Once you start planning a trip to Cappadocia, it is hard to avoid the countless blog posts and travel recommendations on seeing the region from the air. In fact, it seems that this is one of the most (if not THE most) popular things to do on a visit to this area of Turkey. And there is no shortage of hot air balloon operators to help you cross this off of your bucket list. And while I definitely recommend this, I also suggest that you give yourself enough time to get in a little hiking as well.
Choosing A Balloon Operator
With so many different choices, you might be wondering how to go about selecting a balloon operator. The good news is that they all have comparable rates for the ride. Sure, some are a bit cheaper than others, but this is really not a place where you want to be frugal. Think about it – why would you be cheap on something like this when you’re going to be way up in the air for an hour or longer? Of course, if your safety isn’t worth the possibly extra cost, then go with the cheap option.
I did a lot of research on this before we booked and ended up going with Butterfly Balloons. They are just one of the many companies out there, but they just happen to have the very best safety record of all the operators. Plus, Rick Steves recommends them, if that sort of thing matters to you. And, they have great reviews from other travelers. You can get a good feel for them on their Facebook page too.
What To Expect Before Take-Off
On the day of our balloon ride, we were picked up by the Butterfly Balloons shuttle in the wee hours of the morning. We were lucky in that Daylight Savings had happened the week before and our pickup time was around 5:30 am instead of the 4:30 am pickup that was before the time change.
If you happen to stay in the same hotel that I stayed in, then the Butterfly Balloons office is super close. Honestly, it is within walking distance and we would’ve walked there if someone had told us in advance!
When you arrive at the office, you give them your name and verify the number of people in your party. Then, you are asked how you want to pay. If you pay in cash, then you get a discount. Don’t have enough cash? They take credit cards. Now the weird thing, at least with Butterfly Balloons, is that prices are quoted in Euros instead of the local currency. And since exchange rates fluctuate daily, you need to get extra cash out of the ATM just to be on the safe side. At the time of writing this, the basic balloon ride with Butterfly Balloons has a rate of 175 Euros per person, with a 10 Euro discount for cash payment.
After paying and learning who your captain is, you are ushered through to get the breakfast that is part of your ticket price. First stop, the coffee and hot tea guy. You can get Turkish tea or English tea. And yes, you can go back for seconds (and thirds…). In the next room is where you find the food and seating. Do not expect a big spread of food with lots of variety. You’ll find some breakfast rolls, some cakes and pastries and that is pretty much it. Just enough food to prevent you from being hungry in the balloon but not enough to make you sick while you’re up there.
As it gets closer to sunrise, they’ll call you to the shuttles by balloon captain. Then, you are driven out to the take off point. With Butterfly, this was one of the coolest parts because they do not take off in the same crowded area as all the other balloon companies. So, driving past them and seeing some balloons already in flight and others in various stages of inflation in the valley is truly a magical moment. And when you finally get to the Butterfly Balloons launch point, there are no other companies out there, which is really nice.
About The Balloon Take-Off
When you think about taking a hot air balloon ride, then you imagine a little stool or ladder to help you into the basket, right? Maybe I’m naive, but that is exactly what I was expecting. So, imagine my surprise when it was time to get in the basket and we were instructed to hoist ourselves into it! No stools. No ladder. Nothing. Just the balloon sitting in a field waiting for you. And when you have as little upper body strength as I do, that is the last thing that you want to hear.
There are five sections to the basket. The middle section is for the captain, with two sections left on each side. On my ride, they put four people in each section. Luckily, we got into our section first and didn’t have to deal with not hitting other people while hauling our asses into the basket.
This having to vault yourself into the basket thing might not be a big deal to you, but I think it is information that people need to know in advance. I mean, I can only imagine how difficult this would have been for someone who is overweight or older with back problems (like my mother). Because once you get your body up over the side of the basket, you basically have to jump down into it. And that would be painful for anyone with back problems. Or knee problems. Get my drift?
Another thing that I want to point out is that almost all of the balloon companies actually take off BEFORE sunrise, but not Butterfly Balloons. Instead, you get more time in the air with the sunlight really lighting up the landscape so that it looks amazing.
The Hot Air Balloon Ride
I get motion sickness something awful. And I was really worried about getting sick on the balloon. Prior to this, I’d never taken a balloon ride so I thought that there was a good chance that I’d get sick. I could not have been more wrong. The ride was surprisingly smooth. And even though Captain Mike turned the balloon around so that everyone could get a good view of everything, it was such slow movements that it was actually a smoother ride than being in a car.
As you might have guessed, being up that high and that early in the morning meant that it was cold. Granted, I took the balloon ride in October and this would not have been the case in the middle of summer. That being said, a lot of heat comes from the balloon control, so it was not as cold as I’d expected. I was wearing a winter coat, gloves and hat, but actually got warm enough to take my gloves off.
The entire ride lasted about an hour and 15 minutes. What was really cool about it is that you get these nice, sweeping views from up high as well as getting really close to the fairy chimneys. The captain was a British man who, of course, spoke excellent English and provided lots of interesting information for the duration of the ride.
If you’ve never taken a hot air balloon ride, then know that the controls make a LOT of noise so you practically have to scream to be heard. Or get really close to the person that you want to talk to.
Despite the small size of the balloon basket and us having to share it with two other people, there was actually enough room without feeling cramped. And there was enough room to move around and get the perfect photo or view.
I managed to shoot a short video on my phone while on the balloon ride. You can check it out below. Just be warned – it is not the best quality as my phone is crap at videos.
The Hot Air Balloon Landing
Once the balloon ride time is set to come to a close, the captain just finds an empty field to land in. If you’re new to hot air balloons, like I was, then you probably are thinking that they just touch down in the field and that’s it, right?
There is a truck with a trailer waiting on the balloon in that field. And the captain actually lands the balloon on that trailer! Talk about crazy.
But remember how shocked I was when it came to getting in the balloon basket? That was NOTHING compared to getting out of it. Cause now it’s on a trailer and you’re even further from the ground. So, that whole jumping down once you get over the side of the basket is a bit more dangerous now. Fortunately, the staff help you out but it was still quite the experience.
Once everyone is out, it’s time to celebrate your balloon ride! There is Turkish champagne and cake as you are presented with your flight certificates. You can also tip the staff once everything is said and done. After everyone has finished their cake and champagne, you are shuttled back into town and still have the entire day ahead of you. And, it’s probably time for your hotel’s free breakfast to start, so have a second breakfast like I did! (In all fairness, I did work off both breakfasts hiking and climbing in Pigeon Valley)