Happy Halloween, one of my favorite holidays! As I have only been away once for Halloween (Prague in 2004), I decided to write about the scariest thing I have recently done – a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, Türkiye this summer!
As you may know, Dan and I spent a few days in Cappadocia, Türkiye last summer (July 2023) and while there, took one of those famous hot air balloon rides. In sum, the ride was fantastic and we were so happy that we took the ride. That being said, it was also mildly terrifying and expensive, and I don’t think we will do it again. This post details our experience from start to finish!
CAPPADOCIA HOT AIR BALLOON RIDES IN GENERAL
Hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia are a “thing” year round. Numerous operators run daily flights at dawn, and sometimes a second, afternoon flight in the winter when the air is cooler. While many operators offer hot air balloon rides, the number of operators are capped, and hot air balloon rides do sell out during busy periods. A simple Google search will yield numerous companies offering these types of tours in Cappadocia. I suggest booking far in advance if this is something that you “must do.”
I would point out that while many hot air balloon tours run daily, these tours are cancelled if the weather is bad or if its too windy. Fliers are advised only the day prior whether the flight will go and of the time (which is usually very early) fliers must be ready to depart their accommodation. If a flight is cancelled, operators try to rebook the passengers in the next few days or refund the price if rebooking is not an option (for either the flyer or the company). Fliers have a better chance of being rebooked if they are staying several days in town, especially during high season (as operators do not bump pre-booked passengers to accommodate cancelled flights).
BOOKING THE HOT AIR BALLOON FLIGHT IN CAPPADOCIA
We visited Cappadocia during July, or its high season, so we booked our hot air balloon tour online a couple months in advance. We choose Royal Balloons, as that seemed like one of the safer carriers based on online research that I did. I definitely suggest Googling recent safety ratings for balloon rides in Cappadocia and the various companies offering these tours before bookings.
We had the option of three types of flights, and we booked the lowest level, which was upgraded to the mid-level flight based on a Royal promotion when we booked. We paid via credit card at the time of booking, and our flight was totally booked!
CONFIRMATION OF THE HOT AIR BALLOON FLIGHT
Royal Balloon was very responsive throughout the entire process and emailed me immediately upon receipt of my payment, in addition to after receiving our passport information closer to the tour (all guests are required to provide passport information before flying in a hot air balloon in Türkiye). Royal also promised to update me the day prior to our flight to confirm that 1) the flight would indeed proceed and 2) the time of pick up from our hotel.
I was pretty confident that our tour would proceed, as once the weather report came out, the weather was good and the wind was extremely low. I anxiously checked my email the day prior for confirmation from Royal regarding the flight and the time it would collect us from our hotel, and I finally emailed them at 7:00 PM for an update. Well, at 9:00 PM (yes, at night), Royal emailed me to finally confirm that the flight would proceed and that we would be picked up at 3:50 AM… This was a bit late for my taste, but I guess it is what happens!
MORNING PICK UP FROM OUR HOTEL AND BREAKFAST
Due to the early, early morning wake-up, we set out our clothes the night before and only woke up about 20 minutes prior to our pick up time (if you are keeping track, that had us waking up at 3:30 AM). We were in our lobby five minutes early and waited about 10 minutes before a Royal Balloon van arrived for us. We drove about 10 minutes to another hotel in Cappadocia, where we left the van and were assigned a table for breakfast with our fellow balloon fliers. A buffet of yogurt, fruit and pastries was set up, in addition to water, juice and coffee. We had about 20 minutes here to enjoy breakfast. We were also given a Royal Balloon tote bag with two baseball hats inside, two bookmarks and two circular paper cutouts advertising Royal Balloon. After around 20 minutes, our table boarded another van and headed to the balloon take off area.
INFLATING THE HOT AIR BALLOON AND BOARDING
Post-breakfast, we drove about 5 minutes to the area from where all of the balloons take off. Some balloons were already inflated, but ours was just starting to fill. Inflating the balloon probably took about 20 minutes and then we were ready to board!
We quickly, and nervously, boarded the basket via a step stool style ladder once the ballon was full of air. The basket held 16 passengers and two pilots. We were located next to the pilot and I’m not really sure if any particularly area of the balloon is better than another. Note that once you are in your spot in the basket, you cannot really move around save for a couple inches. As such, if you want a particular spot, know that before you start boarding. We took off very shortly after climbing into the basket and a fast safety briefing.
THE ACTUAL HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE
Before describing our ride, I would note that every ride is different, largely depending on the wind and weather. The pilot cannot steer the hot air balloon; the pilot can only control its height. As such, your ride could be totally different than mine. In any case, our ride consisted of about one hour, and it started off low to the ground, flying through Cappadocia’s famous chimneys! This was great, and not at all scary! We loooooved this part of the tour.
After a bit of time flying low, our guide decided it was time to go very high, and we ascended to a whopping 850 meters (2800 feet). This height provided gorgeous views, particularly for sunrise, but quickly became a bit scary! We hung out at this height for at least 20 minutes….and it was a bit uncomfortable, LOL. In any case, we saw lots of other hot air balloons and got fantastic photos! All fliers should be prepared to fly this high. While high, the balloon was very stable and it was not windy or anything like that – we were just REALLY HIGH!!
After our time very high in the sky, it was time to land – phew!! And on the height note, I would point out that balloons do not go this high every day. The following two days the balloons flew much lower and right over Göreme. The balloons were so close that I could see the passengers faces from our hotel’s rooftop. I am not sure if I would have preferred flying low over Göreme or high over the whole area, or an entirely different path. In any case, I think both flights would be pretty magical!
LANDING THE HOT AIR BALLOON
According to our guide (and my own internet research), landings are the most dangerous part of the ride and was the only portion of the ride that we received any safety briefing on. In short, before we took off, the guide advised us of the “brace position” and told us that we would all need to do this on landing, regardless of the weather. Our landing was pretty easy and while we all took the “brace position” we landed easily on the ground with the basket not turning over. After landing on the ground, our pilot moved the based to the flatbed of a truck to later be driven away.
We climbed out of the basket and were done! All safe. Again, phew!!
POST LANDING THE HOT AIR BALLOON
After we landed, our pilots set out a spread of sparking wine, orange juice, chocolate covered strawberries, and medals confirming that we completed our ride.
SOME THOUGHTS ON THOSE PLANNING A CAPPADOCIA HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE
- Do your own safety research in deciding whether to take a hot air balloon ride and which company to use. There are many blog posts and articles concerning various company’s safety records, as well as news articles on recent incidents. Safety records can change, and just because one company was once considered safe, does not mean it always will be.
- Balloon ride prices are dynamic and can vary widely depending on company and when you book.
- I wore layers on the ballon ride and was happy I did. I was chilly in the morning, but hot by the time we landed. What you wear on the balloon will vary depending on season. Definitely check the weather before your flight.
- Obviously bring your cameras, and I suggest anchoring them to yourself of worry about dropping it the entire time. We were terrified of dropping our phone….
- This seems obvious, but there are no bathrooms on the balloon….
- The entire process from pick up to drop off took less than 3 hours. We were back to our hotel before breakfast was served.
- I personally suggest having some down time after the ride to nap, etc. That’s what we did and we well rested for our afternoon tour. We bought it but have only watched it once…
- Our pilot made a video of our tour and sold it for 30 euro after the ride. Credit card accepted. I think many companies offer this service.
- The balloon baskets are pretty tight. Do your fellow fliers a favor and keep the things you bring with you to a minimum. And if you have a bag or a backpack, you will need to place it on the floor of the basket to maximize space.
- Take sunglasses for the sunrise flights.
- Finally, if you are on the fence about the price or the ride, its totally fine to skip the ride and watch the balloons from your hotel’s rooftop or designated viewing areas in the Cappadocia area. There are tours to watch the balloons or you can go on your own. In any case, I highly suggest watching from the ground regardless if you take the tour.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Royal Balloons: This is the company that we used for our hot air ballon tour. We had a great experience.
Butterfly Balloons: This company was our second choice and also received good reviews online as of July 2023.