Hot air balloon flights and Cappadocia go together like… hummus and carrot sticks? I was going to write apple pie and ice-cream, but decided to go for a healthier option. Yes, early in the morning hot air balloons are everywhere you look in Cappadocia. Taking photos of colorful balloons meeting the sunrise above capriciously shaped rock formations is as popular as actually going on hot air balloon rides. On our third trip to Cappadocia we were fortunate enough to go on a ride ourselves. In fact, this was a way to celebrate Michael’s birthday. I have to say, this experience was worth every
penny Euro and worth getting up at 4 a.m. for! Because WE WERE FLYING!
A quick Google search turned up dozens of companies with prices varying from 90 to 300 Euros. As always, such ample choice left me stumped and we decided to trust in Yaşar, the friendly receptionist at Travellers Cave Pension where we were staying. He recommended Kapadokya Balloons and we went with his recommendation. A standard flight lasts up to an hour, will carry up to 24 people and costs 165 Euro (cash price). We opted for the exclusive program for its longer time (1,5 hours), fewer people (up to 16). It was considerably pricier at 230 Euro per person, but the hotel was able to offer us a discount for booking through them.
Our excitement was slightly dampened by weather forecasts promising rain, but the weather in the region is notoriously hard to predict, so we weren’t despairing. We weren’t very prepared for colder weather though since the temperature hasn’t dipped below 30C (86F) for the last few months, so we went shopping for ponchos. These ubiquitous garments are sold at every souvenir shop in Cappadocia and are a bargain at 20 lira (10 USD). Even Michael got one. They only person who wouldn’t be persuaded was his dad Ted, even though we tried to tell him how cute he looked in one. See for yourself:
O For some reason, I was almost as excited about the ponchos as I was about the flights, possibly because I didn’t want to get my hopes up in case it did pour with rain and we didn’t get to go. But 4 a.m. came, and the alarm went off. We gathered in the courtyard, still sleepy and wrapped in our ponchos.
We were picked up from our hotel and driven to the company’s office in Goreme, where we were served a light breakfast. The excitement in the air was palpable despite the early hour as dozens of people checked their cameras and phones and munched on the fresh pastries. We were then given a flyer with our pilot’s name stamped on it and filed out to find our buses, also bearing the pilot’s name. In our case, it was Barış, which means ‘peace’ in Turkish. (Incidentally, it seem to be common in Turkey to give two sons paired names Savaş and Barış – War and Peace).
It was just after 5 a.m. and still dark, but as we neared our launching site and passed many others we could see outlines of balloons which would suddenly glow as propane burners send flames into the balloons to inflate them.
I didn’t even notice that the balloon was ready for take-off, so busy I was looking around and taking photos. As soon as we were told, we lumbered into the basket (not an easy task). It was a wicker basket, divided into 6 sections. In effect, everyone was “on the outside” with equal access to the view. We had 12 people in our basket and the pilot who stood in his own little section.
And just like that, we were up in the air! The ascent was extremely smooth and almost went unnoticed. The balloons operating exclusive flight programs take off slightly later than the rest of the balloons which is both safer and offers more spectacular views – we could see all the balloon ahead of us. According to civil aviation regulations, only 100 balloons can be in the air at one time. All balloons launch around the same time, before the sunset as it offers the safest flying conditions. The company we were flying with operated 9 balloons. According to our pilot, our balloon was made in Czech Republic. He received his pilot license in Russia, of all places! The pilot pointed out the sunrise to us. I think it was my first time watching the sunrise and I was surprised at how quickly the sun appeared from behind a hill.
Halfway into our flight, we landed in a small vineyard and the pilot encouraged one of the passengers to get out of the basket and grab some grapes for everyone to taste. They tasted amazing!
All too soon, the ride was coming to an end. Looking down, we could see more and more balloons on the ground, being deflated. As we descended, we saw a truck waiting for us and the pilot deftly maneuvered the basket right onto the truck bed.
On the ground, the crew swiftly deflated and packed the balloon up and served everyone a glass of champagne. The pilot showed everyone a video he made during the flight and invited us to buy a copy. He then held a short talk about hot air balloons in Cappadocia where he told us of the most recent accident which happened a few years ago when a hot air balloon ascended without checking what was above it, plowed into another balloon whose basket damaged the lower balloon. The damaged balloon descended too rapidly and 4 tourists out of 24 were killed. We contemplated the tragic story for a few minutes. Fortunately, such accidents are extremely rare and there were only 2 in all the time, which happened to occur in the last 4 years in Cappadocia. The tragedy happened due to human error and not because of the dangerous nature of hot air balloons, and since then there’s been better communication between pilots and more stringent regulations regarding the number of balloons in the air. Also, we were glad we heard this story AFTER we landed.
Here is a video of our flight: