Return To Pamukkale – Turkey’s Cotton Castle

The world famous Pamukkale travertines; it’s been a funny old relationship we’ve had with one of Turkey’s tourism poster sights. Back in 2004, we did an independent trip to Ephesus, staying in the town of Selçuk for a couple of nights. Well, you don’t miss the opportunity to follow the well trodden Turkey travel trail, do you? After that couple of nights, we took our leave of Selçuk by bus; a bus that was going to Pamukkale.

We’d visit the Pamukkale hot springs, witness the dazzling white travertines, be wowed and amazed by what we saw before us. And then we’d hop on another bus back to Fethiye, satisfied that we’d seen another mesmerising sight; a sight that is apparently Turkey’s number 1 most visited tourist attraction. Maybe on that day in 2004, we were tired or rushed. Whatever the case, underwhelmed and deflated was what we both felt on arrival!

Return To Pamukkale Cotton Castle

Fast forward 13 years and a decision to do a circular southwest Turkey road trip; about time we revisited this geological phenomenon, along with its joint UNESCO World Heritage site, the Hellenistic and Roman ruins of Hierapolis.

Pamukkale Cotton Castle

Arrival at Pamukkale – we took our pick of parking spots

So far on our road trip, we’d visited Meis Greek island for the night and achieved our aim of climbing the Kastellorizo cliff steps to the monastery at the top. After a night at Meltem Pension in the Turkish seaside town of Kaş, we filled ourselves up on the hearty breakfast before hitting the mountain roads. The aim was to take in another UNESCO World Heritage site, Aphrodisias, en route.

Careful Where You Park

Ahh, always keep your plans fluid in Turkey. We’d parked our hire car in a parking bay that was perpendicular to a wall, as had many other cars either side of us. Fine. What wasn’t fine was all the cars whose drivers had parked directly at the back of us, completely blocking all of us front-rowers in. All we could do was sit (im)patiently on the kerb and wait for the driver to return…he did so over an hour later.

Arrival At Pamukkale

So, it was straight to the Denizli Province and Pamukkale. Aphrodisas can wait for another day. Late afternoon on an early October day, we arrived at the famous site. Except you wouldn’t think it was famous. This was a year that was tough for Turkish tourism. Visitors conspicuous by their absence. And that mixed feeling of deep sadness – but also feeling blessed that we would get to experience Pamukkale without having to battle our way through hoardes of people.

Pamukkale Turkey

We entered Pamukkale from the south gate and climbed the travertines

We always say we love to revisit places – even those we might not have appreciated so much first time round. Trips to Antalya are a case in point. We change, sights continually evolve; the experience is completely new with each visit. As soon as we’d paid our entrance fee and removed shoes and socks (it’s forbidden to wear any type of footwear on the delicate Pamukkale travertines) we were faced with a truly awe-inspiring sight.

Climbing The Pamukkale Travertines

Slow progress climbing the Pamukkale travertines

So Many Photos Of The Cotton Castle

And this, dear readers, is where the camera went into overdrive. Progress up the brilliant white slopes was leisurely as photo after photo embedded itself into the memory card. Well over 100 photos that had to be narrowed down for this post. Photos that hopefully reflect a clear autumn day on the travertines from afternoon through to sunset.

Pamukkale Thermal Pools

The lighting and the relections made for a unique experience

Pamukkale teases the brain. You’re in bare feet and you walk gingerly; well, it’s easy to slide around on the slopes. It’s constant split second feelings of being in an Alpine ski resort before your conscious self brings your brain right back to the travertines. At the same time, you walk gingerly because you’re climbing a rock face in your bare feet and it’s rough underfoot.

Pamukkale Hot Springs

Let the Cotton Castle nurse and massage tired feet

Foot Spa

Except it’s not rough underfoot. And, for the most part, neither is it slippery. It’s actually a treat to your bare feet as the calcium surface massages them with each step you take. The thermal spring waters gush towards the valley below via narrow channels, creating thermal pools in the cascading basins where you can paddle. It really is a magical sight and experience. If ‘Cotton Castle’ evokes fairy tale images, then this name is certainly apt.

Pamukkale Cascades

Petrified waterfalls – a cascade frozen in time

‘Unreal’ Says UNESCO

‘An unreal landscape made up of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced basins,’ is how UNESCO describes Pamukkale. It’s as though those cascading waters have been frozen in time. A sudden waft of a magic wand and motion becomes motionless. Of course, in reality, there’s nothing sudden about Pamukkale. This is geology and science at work over years numbering their thousands. And what they’ve created is mesmerising.

Pamukkale Hot Springs

Thermal waters gush through narrow channels towards the valley

And, as with so many other precious areas of this planet of ours, we humans have caused considerable damage to the Pamukkale travertines over the years. Dazzling white turning to murky brown as thousands of shoe-wearing tourist feet constantly trod over the delicate calcium formations. Bad planning decisions, little supervision.

No doubt there is room for criticism still. But for us, the Pamukkale travertines are looking spectacular. A complete contrast to the first time we visited when no water was flowing and that murky brown was very much in evidence.

Pamukkale Hot Springs, Turkey

Access to some areas of the Pamukkale travertines is forbidden

Stick To The Permitted Areas

On our last visit, access to some sections of the Pamukkale travertines was forbidden. Chained off areas that were watched carefully. There’s always someone who will try and sneak over into the forbidden zone; their photo being more important than the protection of a vulnerable area. But, in Pamukkale, people stand out so easily against that brilliant white hillside. Security guards with whistles are quick to turn them around!

On reaching the top of the travertines, socks and shoes were once more returned to our feet and we took off to explore the ruins of Hierapolis. We would have to return to our car via the Cotton Castle hillside. By the time we did this – by very good luck rather than clever management – the sun was setting.

Early Evening At Pamukkale


Where Pamukkale and Hierapolis meet

As we walked along the pathway, to retrace our steps back down the hill, Hierapolis was to one side of us whilst gardened areas on the other side marked a natural boundary between us and zones closed off to visitors. Quite a sight.

Pamukkale Ruins

Tombs enveloped by the travertine stone of Pamukkale

Ancient tombs from the city protrude above the travertine stone. Throughout their history, we would guess the calcite waters have slowly enveloped them. As shadow fell across this lonely area  – we were the only people here – it was eerie yet beautiful.

Pamukkale Hierapolis Tombs

Pamukkale felt ghostly as the sun went down

We were the only people here because the few vistors that were at Pamukkale that day had all started to gather for the sunset.

Sunset Lighting

Pamukkale Sunset

Sunset at Pamukkale is something special

The brillant white of the travertines was now transforming into soft pinks and oranges as the sun set behind mountains across the valley.

Sunset At Pamukkale

The sun goes down on Pamukkale

We inched our way back down the travertines, taking photos all the while. It was nearly closing time and gradually, the gushing waters became a trickle and the thermal travertine pools became white empty basins. Magic had become reality and the waters were gone. They’d be back the day after for opening time, of course.

For us, though, we’d (thankfully) been awed by what we’d seen. It seems we’d missed a lot on our first rushed visit. Now, after a 4 hour drive from Kaş and a few hours clambering around the Pamukkale travertines and ruins, it was time to go and find ourselves somewhere to stay for the night.

Pamukkale Travertines – Useful Information

  • If you don’t fancy getting to Pamukkale under your own steam then a local Turkish travel agent should be able to organise a tour for you.
  • Also, you can pre-book trips to Pamukkale online through TripAdvisor’s Viator website. From Fethiye you can book a full-day guided tour or combine your journey with a visit to Ephesus on a 2-day tour. Obviously, Viator also organises trips to Pamukkale from Turkish locations outside of Fethiye too.
  • Pamukkale is located in the Denizli Province, southwest Turkey. It has been a joint UNESCO World Heritage site along with Hierapolis since 1988. Click here to view our full list and map of Turkey’s World Heritage sites.
  • ‘Pamukkale’ translates to English as ‘Cotton Castle.’
  • It is a joint site with the ruins of Hierapolis with one entrance fee for both.
  • The Pamukkale entrance fee is 35TL (2017). Entrance is free if you have a Müzekart (these are available to citizens and residents and can be bought at the entrance to the sight at a cost of 50TL). 
  • The site is open daily from 8am til 9pm (5pm in winter). This is subject to change (it closed at 7pm on the day we were there in October).
  • If you’re spending a whole day there and want to use the thermal antique pool, there’s a separate fee for this. Don’t forget your swimwear.
  • In summer, you will need sunglasses, suncream and water. Wear light clothing to cover up – it’s an exposed area with little opportunity for shade. Wear comfortable shoes for exploring the ruins.
  • WC and snack bars are at the top of the hill, dividing the Pamukkale travertines and Hierapolis. If you visit on an organised tour, most coaches drop off here. If you visit independently, you will likely enter via the south gate (as we did) so you will need to work your way up the travertines before hitting these facilities. 
  • In summer, pedaloes are available on the lake at the base of the travertines, as are swimming areas. These were closed off in early October when we visited.

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  1. ‘Unreal’ is a good description – the bits that you are kept out of are real, the rest is man-made. As for the Disneyfication of the lower part – words fail! The historic site at the top is amazing but the commodification of the travertines is appalling.

    • Yeah, love the historic site – next blog post. As for Pamukkale, we were thoroughly depressed the first time we visited because it all looked so sad. Not a fan of the pools at the bottom but the travertines are in so much better condition than they were and there was a lot of control as to where you could and couldn’t go.

  2. Mark DAntoni says

    One of my favorite places in the world. Was fun “seeing” it again through your post. Hope all is well with you folks.

  3. It looks a lot better than the last time I was there. Time for a re-visit

  4. Born In Water says

    Wow the whole place looks stunning, always wanted to take the family on holiday to Turkey but I am nervous now after the security concerns over the last few years. What is the area like, did you feel safe whilst there?
    Thanks, Sarah Tom

    • We live in Turkey so yes, we do feel safe. 🙂 Places like Pamukkale and other areas are completely safe to visit. No need for any worry, there. It’s a safe to visit as other European countries and countries around the world.

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