I’d heard so many amazing things about the Cappadocia region of Turkey and I was so excited to finally get there! I debated doing a hot air balloon ride, as it’s never really been a huge interest of mine and it’s pretty pricey at a minimum of $120 for the most budget ride. I finally decided, though, that if I’m ever going to go up in a hot air balloon it might as well be in the so-called hot air ballooning capital of the world, and a couple hundred dollars is worth the experience.
Once I made the decision to do it, I then had to choose from among the few dozen companies catering to tourists in Goreme. I had heard Butterfly Balloons, Sultan Balloons and Royal Balloons were good companies, but I decided to price check at a few different agencies before deciding. I happened to wander into an Atlas Balloons agent, who was also selling rides with Turkiye Balloons. I was convinced to go with the latter, more expensive ride (at 140 euro) because I was impressed with the pilots’ minimum 1500 hours experience each, and also the fact that they are a new company so their balloons are in top shape.
One of the most irritating (or exciting, depending on who you ask) things about the balloon ride is the super early start. Most companies try to get off the ground just before sunrise, ostensibly to give tourists a good view, but really because the air is colder and thus the balloons will use less gas. I had a bit of a hiccup with this part of the experience: the agent at Atlas Balloons wrote a 5:05 am pickup for me, instead of 5:50 am. I ended up standing out in the dark cold for 45 minutes, wondering if anyone would ever come get me! To compensate for my inconvenience, Turkiye Balloons upgraded my balloon experience to a 90-minute ride in a 12-person basket rather than a 60-minute ride in an 18-person basket. I appreciated the gesture, especially since the mistake wasn’t their fault!
Once I was finally picked up, I joined the rest of the balloon riders at a buffet breakfast, then we went to our lift-off site. Another benefit of Turkiye Balloons is that they don’t have a designated site – they can adjust where they take off depending on the day’s wind patterns. This meant that while watching our balloons being inflated we also got an amazing view of all the other balloons taking off in bunches about a kilometer away.
The best way I could describe the actual balloon experience is like a real-life Google Earth, zooming in and out and changing your perspective on different rock formations and buildings. Erdal, my pilot, had a great sense of humor and was also masterly skillful with the balloon. He was going in and out of valleys and maneuvering around rocks, giving his passengers a great thrill. I noticed that some of the cheaper balloon companies with less experienced pilots just go up in the air and then back down, not changing perspective much at all.
We were one of the last balloons to land and were treated to a “champagne” toast, a tradition that goes back to the first hot air balloon ride in France in 1785.
If you are going to Cappadocia and interested in a balloon ride, Captivating Cappadocia has a great 11-question checklist to ask each company. But really, you can’t go wrong with Turkiye Balloons!