Cappadocia's Fairytale Hikes
Updated: Feb 23
Cappadocia is a very touristy region, but its fairytale hiking trails make it possible to enjoy this exceptional area in complete tranquillity. When you think of travel in Turkey, the first two places that come to mind are Istanbul and Cappadocia. The landscapes of Cappadocia are known all over the world for their incredible geological shapes (the fairy chimneys), their colours, their troglodyte villages and more famously, the hundreds of hot air balloons at sunrise. We had planned to spend a few days in Cappadocia to discover all these wonders.
The towns of Göreme or Uchisar are often saturated with visitors but the numerous hikes allowed us to fully enjoy the place without the crowds. When you have to walk, people are a bit more reluctant. 😉 Hiking in the heart of the valleys of Cappadocia will make you discover the most beautiful and unique landscapes, and the marked trails make it all the easier!
How did we get to Cappadocia?
As I mentioned in my practical guide for traveling Turkey, the most efficient way to get from town to town in Turkey is by bus. We opted for a night bus from Istanbul. The journey took twelve hours and we arrived at sunrise in Göreme. Although tired from the trip (I struggle to sleep in transport), we decided to run to the panoramic viewpoint, located in the village, in hopes of seeing the hot air balloons rise. It was cold, we had our heavy bags, and we lacked sleep but we were determined to witness this amazing spectacle. After paying 5TL and finishing the climb, we were welcomed by a stunning view of the village and troglodyte formations. The light from the sunrise made the surroundings even more beautiful. Unfortunately, we didn't see any hot balloons. Confused at first, our hostel hosts later explained that the weather wasn't favourable for take-off.
Out of the four days in Göreme, we never got to see the hot balloons due to bad flying conditions. I do think it's important to mention this, to avoid the major disappointment I felt: the hot balloons don't fly every day so there is a chance you won't see them. When I arrived I just figured that they took off every day (except when really bad weather), but in fact no. Although the weather down below was nice and mild, apparently there was too much wind making it unsafe to fly!
Where to stay in Cappadocia? Although touristy, we would recommend you to stay in Göreme for several reasons:
Göreme is located in the heart of the various places of interest in Cappadocia and you can do absolutely everything on foot from here. It is the ideal base for hiking. Moreover, many buses pass through Göreme, which allows you to explore the more remote areas (the underground cities, Ihlara etc...).
As it is a very touristy village, the accommodation offer is huge. There are some great 5-star hotels in caves that cost a pretty penny but also a lot of cheap hostels that will allow you to visit Cappadocia on a budget. We stayed 4 nights at the Happydocia pension which offers affordable rooms, some with private bathrooms and a great atmosphere. Contrary to the Airbnb description, there was no bar and restaurant but an equipped kitchen free of use.
Even if Göreme has a bit of a Disneyland feel to it with all the restaurants and shops, the village is quite nice. It's also practical to have small supermarkets to buy picnic food and plenty of options for eating and drinking in the evening after a good hike. However, the price of restaurants is clearly higher than elsewhere in Turkey.
What app to use when hiking?
I highly recommend hiking with a GPS application in Cappadocia. The trails are marked but it is very easy to get lost in the valleys. The Alltrails application offers all the walks in the area, including the most popular ones, with clear explanations. How were the valleys of Cappadocia formed?
A very long time ago (10 million years ago to be precise), several volcanoes erupted in the region covering the actual Cappadocia with lava and forming a 100 to 150m layer of volcanic tuff (a particularly friable rock). With the cold, this layer cracked and over the years, the rain and the wind took care of sculpting the famous "fairy chimneys". These chimneys were later carved out by men and used as homes, churches or pantries. Today, these cave villages and underground cities are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The hiking trails are very well marked and it is also the only way to reach certain churches, valleys or castles that are not otherwise accessible. And of course, it's also the best way to get away from the crowds and enjoy these magical landscapes in peace.
Here are the loops that we did departing from Göreme which cover most of the points of interest in Cappadocia. Some are more or less long with a moderate elevation gain. The terrain is rather easy, there are some sandy areas that can be a little slippery so I recommend wearing some comfy walking shoes! Don't forget water and sunscreen as there is little shade!
Fairytale hike 1 | Göreme - Love - White - Uchisar - Pigeon Loop
Our first loop was from Göreme through the famous valley of love (we'll let you guess why it's called that 😉 ).
On this hike, you will discover beautiful views of the pink and red valleys, vineyards (Cappadocia is Turkey's most famous wine region), dubious rock formations 😏 , the village of Uchisar and its castle (the highest point in Cappadocia) and thousands of pigeon holes carved in the rock. You have to pay 50TL to climb to the top of Uchisar castle. We decided to take a pass as it was very crowded.
Fairytale hike 2 | Red and Rose Valleys
This was our first hike in Cappadocia and it was a great introduction to the area with some beautiful viewpoints. The sea of red and pink hills made this hike very fairylike!
On this unique hike, you will discover various troglodytes and churches carved into the stone with some dating back to 900AD like the impressive Direkli (Kolonlu) Church! Make sure to explore inside and climb the tiny stairs to reach the main room which is large and bright and resembles an Orthodox nave. We were lucky to have the place to ourselves (probably because it was mid-November) which made the place even more mystical!
Fairytale hike 3 | An adventurous trail to Paşabağ Monk Valley
This fairytale hike was peculiar because we stumbled upon it by chance. From Göreme we walked to Çavuşin, a pottery village located 3km away. We used Google Maps for the route. We arrived in front of a ceramics shop where we met a dog, who later became our hiking companion. Initially, our goal was to get to the Cinnes Vadisi viewpoint, which we did and which is well worth it!
Our curiosity took over and we ventured along the unmarked paths to discover more isolated areas. The dog was happy to follow us and it was reassuring to have his company! After a good 45-minute walk through fairy tower boulevards (different from those near Göreme) and up some hills, we spotted a fairy tower gathering in the distance with people. We went down without too much questioning, the place was set up and there were quite a few tourist buses. We toured the place and it was on the way out that we realised that the site, called the Paşabağ Monk Valley has an entrance fee! By taking the off-road path, we managed without realising to get in for free. We were a bit surprised by this as all the other sites up to that point had been free, so we walked in without paying too much attention. We took the same path to avoid any problems and left as swiftly as we came! I'm not going to encourage you to do the same, the entrance fee is only 25TL but now you know...
I didn't record our walk so I don't have the exact itinerary and I don't want to share something that could get you lost. If you look up fairy chimneys on Google Maps then you will find the route on foot that will take you to the main entrance. Expect a 2-hour return walk.