Chances are, you’ve probably seen gorgeous, travel videos of hot air balloons flying over the hills of Cappadocia. Hey, even we have one! This staple activity has become a blessing and a burden for the region. While the tourism industry has brought economic growth to Goreme, it has also brought social and structural instability. This is an ancient city after all. One with a rich and complex religious history. How one travels here, really matters. To understand why let’s dive into a brief historical overview.

Cappadocia was divided between the Anatolians and Armenians during the 7th century. The battle between the Muslim and Christian faith in the region has been bloody and unfriendly. The result, hundreds of underground cities and ‘fairy chimneys’ that were created to hide persecuted Christians during the crusades. The Turks took full power in the 12th century and founded what we know as Anatolia. While the Muslim faith is the predominant religion here now, the locals acknowledge the history and culture that belonged to both religions.

What you may not realize is that Cappadocia has a rich agricultural history as well. Pigeon poop to be exact. Many of the chimneys were also pigeon coops. The birds fertilized the area and brought grain back and forth to different communities. The amount of pigeons and coops you had were seen as a sign of status and as a dowry for marriage. It was the man who had to offer the dowry to his bride’s family. Good times!

Cappadocia includes 4 cities: Nevsehir, Kayseri, Aksaray and Nigde. Within these cities are now hundreds of hotels, restaurants and shops that have been built upon and integrated with the ancient ruins. Many generational Cappadocians are struggling to keep up with foreign investors looking to capitalize on the tourism boom. All of their tourism has taken place over the past 20 years. The rapid development was not planned out with sustainable structure in mind and has ended up costing the locals. For a more in-depth look at how development is hurting the area, read Isocarp’s case study on the issue.

Since Cappadocia is one of our favorite places to visit, we thought we would share our tips on how to have a responsible visit!

Green Suitcase Stays at:

Out of the hundreds or more hotels in the region, only a handful are locally owned and operated. We have the scoop on which ones to visit and what to look for when visiting the area.

Photo credit: Hotel Kelebek

Kelebek Cave Hotel – This place is an absolute gem. It’s one of the first fairy chimney hotels and they are committed to sustainability and keeping their staff local. The hotel also offers exclusive cultural excursions. While staying there, we went on their organic farm breakfast. The tour takes visitors into the heart of the valley to have a delicious meal. You are accompanied by Ali, the owner, who is also an Anatolian historian. While noshing on local veggies, cheeses, and honey you will learn all about the region and how pidgeons play an important part. All of the ingredients used for breakfast are grown in the hotel’s personal garden.

After you’ve stuffed yourself with organic goodness, take a visit to the hotel’s traditional Turkish bath spa. You can also book a traditional cooking class and grape harvesting day (seasonally based).

We did a lot of research before staying in Goreme and this was by far our top choice!

Green Suitcase Plays at:

Hot Air Balloon– Honestly, you can’t miss this. It’s what people go to Cappadocia for and it’s NOT overrated. To fly over the hills and take the most drool-worthy Instagram shots. While all of the tour operators are about the same. Although fossil fuels are burnt, propane is a much cleaner fuel than butane or petrol, therefore, it’s a fairly “eco-friendly” activity.

Something to note: you will likely have to try more than one time before you get in the balloon. We had to show up two mornings in a row (at an ungodly hour of 4am) before the conditions were right. Each company provides transport, breakfast and a glass of sparkling, grape juice at the end of the tour.

Viator offers a variety of companies to book through, or you can simply work with your hotel to book a trip through the sky.

Whirling Dervish – Treat yourself to a meditative journey on the cycle of perfection. Whirling Dervish ceremonies happen every night and will whisk you off into an immersive, cultural experience.

According to the Goreme tourism site, the idea of the dervish is that “There is no object, no being which does not revolve. Every thing whirls and man, a whirling dervish, carries on his life, his very existence by means of the revolution in the atoms, structural elements in his body, by the circulation of his blood, by his coming from the Earth and return to it, by his revolving with the Earth itself.”. So let yourself spin while enjoying this performance.

Open Air Museum– Monasteries carved amongst the hills and secret underground cities? Yes, please! This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a history too long for us to get into, but it’s worth learning more about to understand the significance before visiting. You can learn more here: http://www.goreme.com/goreme-open-air-museum.php

Green Suitcase Shops at:

Kervin Carpet and Kilim – Looking for that perfect Turkish rug for your home? While you could get lost in the myriad of options and shops, you’d be remiss to skip this shop. The store has been owned by the same family for six generations and they take great care and pride in making the carpets. Unlike a lot of the carpet and kilim places in the area, this shop specifically uses natural, vegetable dyes. The patterns are all regionally inspired and tell a story. You’ll have to ask, Kervin about each one and what they mean. Kervin, the owner couldn’t have been more warm and helpful. He worked with us to give a really good price, gave us tea and made sure the shipping and handling was taken care of. For a truly unique gift, we love Kervin!

Sultan’s Charm – Eco-chic! That’s what Sultan’s charm is all about. You know you want a Pestemal towel for the beach, home or just, life! This is the only place in town that sells organically made hammam towels. Each towel comes wrapped in an “evil eye” charm. Buy one or twenty! These are affordable, adorable and a true Turkish gift.

Photo credit: Sultan’s Charm

Customs and Etiquette tips:

  • Wear the appropriate garb when visiting mosques
  • Women- be careful at looking men in the eyes. It can be considered risky and an invitation for….
  • Firm handshakes and kisses on the cheeks are the standard greeting
  • You will be invited by someone for tea. Hospitality is the pillar of Turkish traditions. They want to wine and dine with you! Accept or decline as gracefully as possible.
  • Pointing is considered rude
  • Remove your shoes when visiting someone’s home

Cappadocia is full a magical sunsets, mouth-watering food and steeped in historical charm! If you are planning a trip to the region, reach out and let us help you plan a comprehensive itinerary.