Floating above Cappadocia with Urgup Hot Air Balloon Flight19 May, 2011
A visit to Cappadocia, Turkey is not complete without taking a Hot-air Balloon Flight over its beautiful landscape in the early morning. The view from the top of the many fairy chimney rock formation that dotted the Cappadocia area, is just breathtaking. It is no wonder that this is the top tourist activity in this area and many hot-air balloon companies had been setup to cope with the high demand for such flights – the flight experiences are mostly the same i.e. departing from the same area (15 minutes drive from Goreme town) with a light breakfast and champagne toast celebration during landing.
Prices are typically around 150 Euros per person for a standard 1-hour flight. You will receive return transfers from your hotel, a light breakfast (cookies and coffee), insurance, 1-hour hot-air balloon flight time, champagne and a commemorative certificate upon landing.
We will be sharing with you our hot-air balloon flight experience with Urgup Balloons – a sister firm of the reputable Goreme Balloons and also highlight some tips in choosing the right hot-air balloon company and how to ensure that you get to enjoy a great flight experience (especially after shelling out 150 Euros!).
At about 5.30am, Urgup Balloons sent a vehicle to pick us from our accommodation at Dervish Cavehouse to the tour agency at downtown Goreme where we were then transferred to a van with other sleepy tourists who were also gathered here from various guesthouses and hotels in Goreme. We were then driven to the take-off site 15 minutes away from Goreme where there were as many as 20 balloons being set-up at the same time. A light breakfast of cookies, coffee and tea had been setup on 2-3 tables to cater to the growing crowd of tourists who seemed to be more eager to take pictures of the crew preparing the balloons.
You could also participate in the exciting balloon inflation process, or just watch the multi-colored balloon unfold a world of color around you. Before you realize it, the pilot had stood the balloon up and is ready for boarding up the hand-crafted wicker basket. There was a quick yet informative pre-flight briefing by our pilot – safety is the keyword here i.e. how to brace yourself for impact upon landing, do’s and don’ts onboard the balloon.
The lift-off and ascent of the hot-air balloon was surprisingly gentle. Once we were up in the air, other than the clicking of cameras and chatter by excited tourists and the occasional bursts of fire up the balloon to propel it higher, it was interestingly very quiet as most of us gaze with wonder at the beautiful sights of Cappadocia’s landscape – valleys of fairy chimney rock formations and caves. The view was made even more interesting with over 20+ hot-air balloons dotting the Cappadocia skyline. The hot-air balloon basket was divided into 4 compartments each with 5-6 passengers – as long as each of the passenger kept within their compartment and not do anything silly e.g. jumping or running about, the flight was generally quite safe and pleasant.
For a preview of what you can expect to see from the hot-air balloon, check out this PassportChop exclusive video of our flight experience with Urgup Balloons:
The last part of the flight was just as interesting as the pilot tried to identify a suitable landing site and maintained constant communication with his ground crew who were chasing the balloons in a convoy of trailer and passenger vans. After a tense few minutes when the balloon descended slowly, trying to avoid any trees and poles in the area, we finally landed safely on a dirt road where the ground crew was already in place to assist with the deflation of the balloon and pack up the equipment upon landing.
Almost immediately after landing, the pilot led the crew and guests in the post-flight celebration with the popping of a champagne bottle. The tradition of celebrating the balloon flight began in the early 1700’s upon landing, the first balloons were feared as evil spirits, and attacked by the local villagers and farmers. A later balloonist presented a letter from the King and a bottle of champagne as evidence of their Earthly origins, and so continues today, the tradition of champagne as a gesture of friendliness and good times. There were no angry farmers to attack us this time round – nonetheless the champagne and fruit juice offered to each guest as part of the celebration, was a fun way to end this wonderful experience. Just before our transfer by van back to our hotels, we were also each presented with a commemorative certificate to prove that we have taken this hot-air balloon flight with Urgup Balloons – another certificate to add to my file of school and co-curricular activity certifications (although not quite sure if it will be of any use for future job searches)! 🙂
By the time we arrived back at Dervish Cavehouse, it was only 8am – just in time for breakfast to be served and enough time for us to wash-up before embarking on our day tour of Cappadocia!
While we had a great hot-air balloon experience, we had also heard of complaints of pilots who guided their balloons into a valley (where there was no wind) due to their inexperience and they were forced to land, thus cutting short their flight. There were also occasions where the flight was shortened due to bad weather. Based on our pre-trip research and anecdotes from fellow travellers, we will be sharing some tips on factors to consider when choosing a hot-air balloon company and some pointers to take note to ensure a safe and wonderful flight experience.
Tips on How to Choose a Hot-Air Balloon Company
1. Find out how old or new is the company and their experience in hot-air ballooning – this is important if you want an experienced pilot who is very familiar with the region and can guide you to see the best sights of the Cappadocian landscape during the flight.
2. Clarify with the company on the number of passengers they take on per flight – there are huge balloons taking on a lot of passengers but are more cumbersome and might not fly as fast to see more of the area. Can consider new or small hot-air balloon companies (but will have to balance with the experience of the operators) who operates smaller balloons. There are premium options where the group size is really small at about 5-6 but this will cost almost twice as much. Our balloon group size was 24 and it felt ok and we had our space to walk about and take pictures.
3. How many flights do they operate daily? Some companies operate multiple flights in the morning so they will rush to clear the first load of passengers for the next flight and this may cut both flights short – the earlier flight passengers having a less pleasant flight experience and the second flight passengers arriving back at the hotel too late for breakfast or their day tour pickup.
4. What language is the pilot proficient in? Don’t get stuck in a Turkish tour group where the pilot only speaks Turkish! Pilot commentary is critical in understanding where you are flying over so that you can relate to whether this is the fairy chimney you will be visiting at the tour later on or is that the pigeon valley that you passed by yesterday. It makes the journey over the Cappadocian plains fun too if you understand the pilot’s jokes and comments and most importantly the safety instructions.
Once you have settled on the hot-air balloon company – here are some more tips to ensure a great flight experience (or even getting on the flight in the first place :-p)
– These hot-air balloon flights are very popular especially among tour groups from around the world so reserve your place(s) in the balloon basket several days in advance if you can. Booking online in advance might also save you a few dollars if the companies offer such early-bird discounts.
– If you will be staying in Goreme or any area in Cappadocia for a few days, plan your hot-air balloon for the first morning you are available. This is in case of unfavorable weather that prevents the balloons from flying on that morning, at least you will still have a back-up possibility for a flight on your second or later mornings.
– Book your flight either directly with the hot-air balloon company or through one of the reputable travel agencies in Goreme/Cappadocia or through your Cappadocia hotel rather than some unknown individual touts or group with which you have no connection. If you book through an agency or hotel, you may have recourse in case of a problem or complaint. They will be in a better place to advise you on the better hot-air balloon companies and may have current information on recent safety and their guests’ experience with certain companies.
We booked our hot-air balloon flight with Ürgüp Balloons through the tour agency, Yama Tours which offered us a 25 Euros discount off the usual 150 Euros per person price. Great value for money and friendly service from Mr Mehmet Kececi – the boss of Yama Tours! For more info, you may contact Yama Tours at [email protected] or check our their offers at http://yamatours.com. We also engaged Yama Tours for our tours around Cappadocia e.g. 3D2N Nemrut Tour.