A Backpacker's Guide to Cappadocia
Cappadocia - Beautiful Hiking, Stunning Scenery and Budget Prices
This is a Backpacker's Guide to Cappadocia, in central Turkey. I've backpacked across the world and this is one of my favourite destinations. Cappadocia offers beautiful hiking, stunning scenery, gorgeous weather, delicious food, budget prices and friendly people.
As a backpacker on a budget, this guide offers firsthand experience and opinions about getting to/from Cappadocia, where to eat and sleep, and most importantly how to explore the region on a budget- a mixture of tours and self guided adventures.
This guide is for people who enjoy the outdoors and love adventure! I've written this guide because when I was researching our trip I found it hard to get information about exploring the area without a guided tour. It is definitely possible (and enjoyable) to do it on your own, but we also did some tours that we really enjoyed. I've included information about both below.
This is very detailed on purpose. I've tried to include as much honest and useful information as I can, so this site is quite large. If you find it overwhelming, use the table of contents below to navigate to the most relevant information.
Also, If you've been to Cappadocia, or if you are planning a trip and have any questions, please feel free to leave comments, updates or questions below.
Lastly, the region has an ancient history, which I'm poorly qualified to cover, so see the links below if you want to find out more. Alternatively, the Turkey Lonely Planet is a great source of historic information.
I've travelled a lot and, sadly, I've found I get a bit jaded these days. I appreciate beautiful beaches and temples, but they don't take my breath away the way they use to. But Cappadocia is different. Every minute we were there we were in complete awe of the beauty of the area. Go and Enjoy!
Cappadocia GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
When to Visit Cappadocia
We visited Cappadocia in late June 2013 and had perfect weather, clear blue skies and lots of sunshine. It was warm during the day, but not so hot that hiking was unpleasant. At night it was pleasantly cool, jeans and a light sweater weather.
From what I've been told, you can expect similar weather during May/June and September/October. I would highly recommend planning to travel to Cappadocia during these periods. Most of our activities were outdoors (lots of hiking) and poor weather would have put a real damper on the trip.
I was expecting big crowds because this was "peak" season but this wasn't the case. Regardless, I wouldn't worry about crowds because it was very easy to get off the beaten track and find a little piece of Cappadocia to call your own!
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Lonely Planets are my go to travel guide! I've used Lonely Planets all my travels throughout Europe, Asia and Central America.
My favourite journal! Please keep a journal/scrapbook of your trip. My scrapbooks are some of my most prized possessions. Moleskines are gorgeous and durable and come in a variety of sizes and options.
How Long Do I Need to see Cappadocia?
In Cappadocia we met many people staying for just 2 nights. If you have limited time, yes, you can fit in the major sites in 2 nights. But, I promise if you stay longer you will not regret it!
What we loved most about Cappadocia was how there is INCREDIBLE beauty hidden around every corner. Hiking in Cappadocia is brilliant. This is an amazing destination for explorers. We stayed for 5 days and we could easily have stayed a week or two! There is so much to do if you are active and enjoy getting off the beaten track. It is also a beautiful place to relax, enjoy an apple tea and watch the sunset.
Getting to Cappadocia
If you are coming from overseas you will likely fly to Istanbul. From Istanbul, you can take an overnight bus directly to Goreme for about $30USD. Alternatively, you can take a flight into either Kayseri or Nevsehir. Nevsehir is closer but there are more flight options to Kayseri (about 1 hour away by car). I flew into Kayseri. I highly recommend booking an airport transfer from your hotel, as taxis are expensive (I believe about $50 USD one way.) We booked a hot air balloon trip with our hostel and they gave us the airport transfer for free. Otherwise, it was 10 Euro per person for the transfer.
Domestic flights in Turkey are relatively inexpensive and if you have any room in your budget I would consider it. We paid 90 GBP to fly one way London - Istanbul - Kayseri Pegasus, a Turkish low cost carrier and had no problems.
We left Cappadocia by bus to Istanbul. There is regular bus service and you can easily book from Goreme. The bus station is in the centre of town and the different carriers have their prices and schedules listed. The bus was reasonably comfortable, clean and cool - similar to overnight buses we have taken with National Express in the UK.
If you are on a tight budget, the bus is a very good option. However, if you are short on time and have can find a little extra in your budget, consider flying. An overnight bus is still an overnight bus and the seats did not recline very far. In retrospect, I wish we spent a little extra fly to Istanbul, because we had limited time in Istanbul and arrived very tired.
Cappadocia is the name of the region (like Tuscany or the Lake District), not an specific city. It is quite a large region, but the main tourist district is a triangle between the cities of Nevsehir, Urgup and Avanos, with Goreme in the middle and Uchisar between Goreme and Nevsehir and Cavusin between Goreme and Avanos.
Walking between Goreme and Uchisar takes 45 minutes - 1 hour, through the Pigeon Valley (read more below). Walking from Goreme to Cavusin is about 1 hour along the road, much longer if you walk through the Red & Rose Valleys.
Where to Stay
We stayed in Goreme and if you are a backpacker, on a budget, this is the place to be. However, don't worry - this is not a backpacker ghetto like Khao San Road in Bangkok. The town may be touristy, but it is still charming and there were travellers of all ages. There are a few drinking spots, but this is not a party town, so the atmosphere is pleasant and welcoming. It is also very central and you could fill 2-4 days doing hikes easily accessible from the town. If you stay elsewhere you may need to budget for taxis or other transport.
I highly recommend the Emre Cave Hostel, which is where we stayed. We paid 40TLR/night for a private room but they also have dorm beds. We booked the hostel through Hostelbookers.com. Our room was simple but clean. (However, it was advertised as a "cave room" but this was not a true cave hotel - it was a hotel made to look like a cave hotel.) There is a pool and an upstairs balcony with fantastic views. Breakfast was not included but was delicious and cheap (8TLR for Turkish breakfast + apple tea.) The location is very central, easy to find, and directly across from the bus station.
The staff were friendly and they did try and sell you tours and hot air ballooning, but they were not pushy about it. We did end up booking a hot air balloon trip and a tour through the hostel and found both trips to be excellent and very good value. (See more details below.)
If you are a flashpacker and have a bit of extra room in your budget, I would consider staying in Uchisar. Uchisar the highest point in the area and has beautiful views over the area. We saw a lot of beautiful resorts there and I think it would be great romantic escape!
Other areas to consider staying are Urgup and Cavusin. Cavusin is about 2km north from Goreme, along a flat road. We did not explore Cavusin but walked much of the road after exploring the Rose Valley. We did not explore Urgup, but did drive through. It is probably too far from Goreme to walk (and up a big hill) but we did see a wine tasting shop we would have liked to visit if we had more time.
If you have stayed in either Urgup or Cavusin please leave a comment below and share the experience!
Goreme Open Air Museum
Review of the museum plus details of a great short hike you can do on the way to the museum!
Almost everyone who goes to Cappadocia goes to the Goreme Open Air Museum. You can walk from Goreme, it takes about 15 minutes and the entrance fee is 15TLR. There is an audio tour available for an additional fee.
The focus of the Open Air Museum is the ancient churches (which are built in fairy chimneys) and the art inside the churches. The churches were impressive and if you have the time and money it is worth including. However, I did not enjoy the audio tour. I have done similar audio tours in Thailand and Cambodia and found them really enjoyable because they told stories about the area. Unfortunately, this audio tour was not as interesting. The focus was on the history of Christianity in the area, but it was very factual and did not really tell stories or tell much about the day to day life of those living in the area. I would only recommend if you are particularly interested in religious studies.
However, if you are a backpacker and have limited time and/or budget, you can consider skipping the Goreme Open Air Museum. I enjoyed it but it is very crowded and it was not nearly as impressive as the hikes, day tour and hot air balloon trip we did. With a limited budget, I would put money towards a hot air balloon trip or a tour that includes an underground city. I am not particularly interested in religion and, although I appreciate the history, I was more interested in the geography of the region. The churches were interesting, but Cappadocia has many fairy chimney churches, many of which can be seen doing free hikes in the area. Most of these have not been restored so are not in as good of condition; however, there is a sense of adventure and satisfaction in seeing them on your own, away from the crowds.
Either way, there are some good hikes that can be done from the road to the Open Air Museum. One such hike is a short, but stunning loop only a 10-15 minute walk from the road. My map calls it the Gorceli Deresi Hike, but I can't remember if it was signposted as such. It is a great short option to combine with a visit to the museum - details about the walk below.
To get to the Goreme Open Air Museum, walk East from the town centre. The Bus station is in the centre of town and is a good reference point. If you are facing East the bus agency storefronts will be on your right side and the main road on your left. Follow the road for about 5-10 minutes. You will then see a large main road on your right side. This is the road to the museum. Everyone will be able to give you directions if you get lost.
After taking the right turn towards the museum, walk for about 10-15 minutes. You will pass a large resort on your right side of the road. Immediately after the resort there is a path on your right. There is a sign marking the hike, but I do not remember if it has the name or the hike or if it is in English. However, it is immediately following the resort and you walk along the edge of the resort for the first 5 minutes or so. Continue for about 10 minutes and you will quickly feel a million miles away from Goreme. You will reach a little shack selling drinks and trinkets (this is normal and you will find these all along most of the hiking routes.) From there you will see amazing views and lots of fairy chimneys. You can stop there or have a little explore, there is a little loop. We did this walk late afternoon, after going to the Goreme Open Air Museum, and didn't see anyone else there. It was fun to feel like explorers all on our own! It was also a great option for your first day, if you are jetlagged or arrived late and don't have time for a proper hike - but still want to get a feel for Cappadocia.
Should You Do a Tour in Cappadocia? - Is it worth it?
If you're in Cappadocia, or even just doing research on the web, you will see HEAPS of information about doing tours. Tours are sold everywhere. In particular, there are a few key itineraries, called Red Tour, Green Tour, etc, that all agencies seemed to do.
We were conflicted about whether to do a tour or not. Most of the tour itineraries seemed stock standard. Many included the Goreme Open Air Museum, which we had already visited (see review above.) The prices aren't outrageous, but we were on a strict budget. However, we loved Cappadocia and we didn't want to miss out on anything important. Also, most of the tours included one of Cappadocia's underground cities, which we really wanted to do. In other words, we wanted to do a tour but only if it was going to be amazing and good value for money.
In the end, we were talked into doing a "special" tour on sale at our hostel, the Emre Cave House. This itinerary was unique, unlike the standard tours on sale throughout town. The cost was 90 TLR (about $30 USD) including all transport, admission fees and lunch.
I will be honest, I was pretty skeptical and my expectations were very low. However, I was very pleasantly surprised! This tour was amazing, great value, a good mix of off the beaten track and tourist attractions. I highly recommend booking this tour.
We were picked up in a clean, air conditioned minivan. I was surprised to see we had a driver and a guide. For the price, I assumed we would have a driver/guide. Also, there were only 5 travellers, including us, in our group. So off to a good start.
As we hit the road the driver started to tell us about the history of the area. He was really interesting and after 10 minutes we had learned more than what we did in our entire audio tour at the Goreme Open Air Museum (see my review above.)
We did a quick stop at a scenic viewpoint before heading off to the Mazi Underground City. Most of the tours we saw in town went to underground cities. However, I don't think many tours went to this city. When we arrived, the entrance was locked, and was only unlocked when our guide called a local man to open it for us. We didn't see any other tourists there.
The Mazi Underground City was incredible. We were all given torches and after a certain point warned not to continue if were claustrophobic. We were crawling through little tunnels and climbing up through narrow chimneys. The climbing got our hearts beating and adrenaline pumping. But it was amazing getting a full on experience with no other tourists around. A fantastic highlight of the tour - even if we didn't do anything else special we would have been happy about the Mazi Underground City alone. (A word of advice - you will get dirty don't wear nice clothes and it is cold in the underground city so bring an extra layer.)
After leaving the Underground City we drove through some beautiful countryside and small villages, visiting a cave house and cave church, before stopping for lunch.
Lunch was amazing highlight number 2! It was a family run restaurant in the countryside that catered for tourists without being too touristy. We sat outside, next to a little stream, and were served a gorgeous 4 course meal. First, we had a tasting platter, with olives, cheeses, homemade bread, local honey and more. We then had a soup course, a delicious main (there were several options), dessert and Turkish apple tea. It was perfect - delicious in an incredible setting.
After lunch we visited a Roman archaeological site (and heard the great story about a farmer who got rich smuggling out antiques before getting caught) and walked around Greek village. We didn't see other tourists at either site.
However, we did move to some bigger attractions after that - which wasn't a bad thing. We went to the Valley of Imagination and Devrent Valley (check out my Gallery!) Both were breathtaking spots we probably wouldn't have visited on our own because they weren't within walking distance of Goreme.
Overall, a fantastic experience worth every penny. I would highly recommend contacting the Emre Cave House about booking this tour.
Learn More About Cappadocia and Turkey
- Wikipedia - Cappadocia
Cappadocia has a rich history, read more about it on Wikipedia
- Sailing in Turkey, Marmaris
Turkey is a beautiful spot to indulge in a bit of sailing. This lovely guide introduces you to some of the coves and beautiful villages. A great resource for helping you plan your own sailing trip.