From the moment we started planning our second trip to Turkey we realised we just had to visit Pamukkale, what an incredible natural wonder! It was unlike anything else we had ever seen! Without a doubt it had to be part of our trip.
Pamukkale receives over 1.7 million tourists every year. That gives a pretty good impression of just how busy it can be year round. We were actually quite surprised just how busy it was when we visited. We remembered some of the pictures we had seen from other blogs and on Google Images showing it completely empty. So go prepared. Depending on the time of day you go your experience can vary dramatically.
Pamukkale is a unique place. There aren’t many other places around the world that are as spectacular. Known as the ‘Cotton Castle’, Pamukkale is a place of intrigue. The 200 metre puffy white cliff rises up above the plain overlooking Denizli in the distance.
It’s terraces are made of travertine, which is a type of sedimentary rock that is deposited by the hot water from the thermal springs. As the thermal springs emerge at the head of the Pamukkale travertines, the carbon dioxide de-gasses and deposits calcium carbonate as a soft gel which eventually crystallises into travertine.
History of Hierapolis and Pamukkale
When visiting the impressive travertines you will also have the opportunity to explore the ancient ruins of Hierapolis. Pamukkale isn’t only popular now, it has been populated since the end of the 2nd century B.C. It even came under Roman control in 133 B.C., during which Hierapolis flourished. It was essentially a spa town which was apparently frequented by Cleopatra herself more than once.
The name ‘Hierapolis’, actually means ‘Holy City’ and that isn’t surprising considering the many medicinal properties that the hot springs of Pamukkale are said to have. The city has fallen and risen several times due to earthquakes that devastated the buildings but what remains are still worth your time, you won’t be disappointed.
How much does it cost?
The cost of entering Pamukkale and Hierapolis has actually increased since we were there in 2018 from 35 Lira (6$) to 50 Lira (8.50$) per person. The price is the same for both adults and children.
If you want to head into Hierapolis Antique Pool (Pamukkale thermal pools) you will need to pay an additional 50 Lira (8.50$) per adult, 13 Lira (2$) for children over 6 and children 6 or under will enter for free. It is open during the summer months from April 15th until October 2nd every day from 08:00 to 21:00.
What we experienced when we visited Pamukkale and Hierapolis
When we visited Pamukkale we made the mistake of arriving late in the morning when it had already started to fill up. Learn from our mistake and arrive there early in the morning when they are opening. We have looked at and watched other traveller’s blogs and vlogs and seen that it is usually quieter first thing in the morning.
We actually first saw Pamukkale from the other side of the valley as a strange looking white stain on the land as we were hitchhiking into Denizli. So the next morning when we were standing there marvelling at this natural phenomenon it was hard to comprehend the size of it from below. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.
We visited in May 2018 and were actually surprised by the lack of water in the natural pools. When you look at photos of Pamukkale you will see the same ones over and over again showing all of the pools full of water. However, at the point in time when we visited, we were told that many of the spa hotels below had been syphoning off the water for their spa treatments.
This left us with a bitter taste and we found it incredible that something so natural that has been here for so long can so easily be stopped and disrupted in order to please the many tourists that visit and for the Pamukkale hotels to make a nice profit.
Since then, we have heard that this has been stopped and that the pools are now full again. This is a massive achievement and we would love to go back again to visit the pools in their full glory. It is a marvel and one that needs to be respected.
Eight tips for visiting Pamukkale
Before going to Pamukkale our couchsurfing host in Denizli gave us some useful tips so we could make the best of our time there. If you take into consideration the following tips your day will be much smoother and more enjoyable.
1. You will be required to take off your shoes and socks when you start walking up the travertines so make sure that you bring a backpack with you. Walking on the Cotton Castle is not what you think it will be. It looks soft and you would think it should feel gooey on your feet, and in some places where it has not crystallised yet it does, but in actual fact it is quite hard and very grippy.
2. Take a swimsuit or bathing costume. On the way up to the travertines there are several man-made pools that you can splash around in and cover yourself in the mineral rich calcium carbonate.
3. Arrive early to avoid the crowds. The man-made pools get really busy in the late morning and early afternoon and stay relatively busy until sunset. This will be especially true on weekends and national holidays when many locals visit.
4. Stay for the sunset. I remember the sunset very well in Pamukkale, it was something really special. Now with the pools returned to their former splender it will be magical.
5. Bring sunblock/sun cream and sunglasses! The white travertines reflect the sunlight and it would be easy to burn here. Remember not to forget your sunglasses too, it is so incredibly bright!
6. Bring comfortable shoes or walking sandals which will be perfect for walking around Hierapolis as it is a bit rough and if you want to wander off a little it gets a bit grassy.
7. Don’t forget to bring your own lunch with you. There is a small cafe with some over priced sandwiches and drinks so come prepared.
Top five things to do when you visit Pamukkale
You can easily spend a day wandering around Pamukkale and Hierapolis so we have put together a list of places that you should definitely see whilst here.
1. Visit the Pamukkale Travertines
This goes without saying, of course. However, when we were exploring the travertines of Pamukkale we noticed that the majority of the visitors did not stray far from the main area and we often found ourselves alone when investigating the outer parts of the cotton castle. You can walk either direction from the top and get spectacular views of the travertines and the surrounding valley. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Pamukkale!
The guards are very strict about where you can and can’t go and there are small fences stopping you from stepping on the travertines. Not only that, if you step on an area you’re not supposed to you will soon know about it as the guards use whistles to make sure people keep to the right areas and we saw this happen multiple times.
The cotton castle is the perfect place to stroll around and just soak up the atmosphere. Equally you can take a seat in one of the man-made pools and just do some people watching. People from all over the world come here to visit and of course take many Instagram photos which are always fun to watch!
2. Visit the hot pools in Pamukkale
The hot pools in Pamukkale are the perfect place to spend time during the hot midday hours. Due to an earthquake in the past you can swim amongst ancient columns and marble blocks as they were knocked down and have never been removed. It is said that Cleopatra herself used to visit these pools! Your ticket allows you to enter once and also gives you access to a locker when you show the staff inside (don’t lose it).
The 36 degree water temperature will help soothe all your aches and pains just like the Romans did long ago! Rumour has it that Cleopatra got her beauty from frequenting this pool.
3. Watch the sunset on the travertines
Sunsets around the world rarely disappoint. It doesn’t matter where you are but it is more about who you are there to share it with. The sunsets over Pamukkale are truly worth sharing with another person or people. It is unique. The way the light reflects off the multitude of pools is mesmerising.
Even if you aren’t planning to spend the sunset at Pamukkale it is quite likely that time will have run away from you and you will find yourself still there at golden hour. You won’t regret it!
4. The Natural Park
The Natural Park, Pamukkale is located right underneath the cliffs of the travertines and is a very popular place for locals having picnics. If you don’t have anything with you there is a cafe where you can pick something up and join in by having your own picnic.
There is a small lake that you can go swimming in or if you prefer you can rent a paddle boat. There are also three hot pools, Jacuzzi and even mud-baths!
Don’t forget to grab an ice-cream here to help you cool down if you are there during the summer.
5. Explore the ancient city of Hierapolis
For us, Hierapolis stole the show. Don’t get us wrong, Pamukkale is something incredibly special but Hierapolis topped the list for us. Not surprisingly many people don’t venture up to see this ancient city but instead stay close to the travertines. We can tell you that they are really missing out by doing that!
Hierapolis is spread out over quite a large area and it took us a fair bit of time to explore a large chunk of it. There are many different areas and one of the areas with the majority of the graves and tombs really tickled our fancy. There are a bunch of round tombs which are slightly raised and have tiny entrances. Totally worth checking out.
The Roman Theatre at is one of the best I have ever witnessed. Its size is overwhelming and hard to grasp. Trying to imagine the shows that used to go on here is always a lot of fun. It is the perfect place to sit back and relax for a little while. I imagine the sunset from the theatre would be magical!
Best time to visit Pamukkale
Turkey sees many weather extremes and Pamukkale is no exception. During the summer, temperatures can reach up to 37 degrees Celsius and in the midst of winter you can even see snow! Imagine having to walk barefoot through the snow! That said, Pamukkale in winter must be breathtaking.
I recommend going in between April and June or September and late October when the temperatures will be much more bearable and enjoyable. Not only will there be more pleasant weather but there will be less chance of rain.
Where to stay when you visit Pamukkale
You have two main choices in terms of the location. You could either stay in the city of Denizli or you could find a hotel in the small town of Pamukkale itself. This would of course save you the effort of having to reach Pamukkale early in the morning by minivan from the city of Denizli. That said, we enjoyed staying in Denizli, it is a vibrant little city with plenty of delicious food available at budget friendly prices. Don’t forget to try the famous local dish called Irmik!
In the town of Pamukkale you can find places from as little as 12 USD per night on Airbnb. If you sign up through our link you can get 45$ off of your first trip! If you choose to stay in Denizli then you will also find plenty of options. Either way you won’t have any problems finding hotels in Pamukkale or Denizli.
Another option is to take a look on Booking.com to see what you can find. They have the widest range of places available for all price ranges.
How to get to Pamukkale
You will most likely arrive at Denizli’s bus station (otogar) or train station just opposite the bus station. To get from Denizli to Pamukkale you will need to catch a minivan that leaves frequently and will drop you off in the small town of Pamukkale. From there it is just a short walk to the lower entrance of Pamukkale.
1. By air
From Istanbul to Pamukkale (check which airport in Istanbul as they have just completed a new one) you can fly directly to Denizli (as there is no Pamukkale airport) with Turkish Airlines and Pegasus from as little as 25$ per person including a 15kg checked bag. The flight itself is very quick, just over one hour. Turkish Airlines run up to four flights per day and Pegasus seem to have just the two.
If you are coming from Cappadocia Pegasus have several flights from Kayseri but seem to be more expensive. Turkish Airlines fly from Nevşehir and Kayseri but it is much more expensive from Kayseri but there are many flights throughout the day.
From Izmir (and Ephesus) to Pamukkale there are no direct flights with Turkish Airlines and when I checked on Pegasus there weren’t any flights running on that route so you might be better of by train or bus.
2. By bus
You can also get an overnight bus from Goreme/Cappadocia to Pamukkale for 17$ and will drop you off at the bus station at 6.30 am with Metro Turizm and this is the only departure they have.
If you want to travel during the day then you Kamil Koc has more choice but will set you back another three dollars.
Travelling from Izmir is fast and painless by bus. You will arrive in 3 hours and 30 minutes and it will only cost you 6$. The price and frequency of operations between Kamil Koc and Metro Turizm is quite similar so it shouldn’t matter which company you choose.
3. By train
Travelling from Istanbul to Denizli used to be quite easy when they had a direct route. However due to work on the lines you now have to travel a place called Eskişehir, spend the night there and then travel to Denizli the following day.
In order to get to Denizli from Cappadocia you would need to take the train from Kayseri to Eskişehir and then from there take another train to Pamukkale. Probably more trouble than it is worth when you can just get a bus the whole way for a reasonable price.
We had a great time exploring this incredible landscape, it is something very unique and shouldn’t be missed. For us, the highlight was Hierapolis, the freedom you have wandering around this ancient city completed our day. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below in the comments. We hope that you will enjoy Pamukkale and Hierapolis as much as we did!
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