If you research Peru you will be presented with glorious photographs of Machu Picchu. If you research Cambodia (or Vietnam!?) you will see Angkor Wat. Italy – The Colosseum. Thailand – Beaches. And when I started to research Turkey I was continually presented with a stunningly unusual landscape complete with various hot air balloons. Cappadocia, as it transpired, is one of the poster boys of Turkey.
I do tend to be taken in by the stunning headline images to be honest, so Cappadocia became part of, and the centrepiece to my trip to Turkey.
Getting to Cappadocia
Getting to Cappadocia is easy, and easier than you might expect given that it sits right in the middle of a country that seems to be more about the coastline than anything else. I flew from Istanbul to Kayseri Airport which was easy and cheap. Turkey has a good budget airline in the form of Pegasus Air as well as an excellent national carrier – Turkish Airlines. I paid around GBP£50 return for the flight with Pegasus and this seems to be their standard fare.
Transfers from the airport into the region are easily arranged and reasonable too. I arranged mine through my hotel in Goreme.
Goreme – A Great Town
Goreme itself seemed to me to be the perfect place to stay in the region. The town is delightful, some of the hotels are built within the otherworldly rock formations and many of the main attractions are close by.
Hot air ballooning was a new activity for me. Being a little uneasy with heights I decided to do some research and settled upon Butterfly Balloons – one of at least 25 in the region. I stopped my research short of the disasters which unfortunately do happen from time to time in ballooning, all around the world and occasionally at Cappadocia. Butterfly seemed to get great reviews and was recommended in the Lonely Planet guidebook though.
Before the Flight
The logistical aspect of the build up to the flight was slick – as you would expect as they do this twice a day almost every day. I was picked up very early from my hotel and driven to their main offices. Here they provided breakfast to the 50 or so passengers (don’t worry, they have more than one balloon!) before we were split into groups. Rather inexplicably I was placed with 14 Chinese people, of which only a couple spoke English. Not that this bothered me but looking at the other groups Butterfly were clearly trying to group people together with a system of some sort. For the record, I am rarely mistaken for a Chinese person.
Then we were bussed out into the middle of nowhere where our balloon was waiting. Once it was ready we were loaded into the basket, given a short safety talk by our pilot and took off.
I won’t tell you about the flight, as photos do a better job. Suffice to say though that it was a really special experience and the gradually rising sun helps to show off the astounding geological formations of the area to perfection.
Landing was a different matter though. Our pilot, who was clearly talented and instilled great confidence throughout, had told us that we were very lucky. The winds were carrying us along at a good pace and as a result we were seeing a lot more than most. Which is good. Until landing time approached.
As we descended we were asked to take up landing positions – which is to be crouched down in the basket and holding on tightly to the handles. From this position, despite my height I could see nothing.
The pilot’s calls for us to brace ourselves became a little more urgent and then we hit the ground hard. We all whooped in delight, as if we were on a rollercoaster, but then the balloon crashed down again, this time much harder. The laughing and cheering turned to screams.
The third time the balloon hit the ground it was pulled over by around 45 degrees and was then dragged along. The basket filled with dust and vegetation. At this point I could still see nothing, but I later learned that the ground crew had all thrown themselves on to the basket to try and cease its undignified journey through the olive trees and rocks.
Eventually we did stop, on our side, with the weighty gas cannisters within the basket thankfully remaining in place above my head.
The landing was laughed off by the crew, and in all honesty I enjoy a little drama. But when I went for a stroll I noticed that had we been dragged a little further the edge of a deep ravine awaited.
So are balloon flights in Cappadocia safe? I’m not entirely sure. Certainly Butterfly balloons are a professional outfit, with good equipment and excellent staff. But I am inclined to think that the sheer number of balloons in the air at once is the most likely cause of accidents. Our pilot had a walkie talkie and though I couldn’t understand what was being said I am pretty sure he was speaking with the other Butterfly balloons, Probably looking out for each other, letting each other know what was above and below the balloons, in the huge blind spots.
My concern would be that single balloon or cut price operators may not apply the same level of caution. I don’t think hot air balloon flights are something to choose solely in the basis of price.
As for the landing, this was caused by the strength of the wind on the day. I suspect that in many countries that amount of wind would put paid to balloon flights for the day. Not so in Cappadocia where the balloon flights are a huge money spinner.
Balloon flights, like many of the best activities, carry an element of risk. Based on my experience in Cappadocia, it is a risk worth taking. So my advice would be that you should do your research and be wary of the cheaper balloon companies.
How about you?
Have you been to Cappadocia? What did you make of the balloon flight? Let me know, either in the comments or on Facebook.