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I was a bird. Slowly flying over the valley. At times I descended and drew near the rock formations that resembled giant mushrooms. The sun began to see me little by little—rising up—even though the dense clouds tried to hide it. The sky lit up with its blue, yellow and pink tones.

My way was marked by a gentle breeze that caressed me. Suddenly, the noise of the burner brought me back to reality. I was not a bird. I only had a privileged view from a balcony among the clouds, connected to a gigantic hot air balloon.

I wasn’t alone. In my basket 18 tourists and two pilots stayed with me. In the sky more than 2,000 others shared my extraordinary experience in this hot air balloon festival.

Cappadocia at 6 am

Where? Cappadocia in central Turkey. It’s a site with surreal landscapes and unique geological formations, the product volcanic activity and erosion. With many dovecotes in the rock formations along with ravines, you’ll even find vineyards.

This region is considered one of the most famous in the world for its daily hot air balloon festival, since the weather conditions are “almost” always good. The pilots of the 150 balloons are able to drive through the air with great precision. I say “almost” because the very day of my tour(along with the previous day) all flights were suspended due to bad weather.

This is how my adventure—which I had planned for six months—began, with the most discouraging news. As soon as I landed at the Kayseri airport I received an email notification.   The news of my hot air balloon tour cancellation and the unavailability of any tour flights for the next day left me helpless. Getting to this balcony among the clouds had become a impossible mission.

Frustration and disappointment lingered and didn’t allow me to fully appreciate the magical landscape of such a historic valley that I had encountered. I recognize that. I’m obsessive and particular about my travel experiences. However, the next day I took a tour to the villages of Goreme, Avano, Urgup and Uchisar throughout the Cappadocia region.

I found impressive chapels and churches inside caves with almost intact paintings that captured the life and crucifixion of Jesus from the fourth century. It was part of the Open-Air Museum of Goreme. Cappadocia is an ancient area, where the first Christians hid inside the caves due to the persecution of soldiers from the Roman Empire.

Cappadocia was molded by mother nature. The volcanic eruptions of millions of years ago added to erosion created these lunar landscapes. Among the Fairy Chimneys are the Castle of Uchisar, the Love Valley, Pigeon Valley and Imaginary Valley (Devrent Valley) where you can see the rock formations cast different silhouettes like mushrooms, hats or animals shapes, unlike any other place.

The locals make the area more welcoming for the tourists: swings adorn the area for the playful, trees are decorated with ceramic pots and blue eyes that repel bad vibes, souvenir shops, ice cream vendors that put on a performance while they serve you delicious ice cream and camels ready for you to hop on for perfect picture.

Taking in all what Cappadocia had to offer made me understand that the site was not just about the hot air balloon rides. Many tourists with a fear of heights don’t include it in their agenda and are enriched regardless. That said, I wasn’t about to give up on finding another hot air balloon tour. I knocked on the doors of at least 20 agencies, and I messaged a lot of pilots and tour guides on Instagram. I still couldn’t believe it. Everybody had the same answer: “There’s no openings.”

Mustafa Budak, the manager of the Hot Air Balloon Cappadocia travel agency, offered me an alternative tour. A behind the scenes intimate look of the balloon setup process before takeoff from the best possible vantage point to see all the airborne balloons in the region. My sister, a Mexican couple and I had no other choice but to accept.

The day arrived. The clock marked 3:45 a.m. and the sound of a mosque’s call to prayer woke us up. It’s never been so easy for me to get up as it was then. Immediately, Mustafa took us to an open field. Dozens of cars with baskets and tour buses were approaching.

It was dark but you could see the balloons. They looked like multicolored whales. As the minutes passed they took their giant forms with fire-heated air from the burner. Excited tourists cheered as they boarded these air cetaceans.

With the first rays of light, the balloons began to levitate. Around me about 50 stood at the same time. It was impossible not to cry because of a mix of feelings I had. They were leaving without me.

“Jessica there is only one space in the last balloon!” I was shocked by what I heard. That spot was really mine. My hands were shaking as I climbed into the basket. This ecstasy I had was shared by all tourists in our basket. Most were from India, some of whom shared this magical experience with their families via video chat.

We lifted gently off the ground. Vertigo? Fear? Motion-sickness? They were not on my mind at all. Smooth maneuvering by the pilot makes you forget such things. All that mattered was that we were floating while the rest of the world just moved below us.

Memet, the pilot, carefully steered the hot air balloon through different areas that let us fully appreciate Love Valley. We went as high as almost 800 meters and descended near enough to pass a couple who was getting married on a canyon ledge. His 9 years of experience in ballooning and 4yrs as an airplane pilot gave us the assurance that there would be no mistakes.

An hour traveling through the clouds, a perfect landing on a trailer-bed, a glass of champagne to toast this experience, the recognition of personal accomplishment and the satisfaction of a goal realized signaled the closing of this unforgettable experience, which left floating for several days.


  • Cappadocia has two airports: Kayseri and Nevsehir. The first is an hour and a half and the second at 45 min. Hotels offer transfer services.
  • The prices of the ride in the hot air balloon vary between 180-250 dollars, depending on the capacity of the basket and the time that can be from 60 to 90 minutes.
  • The best season to ride the balloons is from April to June and September to November.
  • The hotel offer is wide with all kinds of accommodations. The best are the ones in the caves.




Asian and European; Catholic, Muslim and Jewish; Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman; Chaotic, dense and calm; Ancient and cosmopolitan… This is Istanbul, a city with more history, culture, personality, and contrast than most of the world.

Istanbul’s streets are fragrant with the smell of corn and chestnuts. The city displays a mosaic of colors in its mosques, women’s veils, and beautiful lamps. From the stores and restaurants, one can hear sensual music, and its favorite flavors are the pistachio for the famous baklava, and apple for its tea.

I stopped first in this city before my trip to Cappadocia. Honestly, I thought two days would be enough. What a huge mistake! I had not realized how enormous Istanbul was, full of mosques, temples, museum, markets, towers… and with population of 15 million people!

But wait! When one first arrives, the overpopulation, the noise, the chaos, the language, and the 95-degree heat is the worst welcoming combination. At least it was for me.  After traveling on a bus for 90 minutes, and being scammed by a taxi driver who charged me a looot more money for the ride, I would say I kind of freaked out. OMG! Where did I arrive? Will I be safe? These were the questions that I kept repeating in my mind while waiting for my room.

“Don’t be afraid,” the receptionist told me, as he opened the big city map. After enlightening me of the landmarks and places to go, he emphasized that I would be safe and wouldn’t regret coming.

So I followed his advice, and started my short adventure to ancient Constantinople. And seriously, I had to hurry up! At that time, I only had day and a half.

One more time, it’s true! Don’t believe in first impressions. Once I was out of my hotel, I began to realize how beautiful the neighborhood, Sultanahmet, was. It was full of colors, with little streets, restaurants, cats, dogs… and the view of the two most important landmarks: Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia church.

Hagia Sofia or Ayasofya

Two medallions in Arabic, dedicated to Ala and the prophet Muhammad, made me bristle. They were right next to Jesus Christ in the arms of the Virgin Mary. Was this the church where the first fusion of cultures and creeds was observed?

In the 3rd Century, it was first a Byzantine Orthodox Cathedral, then it became Catholic. In 1453, with the Ottoman conquest, it became a mosque, and only in 1935 did it finally become a museum.

Hagia Sofia is an architectural jewel, composed of an altar and magnificent chandeliers. It holds marble pillars from the Ottoman era, eight huge medallions with Arabic calligraphy, tiles, Byzantine mosaics, imposing columns, a huge dome and stained glass windows. All together they caused a visual ecstasy.

Its entrance is 60 lira, equivalent to 10 US dollars. And you can completely explore it in two hours.

Bosphorus by ferry

The sunset was approaching. I had read that the best view was from the Bosphorus, the strait where Asia and Europe shake hands. There was only a short time to choose a cruise. The simplest option was a ferry to cross to the other continent: the Asian district of Uskudar.

Ferries departed every 20 minutes and the ticket was less than 1 US dollar. They were spacious and comfortable. On the trip, the seagulls escorted us. It was the best place for a panoramic photo of the city, where the illuminated mosques, the lighthouses, the bridge, and the Galata Tower were framed.

Once back, it would have been unforgivable not to dine on one of the terraces along the Bosphorus and under the Galata bridge. Dozens of Turks would use their skills to convince us to stay in their restaurant.

The Blue Mosque

8 a.m.! I had few hours left to finish this journey. I went quickly to the Blue Mosque, the symbol of Muslim beauty and an icon of Turkey.

Also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the outside had an ascending staircase of domes and semi-domes that ended with a larger one. Inside, it was covered by 20 thousand handmade blue colored tiles.

The light entered through its 200 windows, and was decorated with verses of the Koran.  The floor was covered with well-preserved carpets, of course you must enter without shoes and your head must be covered. Only Muslims have access to the prayer area, so the route can be short. The entrance was free.

The Topkapi Palace

The history and treasures of the Otoman Empire, which lasted about 500 years, were in the Topkapi Palace. It was giant, and its rooms portrayed the richness and extravagance of the sultans. There were rooms for their harems, their libraries, and their artillery. The imperial dagger was wielded with gold and emeralds. The palace also holds the fourth largest diamond in the world.

The Grand Bazaar

My favorite moment of the trip had arrived: shopping. How does one not to go crazy among the near 4,000 stores that encompass the Grand Bazaar? It’s impossible not to get lost among lamps, chandeliers, carpets, cushions, plates, cups, scarves, wallets, bags, jewelry…

It’s a mixture of the traditional, like amulets with eyes, and the modern, like the replicas of shoes, purses, and clothing, such as Chanel, Gucci, Versace and Louis Vuitton.

I wanted everything! And, with every step I took, the vendors didn’t make it easy for me. They tried to get my attention by inviting me for an apple tea, and trying to convince me to buy what I didn’t need.

In the Grand Bazaar, the bargaining culture was a priority. I squeezed that skill until I bought a bag, in which I was asked for 1,500 lire and finally paid only 500.

Galata Tower

The night came to Istanbul. Too late to go up to the viewpoint of the highest tower in Istanbul: the Galata, located in the European district Beyoglu. But, it was early enough to tour the immediate area.

Its streets were narrow and, being a hill, you had to climb stairs. Upon arrival, the imposing medieval tower welcomed me with illuminated blue and orange colors.

Around it, music, art and traditional dishes merged. Inevitably, I delighted in the traditional sweet baklava and my last Turkish tea in this city. All the while contemplating the magnitude of the tower.

To return to the hotel in Sultanahmet, the fastest way was with the tram. It is safe, convenient and the ticket was worth less than 1 USD. Of course, I would be lying if I said that I understood how the ‘Istanbulkart’ worked. The directions were in Turkish, but I was lucky that there was always someone willing to help me.

This was how, and almost without feeling in my feet, I squeezed out my two days in this monumental city. I failed to reach the Egyptian Bazaar, the Asian neighborhoods, the history museum, or the other mosques. They will be the reminder that I must return someday. With more time and with more bags to take all the lamps with me.

Hagia Sofia


Estambul: El tesoro de Turquía

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Asiática y europea; Católica, Musulmana y Judía; Bizantina, Romana y Otomano; caótica, densa y serena; antigua y cosmopolita… Así es Estambul, una de las ciudades con más historia, personalidad y contraste del mundo.

Estambul tiene olor a castañas y maíz; con el colorido de sus mezquitas, de los velos de las mujeres y las lámparas; y en sus calles se escucha la música sensual del cantante Tarkan. Posee un sabor a pistacho por su ‘baklava’ y a manzana por su famoso té turco.

Esta ciudad fue mi sitio estratégico en Turquía antes de Capadocia. Para ser honesta solo planifiqué mi estadía por dos días. ¡Qué gran error! No contemplé que la ciudad era gigantesca, colmada de palacios, mezquitas, museos, torres y mercados, y con una población de 15 millones.

Al salir del aeropuerto, su sobrepoblación, el desconocimiento del  idioma y los casi 40 grados de temperatura podrían ser la peor combinación para una bienvenida. Al menos lo fue para mí. Luego una hora y media en bus hasta llegar a la ciudad y de haber sido estafada por un taxista estaba un poco alarmada. ¿Dónde me fui a meter? Era una pregunta que se repetía en mi cabeza, mientras esperaba por mi habitación.

“No te asustes”, dijo el recepcionista mientras abría el inmenso mapa de Estambul. Luego explicarme los sitios para visitar, me recalcó que la ciudad es segura y no me defraudará. 

Seguí sus consejos y comencé esta “breve” aventura por la antigua Constantinopla. ¡Cortísima!  A esa hora solo me quedaba día y medio para recorrerla.

Nunca creas en la primera impresión. Sé que suena a lugar común, pero en este caso es totalmente cierto. Mi hotel quedaba en Sultanahmet, el barrio más antiguo de Estambul. Super colorido, con calles empedradas y con decenas de restaurantes. A tres cuadras estaba frente a dos de los más hermosos, impresionantes y emblemáticos sitios del mundo: Santa Sofía y la Mezquita Azul.

Santa Sofía, Hagia Sofia o Ayasofya

Dos medallones con caligrafía árabe dedicados a Alá y Mahoma junto a la imagen de Jesucristo en los brazos de la Virgen María me hicieron erizar. Es que en Santa Sofía o iglesia de la Santa Sabiduría  se observa la primera fusión de culturas y credos de la ciudad.

En el siglo III fue la primera catedral ortodoxa bizantina, luego católica. En 1453 con la conquista Otomana paso a ser una mezquita y recién en el año 1935 se convirtió en un museo.

Santa Sofía es  una joya arquitectónica compuesta de un altar y sus magníficos candelabros; sus pilares de mármol de la época otomana, los ocho enormes medallones con caligrafía árabe, los azulejos, los mosaicos bizantinos, las imponentes columnas, su enorme cúpula y los vitrales. Todo junto te provocan un éxtasis visual.

Su entrada es de 60 liras, equivalente a 10 USD. Y perfectamente puedes recorrerla en dos horas.

El Bósforo en bote

La hora de la caída del sol se acercaba. Había leído que la mejor vista era desde el Bósforo, el estrecho donde Asia y Europa se dan la mano. El tiempo era corto para elegir un crucero. La opción más sencilla fue un ferry para cruzar al otro continente: el barrio asiático Uskudar.

Los ferry parten cada 20 minutos y el ticket menos de 1 USD. Son amplios y cómodos. En el viaje las gaviotas nos escoltaban y era el mejor sitio para una foto panorámica de la ciudad, donde la enmarcan las mezquitas iluminadas, los faros, el puente y la Torre Gálata.

Ya de vuelta es imperdonable no cenar una de las terrazas a lo largo del Bósforo y debajo del puente Gálata. Decenas de turcos usarán sus habilidades para convencerte de que te quedes en  su restaurante.

La Mezquita Azul

¡8 am! Me quedaban pocas horas para terminar esta travesía. Rápidamente fui a la Mezquita Azul, el símbolo de la belleza musulmana e ícono de Turquía.

Por fuera, la también conocida Mezquita de Sultán Ahmed, tiene una escalera ascendentes de cúpulas y semicúpulas que terminan con una más grande y por dentro está recubierto por 20 mil azulejos hechos a mano donde el color azul prima.

La luz entra a través de 200 ventanas, su decoración tiene versos del Corán y el suelo está cubierto de alfombras bien conservadas, claro debes entrar sin zapatos y cubierta. Solo los musulmanes tiene acceso al área de oración, por lo que el recorrido puede ser corto. Su entrada es gratis.

El Palacio de Topkapi  

La historia y los tesoros del Imperio Otomán -que duró alrededor de 500 años- se encuentran en el Palacio Topkapi. Es gigante pero que mejor que enriquecerse al ver las habitaciones de los sultanes, quienes tenían su harén; sus bibliotecas, su artillería y sus joyas como la daga imperial empuñada  con oro y esmeraldas; y el cuarto diamante más grande del mundo.  La entrada vale 12 USD

El Gran Bazar

Llego el momento favorito del viaje: el del ‘shopping’. Cómo no volverse loca entre las casi 4 mil  tiendas que conforman el Gran Bazar. Imposible no perderse entre lámparas, candelabros, alfombras, cojines, platos, tazas, pañuelos, carteras, joyas…

Es una mezcla de lo tradicional como amuletos con ojos y lo moderno como las réplicas de zapatos, carteras y ropa Chanel, Gucci, Versace o Louis Vuitton.

¡Lo quería  todo! Y, en cada paso que das, los vendedores no me lo hacían fácil y  trataban de llamar mi atención, brindarme té de manzana  y  convencerme (en español) de comprar hasta lo que no necesitaba.

En el Gran Bazar la cultura del regateo debe ser prioridad. Esa habilidad la exprimí hasta salir corriendo de comprar una cartera en la que me pedían 1,500 liras y finalmente pagué solo 500.

La Torre Gálata

Llegó la noche en Estambul. Muy tarde para subir al mirador de la torre más alta de Estambul: el Gálata, ubicado en el barrio europeo Beyoglu . Pero, temprano para recorrer la zona.

Sus calles son estrechas y al ser una colina hay que subir escalinatas. Al llegar, la imponente torre medieval te recibe iluminada con colores azules y naranjas.

A su alrededor se fusionaba la música, el arte y los platos tradicionales. Inevitable  no deleitarse con el tradicional dulce, baklava, y mi último té turco en esta ciudad, mientras contemplo la magnitud de la torre.

Para regresar al hotel en Sultanahmet, el camino más rápido fue con el tranvía. Es seguro, cómodo y la tarjeta vale menos de 1 USD. Eso sí, mentiría si digo que entendí como funcionaban las  ‘Istanbulkart’. Las indicaciones estaban en turco, pero tuve la suerte que siempre había alguien dispuesto a ayudarme.

De este manera y casi sin sentir mis pies le saqué el jugo a mis dos días en esta monumental ciudad.  No logré llegar al Bazar Egipcio, ni a los barrios asiáticos, ni al museo de historia o las otras mezquitas. Ese será el recordatorio de que debo volver. Con más tiempo y con más maletas para llevarme todas las lámparas.

Santa Sofia

Tras los pasos de ‘La Playa’


La primera parte del viaje en Tailandia estuvo llena de templos, convivencia con los animales y el show de las linternas. Ahora era mi turno, de visitar las paradisíacas playas.

Y, la parada era en Pucket. Luego de pagar 36USD por un vuelo con escala en Bangkok (más económico que una carrera en taxi de Manhattan al aeropuerto JFK) llegamos a una de las islas al sur del país.

El aeropuerto está localizado  a una hora de Patong, una de las playas con vida nocturna más conocida en la isla por su prostitución, pero en todo el recorrido están los Resorts con playas privadas. Un taxi puede llegar a costar 15-20 USD pero por mucho menos puedes tomar un minibus, aunque el tiempo de llegada puede ser el doble.

Una vez en la playa, se puede disfrutar del mar turquesa y súper caliente, arena blanca y un  sol que rostiza porque la temperatura alcanza los 42 grados. El mar es calmado pero por momentos era muy agitado.

Vista desde el Resort Le Meridien Pucket

Paradas obligatorias son el Buda gigante de Pucket, Karon y  Promthep Cape, conocidos por tener la mejor caída del sol del país asiático.

Luego de 2 días, nuestro siguiente destino era la provincia de Krabi y las famosas islas  Phi Phi  y Ko Phi Phi donde esta Maya Bay, destino de todos los mochileros que vieron la película de Leonardo Di Caprio, La Playa. Por ahora y debido a la contaminación, la isla está cerrada para los turistas.

Maya Bay en el 2016, cuando estaba abierta al público.

Tres horas en ferry por 45USD y llegamos a Phi Phi, un sitio que quedó destruida por el tsunami pero con los años se ha recuperado y ahora es la atracción turística más famosa del país.

Hoteles. Para todos los presupuestos. El mío Phi Phi Nice Beach Resort, cabañas al pie del mar y solo a 15 minutos del muelle. El día por 34USD pero con tiempo puedes encontrar desde 10USD.

Pero sin duda la mejor parte del viaje fue rentar un bote o “long tail” por 4 horas. En estas pintorescas lanchas tailandesas recorres las islas cercanas. Puedes incluso regatear hasta 45USD (con capacidad para 10 personas) por ese tiempo me pareció muy económico.

MA-RA-VI-LLO-SO. FAS-CI-NAN-TE. Así puedo definir Maya Bay, Loh Samah Bay, Pileh Lagoon y Viking Cave. Admirar el agua turquesa y cristalina, nadar junto a los peces, tomar una cerveza Chang acostada en el bote mientras admiras la caída del sol… Perfecciones que vale la pena vivirlas.

Mi error fue quedarme un día. Si pueden disfruten más tiempo. Vivan la mejor experiencia mochilera.

Bailen en la fiesta de la luna, relájense con un masaje tailandés al pie del mar, saboreen los manjares picantes por 5-10 USD o por menos de un dolar deleitense con los mojitos…  Mi estadía en el país fue de 10 días y aun tenía que tomar el vuelo hacia la capital Bangkok.




On my first part of the trip, Thailand was full of temples, an atmosphere of coexistence with wild animals and the lantern show. Now, it was my turn to visit the paradisiacal beaches. 

And the stop was at Phucket, South Thailand. After paying 36 USD for a stopover flight in Bangkok (cheaper than a taxi ride from Manhattan to the JFK airport) we arrived at one of the islands in the south of the country. 

The airport is located one hour from Patong, one of the most infamous nightlife beaches on the island for its tolerance to prostitution. On your way there, you can find the Resorts with private beaches. A taxi can cost between 15-20 USD, but for much less, you can take a minibus, although the journey will be double the time. 

Once on the beach, you can enjoy the warm turquoise sea, white sand and sunlight that will roast you. The temperature can reach over a 100 Fahrenheit! The sea is generally calm, but at times it was unexpectedly very rough. 


Essential stops in Thailand are the Giant Buddha of Phuket, the town of Karon and Promthep Cape, known for having the best sunset in the country. 

After 2 days, our next destination was the province of Krabi and the famous Phi Phi islands and Ko Phi Phi in Maya Bay. Here you’ll encounter all the backpackers who saw Leonardo Di Caprio’s film, The Beach.  Unfortunately, the area is closed to tourist.

Maya Bay at 2016

After three hours by ferry (45 USD), we reached Phi Phi, an area that was destroyed by the tsunami of 2004, but it has recovered over the years and is now the most famous tourist attraction in the country.

There are hotels for all budgets. My choice was Phi Phi Nice Beach Resort, with cabins right in front of the beach and only 15 minutes from the pier. The nightly rate is 34 USD but if you can reserve ahead, you can get it from 10 USD. 

Without a doubt, the best part of the trip was renting a boat or “long tail” for 4 hours. In these picturesque Thai motorboats, you travel all around the nearby islands. You can even haggle the price down to 45USD (with capacity for 10 people). At that time, I considered it a bargain. 

Simply fantastic and fascinating. This is how I define Maya Bay, Loh Samah Bay, Pileh Lagoon and Viking Cave. You can admire the crystal-clear water, swim with schools of fish, and have a Chang beer lying down in the boat while you admire the sunset… Perfect moments that make life worth living. 

I stayed only one day. If you can afford more time, it’s totally wort it. Live the best backpacking experience: 

Dance at the Moon party, relax with a Thai massage by the sea, savor the spicy delicacies for 5-10 USD or even less than a dollar, and refresh yourself with mojitos… 

By then, I’ve stayed for 10 days and there was still a flight ahead to the capital: Bangkok