Cappadocia is world famous for its unique rock formations and caves which were used by Christian settlers centuries ago. While many people opt to see the landscape via hot air balloon or via tours, another great way to see Cappadocia is on foot. There are several valleys that connect Göreme to the neighbouring towns of Uçhisar and Çavuşin. Depending on your fitness, walking speed, and number of people on the trails you can hike many of the valleys in just 2 or 3 days.
All of the following hikes can be done independently, either as day hikes or linking them together and free camping somewhere. If you prefer to go with a guide, I recommend getting in touch with Ali Battir (firstname.lastname@example.org, +90 545 234 0235), a licensed tour guide in the area.
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Pigeon & Love Valleys (3.5 – 5 hours)
From the Goreme Bus Station, head west past the ATMs and the scooter rental shop in the road divider. Soon you’ll see the big stone slabs acting as trail markers throughout the Cappadocia region. The Pigeon Valley trail is very well marked and so long as you take the widest path you probably won’t get lost. And even if you get lost, just head for Uçhisar Castle, looming large to the west. You can’t miss it. You also shouldn’t miss the 360 degree views atop the castle (entrance fee 5 adult / 2.5 student).
There are small shops in Uçhisar if you need to stock up on water or snacks before tackling the Love Valley. It starts just off the main road from Uçhisar to Göreme, next to an art gallery and not far from where you finished the Pigeon Valley. Walk along the dirt road till you see a stone trail marker, guiding you down a path into the valley. The path forks off in multiple ways but they’ll all lead to the same place eventually. You’re in valley with steep cliffs on either side of you, there aren’t a lot of paths into or out of it. As you head north you’ll come across what this valley is known for, the peculiarly shaped rock formations that resemble man parts.
Once you’re done taking photos and having tea at the makeshift cafe, continue north and the path will converge onto a dirt road. Once you hit the paved road, you’ll be at the end of the trail. From here you can walk to Çavuşin (15min) or head back to Göreme (40 min). I found a quiet place in the adjacent hills to watch the sunset before hitching a ride on the back of a farmer’s tractor to Göreme.
Rose and Red Valleys (2.5-5 hours, depending on which path you choose)
Heading east from the Göreme bus station, walk along the main road. At the roundabout, make a right towards the Open Air Museum. Personally, I thought the museum would’ve been OK for a wander if it was free. But considering there’s a 15 lira (US$7.5) entry fee, it’s really not worth the time nor the money. And despite what some guidebooks say, don’t bother with the “dark church” inside the museum. I met one traveller who paid the extra 8 lira for it and was thoroughly unimpressed. In fact, if you’re going to hike, don’t bother with the museum at all; you’ll see much more interesting stuff on the trails.
Not long after the roundabout there’s a “shortcut” trail that is marked by “Rose Red” and an arrow in big red spray painted letters. It’s marked well enough that you’ll eventually find the official trail markers, after passing through a small crevice in the hilltop rocks then descending to a small shop. Alternatively, you can walk further east past the open air museum to Kaya Camping and go north through the Meskendir Valley. You’ll pass through some big rock tunnels and see lots of caves high up in the rocks before reaching the aforementioned shop.
Heading north, there are 3 different paths you can take: 2 are the Rose & Red Valley trails which will both eventually lead to the car park and the other is the dirt road you’re on now which will lead to Çavuşin. If it’s before 13h at this point you should have more than enough time to go to Çavuşin, come back and walk one of the valley trails, and make it back to Göreme before sunset.
Along the Rose / Red Valley trails, there are several lovely viewpoints where you can see different rock formations and the clear partition in the colours of the rocks. The Hacli Church is a nice little place to stop for a break and to admire the mural inside. There’s also a very serene cafe at the Üzümlü Church further on. As for the church itself, I didn’t see anything special about it in comparison to the other cave churches in the area.
To return to Göreme, you can simply walk along the road for about 45 minutes, try to hail a bus, or hitchhike. Another option is to hike west through the Meskendir Valley to Kaya Camping, then follow the road from there.
Zemi Valley (2-3 hours)
Heading east from the Göreme bus station towards the open air museum, you’ll see an official trail marker just past the Tourist Resort (that’s that actual name of the resort!). A short diversion from the trail will take you to the Al Nazar Church. Upon reaching the church, I thought to myself “how different could it be from all the other cave churches to warrant an entry fee?” So yea, I didn’t go in.
Back on the trail, you’ll soon come across what are commonly known as the Fairy Chimneys. Judging from the numerous stalls and proximity to town this is definitely the most popular hiking trail in the area and is probably jam packed in the high season. After the Fairy Chimneys, I veered off the main path (though not for lack of trying to stay on it) and eventually found my way onto the dirt road leading back to the sunset point in Göreme. It turns out the main path which goes up and out of the valley to the dirt road back to Göreme has been fenced off by a farmer. Nice one.