For more information on hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia, visit our Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon Information Page.
UNIQUE EXPERIENCE – UNIVERSAL BALLOONS
Probably the most unique experience you can have in Cappadocia is a hot-air balloon ride. The spectacular scenery coupled with the joy of flying makes this a must-do when you visit.
We took a ride with one of the twenty-five balloon companies here: Universal Balloons.
Universal has been under the new management of Especial Group since 2015. They are making strides in providing a specialized “boutique” experience for their guests.
The morning started with our pick up at 6:00am in a very comfortable shuttle. We made our way to the Universal Balloon offices where they had a buffet breakfast of cucumbers, tomatoes, green and black olives, cheese and meat, pastries and bread, with jelly and honey, tea and coffee. I took full advantage of this as I love Turkish breakfast. Everybody gathered and finished their breakfast in the nicely heated dining room (thankfully it wasn’t that cold for March: 3 celsius, 38 Fahrenheit) and headed for their assigned busses to take them to their launch site. We were fortunate to have a 16 person basket. Going in a bigger basket is definitely a different experience. The hold was big enough for my family of five to switch places from next to the pilot to out on a corner view!
EXPERIENCED PILOT – CRAZY & SUPERB
Little did we know that we would be flying with one of the most experienced pilots at Universal Balloons, captain Gökhan İkizoğlu. We were really amazed at this pilots’ ability. Of course, he can’t control the balloon’s direction – that’s completely up to the wind – but he could get us high over other balloons, spin us around to see all the sights, and lead us to 30 cm above the ground dropping us over the rim of a cliff into a valley!
Gökhan has a ten year history in ballooning. Before he became a pilot he worked on the ground crew for three years. In that time of cutting his teeth he was able to go up in a balloon eventually and decided piloting was for him. But it wasn’t always that way.
“I am from Ortahisar,” he explained, “and we would climb to the top of the hisar (90m) and I would start to shake,” he said smiling, confessing his fear of heights as a child. 90 meters is a drop in the bucket compared to the 1000 meter heights a balloon is allowed to climb. How did he get over his acrophobia, I asked? “It was that training trip as a ground crew member. I survived the flight and told my boss I wanted to move from ground crew to pilot!” Quite an amazing character that Gökhan!
I commented to Gökhan, who has been flying for seven years, that he was one part crazy, and another part superb. When we dropped into Love Valley, he got us so close to the fairy chimney we thought we were going to scrape it (that’s the “crazy” in him). As we hovered there in the valley, at just higher than the apricot trees growing there, he spun us around 360 degrees to see the incredible cave-riddled rock formations, other balloons, and views of Üçhisar and the rest of the valley toward Avanos. As we ascended out of the valley, he negotiated our basket in between two rocks 25 meters apart, all at the whim of the wind (that’s the “superb” in him).
Gökhan wants to give all his guests the best experience possible. But like hotel and restaurant patrons, balloon passengers have very different ideas of what makes a great ride. “The Far East guests want to go high, the Europeans want to go down in the valleys and the Türks want to know when we’ll be landing,” he joked. Yet he is so sensitive to his clientele that “in the same flight I will do twenty minutes at 800 meters, 20 minutes along the cliffs, and ten minutes finding a landing spot,” in order to meet everybody’s need.
WORKING WITHIN LIMITATIONS
Being limited by the wind didn’t stop Gökhan from giving us a special ride. We flew for a full hour and reached a height of 820 meters which provided an incredible view of Cappadocia. Then he also dropped us down into the valley to get the up close glimpses of the fairy chimneys, only to take us back to the heights for one last look around before landing (almost!) perfectly on the trailer awaiting us. After disembarking the basket we were greeted with certificates and champagne/sparkling juice toasts. An amazing experience!
The only drawback was the shuttle drop-off. We were on the bus home for 50 minutes. I have talked with the General Manager of Universal Balloons, Hakkan Ergüleç, and he assured me this wasn’t the norm, and that he will address the situation. He also wanted to let future customers know that if they have a problem in this regard they are welcome to contact him directly for customer service. I am sure they will iron out those kinks as they develop even greater hospitality than they already displayed.
I asked Gökhan, who obviously loves his job, as he was smiling and joking the whole time, if he ever flew the same flight. “Everyday is a new experience. I always fly and land somewhere new.” I would have liked to have talked more with Gökhan, but there was so much traffic in the air and he maneuvered so closely to the rocks that he was really concentrating on flying and not chatting, for which I was most appreciative!
Gökhan wanted to invite everybody to “come to Cappadocia and fulfill your bucket-list wish with a balloon flight!”
2 THUMBS UP
I would highly recommend the Universal Balloon experience. Every staff member was bubbling with energy and enthusiasm making this once-in-a-lifetime event very memorable.
FULL DISCLOSURE UNIVERSAL BALLOONS PROVIDED THE FLIGHT FREE OF CHARGE.
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