quickly clamber into the chest-high basket using foot holes in the sides, which serve as ladder-like rungs.
The pilot pulls on levers about a foot above our heads, shooting flames and hot air into the balloon.
And we gently rise up, up, up into the sky.
We’re worried at first our hair will get singed every time the pilot yanks on the handles and hot air whooshes loudly into the balloon – especially as bits of flaky white soot shower down every so often.
But we soon relax and focus on the incredible scenery below us.
Our pilot had hoped the winds would take us over Uchisar Castle, a towering rock citadel with hollowed out caves, and the highest point in the area. But you can’t steer a balloon – only lift and lower it (and seek out the height where the wind direction is favorable).
Today, the gentle breeze doesn’t cooperate.
Still, we glide over fertile green fields, vineyards and the clay-roofed town of Avanos, famous for its pottery, on the snaking Red River.
Over the Rose Valley, we descend between the cliff sides of the gorge.
We ogle cave houses cut into the rock sides by early Christians who fled to Cappadocia to escape persecution.
We even spot a fox scampering along a plateau, before rising again.
Floating over the earth, we also drift by “fairy chimneys” and other weird and wonderfully shaped rock formations, before gently landing.
The traditional celebration that follows every successful balloon flight – popping open a bottle of champagne and toasting our safe landing and good fortune with a glass of bubbly.
Different Cappadocia hot air balloon tours
There are many balloon tours in Cappadocia (and tour operators) to choose from.
Other highly-rated balloon tours in Cappadocia are offered by Butterfly Balloons, Kapadokya Balloons and Urgup Balloons.
The balloon rides differ in terms of how many passengers they take, how long the flight is and the cost.
“Standard” or regular balloon rides are shorter and take more people, but are more affordable. “Deluxe” flights are longer with fewer passengers, but of course, cost more. You can also book a private tour.
How many people and flight times?
The balloon baskets can carry a fair number of people. Many balloon rides are in larger baskets which can accommodate 16+ guests.
The following are examples of some popular Cappadocia balloon tours, with flight times and number of passengers.
Royal Balloon (the company we went with) offers two choices of balloon rides – a 60-minute flight with 4 to 16 passengers and a 90-minute flight with 4 to 12 passengers.
On our Royal Balloon flight, we were fortunate to share with just one other couple – and our balloon pilot, of course – in a small basket (which our gruff Aussie pilot said was actually a training balloon basket). See here
With Butterfly Balloons, you can also choose from two types of flights.
Their one-hour flights carry 16 to 20 passengers in baskets divided into 5 compartments. Their 90-minute flights carry 6 to 12 people.
Kapadokya Balloons’ “standard” flights also use larger baskets carrying 16 to 20 people, with a flight time of 45 to 65 minutes. Smaller baskets are used for their “deluxe” flights, which carry 10 to 14 passengers (flight time of 1.5 hours).
Urgup Balloons offers three choices.
“Classic” flights have large baskets accommodating 20 to 28 passengers (one-hour flights). “Comfort” flights are also one-hour long but carry fewer people (up to 16). “Deluxe” flights, which are 90 minutes long, take 12 to 16 passengers.
Cappadocia hot air balloon cost
Costs vary, but in general, you should expect to pay between $150 and $250 USD p.p. Ask about a discount for cash payment.
What do the balloon rides include?
The cost of your Cappadocia hot air balloon ride typically includes:
- pick-up and drop-off at your hotel
- a light continental breakfast at the balloon company’s building (e.g., a simple buffet with pastries, juice, coffee and tea)
- watching the crew prepare and inflate the balloon
- the balloon ride
- a glass of champagne or bubbly (and perhaps cake too) when you land
- a certificate of completion and medal as mementos of your flight
Best time to go ballooning
Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia takes place both in winter and summer. But there’s a greater chance of cancellation due to bad weather from October through March.
The best time to visit Cappadocia is in the spring (April to June) and fall (September to October). This is also a good time for hot air ballooning. Summer is also great for ballooning, but the weather is hot for other activities.
Cancellation due to bad weather
What happens if your balloon tour is canceled because of bad weather?
Companies offer you the choice of rescheduling your balloon ride for the next morning (assuming there’s space) at no extra cost or refunding your money in full.
Are the Cappadocia balloons safe?
Turkey hot air balloons are a popular tourist activity and regulated heavily. Everyone wants to make sure the Cappadocia balloon rides are safe!
Whether balloon tours can proceed on any particular day or not is dependent on the weather. And it’s the Turkish Civil Aviation Authority that governs all hot air balloon companies in Cappadocia and decides whether or not the balloons can fly that day.
The pilots must all have both a private pilot’s licence and a commercial pilot’s licence.
The pilots with Royal Balloon, for example, have accumulated more than 15,000 flight hours and flown more than 200,000 passengers. The company uses British-made balloons. (See here if you’d like to book a Royal Balloon tour.)
The risk of an accident occuring is very small.
That said, as with everything in life, accidents happen, and a handful of balloon accidents have occurred in Cappadocia over the years. Here’s a good article on balloon safety in Cappadocia.
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All photos (except 9, 16, 21 and 22) are © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase
Royal Balloon kindly invited us to experience hot air ballooning in Cappadocia. But all views and words are our own.