Hoodoo and Cave Church Hiking in Cappadocia

The usual tourist circuit in Cappadocia triangulates Goreme, Avanos and Urgup, but just off this well beaten path there are beautiful, yet easy, day hikes and walks that let you explore the tufa formations and also enjoy vistas of this volcanic land of ‘fairy chimneys’.

Gallery of Cappadocia hiking

Here are the details from one of our tours to Cappadocia:

From my 2002 journal:

21 Sep Friday Mustafapasha – Goreme – Urgup

Slept in to start about 9:30. Visited the Goreme Open Air museum. Large crowds today, with waits at most churches. A sign at the Shod Church told us “3 kings, tie their horses, show their souvenirs” Outside museum grounds, the Church of the Buckle is open again after renovations – ‘newer’ frescoes, ca 11-12 century with more blue paint surviving and better figures.

Stopped at Carpedocia, new carpet factory near Ortahisar, and had a great show, which somehow convinced us we needed more carpets. Finished in Urgup

22 Sep Saturday Mustafapasha & Cappadocia

Left around 9 for Kizilcukur hills. We took the path not taken last time, following the lower section, still taking just over an hour. Pretty, and very different from the upper pathway. More small plots of local farmers, lots of grapes, apple trees. Didn’t have the basilica of the other trail, but we found a large hole/ledge in the walls, with a steep tunnel and steps leading up to it. From there could explore along a ledge and then several short tunnels, or in back through several rooms and chambers, climbing up another steep series of steps to another level. Mostly dark, but often with holes conveniently dug out to bring in light.

Kizilcukur Gallery

We ended at Cavusin as before and stopped for tea at the local hangout – meeting several elderly men there (80 & 76) who we had met previously just after 9/11. Drank tea with them and chatted via Lutfi as we watched several tour busloads of Germans pass by. Haven’t seen an actual temperature reading, but it’s probably in the mid 80’s, or perhaps higher. Very dry, but not uncomfortable in the shade, and cooling off nicely in the evening.

On to Kaymakli explored the underground city, including the dark passage (with one small flashlight). Then stopped briefly at Devrent on the way back to the hotel.

Ihlara Valley

An unique aspect of Cappadocia hiking is visiting ancient cave churches along the way. In the Ihlara valley churches are reached by short, steep talus paths up to the valley walls.

Ihlara Valley gallery

With plentiful water and hiding places, various waves of Christian emigrants and monks lived in Cappadocia, eluding various raiders from the 6th to 14th centuries. The Ihlara valley is a 15 km gash in the high desert and is a popular day hike. The Melendiz Stream (called “Potamus Kapadokus” in antiquity) flows through the valley, carving the gorge from the basalt and andesite remains of an ancient volcano, Hasandagi . The whole canyon is honeycombed with rock-cut underground dwellings and churches from the Byzantine period. There are trails on both sides of the creek, but not particularly well marked. We ended up on the wrong side at one point, and 2 of us just waded across the rather slow stream. The others declined to get feet wet and found a local farmer with his donkey who ferried them across the stream, asking an exorbitant(!) 3 million lira each [about $3]. Can’t say much for our companions bargaining skills, as we later found a pair of hikers who had paid 500,000 lira for both of them!

The best known churches include Ağaçaltı Church (Church Under Trees), Sümbüllü (Hyacinth) Church, Pürenliseki Church, a terraced church on several levels, Kokar Church (Can be translated as either ‘Fragrant’ or ‘Odorous’), Yilanli Church, Karagedik Church, Kirkdamatli (St. George) Church, Direkli Church, Ala Church, Kemerli Church and Egritas Church. Conditions vary, some are extremely dilapidated, others in surprisingly good condition. As with all frescoes in the area, many of the faces are disfigured, especially the eyes; the result of iconoclasts over the ages.

On a day hike you can easily visit many of these churches. Each is located above the talus slopes, carved into the main valley walls.

Shortly after the St. George Church, a road cuts across the valley where the cliffs are less steep and kebab shops there make an excellent lunchtime stopping point. After lunch in Beliserme, continue up the valley to Selime

Nearby, in the Soganli Valley,

is another short hike with remains of Christian rock-cut churches. You hike up the Soganli valley road, cross over and hike the other side. It’s a moderately popular hike, but the last time we did it, there was no one else in the area, so we had the road up and back to ourselves. This gave us plenty of time to explore the old churches and frescoes – Church of Black Hats, Church with Snakes, Domed Church, Hidden Church. Many of the cave dwellings have pigeon holes, outlined with whitewash, giving an eerie effect.

Then we hiked back down to the quiet village itself. When we returned to the village, nothing was happening , just some bare tables, and a few women sitting around, talking, sewing. In an instant, all the tables have piles of dolls on them, and a dozen ladies behind them all hawking near-identical small dolls (each pointing out her doll also has its own ‘bebe’)

Sample 3 days of walking tours in Cappadocia

(Day 1) From near Ortichar, walk down to the Göreme Open Air Museum, a concentration of monasteries and cave churches.  Visit the museum, and then continue down by way of ‘Love Valley’ to Göreme. Lunch near Uchisar, then hike down the gorge linking the castle hill with Göreme. Return to hotel

 (Day 2)- Hike from Kizilcukur (Red Valley) down to Cavusin village, stopping to see the frescoes in ruined churches along the way. Visit Devrent Valley and its provocative formations and Pasabaglari for short hikes. Visit pottery and carpet factories in Avanos for demonstrations. Overnight in Cappadocia.

 (Day 3) – Hiking in the gorge of the tree-shaded river that carved the Ihlara Valley, we’ll visit several of the churches hidden in the towering canyon walls.  After lunch in Beliserme, continue up the valley.  Finish the day with a tour of an underground city, which descends more than twelve stories underground. Return to hotel

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By Cascoly

I've been exploring and leading trips for over 40 years. climbing & trekkng in the Alps, Andes, North American mountain ranges and the Himalaya. I'm retired from mountaineering now but world travels in Europe, Africa & Asia continue to expand my portfolio. Besides private travel, I now focus on escorting trips to India & Turkey. Other interests include wide reading in history and vegetable gardening / cooking. You can download digital images here, or find images at https://steve-estvanik.pixels.com. We have many thousands of images we haven't displayed yet; so, if you have a special need or request please contact us