When visiting the Cappadocia region of Turkey, a hot-air balloon ride often is included (or, at least recommended) on the itinerary. Hundreds of balloons take off every morning, bringing thousands of passengers over landscapes that appear out of this world. One might consider it a rite of passage, a sort of induction into Turkey itself, all the while getting those iconic photos to cherish later on.
Due to their popularity, the hot-air balloon rides are usually booked out in advance. My friend and I happened to be visiting Turkey during Eid Al-Fitr (the days succeeding Ramadan, where observers break their fast), which meant that the Turks, too, had their holidays. In other words, it would be peak of peak travel season in the country for locals and foreigners alike, and it meant that spots for the hot-air balloon rides would be harder to snag.
I had been unaware of just how big Eid Al-Fitr was, and I had thought that booking spots for the hot-air balloon ride two weeks before departure would be plenty of time. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the case, as I contacted perhaps a dozen different companies only to discover that everywhere was booked. It was a bit worrisome, because I really wanted to take the ride– honestly, it was one of the big reasons I wanted to visit Turkey in the first place.
Not only was it a struggle to find a company to book with, but it was also tricky to find one that wasn’t outrageously expensive. Since hot-air balloon rides are so high in demand, companies can charge pretty much however they want. On average, it’s about 200€ for a 60 to 90-minute ride– champagne is sometimes included in the end. The price is incredibly-steep, but there’s no way to bargain for a lower price. The lowest I saw was 120€, but I knew of a couple who’d paid an exorbitant 300€ for their ride!
Weather was another issue that concerned me: on the days we would be in Cappadocia, the weather was not very ideal. The skies were heavily overcast, with high winds and rainfall expected to occur. Hot-air balloon rides normally take place every morning, but they are canceled if winds are too strong or if there’s rainfall– understandably, it’s for everyone’s safety, and people are usually reimbursed or otherwise given the option of going another day. My friend and I only had a single morning to do the ride, and we were worried that we would not be able to go.
Despite all of these obstacles (sold-out rides, steep prices, bad weather), my friend and I were super lucky that we were able to snag two spots at one of the companies (Atmosfer Balloons) thanks to the help of our point-of-contact for our multi-day tour around the country. We paid 170€ per person, which was perfectly-fine considering we were booking literally the day before we were to take off. With that said, we went off to bed in our hotel, well-assured that we had secured our places for the hot-air balloon ride.
It was rise-and-shine at 4:00 the following morning. Our ride to the balloon grounds was a bit late, but we made it over in time to get on. We clamored aboard with 20 or so passengers (a massive Korean tour group), and we took off by 5:00. The reason why rides only occur in the very-early morning is because winds are usually the calmest for flying– plus, you get stunning views of the sunrise over Cappadocia!
The captain of our hot-air balloon gave us a quick safety briefing before firing up the engine– within minutes, we were off! It was still dark out as we ascended, but it soon lightened up after about 10 minutes. Our basket swayed gently with the wind, and we could see miles of rocky scenery, along with the other hundreds of balloons with their passengers dotting the landscape. Of course, we took plenty of photos while up in the air: selfies, group photos, and those of just the views.
Unfortunately, the wind started to pick up about 20 minutes into the flight, and we were forced to cut the otherwise one-hour ride short. Our captain told all of us to hold on to the ropes alongside the baskets for landing, as well as to sit down and keep ourselves firmly-planted inside.
The landing was a rough one! Our basket made harsh contact with the ground, and I held on for dear life as the basket tilted sideways due to the balloon still catching the wind. I went from sitting on my butt to laying right on my back from the rough landing– thankfully, I was fine, just taken back at it all. A few other passengers had gotten scrapes on their knees from it, but otherwise, no one was severely hurt.
Champagne (non-alcoholic) and cake followed afterwards in the middle of the field upon we landed. Our captain also gave each of us certificates saying that we had completed the hot-air balloon ride with the company. Shortly thereafter, our shuttle picked us up, and we returned to our hotel by 6:00.
Although our ride turned out to be a short one (20 minutes), I am happy that we were able to do it in the first place. Considering that, again, we almost could not go because of sold-out rides and the weather, doing the hot-air balloon ride made it all the more worthwhile in the end. It really is a dream on many’s bucket list while visiting Turkey, as it makes for beautiful photos and lasting memories.
More of Cappadocia to come soon. Cheers!