Take to the skies: hot air ballooning in Cappadocia
A hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia gives you a new - and dizzying - perspective. Soaring high over the incredible landscape, you’ll whizz past fairy chimneys, peek into pigeon nests, admire snowy mountains, float over the multicoloured Rose Valley and gaze at all the other hot air balloons dotting the landscape. With vistas like these, it's little wonder Cappadocia, in central Turkey, is considered one of the most spectacular places on the globe for a balloon flight.
The best time for flying is early in the morning, so most balloon companies will pick passengers up from their hotel at around 5am, and take them to their offices. There, you’ll have a hot drink and wait to hear about the day’s flying. The unpredictable aspect of the weather means that sometimes the wind will be too high and you might not fly that day, in which case you’ll be taken back to your hotel where you can crawl back into bed.
When pilots are given the green light, passengers are taken to the field, where as many as one hundred balloons will be waiting to be inflated. Each balloon can convey around twenty people, who are distributed around the basket in compartments to ensure the basket remains steady. The pilot’s team lights the fire and before you know it the balloon is inflated and you’re rising steadily into the sky.
Because the wind speed and direction is constantly changing, each balloon voyage is slightly different. Depending on the wind direction and strength, you might travel miles and miles - or you might just move one or two. The altitude also varies greatly. On a breezy day you might stay lower, but on calm days you might descend to a great height, where the air is thin. Each pilot stays in constant touch with his team on the ground, to let them know where he is and where he’ll be landing.
A silent journey
First-time passengers are struck by how peaceful the journey is, with the occasional roaring whoosh of flame the only sound in the eerie, still landscape. Most balloons take flight in the pre-dawn light, and the sight of the sunrise illuminating the plain, turning the rock formations from grey to dusky pink to golden is an astonishing visual treat.
There are about two hundred registered balloons in Cappadocia, and up to 140 take off each morning during peak season. Seeing the colourful balloons dotted around the otherworldly landscape certainly adds to the beauty of the excursion.
On touchdown, passengers are offered champagne, and a certificate or medal for taking part in the flight. And then it’s back to the hotel, where your fellow hotels guests will just be starting out for the day.
Best time to fly
Balloon companies operate all year round but you can expect some bad weather (and therefore, a handful of no-fly days) between October and March when the area has its fair share of rain, storms and high winds. Some argue December, when the area is cloaked in snow, offers the most spectacular balloon trips. However, would-be visitors should take note: it will be extremely cold at this time.
If you’re going to Cappadocia for the sole purpose of ballooning, you’ll want to allow at least three days. Since the weather can be unpredictable you might not be able to go on your chosen day. Reputable companies won’t charge you for the failed trip on a bad-weather day, and will simply try again the next day. However, the weather in Cappadocia is usually great for ballooning and most companies fly 300 days of the year.
What to take
No matter what time of year, it’s cold up there in the sky on a Cappadocia morning. Not only can the temperature plummet you’ll also be standing still, leaving you vulnerable to becoming very cold. Wrap up warm, in a few layers. A hat and gloves are a good idea, as are thick socks. If you don’t have any you can buy them in Goreme. You’ll also need your camera, of course.
Turkish Civil Aviation requires Turkish balloon pilots to go through a rigorous training process. Each pilot must have 200 hours of training flights if they want to fly above 425 feet and pass numerous exams demonstrating their knowledge of safety and practice.
Cappadocia has around 30 balloon operators. Find the best one by reading review sites and looking at tour operator websites and social media to find out what their policies on safety. Also check that the company has English speaking pilots - not only will this mean you’ll get the most out of your trip, since your pilot will be able to tell you about the fascinating history of the area, but in the unlikely event of an emergency you’ll know exactly what to do.
Reputable companies operating out of Goreme, Cappadocia are Cappadocia Voyager Balloons, Cihangiroglu Balloons, and Royal Balloon. These companies have been around a while, are well reviewed and have up-to-date safety practices.