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Ihlara Valley: Explore The Cappadocia Oasis That Hides Hidden Cave Churches And Monasteries

Discover the enchanting beauty of Ihlara Valley in Cappadocia with our comprehensive guide. Immerse yourself in stunning landscapes, ancient cave churches, and rich history as we unveil the hidden treasures of this hidden paradise.

Ihlara Valley Cappadocia

The central region of Cappadocia is one of the most famous places to visit in Turkiye. The region, known for its spectacular hot air balloon-filled sunrises, mysterious fairy chimneys, and underground cities, welcomes over 3.5 million visitors every year.

But only a handful of these visitors have ever heard of Ihlara Valley.

And that’s a shame because a visit here is one of the most unique and beautiful things to do in Cappadocia.

After visiting Ihlara Gorge during my family travels in Turkiye, I’m excited to share the news about this peaceful, green paradise that has, thus far, flown completely under the radar of most visitors to Cappadocia because this was one of our favorite places to visit.

About The Ihlara Valley

A man and his two sons stand on a rock in the Melendiz River in the Ihlara Valley

The landscape of Cappadocia can appear rough and harsh. The rose, white, and grey rock of the region is dotted by mushroom-shaped rocks called ‘fairy chimneys’ that have been used for millennia by locals for protection from the elements. The soft sandstone was carved out into homes, churches, and, in modern times, Cappadocia cave hotels.

But the experience of Ihlara Valley is unlike any other place in Cappadocia. And it’s just an hour away from the popular towns of Urgup and Goreme.

Tucked into a gorge that can reach 500 feet in depth is a nine-and-a-half-mile-long gorge that has been carved out of rich volcanic rock by the Melendiz Stream. The chilly, crystal-clear water of the stream is lined with peaceful groves of shade trees, rocky outcrops, and picturesque bridges. A stroll through the gorge invites you into a world of relaxation paired with the sounds of birds chirping, dragonflies zipping about, and frogs croaking in the reeds.

The valley has a fascinating history. Its completely unique environment was settled during the 7th century by Byzantine monks who dug their houses and churches out of the soft, tuff stone that had been deposited by the eruptions of the nearby volcano Mount Hasan. These include 105 churches carved into the walls of the Ihlara Valley, 16 of which are open to visitors.

Within these churches, you can find intact paintings, carvings, and monuments. Visitors have unprecedented access to the artwork compared to similar displays at the Goreme Open Air Museum.

Our Experience Hiking Ihlara Valley

A woman looks up at church frescoes in a cave church in the Ihlara Valley in Cappadocia

My family arrived at the Ihlara Valley after a morning at the end of a long day of exploring hidden Cappadocia attractions. We started our day with a morning hot air balloon ride before visiting the fascinating underground city, Kaymakli Yeralti Sehri. Our final stop before visiting the Ihlara Gorge was the Selime Cathedral, not too far from the town of Ihlara.

After a 4:00 am wake-up to get to the Cappadocia hot air balloon tour, followed by a long day of exploring, we were pretty exhausted by the mid-afternoon when we reached Ihlara Valley. We started our visit off at the northern end of the park at the Ihlara Valley Camp, a series of small shops and restaurants just outside of the park’s entrance.

It was the perfect way to get ourselves relaxed and ready for another hike. The camp has small covered seating areas sitting right on top of the Melendiz Stream, similar to the restaurant area at the famous Todra Gorge in western Turkiye.

As we strolled into the gorge of Ihlara Valley, the change in scenery hit us instantly. The shade, cast by the towering walls of the cliffs on either side, dropped the summer temperatures by several degrees. And the cold water of the Melendiz Stream took the edge out of the dry Cappadocia air.

The Ihlara Valley hike can be done in many different ways. At the entrance was a map layout of the hiking and walking trails of the Ihlara Valley. The trail crisscrosses the stream via several small bridges. All in all, there are five total loops, including a 2.5-mile, 4.5-mile, 9.3-mile, and a full 20-mile hike that takes visitors through the entire gorge.

Two boys relax on a wooden bridge of the Melendiz Stream in Ihlara Turkiye

Once we were in the gorge, the trail was very easy to follow. Essentially, the trails run along the edge of the Melendiz Stream on either side. There are a few side trails that lead to the cave churches and monasteries. But it was almost impossible to get lost.

Bright green foliage, colorful wildflowers, and tall, lush grasses were everywhere. It was easy to forget that we were surrounded by the harsh desert landscapes of central Turkiye.

We visited as many of the Ihlara Gorge churches as we could fit into the time that we had. And even though many of them were quite a climb to get to, the cool air and fresh foliage kept us energized. We easily forgot how early we had woken up to start our day.

About mid-way through the gorge is a small picnic area. There are a series of small shops and cafes where we could pick up some food, drinks, and snacks. And there were picnic tables right in the river where baby ducks would swim around picking up any crumbs left behind. My kids had a blast wading in the chilly water with them.

Ihlara Valley is set up in such a way that you can easily decide how long or short you would like your hike to be. At any moment, you can turn back and retrace your steps. Or cross one of the few bridges and walk back on the other side.

If you’re looking for an escape unlike anywhere else in Cappadocia, you won’t want to miss the Ihlara Gorge.

How To Get To Ihlara Valley

The most common places to stay in Cappadocia are the towns of Goreme and Uchisar. Both of these towns are about an hour away from Ihlara Valley. If you have access to a car rental, the drive is quite easy, and there are many things to see along the way. A visit can easily include Selime Cathedral, the Derinkiyu Cave Village, and the Kaymakli Underground City.

Below is an Ihlara Valley Map that shows all of the major sites and entrance points.

Ihlara Valley Map showing entrance points and church locations
Ihlara Valley Map

Because the Ihlara Valley is so long, and most people are set up for a full 20-mile hike, there are seven separate entrances to the gorge. The most common access areas for the gorge are:

  • Ihlara village is the most commonly used entrance. Cars can drop people off here at the base of the gorge, but they can’t park long-term. This is the entrance used by most tours of Ihlara Valley.
  • Kapali entrance is three miles into the gorge. This entrance is currently closed due to dangerous conditions.
  • The Belisrma village entrance has a parking area. Visitors to the Ihlara Valley access the gorge via a steep set of stairs. This is the most common entrance for those looking to explore the gorge on their own.
  • The other common entrance is at the far end of the gorge near the historic Selime Cathedral. This is a good entrance for those who want to explore the entire 20-mile loop.

Tours That Include The Ihlara Valley

We visited Ihlara Valley on a private guided tour. Having someone local on hand to guide us to the best stops, churches, and views helped make the gorge more accessible and enjoyable. It also meant that we didn’t have to worry about finding parking and then having to hike up and down the steep stairs leading into the Ilhara Valley Gorge.

Here are a few Cappadocia tours that include the Ihlara Gorge in their itinerary:

What To See In Ihlara Valley

Aside from being one of the most naturally beautiful places to visit in Cappadocia, the Ihlara Valley is incredible for history buffs and sightseers.

The walls of the Ihlara Gorge are lined with 105 historic churches dating back to the Byzantine Era in the 7th Century CE. The walls of many of these churches are plastered with detailed and colorful paintings. Some of them are still in incredible shape.

Sixteen of the Ihlara Valley churches can still be accessed by visitors to the gorge. The rest have been closed either due to dangerous conditions, to protect the architecture and artwork, or because access to the churches is no longer available due to rock slides.

Keep in mind that many of the churches sit high up on the walls of the gorge. You will need to do some climbing, usually up steep stairs, to access them.

Churches of Ihlara Valley:

The Wandering Wagars family smiles from inside a church in the Ihlara Valley hike
  • Kokar Kilise Church (The Smelly Church): This famous church has biblical frescoes that showcase several important stories from the bible, including the Last Supper, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, as well as the Ascension and Pentecost, which are located on the ceiling.
  • Purenli Seki Kilisesi (Terrace Church): This beautiful church has an 82-foot climb to reach it, but it’s worth the effort. The church features beautiful frescoes. And if you follow the stairs to the top level, you’ll find a terrace looking out over the Ihlara Valley.
  • Agacalti Kilise (Church Under the Trees): Located near the south entrance, this Ihlara Valley church, also known as “Daniel’s Church” due to a fresco showcasing Daniel and the Lion, features artwork celebrating the natural beauty of the Ihlara Gorge. It’s very unique in its design and features many flowers, rosettes, and checkerboard designs.

Other churches in the Ihlara Valley include:

  • Sumbullu Kilise (Hyacinth Church
  • Yilanli Kilise (Church with Snake)
  • Karagedik Kilise (Church with Black Collar)
  • Kirk Damatli Kilise (St. George Church)
  • Direkli Kilise (Church with Pillars
  • Ala Kilise (Mottled Church)
  • Kemerli Kilise (Church with Belt)
  • Egritas Kilise (Church with Crooked Stone)
  • Bahattin Kilise (Bahattin’s Granary Church)

Tips For Family Travel In Turkiye

Family travel in Turkiye, especially in places like Sanliurfa and the Southeast, requires some planning and a little bit of luck. Some areas of this country can be closed due to political unrest, so it’s always a good idea to check out current travel advisories and stay informed of the current travel status.

Check out our Turkiye Family Travel Blog for everything that you need to know about family travel in Turkiye and watch ouf Tips for Family Travel in Turkiye video below to help you plan an unforgettable visit to this mesmerizing and wonderful country.

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Enjoy Your Time In The Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia

The Ihlara Valley is one of the most unique and beautiful places to visit in Cappadocia. If you want a complete change of scenery, some cool air, and relaxing vibes, there’s really no better place. My family loved our time hiking and exploring the churches. And I’m sure that you will too.

I hope that these tips for hiking the Ihlara Valley were helpful. If I missed anything, please feel free to drop a comment below, reach out via our contact page, or chat with us on our social media channels.

You can find valuable tips about visiting Turkiye on our Turkiye Family Travel Blog. Or feel free to join our Family Travel Support Group on Facebook. You can connect with more family travelers just like you who love to explore the world.

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