Cappadocia is one of those locations we’ve all heard of before. It’s on every “must-see” list from every travel blogger, ever. Usually, this would be where I would decide to skip a place. Always trying to zag when everyone else zigs. Trying not to contribute to the over-tourism common with hot spots such as this.
I spoke to several people who had all recently visited and spoke highly of it, especially the hiking. This convinced me the reward could outweigh my reservations. I hoped by visiting in November the crowds would be low and I could avoid the selfie-taking influencers that tend to overwhelm such a location.
My instincts proved right ... and wrong. Crowds were indeed low, but what I found was a region entirely geared toward tourism. The small town of Göreme, where I stayed, was filled with Instagram-y coffee shops and more tour companies than I dared try to count. Everything was for sale and none of it was cheap. The hot air balloon rides Cappadocia is known for started at $150 and only went up from there. Dining was two or three times more expensive than anywhere else I’ve been in Türkiye.
Thankfully, I was visiting for very different reasons than everyone else … the hiking. I embarked on two great sunrise hikes and was the only person on the trails for 98% of my time. It was astonishing and amazing.
I had already decided against riding the hot air balloons for several reasons. For one, the cost wasn’t in my budget. I didn’t find it value for money, for me anyways. Also, my well-documented acrophobia made me think twice if I ever thought about spending the money. Lastly, I'd been told that you're stuffed like a sardine into the basket with 20-30 other people with no room to move around. Not appealing.
So while I wouldn’t be trying to ride in the balloons, I was still interested in seeing and photographing them. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t calm enough during my entire stay in Cappadocia for flights to happen.
Since I was not booked for a ride, I had no way of knowing about launch conditions. As such, had to wake up each morning before sunrise and start hiking to find out there were no balloons in the sky.
Love Valley / Uchisar / Pigeon Valley
My first hike was a loop around the west side of Göreme to the town of Uchisar and back, through Love Valley and Pigeon Valley.
The sky was pretty overcast and blunted the vibrancy of the sunrise. But as I entered the Love Valley, it cleared enough to get some good shots of all the fairy chimneys that are so famous.
The farther I descended into the valley, the deeper and more narrow it became. Eventually, it devolved into a confusing web of slot canyons and dead-end trails. At times I had to double back, resorting to trial and error to make my way forward. It was so beautiful that I viewed the maze as an opportunity to spend more time in this magical land, rather than a frustrating hindrance.
The trail ascended out of the valley and up to the town of Uchisar. After a short rest and a wander through town, I again began a descent, this time into the Pigeon Valley, on my way back to Göreme.
Before reaching the valley floor, I came upon a small shack cafe and stopped for a çay. While the beverage warmed my insides, I took in the view and had a wonderful chat with the old man working the cafe. Neither of us spoke much of the other’s language, but we did well enough to share a few laughs and enjoy a hearty handshake before I departed.
Having set out before sunrise, I arrived back at my guest house in the early afternoon, exhausted and convinced my day was done. After a brief nap, I noticed the clouds had burned off and the clear blue sky was transitioning into that magical golden hour light. This is the light all photographers dream about.
Using the bewitching light as motivation, I summoned what energy I had left to head out to a nearby vantage point for sunset. For the next two hours, I was spellbound by the ever-changing colors in the sky, and the rocks they cast their magic onto.
After a recovery day, I took my second hike, this time doing the Göreme Loop on the east side of the city, through Rose Valley and Red Valley. Again no balloons, but the sky was clear, and the sunrise spectacular.
The hike was punctuated by the staggering number of isolated cave churches hidden throughout the valley. Many of the caves were created during the 5th-7th CE century, when Arab raiders forced the Byzantine locals to seek refuge deep in these canyons and valleys. Some of the caves date back even farther, as far as the 5th BCE, making them over 2500 years old.
There were many points during this hike where I felt like Indiana Jones, out discovering previously hidden and ancient worlds. This feeling was greatly enhanced by the fact that I didn’t see another person until the final moments of my six-hour hike.
I’m so glad I made the decision not to skip Cappadocia. Its landscape and history are truly one of a kind, and should not be missed when visiting Türkiye.
It was also a great chance to take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life. So many of my favorite moments from this adventure have been hiking and exploring the natural beauty this planet has to offer.
Earlier I showed my disdain for influencer cuture, yet I wonder, "Does writing this blog make me an influencer?" I don't know, but I do worry about this sometimes when i'm writing. Anything I say can influence someone reading to visit a place like Cappadocia. And no doubt you should.
I'm very reticent to contribute to the impact tourism can have on unprepared travel hot spots. But I also deeply believe that travel is one of the greatest ways a person can learn about other peoples and their culture. That ultimately gives people more context and allows them to better formulate their opinions about the world.
While I appreciate any of you reading this right now, ultimately, I believe I'm writing this blog for myself. I'm finding the endeavor of writing cathartic and enjoyable. Visual storytelling is an art form I've fallen in love with. Crafting good stories is something I hope to continue to get better at.
So, till the next story ... thanks for reading.