“How can you not absolutely love this?” Carlo asked.
“It’s ok, but can we go and grab an ice-cream now?” I said.
He wasn’t too happy! In fact I think he was ready to kill me.
There I stood in front of Christ the Redeemer and all I could think of was leaving and getting an ice cream from the vender that I’d spotted on the way in.
Was I being totally unappreciative of one of the New Seven Wonders of the World?
It probably sounds that way.
I think one of the downsides of having travelled to over 40 countries is that it now takes a lot to ‘wow’ me. When we left home in July 2013 on our second backpacking trip to Southeast Asia, almost everything during that few months left me in total awe.
From swimming in the clear blue waters of the Gili Islands and trekking through Taman Negara Rainforest in Malaysia to eating street food on Koh San Road and getting lost in the Australian outback, I was totally wowed by all of it.
I saw every day as a brand new adventure and a chance to try something new or see something I’d never seen before. Everything was so new to me back then.
Taking a 2-hour trek to see a waterfall that was slightly more powerful than a really good power shower was always a brilliant idea.
Whether it was to be the greenery that surrounded that waterfall or the sound of the crashing water off a single rock when I got there, I knew that, despite the power of the waterfall itself, I’d find something that would make me think ‘wow’.
3 years later and I’ve had the chance to see many more waterfalls, do jungle treks, follow hiking trails, visit UNESCO World Heritage sites and suss out some of the most famous landmarks in the world.
Yes, it has been totally amazing to do all of these things but it does come with a downside as mentioned earlier.
I’m not as easily wowed as I was back then. In fact, I’d now go as far as to say it takes a lot to impress me these days.
Remember that 2-hour trek to the weak waterfall I spoke about earlier? I wouldn’t do it today because I’d likely be unimpressed by the greenery or the sound of the crashing water.
I suppose it has something that has gradually just happened over the past few years, and it makes me pretty sad sometimes.
It makes me feel like I don’t appreciate things the way I used to. It makes me wonder if I have become too complacent with the gifts that this kind of lifestyle gives me.
Here I am out exploring countries that most people would give their right arm to visit and while I do absolutely love it all for the most part, most of the places don’t give me that warm and fuzzy feeling that I used to feel almost everyday when we left home 3 years ago.
Heck, sometimes the idea of sitting in Starbucks drinking an overpriced latte makes me happier than having to trek up to some viewpoint to get a glimpse of a city/town from above.
However, and this is the reason why I decided to write this post, we visited somewhere very special lately that gave me back this fuzzy feeling that I haven’t felt in quite some time.
If you follow us on Snapchat, you’ll probably already know that I’m talking about Cappadocia.
Guys, this place literally made my mouth open in awe on so many occasions, and the best thing is I wasn’t expecting it to impress me to the extent that it did.
Located in central Turkey, I’d heard about this place almost 2 years ago when a friend visited. He stayed in a cave hotel, flew high above some fairy chimneys in a hot air balloon and his pictures were amazing.
When we booked our packaged tour in Turkey last year, I was extremely excited. And that wasn’t because I’d be going to the buzzing city of Istanbul, exploring the ancient ruins of Troy or relaxing for a week in the Turkish Rivera.
None of that really thrilled me. I was excited because I’d get to visit Cappadocia.
Maybe it’s because I’ve had a slight obsession with hot air balloons since I was a child (those from my hometown of Boyle and its surrounding areas will probably understand this!) or perhaps it was the fascinating landscape of the region, but this area just enthralled me.
Photo courtesy of Tony Conboy
Now, with this excitement came worry. Worry that I’d be bitterly disappointed.
You now know that I’m easily underwhelmed these days, and given that I’d already had such high expectations for this place, I feared that it wouldn’t live up to what I expected it to be like.
I was secretly worried that I’d set the bar way too high for this one.
Photo courtesy of Tony Conboy
Well, the good news is that this place lived up to everything I’d hoped it would be. Yes, it was super-touristy but I expected that too.
So many travellers spout advice such as “don’t go there, it’s too touristy” about places like Cappadocia. I totally disagree with this and kind of cringe when I hear people saying it.
I’m a tourist too so what makes me any different to everyone else that chooses to leave home and take a trip to see more of the world? The answer is nothing.
If I took their advice to “avoid over-touristic places” I’d never have seen the Taj Mahal, lived in Phuket, took a 3-day safari in the Serengeti or enjoyed sunbathing on the famous Copacabana Beach in Rio.
I firmly believe that these places are touristy for a reason, and that reason is usually because they’re worth seeing. Everyone needs to have their own experience to make their own mind up.
I wasn’t expecting to go to Cappadocia and be one of few tourists there so seeing the hoards of buses pulling up outside the open air museum and having to share restaurants with Chinese people rather than locals really didn’t bother me. I expected it to be that way.
Anyway, without (hopefully) boring you too much, I’m going to talk a little more about Cappadocia and why it wowed me so much. I’ll then talk a little about some of the standout highlights that make this region somewhere that all visitors to Turkey should try to visit.
Cappadocia and its Stunning Landscape
For those of you that don’t know, Cappadocia is a semi-arid region in central Turkey. After getting the bus from Alanya in the south, it was the otherworldly natural rock formations, such as the famous fairy chimneys, and carved rock churches that made me feel like I had stepped right into another world the minute I arrived.
If you’re a fan of hobbits and all things Lord of the Rings related, you’d absolutely love the stunning landscape of this area.
The origins of this very unique area can be tracked back to some 50 million years ago, when it’s said that chimneys and craters largely dictated the landscape.
Millions of years and countless volcanic eruptions that spewed volcanic material out onto the landscape later, and we got the basis of what was to be a unique tuff-coned setting.
It was through forces of erosion and the digging of cave dwellers that gave us the fairy chimneys, underground cities (read more on these here), rock churches, houses and the monasteries that we see there today.
Cappadocia is actually the ancient name that was given to a large region in the centre of Anatolia. However, when the term is used today, it specifically refers to the valleys of Urgup and Goreme.
Like most other visitors to the area, we chose to stay in the beautiful Goreme as it’s the perfect basis from which to explore the highlights of the area, some of which include:
• Göreme Valley National Park and its rock churches
• The Fairy Chimneys
• Underground cities (Derinkuyu, Ozkonak, Zelve Valley, Pasabag and Kaymakli)
• Red Valley
• Uçhisar rock fortress
• Ortahisar rock fortress
• Ihlara valley
As you can see there’s no shortage of things to do or places to explore in Cappadocia. The area is famous for its balloon rides, hiking, walking, motor biking, quad bike excursions and horse riding, all of which are done through the valleys.
So without boring you too much with the history of these highlights and what makes them worth seeing, I’m going to continue with some tips that I’d recommend to those of you who plan to visit the area.
If you’re not interested in these simply because you’re never going to go to Turkey (or for any other reason!), you can skip these and jump to the bottom of this post.
Planning Tips: Things to Do in Cappadocia and More
1. Plan to stay for (at least) 3-4 days
Given that there’s so much to see and so many things to do in Cappadocia, I really feel that 3-4 days is the minimum stay that’s required to get a good insight into what the area is about. We stayed for 5 days and I could have easily spent another 7-10 days there as we only scratched the surface.
2. Stay in a cave hotel
Staying at the gorgeous Koza Cave Hotel really added to our experience. It was my first time to sleep in a cave hotel and relaxing in a Jacuzzi bath at the end of a busy day of sightseeing is always a big treat, but the fact that I could do this inside a real cave made it all the more special.
There are plenty of cave hotels in Cappadocia but based on our research, there’s none that offers the experience that Koza does.
It’s a small family run hotel that has ten rooms, it’s excellently located, totally luxurious and the hospitality of Samed and his mum and dad is truly heart-warming.
I have to say the delicious breakfast of fresh breads, pastries, fruits, eggs, cold meats, salads, dried fruits, cereals, raisons, juice, coffee and lots of nutella added to the experience too – thanks guys!
See the video of our room below.
3. Rent a car
This was something that we hadn’t planned to do but, upon seeing the ground that we needed to cover to see all we wanted to see, we figured it was the best option.
The cost was €40 per day and we rented it for 2 days. This allowed us to explore at our own pace and it was lovely to have the freedom to just jump in the car and go wherever and whenever we wanted.
4. Don’t go in the summer (if possible)
We went in the beginning of March and I can honestly say the weather was perfect. The sky was blue, it rained very little (maybe we got lucky with this), it was warm during the day and chilly in the early morning, late evening and night time.
With temperatures reaching almost 40 degrees Celsius in the summer time, I imagine it to be uncomfortably warm to spend hours outside sightseeing.
5. Do a hot air balloon ride
Even if you’ve done a balloon ride before, do another one. Flying high above the fairy chimneys and dipping between the valleys was one of the best travel experiences of my life.
Yes, I enjoyed it THAT much!
Cemal and his team had everything so well organised and we felt extremely safe. You can see more of our balloon trip by watching our video at the end of this post.
6. Be sure to vary your activities
Cappadocia has so much to offer, and unless you’re going there specifically for one reason, let’s say the hiking or the biking for example, it’s best to vary your activities as much as you can.
This could mean doing a balloon ride to watch the sun rise, taking a hike in the Red Valley and open air museum in the early morning, exploring an underground city in the early afternoon, and doing some horse-riding or taking an ATV tour to watch the sunset.
You get the gist.
7. Do bring some comfy runners/hiking boots
Even if you do decide to rent a car, you’ll still be doing lots of walking so make sure your feet won’t suffer. The more of this fairytale land you see, the more you’ll want to see so be prepared.
You have been warned!
8. Do visit as many viewpoints as you can
Cappadocia was one place where I would not prefer to sit in Starbucks over hiking to a viewpoint.
This landscape is stunning (I think you’ve got that by now!) and it’s best appreciated from one of the many panoramic viewpoints in the area.
You can read more on the most recommended here, but Esentepe was my favourite. I’d read that it was always crowded with tourists but we were the only ones there on both occasions that we visited.
Yes, the coffee shops sell overpriced coffees and the souvenir shops are full of the usual tack, but this view made up for all of that. Amazing.
9. Eat and drink plenty
I have to say that Turkish food in general just didn’t do it for me. The food we had in Istanbul and prior to Cappadocia was bland, uninteresting and it felt like we were stuffing our faces with glorified fast food all of the time.
Perhaps we were going to the wrong places but I wasn’t impressed. Cappadocia changed that and we enjoyed some of the best food that we’d had in Turkey during our visit.
I won’t ramble on too much about the food but if you’re interested in eating some traditional beef kebabs out of a clay pot and an amazing meze plate, get yourself down to Keyif Café.
If good coffee is your thing, Coffeedocia is the place to be. It’s right beside the bus station, it’s very spacious, has very friendly staff and the Wi-Fi is excellent.
10. Don’t miss the pigeon houses!
Pigeon Valley, as it’s called, is situated near Uchisar and is extremely popular with hikers. The name, as it suggests, refers to the thousands of pigeon houses that have been carved into the soft rock since ancient times.
These pigeon houses can be found all around Cappadocia but they are especially prevalent in this area.
What were previously used by farmers in the region, who collected pigeon droppings to use as fertiliser, standing back and looking at one of the greatest collections of pigeon lofts in the world is quite cool so have the camera at the ready.
Our friend, Cemal, told us that millions of pigeons once called this valley home, but there aren’t too many to be found living in these dwellings today.
We didn’t hike in this valley, but it’s meant to be a great way to spend a few hours.
Going back to what I said at the beginning of this post, I still feel like it will continue to take a lot to wow me. We’re in Athens at the minute and it’s beautiful but it doesn’t particularly enthuse me or give me that warm, fuzzy feeling that I perhaps would have got if I came here 3 or 4 years ago.
That said, I’m really looking forward to exploring the ancient ruins of the Acropolis of Athens, the Temple of Zeus and the Panathenaic Stadium over the next few days (you can follow along on Snapchat @nxtstopwhoknows).
And while I don’t expect to be overly wowed by any of these places (they might surprise me though!), Cappadocia has given me that warm, tingly feeling that I hadn’t felt since hiking to Machu Picchu and sleeping under the stars in the desert in Rajasthan.
It has given me confirmation that I’m not an under appreciative person that can’t be wowed anymore. It just takes a little more to wow me these days.
It’s all a learning process and, with each destination that we pass through, I’m learning more about what kinds of places and attractions enthral me the most. A mate of ours Will Hatton has been advising us to go Backpacking Iran as soon as we can – as it’s one of those countries that needs to be visited in order to appreciate just how wonderful it is.
And just because I don’t feel particularly wowed by a place doesn’t mean that I don’t have some appreciation for it or that someone else wouldn’t be in total awe when they visit that very same spot.
Heck, I know of people that have been to Cappadocia and think it’s nothing more than a big waste-of-a-trip tourist trap!