The world famous Pamukkale travertine terraces; it’s been a funny old relationship we’ve had with one of Turkey’s tourism poster sights.
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 return to the bus stop and 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 hadn’t chosen the best time to visit. Perhaps 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.
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.
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.
Clearly not the best place to park!
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 to Pamukkale and ancient Hierapolis. Aphrodisias can wait for another day trip.
Late afternoon on an early October day, we arrived at the famous site.
Except you wouldn’t think it was famous. This was (yet another) 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 hoards of people.
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 carbonate minerals that form Pamukkale travertines) we were faced with a truly awe-inspiring sight.
So Many Photos Of The Cotton Castle
And this, dear readers, is where the camera went into overdrive.
Progress up the dazzling 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 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.
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 waters of the thermal springs 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.
‘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 in their thousands.
Hot spring waters with a high calcium carbonate content cascading and cooling. Creating what is Pamukkale.
And what they’ve created is mesmerising.
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 tread 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 there was no flowing water – and that murky brown was very much in evidence.
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 to 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. Then we took off to explore the ancient city 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
As we walked along the pathway, to retrace our steps back down the hill, the ancient site of Hierapolis with the inviting Cleopatra’s pool and Roman baths was to one side of us.
Gardened areas on the other side marked a natural boundary between us and zones closed off to visitors.
Quite a sight!
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 now – it was eerie yet beautiful.
We were the only people here because the few visitors that were at Pamukkale that day had all started to gather for the sunset.
The brilliant white of the travertines was now transforming into soft pinks and oranges as the sun set behind mountains across the valley.
We inched our way back down the travertines, taking photos all the while.
It was nearly closing time.
Gradually, the fast-flowing, mineral-rich thermal water 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 to the small town of Pamukkale and find ourselves somewhere to stay for the night.
We hope this article and our corresponding article about the Hierapolis ruins will have tempted you. And convinced you that a visit to the site is most-definitely a good idea.
The Pamukkale travertines, the ruins, Cleopatra’s pool and the spectacular natural landscape make it a must-see tourist site.
In Tukish, ‘pamuk’ means ‘cotton’ and ‘kale’ means castle. It refers to the shape and flow of the white travertine terraces resembling cotton wool.
The small town of Pamukkale is at the foot of the travertines, across the main road.
There are small hotels and pensions there that cater to the many overnight travellers who are passing through the area, purely to visit the site.
Don’t expect a typical Turkish small town. This is a place catering to travellers. On our most recent visit, we only found one place serving Turkish food.
At the time, there were many Chinese travellers in Turkey and so there was an abundance of Chinese restaurants around the main street in Pamukkale town.
If you are in the area just to visit the site, then the best way to do this is with an overnight stay so that you’re not rushed.
As well as exploring the site on foot, if you want to take to the skies and see Pamukkale from above, it is possible to book a hot air balloon experience. You can boost the adrenaline a bit more by paragliding instead.
A stay of two nights means you could also book a driver (or self drive) to the sites of Aphrodisias and/or Laodikeia early morning the following day.
The Pamukkale entrance fee is 110TL (2022).
If you are travelling around Turkey and you intend visiting numerous archaeological sites and museums, it might be worth you buying a relevant Museum Pass. This could save you a lot of money.
If you are a citizen or resident of Turkey, it is free to enter with your Müzekart.
If you are intending to use the thermal sacred pool which dates back to ancient times, there is an extra cost for this. Don’t forget to bring your swimwear.
Pamukkale Travertines – Useful Information
- If you are travelling around Turkey, intercity bus companies take travellers to Pamukkale.
- 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.
- Pamukkale is located in the Denizli Province of southwestern 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.
- It is a joint site with the ruins of Hierapolis with one entrance fee for both.
- The natural site and archaeological sites are 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).
- In summer months, you will need sunglasses, sun cream 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) rather than the northern gate so you will need to work your way up the travertines before hitting these facilities.
- In summer, pedalos 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.