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10-Day Turkey Trip Across Istanbul, Pamukkale, Ephesus and Cappadocia - Itinerary and Costs

Updated: May 12

A unique amalgam of the orient and the west, Turkey is like no other country. While it has the mosques, the souks, the spices, and the culture of an Islamic country, it leans into its European legacy with cobblestoned roads, pretty street cafes, English-speaking youngsters in trendy western-clothes and more trappings of the western world. South of Turkey also has the most otherworldly landscapes in the volcanic rock formations of Cappadocia, the complex underground cities of Derinkuyu and Kamikali, the travertines of Pamukkale and the Roman ruins in Ephesus.

Insofar as things to do in Istanbul, since this was a work-cum-leisure trip, I spent pretty much the most time in a boardroom discussing future plans and strategies by day and explored Istanbul in the after-hours. Istanbul like most capitals is a city that you soak in at leisure, walk around into its hidden and crowded alleys and bazaars, settle yourself at one of the lovely cafes with viewd of sprawling Blue Mosque and the harbour, and enjoy some Turkish coffee or a lentil soup with no major "checklists of things to see". But still, if I had to, here's my favourite list of 10 Things To Do In Istanbul.

While I did all this, Istanbul was only 30% of my Turkey trip and here's what my 10-day Turkey Itinerary looked like

3 days - Istanbul

1 Day - Pamukkale

1 day - Ephesus

3 Days - Cappadocia

Last Day - Istanbul

1 Day in Transit

Going from Istanbul to Pamukkale via Denizli

After saying my goodbyes to my team on the 3rd day in Istanbul, I sliced off on my own and proceeded towards the southern leg of my Turkey trip.

The cheapest and most time efficient way to get to Pamukkale from Istanbul is to book an overnight bus from Istanbul to Denizli. (not sleeper, but it's comfortable) At around 8:30 am, I reached Denizli and walked to my Airbnb, rested and took the public bus to go to Pamukkale. ($0.5 or less)

Hierapolis - Ancient Roman Amphitheatre and functional Roman pools

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Heirapolis is a site of remains of an ancient Roman civilization that thrived here around 2000 years ago. Amongst other ruins in the area, the most prominent is a well-preserved half amphitheatre with hundreds of concentric steps around a large stage. There's also a still-functional swimming pool called "Cleopatra Pool" which is said to have therapeutic properties and is always at a naturally warm temperature making for a relaxing soak.

Nonetheless, Heirapolis is at best a quarter-day side trip to Pamukkale, the more famous tourist attraction in Turkey.

Pamukkale - The "insta famous" limestone travertines on their last legs

Pamukkale, meaning "cotton castle" in Turkish, is famous for its travertines, natural limestone formations which are roughly a group of pools of spring water across levels on cliffs. I'd first heard of Pamukkale on one of those "100 experiences you must have in a lifetime" blogposts of the millennial times, way before Instagram reels did the rest.

However the travertines of Pamukkale seem to have faded from their original glory over the years as hardly any spring water remains in the pools today, and the little that you see is artificially directed to maintain Pamukkale's pull as a tourist attraction. Still, Pamukkale was still fascinating and a unique site partially because of its natural beauty and partially because it was full of girls with a photographer in tow clicking cinematic photos wearing angel wings and long flowy dresses to get that perfect Instagram shot!

(No doubt, Pamukkale is 90% Instagram hype and probably the cause of its slow demise.)

Pamukkale - The "insta famous" limestone travertines

I was done wading through the travertines by sunset, by then the area had cleared of the tourists, so managed to spend a few peaceful moments by myself in this strange but beautiful landscape. After an underwhelming dinner (beginning to miss the food of Istanbul) at the main square in Pamukkale, I took the same local bus back to Denizli and called it a night at my Airbnb. The next morning, I checked out, got myself a hearty breakfast of strong Turkish coffee and a "Gozleme" -- spinach stuffed pasty reminding of me our Indian parathas -- and took the 3-hour train from Denizli to Selkuk to go to Ephesus - my next destination.

A day in Ephesus amidst Roman ruins

Again a medieval and a UNESCO world heritage site, which was once a part of the Greek civilization and then Roman, Ephesus contains ruins of many impressive structures. Amongst the most prominent ones is the Temple of Artemis -- an eight-column building which was once a church, tiled pathways that have survived the thousands of years of weather and civilisations, many temples, a theatre and others. One can easily spend 4-5 hours just walking around this historical area, reminiscent of the Roman forum in Rome, Jerash in Jordan and other sites with remains of the ancient Roman civilization.

I was out of Ephesus by 5 pm, and just about made it to the last bus back (timing!) to the Denizli bus station again by 9pm. After some stocking up on essentials at a supermarket, I got on the overnight Kamil Koc bus to Cappadocia where I'd be the next 3 days.

Cappadocia - Staying in a "cave hotel" in Goreme

The first sight that hit me as I woke up in the bus at about 6 in the morning is the endless number of hot air balloons over the most bizarre looking formations looming over the horizon as the bus kept getting closer to the destination. It was like Cappadocia isn't even trying to be subtle about being synonymous with its hot air balloons!

By 9, I checked into my hostel in Goreme, the central area where most of the hotels and cafes are clustered, and was stunned to see that the hotel was actually a cave! (which I'd discover that most hotels, houses and cafes in Cappadocia are!) It was middle of November and Cappdocia gets biting cold in the winters so I just snuggled in my unique cave-bed for hours instead of rushing out to see this, do that.

cave hostel cappadocia

Waking up at around noon, I got lunch at a local place and navigated to the "Sunset point". When I saw this view, against the blaring Azaan from the many mosques in Goreme, I knew Cappadocia was going to be special.

Hot Air Balloon Ride in Cappadocia

There's no need to book a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia beforehand or online -- there's many vendors on site offering the same -and you get better prices as you negotiate in person. So I'd booked one soon as I got to Cappadocia for the next day. I think I paid $50 for a one-hour flight followed by a 'champagne'.

Getting up at 5am on a chilly morning, I shlepped myself into a shared van which takes you to the middle of an open valley as hundreds of other balloons fire away. You get into a giant cane basket with some 8-10 others, the 'pilot' lights up the balloon, literally sets your ass on fire, and as the smell of petrol gets strong, off you go! As you begin your ascent over Cappadocia, it begins to make sense just why you're on this.

Must as I like to do non-mainstream traveling, you can't not do hot-air balloon ride in Cappadocia. In fact I think Cappadocia is probably why hot air balloons were invented to begin with! I mean there's really no need to float in a giant balloon over a city, a dessert or any other regular "landscape", but Cappadocia? Oh man, there's no better way to orient yourself with the bizarre and fascinating landscape of the Cappadocia region than flying 50-100 feet over it slowly and seeing it from up and then from below later.

Hundreds of conical, odd-shaped volcanic rock formations called "Fairy Chimneys" and similar buildings that house those hotels like mine, valleys like Love Valley (with the phallic rocks), rose valley, etc peek out below you as you seem to fly horizontally across rather than vertically. Everywhere you look, it's more balloons around you each with a name, and those otherworldly structures below you. I don't know if I can explain it in words any better, but it's nothing like you've done before.

At around 8am, just before the sun is too harsh, your flight is over, the balloon comes down, gets deflated and packed into a truck and the field is empty again and you do a ceremonial "toast" with a fake champagne! (Not sure if it's because Turkey is an Islamic country or because real champagne is too expensive for a $60 hot air balloon ride.)

I got back to my hostel to catch up on my sleep deficit after the surreal last 3 hours and woke up at around 1 again to get exploring again. This time, I hitch-hiked to see some local attractions like a Byzantine era church, the "love temple" and more. The couple who offered me the ride dropped me at the top of a hill with nothing but a cafe, a few photo points with trees enveloped in evil-eye beads (those are everywhere in Turkey!) making for a surreal and bizarre sight. I just lingered here with a cup of coffee for hours, presumably doing the "Cappuccino in Cappadocia" caption for Insta. At around 2pm, I started to walk back aimlessly around the arid and mars-like area, until I accepted a drop offer from another set of elderly men on their way to somewhere. I wasn't very confident but well what choice did I have? So we made some chitchat in broken English, I declined their offers for a smoke or coffee, and they respectfully dropped me close to Avanos.

Avanos, the pottery village

Avanos wasn't on my checklist or itinerary, but well that's how travelling solo works.

Having seen Avanos as a touristy activity offered by tour operators in the last two days, I knew I'd find something to do there and I wasn't disappointed. Avanos is small town at the outskirts of Cappadocia famous for its pottery. Home to tens of potters who've been at the wheel for generations, Avanos is a delight for people like me who love themselves some pretty ceramic ware. An agent ended walking me to a pottery studio which was too fancy for me to buy anything, but just around the bus stop area, there were a few shops with a large variety of handmade pottery items like plates, bowls, and earthen wine glasses with a glaze. I knew I didn't have the luxury of shlepping too much stuff from here in my backpack so I contended with buying a couple of mugs and a bowl at great prices. Happy with how the day went, I took a local bus bus to Goreme, had a meal of ready-to-eat Rajma-like beans (how do they get it so right!) and bread with some hostel folks, and called it a night early.

Aveeno Pottery Village Turkey

Underground city of Derinkuyu

Local tour companies in Cappadocia will sell you the 'Red Tour' or 'Green Tours' that take you to a number of hot spots like the Love Valley, Ilhara Valley, and the underground cities of Derinkuyu and Kaymaykli. These could cost anywhere between $100 to $200 for a 3-to 6 hour bus tour. However, being a budget backpacker means I usually try to find a way to do them on my own.

So I did. And while this wasn't the most time-efficient way, it was the cheapest and I didn't fancy being shepherded in a bus with a set list of things to do and within a certain time.

I took a local bus from Goreme to the nearest town Nevshehir and from there a bus directly to Derinkuyu. (It's a real town ABOVE the ground now.)

Once here, just walk to the site, buy an entry ticket and you visit the tunnels on your own. "built in the 8th century escape the floods and invasions..." is what I overheard my guide telling his tour so that was all the background I needed to be amazed at what I was experiencing. To be honest, once you're inside, you don't really get the perspective on the depth or scale of this city, but when you see this pic and realise you were somewhere in THERE, it feels mighty more impressive.

derinkuyu underground city cappadocia

I was done with Derinkuyu in an hour, and retracing my steps, I took the local bus to the Nevsehir, did some shopping, eating locals foods and stocking up on Simit, (that glorious sesame-covered pretzel shaped bread) and then back to Goreme.

Getting lost in dick?!

I don't recall exactly what I was looking for, but somehow I did end up in a weird path, accepted a pillion ride on an ATV (Yep, ATVs is a tourist thing in this region!) and got dropped to the view point of Love Valley and saw -- for the lack of a better description -- the most phallic looking rocks! I don't know if it's god's sense of humour or a naughty coincidence, but these things - towering about 100-150 feet each look exactly like the male member -- tip and all.

phallic rocks Cappadocia Turkey

When I had had my share of the dicks, instead of retracing my steps and going back the same away, I took an alternate path, and landed up in the middle of nowhere. To get out on to somewhere, I kept walking through an endless field with seemingly no exit. There were no humans in sight to ask for directions, no signal on my phone, nothing to point me out.

So I just walked on, waiting for my knight in shining armour to whisk me away on a stallion.

But nothing came. Not even a mosquito. I was beginning to get worried now. It was sunset and in three hours, I was supposed to get on a bus and get to Istanbul for my flight the next day.

But finally after two odd hours of panicked meandering, I finally saw the famous Uchisar Castle, one of the highest points in Cappadocia, looming in the distance. I walked in its general direction, entering dead ends but eventually finding an exit. It was too late to check out the castle as I'd wasted all that time I could have used to explore the castle in being lost and hating myself for not just getting on one of those damn red and Green Tours!

Once back in Goreme, I decided to overcompensate for the last 3 hours by splurging at a fancy rooftop cafe with a view and spend my last night in Turkey (or so I thought) and also a full moon night in style. Sharing the seat with another solo traveler, I enjoyed my $15 vegetarian meal and wine, and rued the fact that I definitely needed another two days to fully unpack Cappadocia and its many marvels.

Denied Boarding, Spending 24-hours in Istanbul Airport

I reached Istanbul at 8am the next morning, and taking the airport bus directly from the bus station, I was well in time for my flight back to India. But lo and behold, I was denied boarding at the Istanbul airport for a major faux pas from my end - a story worth retelling in detail as a cautionary tale so do check out this post.

And with that very anti-climactic or rather befitting end to a very adventurous trip, I did spend an additional day in Turkey, not the way I would've liked, and got back home in India a while later.

All that was left from Turkey was stories, some bitter, most sweet, some thousand plus pictures and of course all the lovely things I bought from Turkey which begs the question:

What to buy in Turkey?

Here's my top 10 things to buy in Turkey.

10 things to buy in Turkey.

  1. Turkish coffee pot or "cezve" - the OG single cup coffee maker for a perfect brew. Get it for as cheap as $1 in a local market.

  2. Turkish delights from good shops (the cheaper ones can be pretty bad and you'll end up wasting your money. A box of 10 should cost around $5)

  3. Baclava - pick it on your last day if you plan to fly with it

  4. Raki, a Turkish liqueur very similar to Absinthe

  5. Turkish towels, light-weight towels with traditional and modern prints in high quality cotton

  6. Sumac, a spice mix that goes well on salads, falalel and other middle-east themed foods

  7. Evil-eye charms

  8. Turkish pottery, if you can pick up form Avanos, the pottery village, nothing like it, but all local markets in Turkey have a version

  9. Turkish coffee - of course a very strong roast and brew it in your Turkish pot.

  10. Turkish rug - if you have the budget and the weight limit, get a beautiful handcrafted rug from the OG of rugs.


Get toknowme

 I (Monica) am a lifelong traveler, (40 countries), sustainability and veganism advocate, and a marketer by profession. I'm old school in that I still like to blog and document rather than shoot and post.

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