Tucked away in central Turkey is the country's most stunning destination - Cappadocia. Dreamy moonscapes make up this iconic region, an otherworldly panorama filled with fairy chimneys, rock castles and cave dwellings. It's a place where visitors sleep in cave hotels, chase balloons at sunrise and frolic the conical valleys throughout the day. I've been to this part of Turkey twice now, and I'm convinced there isn't anywhere else quite like it in the world. Below is a guide to all-things Cappadocia. I've included my favorite cave hotels, sightseeing tips, photo locations, balloon flights & viewpoints, cave pools, transportation suggestions and more.
Chilling at my favorite viewpoint in all of Cappadocia that overlooks Uchisar.
Found myself the perfect fairy chimney to move into.
Pool time with @tourdelust at our favorite cave pool in Goreme. Location is Local Cave House.
THINGS TO DO IN CAPPADOCIA
As you head to Goreme from Avanos, you can't miss the iconic rock formation that towers over little Cavusin village. Located just off the main road, the massive cliff dwelling is riddled with abandoned rock rooms, windows and halls, and can be climbed and explored in a couple of hours.
DERINKUYU YERALTI SEHRI
Derinkuyu Yeralti Sehri is the remains of a historic underground city, located 30 minutes by car from Goreme. It's quite the adventure, if you don't mind tight spaces. The cavernous city is an underground maze of stone steps, tiny chambers and narrow passageways - most visitors get turned around, and even a bit lost in search of a way out. It's hard to gauge the depth of the labyrinth, but I've read that it goes eight levels deep.
An ornate inner courtyard draped in carpets sits tucked away in this modest Goreme shopfront. Galerie Ikman is a family-owned Turkish carpet boutique that has become an Instagram darling in recent years. The place is so popular with photographers and tourists that reservations are now required to access the shop.
GOREME OPEN AIR MUSEUM
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Open Air Museum is a surreal wonderland of rock churches, chapels and decorative frescoes dating back to the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries. It's the most popular tourist site in Cappadocia, and just a few minutes away from central Goreme. The place gets busy, so best to be at the ticket booth right when the museum opens. It's pretty empty the first hour of the morning.
HOT AIR BALLOON FLIGHT & VIEWPOINTS
Yes, a hot air balloon flight in Cappadocia is as dreamy as those photos you've seen on Pinterest. There are dozens of companies to choose from, my favorite is Turkiye Balloons. They pick up guests from their hotel and get them up in the air just after sunrise. The experience of floating over Cappadocia's landscapes is absolutely epic. Note that the balloon flights are completely dependent on the weather, so it's good to have back up morning option in case flights are cancelled. The balloon company informs guests the afternoon prior to takeoff if there is a cancellation due to weather. And while the balloon experience is amazing, the photo opportunities aren't particularly good. The baskets are packed with people, and it's tough to shoot and get a good angle. I suggest enjoying the flight for the experience, and then spend a few mornings chasing balloons on the ground at sunrise. All the best photo locations are on the ground including Sunrise Hill, Rose Valley, Love Valley, Sultan Cave Suites, Museum Hotel, etc.
If Fred Flintstone lived in Cappadocia, Pasabag is the place he'd call home. The dreamy moonscape is located between Goreme and Avanos, and boasts some of the region's prettiest fairy chimneys. Pasabag gets crowded, and it's almost impossible to get a photo without gobs of tourists midday. Best to arrive very early in morning, or just before sunset.
This small valley is home to dozens of fairy chimneys, caves, ruins and a 300m tunnel that leads into the surrounding cliffs. Tourists can visit by ATV or car, and then hike around on foot to explore the abandoned cave dwellings hidden away in towering rock formations.
The rock-cut castle is completely dreamlike, a massive fairy chimney hollowed out with windows, tunnels, rooms, passageways and stairs. It's location next to the main road makes it an ideal stop for a quick photo, but for those that want to spend more time at the castle, there is plenty to see. This is the tallest point in Cappadocia, and visitors can climb to the top of Uchisar Castle for spectacular views surrounding the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This view of Uchisar Castle is from the main road - an easy spot to pull over for a photo.
It's not a trip to Cappadocia without a hot air balloon flight.
Spectacular scenery in Sword Valley.
There are dozens of cave hotels and boutique properties built into the rocks throughout Goreme and Uchisar..
PLACES TO STAY IN CAPPADOCIA
KELEBEK SPECIAL CAVE HOTEL (GOREME)
Perched on a cliff overlooking sweeping views of Goreme, Kelebek Special Cave Hotel is a solid choice for a visit to Cappadocia. The hotel is a cluster of fairy chimneys with beautifully transformed cave dwellings that ooze with character and charm. Prices here are pretty reasonable, as are most hotels in Cappadocia. Kelebek is located next door to Sultan Cave Suites - a nice alternative if the Instagram darling is sold out.
LOCAL CAVE HOUSE
It isn't the nicest hotel in Cappadocia, but the pool setting at Local Cave House is the most stunning in Cappadocia. The charming property sits tucked away in Goreme where towering fairy chimneys surround the hotel pool. It's a surreal setting, and might be worth booking a one night stay just to experience this view.
MUSEUM HOTEL (UCHISAR)
This five-star boutique hotel is the only Relais & Chateaux property in Turkey. The hotel sits on a hill in Uchisar built around a Roman-style infinity pool that serves up a dreamy backdrop for watching the balloons go up at sunrise. If you're looking to splurge, Museum Hotel might be the most luxurious stay in Cappadocia.
ROX CAPPADOCIA (UCHISAR)
Formerly a Greek house, Rox Cappadocia has been completely transformed into a luxury hotel set over sweeping views of Goreme and Guvercinlik Valley. The hotel has become an Instagram darling in recent years, but the property's small size (only eight rooms) really prevents any sort of crowding, which is ideal for enjoying the spectacular terraces at sunrise and sunset.
SULTAN CAVE SUITES (GOREME)
A favorite amongst tourists, and for good reason. Sultan Cave Suites is home to the most famous rooftop in Cappadocia, an elaborate set-up of Turkish rugs, pillows, tea, food and sometimes the resident dog Izmir. It's the perfect spot to watch the balloons go up at sunrise, but be prepared to share the space with a dozen other guests hoping for that iconic Cappadocia snap.
TERRA CAVE HOTEL (GOREME)
Another charming cave hotel located next door to Sultan Cave Suites. While it doesn't have the iconic terrace set up that its famous neighbor boasts, the boutique property is a lovely place to stay. The rooms are clean, cozy and completely spacious. If you can't get all your nights at Sultan Cave Suites, Terra Cave Hotel is a good option for the nights you need to cover since it's right next door.
Dreamy is the best word to describe the iconic hot air balloon flights over Cappadocia.
Visit Pasabag early in the morning or late in the day, otherwise the place is overcrowded with tourists.
HOW MANY DAYS IN CAPPADOCIA
While it's possible to see the nuts and bolts of Cappadocia in just a couple of days, I highly recommend spending five or six days in the region. Sunrise balloon chasing makes for early mornings and long days, so it's nice to have the luxury of extra time here. Also, extra days gives you extra sunrise opportunities (plan on balloons flights being cancelled at least one morning). This part of Turkey is incredibly affordable and a good value for what you pay, so if you plan to extend a leg of the trip, might as well be here!
GETTING TO AND AROUND CAPPADOCIA
It's a quick, cheap flight from Istanbul to Kayseri, the gateway to Cappadocia. From the airport, rent a car for the duration of your stay. While the individual towns are small and walkable, everything else is pretty spread out, and a car makes all of Cappadocia much more accessible. From the airport, it's a one hour drive to reach Goreme and Uchisar. The driving in this part of Turkey is pretty low key - the roads are wide, empty and deserted. It reminded me of driving in the countryside.