Our first morning in Göreme was a very early one. We were up at 4 in order to be collected from our hotel at 4:25 by our hot air balloon operator. We booked our hot air balloon trip through our hotel and got a discounted rate. We used Kapadokya Balloons, normally 160 euros but we paid 140. There are cheaper balloon companies around, and although there are no longer any bad operators in the Cappadocia region, Kapadokya Balloons were one of the top 2 or 3 operators listed on TripAdvisor and had no bad reviews at all. You should generally expect to pay between 120 and 170 euros for a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, more if you want a longer ride (normally marketed as ‘deluxe’ by most operators) or want to ride in a basket with a smaller passenger capacity. Kapadokya’s standard flights use baskets with a 20 passenger capacity; some operators have baskets that carry up to 28, while the deluxe rides will often only have 12 or 16-passenger baskets.
Once our bus driver had collected all his passengers we were returned to Kapadokya Balloon’s offices to be marked off on their list, and were issued with a safety briefing card and offered breakfast. The safety card had our pilot’s name on it – we had to remember this as we would later get in the bus with his name marked on it so we were taken to the correct departure point. Breakfast is another service that differs between operators. Some will just offer tea, instant coffee, juice and maybe some kind of snack for breakfast. Kapadokya had a range of options including an automatic coffee machine, tea, juice, 2 or 3 cereals, fruit and small turkish pastries.
Before too long it was time to leave. Out in the carpark were 4 or 5 mini buses with different signs on the front. We found the bus marked with our pilot’s name and climbed in, and then we were off to our departure point. The departure points vary depending on the prevailing breezes each day. If the wind is too strong (and it doesn’t need to be very strong to be classified as too strong) they won’t take off at all. This is why I booked our flight for our first morning – so if we couldn’t fly that day we had two more mornings as back-up.
There were maybe about ten balloons inflating in our general area when we arrived. A few hundred metres away in each direction were more groups of balloons. The balloons get laid out on the ground with the baskets lying on their sides. For the first while a fan blowing hot air is used to start the inflation process while ground crew hold the balloon open. Once it has inflated enough, the burners above the basket are turned on to speed up the inflation process while ground crew continue to hold the balloon open. Eventually the balloon begins to rise off the ground, pulling the basket upright in the process.
Once the ground crew and pilot are happy that it’s just about ready to go, it’s time for the passengers to climb in. The basket is split into five segments – one in the middle for the pilot and fuel cannisters, and two at each end for the passengers, with five passengers in each corner segment. Throughout this process the pilot intermittently turns the burners on to continue inflating the balloon.
Once we were all in the pilot introduced himself and took us through a brief safety talk, including the landing brace position we had to use when it came time to land the balloon. It’s in case of a hard landing but it gets used in all landings as a safety precaution. You need to hold on to one of the rope handles inside the rim of the basket, then lower yourself down into a sitting position with your back up against the opposite wall of the basket segment. Once the pilot had drilled each end of the basket in the landing position, we felt the balloon begin to rise as the ground crew untied our ropes. And then… the ground just floats away from beneath you. You don’t really feel like you are rising. There is no lifting sensation. The ground crew cheered and waved goodbye before returning to packing up their gear.
At this point it was still before sunrise. We drifted over the edge of Love Valley, the top of which we had just taken off from. Our pilot dropped us down into the valley for a closer look at the strange formations of the valley walls. We watched as other balloons drifted over the valley above us and came down into the valley for a closer look as well.
And then we were back up again, and drifting across the town of Göreme as the sun came up. Our pilot didn’t spend a lot of time talking – they are pilots first and tour guides second – but every now and then he would put down his ropes and tell us about the surrounding landscape, pointing out villages and valleys around us. He was very friendly and happy to talk and obviously loved his job.
Every now and then he would spin the balloon around slowly, releasing air through vents in the side of the balloon, to give everyone in the balloon a 360 degree view.
We only had one ‘near’ miss – as we floated above a valley another balloon below us began to rise up in front of us. A bit of quick manoeuvring from each pilot and the other balloon dropped down a little, we turned away a little and rose up higher into the air and continued on our way, letting the other pilot continue his ascent out of the valley. Always plenty of space between us and too far away to communicate verbally.
We then dropped down into another valley and began to head down the valley, cruising past rock formations known as ‘fairy chimneys‘, seeing into caves which were once used as homes by Christians in the early centuries AD. Our pilot kept in contact with his ground crew to confirm the landing place. And soon he gave us the warning that in a few minutes, it would be cameras away and time to assume the landing position.
He probably actually got us to assume the landing position a bit early. We still floated on for a while as he brought us down slowly, and I could see a few people struggling to hold the position (it does require a bit of effort from the legs!) and give up and just sit on the floor. After a few minutes though we were low enough for the ground crew to grab the ropes and sides of the basket and manoeuvre us right onto the trailer behind the ute (saves them having to lift it onto the trailer later I suppose!). We were then instructed to stay in the basket as the ute drove us onto flatter ground and a better location to let down the balloon.
After we climbed out of the basket it was time for bubbly and certificates to celebrate our flight! It was actually champagne mixed with cherry juice (which I personally thought tasted better than straight champagne) with cake available, and we were each presented with a certificate to commemorate our flight. We also had the opportunity to watch and buy a copy of the video that was taken while we were flying and help deflate the balloon.
Then it was back to our hotel and back to bed to catch up on some sleep!