Pamukkale: a journey to the Cotton Castle of Turkey
Salt? Ice? Snow? SUGAR? What is that white thing with blue water in it I keep seeing on social media since forever? Is it made of sugar and spice and everything nice like it seems?
Asking the real questions here.
The legend says that the formations are actually made of cotton the giants left there to dry. And that is the story I’m going to go with.
But, ahem, actually *fixing my nerd glasses* Pamukkale’s terraces are made of travertine. Travertine is a form of a limestone deposited by calcium-rich springs. That’s why it’s all white 🙂
It is not a unique place on Earth, where Mother Nature herself appears every midnight in a long white dress. Shocking, I know. You can find travertine terraces in Huanglong, China (also a UNESCO World Heritage site), in Egerszalók, Hungary, the Mammoth Hot Springs, USA, and a few in Iran, Spain, Afghanistan, Guatemala and Mexico. I’m not going to deny the fact that Pamukkale IS the most impressive of them all 🙂
The sad truth is, tourism ruined part of this magical place in the past decade. In the ’60s people built hotels on top of the travertines, draining the water from the hot springs. These actions made some irreversible damages to the place. Since Pamukkale became a UNESCO World Heritage site, the hotels were demolished, and there are actual police officers “guarding” the place. Which means they will blow their whistle every time
an ignorant human being somebody is walking in with their shoes on.
When you visit these petrified limestone waterfalls, please think about the next generation too! Thank you 🙂
Cool facts about Pamukkale
- Pamukkale means “cotton castle” in Turkish.
- It is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988.
- The thermal water in Pamukkale has healing effects.
- The tourism has caused great damage to the terraces.
- It was a “spa center” 2000 years ago too!
- Excavations and restorations are still going on in the ancient city of Hierapolis.
- Hierapolis was destroyed by several earthquakes.
- The theater of Hierapolis could accommodate 15,000 people
How to get to Pamukkale
You can get to Pamukkale by either a bus or by flying to the nearby town of Denizli.
There are a lot of organized tours too from bigger cities!
We took a road trip to Pamukkale from Konya, and managed to visit some very interesting places on our trip. Come back to read more about our trips!
Where to stay in Pamukkale
If you decide to stay in Pamukkale for the night, you have a lot of great and cheap options! We stayed overnight and did not regret it. There were significantly less people in the morning (the buses arrive during the day) and the summer heat was not so bad either.
Check the hotel prices on booking.com:
Things to know before visiting Pamukkale
- You are only allowed barefoot on the terraces. You either leave your shoes at the entrance (I saw many people do that), or bring a bag where you can store your shoes
- If you plan to visit the ruins of Hierapolis, don’t leave your shoes at the entrance! You’ll have to walk ~15 minutes on an open field to reach the theater.
- Use sunscreen! Use sunscreen! Use sunscreen!
- Bring a pair of good sunglasses, the whiteness of travertines is blinding when the sun comes out.
- Take a bottle of water with you. You will probably spend 1-2 hours in the heat, and there’s no opportunity to buy water on the terraces. As you reach the top, you will find some bars- but it’s cheaper to bring your own.
- The travertine is not slippery at all- despite there’s water running down on it. At the top, watch out for the darker colored places, those can get slippery!
- Wear swimwear underneath your clothing if you’d like to take a bath in the thermal pools (the water is knee-deep, so you’ll have to sit in it)
- You can take a mud bath too! It’s good for your skin.
- There are no bathrooms or changing rooms if you approach it from the lower gates. Plan accordingly.
- Spoiler alert: Pamukkale does not look like the pictures you’ve seen on the internet! (It’s even more beautiful.)
What you’ll need in Pamukkale
- A good sun screen is a must.
- A good (and cool) pair of sunglasses.
- A water bottle.
- A towel.
Entrance fee to Pamukkale
A one time entrance fee to Pamukkale in 2018 costs 35 TL. The ticket is valid to the travertin terraces and the ruins of Hierapolis. You can pay with credit card or cash. Pro tip: arrive early in the morning or late at the afternoon to skip the long queues. We arrived at 6 pm on the first day, and 15 minutes after they opened the gate on the second day morning- no queues at all. In the afternoon however was packed with tourists.
There are three different entrances to Pamukkale: Pamukkale town entrance, North entrance and South entrance. I suggest to start at one of the lower entrances and make your way up- it was less crowded.
Your ticket is valid for visiting the travertines of Pamukkale and the ruins of Hierapolis.
To visit Cleopatra’s pool (you know, the thermal batch with ancient ruins in it), you have to pay an additional 32 TL. You can visit it for free if you don’t want to take a bath.
There is an archaeological museum on site with artifacts found during the excavations. You can find artifacts not only from Hierapolis, but from Laodicea, Colossae, Tripolis, Attuda and other towns of the Lycus Valley too! the entrance fee to the museum is 5 TL.
Best time to visit Pamukkale
During the day:
Arrive there early in the morning to skip the
madness queues and to escape the heat. The opening hours can vary from season to season. I read that during summer (June-August) they open the site at 6 AM (not sure about that, information found on the internet). If you are a superhero, arrive there early in the morning to catch the sunrise and have some peaceful moments to yourself. Also, the photos turn out great during sunrise 🙂
Another good time to visit Pamukkale is during the late afternoon/early evening. Think 6-7 PM. Depending on the season, you’ll be on top of the “cotton castle” for the golden hour! The award of The Best Time To Visit Pamukkale definitely goes to the golden hour! Never in my life I have seen such beautiful colours than in Pamukkale during the golden hour.
During the year:
In my opinion, the best time to visit Pamukkale is off-season: March-May, or September-November. We visited it during May, and it was a perfect time to enjoy the region. And even in May it got very hot!
During summer (June-August) Pamukkale gets even more crowded. During summer it probably gets very, very hot too!
Pamukkale opening times
Good luck finding that out! 😀
Everywhere I looked on the internet, the opening times to Pamukkale were different. A wild guess of the opening hours are: from dusk ’till dawn.
The only thing that I know for sure, is that during the 27th March- 31st May period the opening hours are: 08:00-19:30.
I took a photo of the paper that was attached with scotch tape to the entrance. Not sure if it will be the same next year, but hey: maybe you’ll be going there soon! #IfeelSoUseful
Visiting Cleopatra’s Pool
The Cleopatra’s Pool (also known as the Antique Pool of Pamukkale) it is said to have been a gift from Mark Antony to Cleopatra. #relationshipgoals
The man-made pool was once surrounded by the temple of Apollo. The temple was destroyed by an earthquake and the marble columns toppled into the water where they can be found today.
The water in the thermal pool has 35-37 °C and is rich in minerals. Some of the diseases that can be cured with the thermal water (of course, not by bathing in it once): high blood pressure, artery diseases, skin diseases (eczema, acne), rheumatism, waist and neck pain.
If you’d like to take a bath in the pool, you have to pay an additional fee of 32 TL. There are changing rooms nearby, and you can rent a locker for a deposit of 10 TL. Walking around the pool or taking pictures is free!
The water in the pool is not deep. There is an area where it gets deeper, which is marked by a rope.
The only thing that disturbed our short time in the pool was the photographer that advertised himself by yelling “photo” every 5 minutes, and wanted to take a “romanticism photo” of us. Oh, and a “professional photo” he takes costs 40 TL. But he took a lot of photos in the pool, so I guess that’s working out for him 😀 I will forever be amazed by the marketing skills of Turkish people!
Why you need to take a bath in the Cleopatra’s pool? Because never in my life did I think I’d say this in a pool: “Ouch, I hit my ankle in a 2000 year old marble column!” 😀
Of course that’s not the only reason to visit it. There’s the YOU’RE SWIMMING IN A 2000 YEAR OLD POOL FILLED WITH ROMAN COLUMNS reason too! 🙂
Hierapolis was founded as a thermal spa center in the 2nd century BC. In 133 BC Hierapolis became part of the Roman province of Asia. In AD 13 a major earthquake left the city in ruins. A christian church was founded here through the influence of apostle Paul, also apostle Philip was sent here to spend the last years of his life in Hierapolis.
The famous theater of Hierapolis was built under the reign of Hadrian. In the following one hundred years, Hierapolis was living its golden period: thousands of people visited the city to benefit from the medicinal properties of the hot springs. The town grew to 100 000 inhabitants!
Visiting Hierapolis is included in your entrance fee to Pamukkale. I highly recommend spending a few hours discovering the ruins.
The place is spectacular! Baptisitin Poujoulat wrote in his book about Asia Minor: “In the whole Orient, there is no theater in a better state than that of Hierapolis.”
An earthquake in the 7th century destroyed the city which led to the ultimate abandonment of it.
There is a small archaeological museum on site (entrance fee is 5 TL). If you want to learn more about the ancient city of Hierapolis, and see some artifacts from the excavations, I recommend visiting it. You can visit it in 15-20 minutes. Pssst, there are some cool sarcophagi from the roman period!
Pictures vs. Reality
I’ve read a lot of negative comments about Pamuakkale.
(Tip of the day: don’t read the Tripadvisor reviews after visiting a place you liked!)
Yes, it is crowded. Yes, you’ll have to wait 5 minutes for that instagrammer to finish her photo shooting. Yes, you’ll bump in girls in long, red dresses climbing on the pools and #doingitforthegram. Yes, you’ll get annoyed by people who just refuse to take their shoes off, not thinking about how they might ruin this miracle of nature. Yes, you’ll roll your eyes at those tourists who are “amazed by all this salt”. Yes, you’ll wish you could enjoy this all by yourself, without the hundreds of tourists ruining your
But you know what? Try seeing the bigger picture and be grateful. Think about this: every beautiful single amazing and famous place on this world is crowded. Try taking a picture at the Trevi fountain in Rome without people on it, ha! Just focus on the unbelievable and unique place you’re at. Because Pamukkale really is a miracle, and I’m so grateful that I had the chance to experience it! #rantover
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