Cappadocia is often billed by bloggers as a luxury, romantic destination. You might think you would be silly to try and go backpacking in Cappadocia. With pricey cave hotels talked about more than anything else, it is easy to think that Cappadocia isn’t a place for those travelling on a backpacker budget. Why, there are other cheaper places to visit in Turkey and that maybe you should give it a miss?
I am here to bust that myth. You can go backpacking in Cappadocia and have an awesome, affordable time! It isn’t just a postcard picture destination for honeymooners doing professional photoshoots on rooftops and cliffs at the break of dawn. Cappadocia is so much more than that.
There is hiking, quad biking, museums, plenty to explore! But first let’s talk how to get there and where to find the best hostels.
Getting to Cappadocia
There are two main airports near Cappadocia as mentioned in my post on my Turkey travel itinerary – Nevsehir and Kayseri. Nevsehir is closer, but Kayseri has more flights. And theres only a 15 minute difference in the faster option. It was easy to arrange a pick up from our hostel and then back from our hotel too, as there isn’t much in the way of public transport! We flew to Kayseri with Pegasus, which was an hour flight from Istanbul and cost us about £20 each including our backpacks.
Where to stay when backpacking in Cappadocia
Despite the impression you may get from instagram, Cappadocia is not exclusively made up of luxury cave hotels. Don’t get me wrong, there is an abundance of those, but you can find some cheaper alternatives. There are actually quite a few options on Hostel world, including a few with cave dorms like Kamelya Cave Hostel and Stay in Peace cave hostel. But one stood out to us as a clear winner. What was that swaying factor? Well, it had a pool. Plus we had a night in a cave hotel at the end to look forward to as a treat!
We chose to stay at Kose Pension. A Pension is technically a guest-house, however Kose has a mixture of mainly private rooms and smaller dorms. The only one we saw where friends were staying was 4 person, but they do have 12 bed dorms too. We stayed in a double private room, which came with its own bathroom which is always a bonus. The only downside was that it didn’t have air conditioning, but this was a backpacker place so we didn’t mind that. Plus it did have a hairdryer though which is a backpacking luxury!
The atmosphere here was pretty laid back. There were always people outside lounging around reading, or playing chess. Usually there were people round the pool in the afternoon too, and we spent a few hours here on two of our days staying here making friends and having a cool dip. It is roasting in the valley of Goreme, so I cannot recommend staying here for the pool alone enough! And if that isn’t enough, they have a few tiny resident cats who were very sweet!
You can opt to pay a tiny bit extra and get your breakfast included which we did, having our first Turkish breakfast of bread, eggs, tomato, cucumber, olives, cheese and honey. I could get used to having that for breakfast every day for sure!
Unlike our Hostel in Istanbul, the bar at Kose Pension was open, which we were very happy about. The beers were very cheap here, so we enjoyed a few by the pool.
When Craig went to get these for us, the Columbian bartender, Jota, noticed his big forearm tattoo and they got chatting. Jota is an artist and had been tattooing for 9 months. Next thing I know Craig is getting a tattoo of the balloons over the fairy chimneys the next day, which is pretty awesome. He has his own little tattoo studio on the roof which was pretty cool. To be honest I am jealous I didn’t have any ideas to get one of my own. Especially now a friend we met stayed there on our recommendation and got one too, I have such FOMO!
Tattoo’s aside, we came back from dinner with some of our Istanbul friends who were staying elsewhere one night and everyone was partying at the bar and doing shots. Turns out one couple had got engaged that day! (It is a pretty popular proposal location, the balloons all rising into the sunrise, you get it)! So it was tequilas all round. We of course joined the party and made a new group of friends and drank a few shots to celebrate with them. They have actually since got married in Ukraine, so congratulations Brandon and Olga!
My point is, it is an awesome hostel, everyone is really fun and you should 100% stay there when you go backpacking in Cappadocia.
Koza Cave Hotel
As I mentioned, we did also do one night at the end of our stay in a cave hotel. It was our treat to ourselves to have one fancy night of the trip and boy did it pay off. We were one of only two guests staying at the 10 room Koza Cave hotel, and we got a very generous upgrade for the night! I will do a separate post on that stay for those interested in reading more. But there are loads of cave hotels to stay at if that is what you fancy. Some are pretty instagram famous so its a good place to do some research if you are going to go for it.
Things to do in Cappadocia
Hot air balloon ride
Well the obvious thing to do is of course the iconic hot air balloon ride. This is arguably the best way to admire the extremely unique landscape of Cappadocia. You get to appreciate how extensive the fairy chimneys and weird shaped rocks are from the air. It is really quite magical.
Neither of us had ever been in a hot air balloon before so we were keen to give it a go, whatever the price. We try and buy travel experiences for each other’s birthdays rather than things, so the hot air balloon ride was to be Craig’s birthday present. A week early as his birthday was at the end of the trip, but pretty good present eh!
We had heard various prices. A few blogs I had read said they are on average €120 per person. Some say more, others a bit less but usually €100+. Of course what these didn’t account for, was the fact that Coronavirus has devastated the tourism industry. Furthermore the balloons only actually started flying again at the end of August after being shut down by the pandemic.
This worked very much in our favour, as the balloon companies were all competing for a much lower number of tourists and desperate to get people up in the air. We booked our ride through our hostel and it was €70 per person. Our company was called rainbow balloons. Unsurprisingly we got an awesome rainbow striped balloon. It was no frills, we were picked up from the hostel, driven down a dirt track in pitch black and watched in the 5am coldness as they inflated that balloon. Some of our Istanbul crew had booked through cave hotels they had stayed in, and had a small sit down breakfast included in theirs.
Due to social distancing, there were only allowed to be 4 people in each basket section in the balloon – they each have 4 sections of 4. Usually it is 6 per section, so that was good for us too! You can pay more to go in smaller baskets with less people, but we didn’t have the budget for that.
It was a really incredible experience! I honestly think it is one of the best things I have ever done. The sunrises are just amazing the way they illuminate the valley and everything in it. It is definitely the best view of the otherworldly landscape. And of course it is pretty epic to be surrounded by all of the other balloons too, there were about 50 in the air the day we did it. I wouldn’t have been satisfied going and not doing a balloon ride personally, but there are some cheaper/free ways to see them. So even if you are backpacking in Cappadocia, I would suggest setting aside a budget for this experience.
View the hot air balloons from a roof terrace or the view points
There are a few view points around, the most popular seem to be Red Valley, Sunrise point and Lover’s Hill view points. Goreme is extremely small so it is easy to walk to either of these from the main town to watch the balloons, although you will need your torches. It is pitch black and there isn’t much in the way of lighting.
We didn’t actually do these for the balloons, so I cannot say too much about them, although we did go up to the Goreme view point for the sunset one night. I believe it is also known as the panoramic and sunset view point. It is pretty obvious though it has a giant Turkish flag flying and costs 3 Turkish Lira to access.
An alternative is to watch from one of the infamous roof terraces. However most hotels only allow guests onto their roof tops for sunrise, so this obviously isn’t a cheap option if you are backpacking in Cappadocia.
If you want that rooftop sunrise balloon photo but don’t want to pay for a hotel, there seemed to be a view point where some girls had obviously paid for a photoshoot off to the side below our hotel. Personally I preferred having the proper experience but each to their own, probably a cheaper option!
Go hiking in the valleys
There are various valleys to hike around Cappadocia. Love valley is a few kilometres outside of the town of Goreme. Red Rose Valley is pretty close by however and offers a great mix of the interesting rather phallic shaped rocks, along with the more traditional fair chimney types. There are little caves you can explore and all sorts. Some of the chimneys are still lived in now, these are fenced off and you cannot go up to them.
We spent hours clambering over rocks, sitting and enjoying the view, taking fun photos and generally exploring this valley. It was great fun to get all dusty exploring a brand new landscape! We probably would have spent longer and gone further if we hadn’t had to fit lunch, pigeon valley and Craig’s tattoo in that day!
Pigeon valley is off the other side of the town away from where the balloons launch. We got lost several times looking for it, but it is actually signposted from the start of the trail. The whole thing is about 5km, however we did about 1.5km and then turned back as we didn’t have proper footwear when the climb started to go up and we were running low on time. Its a really cool valley and definitely worth venturing too though a little less known. The valley is so named for all the little pigeon holes that they have carved into the rock which I think is kind of sweet.
Horse ride at sunset through Red Rose Valley
I won’t say too much about this as we didn’t personally do it. But instead of hiking the red rose valley, there are several ranches which offer horse rides through it. Many of them offer this at sunset for the ideal lighting and to appreciated the glow over the valley. Neither of us ride horses so we weren’t too fussed. It would have been cool but an extra expense, and our treats here were the balloon and hotel night so we skipped this one.
ATV rides through the valleys
Similarly to the horse riding, we didn’t actually do this activity. Even more so than the hoses, you can’t really explore the same way you can on foot or even on horseback as you are limited to the dirt tracks. It would have been good to maybe go see some of the further out valleys and I am sure the adrenaline would have been fun, but we didn’t feel the need to spend the money. You can explore much more peacefully and environmentally on foot.
Goreme open air museum
The Goreme open air museum is so worth a visit! It is a UNESCO Heritage Site mad up of old monasteries and churches from the Byzantine Empire. The churches are all built into the rocks which is very impressive in itself, but incredibly a lot of the frescos and other decorations have survived. These date back to between the 10-12th century which is pretty insane to think they have survived.
Christians are believed to have hidden here largely successfully during the Ottoman Empire. However they were eventually discovered and many of the frescos were vandalised.
It is pretty cheap to visit, although the blue church is extra. This is the biggest and best preserved however, the colours are totally stunning so I would recommend going in. The museum is full of history and culture and a good place to go for a wander for a few hours. It also boasts incredible views over the valleys with being situated on the hill.
You can find out more and see some pictures on their website here as sadly you are not allowed to take photos inside the churches.
This is another activity we skipped as it just wasn’t really our thing. The pottery place is on the way to the open air museum though and does have some very unusually decorated trees infront of a stunning view of the valley. We did pop over to take some snaps, couldn’t resist. So if you ware wondering where these trees are that you have seen on Instagram, they are at the pottery place. And you can see them without going in or doing a tour!
This would have been a another cool thing to do if we had time, however some friends of ours from our hostel in Istanbul told us about it. A short drive of around half an hour outside of Goreme, there is an underground cave town called Kaymakli. It was built allegedly around 7 or 8 BC, so it is very old. Although it was greatly expanded and used as shelter during the wars between the Byzantine’s and the Arabs some points in the 8-12th centuries. It is several floors deep with multiple levels which is pretty impressive and it would have been cool to see it!
Organised tours that combine the above
You also find at the many, many travel agent stores around town that they do tours that combine most of the above activities into a day tour. I have no idea how expensive they are, as we much preferred to go around exploring by ourselves, but it might be convenient for some people. Especially if you only have one day to see as much as possible.
Where to eat and drink Turkish food and smoke shisha
Unlike Antalya, we found Cappadocia to have loads of great Turkish food. Plus the eating out prices are another example of how backpacking in Cappadocia is affordable, it was surprisingly cheap. I thought with the volume of captive tourists usually present it would be more.
There were a few rogue Chinese and Korean restaurants, presumably looking to cater to tourists, but most of the menus on offer had a decent amount of Turkish cuisine to get stuck into.
A personal favourite of mine was the Turkish ravioli, which I had never even heard of before coming here. It is tiny pieces of pasta with ground meat, topped with yoghurt and a spicy tomato sauce. It was so incredible I have been thinking about it ever since. They also had plenty of kebabs everywhere, with the pottery kebab being a highlight. They cook the meat/veg in a little clay pot, then smash it to relieve decorously soft, tender food.
We also had our first try of Pide here, which is their version of pizza. It is really good and I definitely miss that too. Middle eastern type cuisines are amongst my favourite so all these beef and lamb dishes and aubergine dips made me very happy. They also often bring you plates of fresh fruit for free at the end of your meals here which was awesome.
Our favourite restaurant was Fat Boys, which had a huge varied menu with decent prices – around €3-6 for a main course. I had some wonderful cheesy meatballs here. We went here as a big group our first night when we overlapped with our Istanbul crew and tried lots of local wines. We thought we would go somewhere else and get some shisha but as we were discussing this the waiter said we could have that there and went and got us two, and we all got our own individual plastic nozzle. Covid saftey first.
We went to the viewpoint restaurant another evening, which wasn’t even particularly expensive and had beautiful views over the town for the sunset as it is pretty much bang in the middle. The food here was also very good and we got some shisha for a reasonable price to finish off our meal too.
Another favourite of the group was One Way, who again had a large menu and had live music in the evening which gave it a great atmosphere.
Probably less than half of the restaurants in Goreme were actually open due to the lack of tourists during covid. So although there wasn’t much to choose from it was good to be able to have favourites and support those small businesses that rely on the tourist trade so much.
Visit a carpet shop
So as we were backpacking in Cappadocia, we weren’t exactly in the market for buying a Turkish rug. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy their beauty and how fascinating the carpet shops are. The main ones in Cappadocia have started charging you to take photos, I suppose it must be annoying when their shop is too full of Instagram need to make anyone want to actually shop there.
Since we were there and it was quiet I thought I’d do it, and it was worth it I’d say! We went to Galerie Ikman, which I had read about on a few blogs. The £9 equivalent perhaps isn’t that backpacker friendly, but if you have an Instagram account it might be worth the investment. The carpet shop owner directed an entire photo shoot complete with props which was pretty hilarious but they are very good. Impressed by his enterprising spirit and photography skills!
Will you go backpacking in Cappadocia?
I hope I have convinced you that it is pretty easy and affordable to go backpacking in Cappadocia. You can see all the best stuff like the valleys and the balloons for free if you choose, or you can splash out a little bit if you have the budget! But it’s an amazing place to explore and you shouldn’t be put off by the illusion that it’s just an Instagram destination. Cappadocia is full of history and culture and is an epic place to take you backpack for a few days!