The four-day Cappadocia International Hot Air Balloon Festival, which concluded last Sunday, was organized by the Urgup Municipality in the central Nevsehir province, with balloonists enjoying a birds-eye view of the unique landscape, while those on the ground marveled at the bright balloons which dotted the sky above.
The opening ceremony saw a night glow event with a balloon inflated and lit up in sync with pulsating rhythmic music.
“This festival is held in Turkey for the first time. In 2019 we decided to start a balloon festival. For four days the balloons have raised into the sky from different points of Cappadocia. Our main goal is to popularize this region and attract more tourists,” said Hakan Ergulech, organizer of festival.
During the event, some 150 hot air balloons took to the sky for six different flights every day, with 20 balloons of various shapes from nearly a dozen countries, including France, Belgium, Slovakia, Germany and Brazil, all soaring high.
“I brought my own balloon from Belgium – Bobo the Happy Lobster. And we are about to take it off over here, just behind Love Valley for a nice flight,” said Jim, a Belgian participant at the festival.
“Up or go down. That’s all. Than you have to search the direction of the wind, so you have a little bit possibility to [set the] direction. But for that you have to be a very good pilot,” said Mark, another balloon enthusiast.
Cappadocia is the most popular location in the world for hot air ballooning. Last year, over half of the world’s balloon trips took place in the region, with more than half a million people taking to the blue skies.
The region has 239 registered balloons, with up to 150 balloons flying on any given day. It is also one of the few places in the world where tourists can balloon almost year-round.
The balloons are tracked by a GPS system, allowing the speed limit and distance of the balloons to be detected during any time of their flight by land technicians. No more than 250 balls are allowed to rise to the sky simultaneously.
The price of a hot air balloon tour ranges from 130 to 180 U.S. dollars depending on the duration. Some 537,000 tourists took balloon rides in 2018, boosting tourism revenues, according to tourism experts.
Weather conditions and flights are monitored by the State Aviation Service, which gives permission to take off or may prohibit flights in case of bad weather.
In the past, there have been some balloon accidents but organizers assure that compared with the high number of flights each day, these incidents are relatively minor.
Cappadocia is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is famous for its unique “fairy chimney” rocks, hot air balloon trips, fascinating underground cities and chapels dating back to the first Christians who fled Roman persecution.
Many boutique so-called ‘cave hotels’, carved into the rock, offer a unique glance of the otherworldly region to visitors from all around world.
Growth in Turkey’s tourism sector has outpaced the global growth rate, by growing by 15 percent in 2018 to reach 95.6 billion U.S. dollars, representing 12.1 percent of the entire Turkish economy.