A short ninety minutes flight from Istanbul takes you to Cappadocia - a region in the middle of Turkey famous for its hot air balloon rides. Every year almost four million people visit Cappadocia to witness the surreal setting of over a hundred hot air balloons ebbing and flowing through candy colored skies above Cappadocia's unique landscape. It has become one of the most popular destinations for hot air ballooning and its easy to see why.
Here is what you need to know about Cappadocia and hot air balloons, before you travel.
Where Is Cappadocia?
Cappadocia is in Central Anatolia, Turkey. It is important to recognize that it is not a city but a region that sits in multiple provinces within Turkey. There are two main airports to reach Cappadocia - Kayseri Erkilet Airport (ASR) and Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport (NAV), both around an hours drive away from the centre of Cappadocia. Within Cappadocia there are multiple cities and settlements with Nevşehir, Uçhisar, Göreme and Ürgüp being the most popular places to stay with visitors.
When Should You Visit Cappadocia?
You can visit Cappadocia all year round, however it is best to visit April - June and September - October. The weather tends to be better with warm days and cool nights. Summer can get very hot and winters can see snowfall. Although, there is something really magical about taking a hot air balloon ride over snowfall.
When Can You Fly In A Hot Air Balloon?
Unlike many hot air balloon festivals that take place annually, Cappadocia is open for hot air balloon rides all year round, whether it has been snowing or its the middle of summer. This means that you can quite easily book a hot air balloon ride for your desired dates of travel (although it is recommended to book your hot air balloon ride soon after you book your trip). Hot air balloons take flight in the morning only due to favorable weather conditions. The time depends on sunrise which varies throughout the year. There are two flight times in the morning - right before sunrise and just after sunrise. Which you take is assigned for you by the hot air balloon company.
Is It Safe?
The thought of standing in a wicker basket held onto a nylon sack with fire blowing into it, thousands of feet up in the sky, without a harness on, may not sound like the safest place to be, but is actually an incredibly safe form of flying. Take this from someone who is not only afraid of flying, but extremely afraid of heights!
With the advancement of technology in the last century, the materials used to fly have also developed, from reinforced nylon fabric and propane tanks to modern meteorology.
CIVIL AVIATION LAWS
Hot air balloon companies in Cappadocia abide by a set of laws issued by the Civil Aviation Authority. Only one hundred and fifty balloons can fly at the same time and pilots must get aviation clearance before flying. If the conditions do not allow for a safe flight, pilots cannot fly that day. Sometimes balloon flights are delayed and do not take off before sunrise due to awaiting aviation clearance.
The pilots flying the hot air balloons are extremely skilled individuals with a wealth of flying experience. Pilot training has gotten stricter and more competitive over the last few decades with the popularization of the activity in the region. There are three ballooning schools in Cappadocia where pilots get licenses and endless hours of flight time and training hours before they can fly commercial hot air balloons. It is a multi step process that starts with a Private Pilot License (PPL) that comes with twenty five hours of flight time and ninety hours of training. Once that is complete, the pilot in training must spend a further sixty hours of training with a hot air balloon company. After this, they spend fifteen more hours of flight time and forty two hours of practical lessons in ground training, covering aspects of piloting that are non-technical such as handling problematic passengers. After this they get a Commercial Pilot's License (CPL).
My hot air balloon pilot knew he wanted to pursue a career in hot air ballooning when he was a young boy. He told me that he would watch a few balloons take off in the eighties when he was a child, and since then the number grew and grew and that was all he wanted to do. He was passionate about his job and was highly skilled, which made me feel really comfortable.
SAFETY ON BOARD
Before getting into the basket, the ground crew provided a full safety briefing on what to do should an accident occur. There are handles to hold onto within the basket, and if you feel sick, you can sit on the floor of the basket. And the baskets are solid structures with no gaps in the base that would allow you to see the ground beneath! This was something the nervous flyer within me failed to find online prior to going!
HOW HIGH DOES THE HOT AIR BALLOON GO?
Hot air balloons will fly from 3000 - 6000 feet above ground level in Cappadocia. 6000 feet is the maximum capped altitude by civil aviation. The hot air balloon will ebb and flow throughout the journey.
This said, of course there is still a risk. Balloon companies and pilots will operate as safely as possible but accidents can happen just as they do with commercial airlines. I personally felt safe flying and would most likely do it again, despite my aviophobia.
How Long Should I Spend In Cappadocia?
It is likely you are going to Cappadocia for the hot air balloons. Although this can be done in one morning, its recommended to stay at least 3 nights in Cappadocia. Hot air balloons can only take flight if aviation clearance has been granted. Balloons fly approximately 260 days in a year in Cappadocia. The days they do not fly are because they have not received aviation clearance mostly due to weather. Hot air balloons will not fly in strong winds and will also not fly if there is a possibility of strong winds. This means that hot air balloon rides can be cancelled very last minute. Pilots and balloon companies are granted permission to fly a few hours before flight each morning.
When I visited, no hot air balloons were flying for three consecutive days prior to my arrival. This meant that many people came and left Cappadocia without seeing or experience a hot air balloon ride. It also meant the day I flew was very busy and many balloons took flight right after sunrise as only 150 balloons can be in the sky at one time.
I recommend one morning for a hot air balloon ride, one morning for observing the hot air balloons from a view point or hotel terrace, and another day just in case!
Booking A Hot Air Balloon Ride
WHEN TO BOOK
Book your hot air balloon ride as soon as you have confirmed your trip to Cappadocia. Hot air ballooning is the single most popular activity to do in Cappadocia therefore slots book up months in advance. It is strongly advised to book your hot air balloon ride for the first morning you are in Cappadocia in case the balloon flight is cancelled due to adverse weather conditions. If that happens, you will have the opportunity to fly the next day.
WHICH COMPANY TO BOOK WITH
There are twenty five companies that operate commercial hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia. All comply with safety rules and regulations and employ trusted pilots. I booked my ride with Butterfly Balloons. Butterfly Balloons will collect you from your hotel, offer you a light breakfast prior to the flight, allow you to watch the ground team inflate the balloon, serve you champagne and strawberries after landing, give you a certificate as a commemorative gift, and then drop you back off at your hotel. This is all included in the ticket. They offer two different options - I booked the second option called the Butterfly Beyond Flight which has less people in the basket.
HOW MUCH DOES A HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE COST
A hot air balloon ride starts from around €140 per person in Cappadocia. Children between 6-12 are half price and children under 6 cannot fly. Different packages can be purchased that offer longer flight times, post-flight champagne toasts and smaller group of passengers. I recommend paying more for a deluxe experience which allows you to maximize your time up in the sky in comfort. Flight prices should always include insurance but be mindful to check.
What To Wear In A Hot Air Balloon
The hot air balloon ride happens around sunrise when the temperature is a lot cooler. It is advised to dress in multiple layers where you can remove layers as you get warmer. Keep in mind the propane tank heats you up when the fire blows. What to wear also depends on which time of year you visit in. Summers will be warmer and winters can have snow, so dress according to season. Wear comfortable shoes as you will be standing for the entire duration of the flight.
I flew at the very end of March where it was not too cold, nor hot. For someone like me that is afraid of heights and flying, and gets hot flushes and cold sweats when nervous (!), it was wise wearing thin layers that I could remove as I got more nervous! I wore a denim jacket, a hoodie, t shirt and jeans.
What Do You Feel In A Hot Air Balloon?
The hot air balloon ride is so smooth. You are literally drifting in the sky with the wind. It is a really peaceful experience. You do not feel gushes of wind on your face, contrary to what I had thought at that altitude. It is exceptionally quiet in the sky except for when the propane burner is on. That can be quite loud. The basket does not sway therefore you will feel no motion sickness. Ascend and descend is very smooth and you do not feel the knots in your stomach (those with my kind of nerves will understand!) The hot air balloon will ebb and flow throughout the duration of the flight, sometimes getting so low and close to the rocks. The pilot will keep the balloon on an unnoticeable rotation so everyone in the basket can see the same views. You also don't feel how fast or slow you are moving, nor do you realize how far you are traveling. As it depends on the wind on that day, you cannot predict how many miles in distance you will cover or where you will land. My pilot had said that in a one hour flight, he has covered as little as a mile in distance, as well as over twenty miles - it all depends on how far the wind will take you.
What Is Take Off And Landing Like?
You will not even realize you've taken off as its so smooth.
The landing itself was soft in my case. There are individual handles within the basket to hold onto when landing. We landed standing with a slight bend in our knees, although it not not uncommon to land on your back. As winds can make landing rough, your pilot will instruct you on how you will land and it is important to adhere to the pilots instructions for your own safety.
As the hot air balloon flows with the wind, the flight trajectory relies on wind speed and direction. Therefore landing location cannot be predicted. The pilot will chose to safely land on any flat large area regardless if its a park, road or public ground. Chase crews maintain contact with the pilot via radio, and will arrive at the landing site with the balloon trailer. My pilot landed with perfect precision on the back of the trailer - it was beyond impressive.
Hot Air Balloon Viewpoints
If you have opted not to take a hot air balloon ride but still want to wake up before sunrise to see the balloons, there are plenty of viewpoints that you can do that from:-
- Love Valley
- Sunset point
- Balloon Launch sites
- Red Valley Panoramic Viewpoint
- Hotel terrace
Saying this, the balloons can be seen from everywhere in Cappadocia!
Taking a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia is one of the most amazing things I have truly done in my life. Its an experience that gives me butterflies when I think of it. I smile when I recall the pastel skies and colorful balloons drifting in it. I was so nervous and even cried at one point - its debatable whether that was in fear or in awe, but I like to believe the latter! I had booked tickets for my husband and I but had told him I would decide on the day whether I will take flight. I actually said I didn't want to when I had one foot in the basket but my husband and the ground crew encouraged me to do so, and it was too late to object as we had already began to take off when I wanted out (true story)! But I am so thankful for getting that opportunity and recommend it to everyone else. The world looks so beautiful from the open air, and I encourage you all to go to Cappadocia when its safe to travel again.
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