Desperately needing to spend some time in nature and to get a dose of exoticism, I set off to Turkey. My budget was rather tight, but according to my research, I wouldn’t be needing much spending money in Turkey’s easternmost province, near the border with Iran. Perfect, I thought…
As I arrived in Istanbul, I found out that unfortunately, recent political turmoil had turned the area I wanted to visit into a temporary ‘no-go zone’. I seriously considered persevering my trip despite the issues, but the travel agent almost refused to sell me a bus ticket and insisted I change plans. Eventually, the flexible and sensible traveller in me arose and I decided to go to Cappadocia instead.
Cappadocia being one of the most popular areas in Turkey, I knew it would be trickier with my small budget. Since I managed to stay within budget, I thought I’d share some of the tricks that could allow you to have a cheap Cappadocia trip.
1. The classic: take the overnight bus to get there
Obviously, it saves you a night at the hotel. Taking the long distance bus from Istanbul to Göreme, the “hub” in Cappadocia, is like flying business class. Think wide reclinable seats with lots of leg space, a complementary blanket and a personal screen displaying movies- in Turkish. During the ride, a “bus attendant” strides through the vehicle’s aisle serving drinks/snacks and makes sure the bus is always tidy. The downside: there’s a toilet/smoke break every hour or so and all lights are turned on at each stop. So, maybe not the best night of sleep.
2. Walk to enjoy the magical landscapes
There are plenty of tours designed to show you the area, but honestly, you can do without. Just pick up a map and start walking. One of the tours might be worth paying for (the Green Tour) as the attractions are spread out over a large area. However, taking this tour reminded me how much I hate group tours. Important: if you don’t take any kind of tour, make sure you read up on the history of the area. It’s fascinating!
You might be discouraged to go for a long walk because that would also mean a long hike back to town. However, people in the area are generally open to hitchhikers and chances are you’ll get picked up by the first car/truck with an open seat.
4. Lodge in a cave
Not only is it part of the whole Cappadocia experience, it can also be very affordable. Many of the cave houses have been transformed into home stays and pensions. You can easily find an inexpensive dorm room (+- €7, at the time of writing) in a cave hotel with swimming pool. Most of these places additionally offer a generous breakfast buffet, leaving you full until the afternoon.
5. It’s OK to skip the hot air balloon flight
It seems as though every single visitor to the region embarks in a hot air balloon during their visits… “an essential Cappadocia experience”. Admittedly, it’s probably gorgeous, memorable and what not. But with prices starting at €120 for a one hour flight in a crammed basket, the budget traveller starts to doubt… That’s food for a week! A great alternative is to wake up at dawn and watch the balloons float through the morning sky. Dozens of balloons amongst the fairy chimneys. Stunning! At no point did I wish to be inside a balloon… This view was just perfect -and free.
6. Cappadocian wine tasting
Wait, what is wine tasting doing on a “budget tip” list? First of all because… Turkish wine? Who knew?! That’s just an exciting must-try! Regardless of your budget. Second, a glass of Cappadocian wine is moderately priced and -in my humble opinion- not that great (yet?), so you’re not likely to go for seconds. Still worth a taste!
7. Skip the Hammam
The Hammam in Göreme is pricey. Unless that’s where you want to splurge, I suggest you hold that experience for a larger city in Turkey.
8. Relax and Enjoy the silence
Although you’re in a touristy area, it’s still a quiet environment. Order a pot of tea and do some people watching or read that book you’ve been carrying around… Savour the peace and quite while soaking in the surroundings. This is probably my favourite thing about traveling on a budget: the monetary restrictions force you to spend at least one day not spending and consuming but slowing down and enjoying the beautiful, small things in this world.
9. Donate a strand of hair to win a trip back to Cappadocia
There is a tiny ‘hair museum’ in the town of Avanos. It’s basically a cave with over 16.000 hair strands hanging from the walls and ceiling. Female visitors from all over the world donate a lock of hair to which their names and address is adhered. Twice a year, Mr. Galip, potter and owner of the museum, picks a lucky winner to return to Cappadocia and learn the art of pottery, all expenses paid. He has not mailed me yet. Entrance to the museum is free.
Have you been to Cappadocia?