If there’s one thing you must do in Cappadocia, then a hot air balloon ride gets my vote. There’s nothing quite like floating through the air and watching the most magical, other-worldly scene you’ll ever see.
Photos definitely don’t do this place justice. But I hope this post paints a visual of how incredibly beautiful this experience is.
But first, The Cappadocia Region
Cappadocia is a region in Central Anatolia known for its underground cities, fairy chimneys and other unusual volcanic rock formations. Thanks to its ideal weather, the area is one of the top places for a hot air balloon ride recording over 260 favorable days per year. On any given sunrise, you’ll witness hundreds of balloons fly over the morning skies.
The Bucket List Experience
Still in dazed, the shuttle service picks us up from our hotel at 5 AM and transfers us to the headquarters for a full breakfast buffet. We arrived in Cappadocia at midnight, so we barely slept that time. To keep myself alert, I load up with a plate of bread, ham, hardboiled egg, some fruits and a cup of coffee.
Minutes later, we grouped for our next stop: the launching point. Our balloon is almost ready to go when we reached. So one by one, we hop into the sectioned basket to fill each of the four corners. The basket can hold up to 17 persons, but there are only 12 of us plus the pilot. Hence, each passenger compartment just had three people in it giving enough room for everyone. The extra space came in handy later on as it’s easier to move around while taking photos. When you have an opportunity, choose a smaller basket with fewer people. It’s worth the extra money.
The pilot gives a few reminders, prepares us for what will happen, and what to do during the landing. And then, off we go!
We float over colorful valleys, cave villages and fairy chimneys as the sun slowly warm the earth. Our pilot, Tolga, skillfully raises and lowers the balloon as we hover over different rock formations. He fills us in with bits of information about Cappadocia and explains hot air balloon flying techniques while gliding along air currents. Accompanied by his silly jokes, Tolga keeps us entertained with his little balloon party as he ignites the burners in different beats.
Those who are afraid of heights don’t need to fear as the flight is very still. I hardly even notice that we are already drifting high above the ground. The basket is quite tall, so it’s unlikely that you’ll fall. It doesn’t sway either.
The hot air balloon ride is one of the most serene experience I ever had, and I am entirely in awe all throughout our journey. An hour of tranquility up in the air is all I ever needed. And I just soaked in the quietness of the moment.
With the pilot’s constant communication with the crew, we descend back down and land right on the floor of a trailer. The landing was so light and smooth; I did not feel fear or panic at all. As it’s difficult to climb out of the basket, the crew assisted and carried each one of us out like princesses (yes, including the men) showing off their strength and utmost teamwork.
To end an already perfect experience, a congratulatory glass of champagne (or orange juice in my case), chocolate-coated strawberries and biscuits are served. We also get to take home a baseball cap and a medal for bragging rights. ;)
Now, which balloon company to choose?
Cappadocia has around 25 balloon companies with up to 100 balloons taking off every morning. So selecting from which one to fly with can be a daunting task. I did research and read a lot of reviews until I shortlisted three companies. Prices and inclusions vary, but the defining factors for us are the balloon quality, pilot experience, and insurance policy.
In the end, I reached out to Royal Balloon to book our flight. They own the best equipment, have experienced and reputable pilots who have soared all over the world, and operate on a higher level of service than any other balloon companies in Cappadocia. They only own few but very high-quality balloons built by prestigious hot air balloon producers, Cameron Balloons and Lindstrand Balloons (both made in the UK). These are very high-class silver-coated balloons which offer top security for the material used.
The tour includes a pickup from our hotel, a breakfast spread in Royal Balloon headquarters, a glass of celebratory champagne upon landing, transfer back to our hotel, and bonus gifts — a baseball cap and a medal.
It’s worth mentioning that since Royal Balloon only own few balloons, the crew gets to mingle and chat with each of the passengers after the flight. While offering snacks, Tolga and the team walk around to get to know us and check on how we felt about our hot air balloon ride. This simple act makes the experience all the more personable since they go out of their way to see that their passengers had a good time.
That morning was dreamlike.
It is an experience of a lifetime but probably not for once – because given a chance, I’d be happy to do it again in a beat.