To balloon or not to balloon in Cappadocia? You really have to weight cost and questions of safety against the combo of surreal panorama and being suspended in dawn’s hush with dozens of other balloons.
If you’re decided, be aware there’s for potential cancellations due to weather (winds are bad mainly in winter). Plan a longer stay just in case and check that your balloon company fully refunds or reschedules. Bookings are taken year round but the best time for clear weather and minimal weather risk is April to June, September to October.
What view to expect?
The dramatic vista has been 30 million years in the creation, by wind and water eroding compressed volcanic ash – tuff – deposited by eruptions of Erciyes, Hasan and Melendiz Dağları volcanoes. Pale gray tinged meringue-like formations, the so-called “fairy chimneys” with conical tops, reddish-sloped table mountains and ranges, sharply grooved canyons and dry river beds. Gloomy conditions will dull down the colors, but even so(and speaking as a cheapskate) it was worth it.
Basic info on ballooning:-
Cappadocia region has 240 registered balloons run by 25 companies. Up to 100 balloons are allowed to take off simultaneously, while 50 balloons can also take off after half an hour. They all take off around the town of Goreme, and fly government regulated, weather dependent routes over massive Goreme National Park. That’s why there are clusters in photos you see.
All pilots are required to hold a Private and a Commercial Pilot’s License and supposedly have to pass regular checks. The basic package is 60 minutes give or take 10 due to landing requirements. 90 minutes’ flight are also available. Pickup from Goreme, Uchisar, other nearby towns plus breakfast and a finale of non-alcoholic champagne toast are included in package. There are two dawn flights daily for the most stable wind conditions.
The first of 100 balloons take off 6am, though hotel pickup time can be as early as 4.15am. The second flight of 50 balloons takes off at 6.30am
In 2018, 17 of the companies agreed to charge the same rates – a minimum 150 Euros for 60 minutes. Independent companies like Turkiye, Royal, Butterfly start at 160 or 175 Euros.
In busy season book as far ahead as possible, it gets full. Any weather-cancelled flights add to the booking crush.
Below – Dipping low into valleys for a closer look at the fairy chimneys. On the right, centuries old dovecotes hollowed by human settlers into the soft stone
Choose your company based on variables that affect the quality of the flight-
Safety record and pilot experience – Voyager Balloons (http://voyagerballoons.com) has the highest requirements at 1000 flight time and its site claims the best safety record in 18 years. Royal Balloon (16-20 person baskets) http://www.royalballoon.com is highly rated with minimum 1500 hrs pilot experience. Butterfly (12-16 person basket) is one of popular as they are less crowded and often go 15 minutes over the one hour baseline. However I couldn’t find safety records for any individual companies.
Basket size – range from 4 private booking (priciest),8,10,12,16,20 and 24 (cheapest and most crowded). Most companies don’t take children below 6 years of age.
Language skills – Not all pilots are fluent in English or at tour-guiding. The above companies are well rated in this respect. My Istanbul Balloons (16,20,24 person basket) http://www.istanbulballoons.com pilot was truly incredible and got our group amazing photography viewpoints (which is all I cared for) but only gave us safety instructions. Honestly I chose it for the huge discount my hotel manager got me.
Quality of flight – language and pilot experience (the better ones safely dip low into the valleys for dramatic cliff views weather permitting)
Check for cancellation, rebooking and refund policies plus insurance coverage as part of the package.
Final word – find a company with best records and balloon quality and maintenance. But go for cheapest standard flight. Truly, the roughly 1hr is sufficient unless you’re an over the top romantic honeymooner. You might even be -dare I say it – be bored.
The mid to larger capacity was also okay though two or three out of our group of 20 (split into twin baskets) couldn’t get real estate for frontline camera work. Everyone eventually made way for others, and you’ll get fair share of superb photos with something great to see everywhere.
Don’t read the below if you’ve your heart set on ballooning.
Second thoughts to ballooning-
Three major accidents occurred in Feb and Mar 2017, with two deaths and 50 wounded. The greatest dangers are lack of central traffic control (pilots from each company check in with their ground workers via walkie talkie for traffic conditions) and electrical lines. With 100 balloons allowed to take off for first flight, its worrisome. Hurriet Daily News reports that the air traffic control tower built in 2014 “has been idle ever since due to the inability to service it with electricity amid bureaucratic inefficiency”. Going back to 2009, six people have died from three crashes. Personally I found my pilot was excellent and cautious, constantly scanning for proximity to other balloons. My cheap April tour was due to the recent accidents, and I thoroughly enjoyed it worry free.
Above – landing safely; our pilot uncorks non-alcoholic champagne to celebrate