My friend and I love to discuss travel and quite often our talks take us all over Turkey, to Istanbul, Cappadocia, Eastern Turkey, the Mediterranean Coast and culminate with how best to visit Pamukkale.
Because travel makes us happy and Pamukkale Turkey is one of our favourite places.
She went there many years ago when it was open slather and tourists and locals, climbed and swam wherever they fancied. In the 1960’s, hotels were built over the snowy white limestone, pumping the thermal water into their pools, while motorbikes plied the route from township to the hill top.
Then came Unesco World Heritage protection in 1988. Buildings were dismantled, motorbikes banned, use of the thermal water restricted and the natural travertine pools placed into rejuvenation mode. You can still however, walk uphill with shimmering white travertine underfoot, water cascading all around and wade barefoot in some of the pools along the way. These pools stand where the 1960’s road once was and although they are man-made that is not immediately obvious and doesn’t diminish the overall effect. The thermal waters are constantly flowing, leaving deposits and claiming the new pools as their own.
As if this shining white wonderland isn’t enough, at the summit there is the Cleopatra Pool, Museum and the impressive ruins of Heirapolis.
Looking up at to Travertines.
What You Will Find in This Post
What is travertine?
Travertine is a rock formed from carbonate mineral deposits in the water flowing from the Pumakkale thermal springs. As the water naturally foamed in the pools, it overflowed, cascading down hill, forming beautiful stalactites on the way. At first the calcium carbonate is gel like, but soon it becomes as hard as rock.
From a distance and up close for that matter, the travertines are shining white and look for all the world like a mountain range of solid ice. They stretch for 2700 m, are 600 m wide and 160 m high.
In a double whammy, the Ruins of Hierapolis, an Ancient Spa City founded in the 2nd Century BC spread above and behind the travertines slopes.
Where is Pamukkale?
Pamukkale is 19km by road from Denizli in south-western Turkey and 2.5 hour drive from the resort town of Kusadasi on the coast.
It is 243 km or a 3 hour drive from the coastal City of Izmir. Along this road is the town of Selcuk, the stepping off town for visiting the ruins of Ephesus.
How to get to Pamukkale Turkey?
From Izmir by Train and connecting Mini Bus from Denizli to Pamukkale.
We chose to arrive by train from Izmir and our budget hotel sent a mini-bus to the Denizli train station to collect us. This is a common occurrence – ask about it at the time of booking.
Driving in a mini-bus from Denizli to Pamukkale we caught glimpses of a distant white monolith – could it be Pamukkale? Yes it could!
The Public Bus from Denizli to Pamukkale departs from the Denizli Otogar Bus Station Gate 76 Lower Level every 15 to 20 minutes and costs 5 tl.
By comparison, a Taxi would cost 50 tl.
Popular bus companies are Pamukkale, Kamil Koc and Metro Turizm. Buses are legendary in Turkey and have male hostesses (like air stewards) serving free drinks and snacks. It will take 12 hours and 80 tl and then you still require a mini bus to Pamukkale.
Turkish Airlines fly into Denizli Cardak Airport (1oo Euro). A bus from the airport to Denizli costs 20 Euro and then the mini-bus to the travertines. These prices are approximate and return (about 130 euro). For the time challenged this might be an appealing option from Istanbul.
620 km. In theory 8 hours but in reality most likely 12 hours.
There is a 3 day tour operated by Istanbul Walks via Get Your Guide. It is a tour from Istanbul and takes in Ephesus and Pamukkale.
From Cappadocia to Pamukkale
By Bus and Car.
Cappadocia Region (Neveshir town) – 620 km 9 hours – From Pamukkale to Cappadocia the bus goes via the town of Konya (Whirling Dervishes), so you could in reality buy tickets Denizli to Konya and then Konya to Cappadocia and vice versa.
From Antayla to Pamukkale
By Bus and Car.
The trip takes 4 hours.
Same Bus operators as above – 44 tl.
Click Here to see a full day tour from Antayla? When considering this tour it is important to note that the trip time is 5 hours each way.
Where to Stay?
We suggest staying overnight in Pamukkale. There are plenty of budget hotels but they do fill quickly in season. We missed out on our first choice.
Located 5 minutes from both the Travertines and restaurants, it has an outdoor terrace and pool. The owners are friendly, which we think is super important, they store luggage after check-out and allow use of facilities after check out. Breakfast is included.
How long to stay in Pamukkale?
We suggest arriving in the afternoon of the first day after the bus loads of visitors have departed. Visit the slopes in late afternoon and stay for sunset over the pools.
If you are really short on time you could leave afterward on the last mini bus to Denizli. But stay if you can.
On the second day, hit the slopes early in the morning before the bus loads arrive and then progress to the Ruins of Heirapolis and the museum.
The travertines are different one day to the next. On our first afternoon some of the pools were empty and there was little or no water underfoot. The next day those pools were full, water was running everywhere with little waterfalls into the pools. The flow of water to the pools is obviously managed, but I think it is good to go twice to make sure you see it at it’s best.
Leave by bus in the afternoon direct to Selcuk – ask your hotel about booking the bus for you. The beauty of staying overnight in Selcuk is that the next morning you are poised to enter the ruins of Ephesus as soon as the gates open. This worked well for us.
What to do in Pamukkale?
As soon as we arrived and deposited our bags we were drawn outside. Blue skies with a sprinkling of white clouds provided the perfect backdrop for the Cotton Castle, the whimsical Turkish name for this geological fantasy (Pamuk equals Cotton).
Originally we had planned to visit both the travertines and Heirapolis the following day, but the weather was so gorgeous we couldn’t resist going immediately – who knew what the weather would be like the following day.
We decided we would visit twice – that afternoon and again the next day.
Which Entrance to Use?
Use the bottom entrance unless your mobility or time is severely restricted.
We started climbing from the bottom entrance at 5 p.m., and crowds were minimal. When deciding which entrance to use remember that the tour buses arrive at the top of the hill. This is a major consideration. Pools are strung out down the full extent of the slopes but the majority of people stay in the top one.
By the time we reached the top the sun was getting low in the sky and the sunset promised to be spectacular. For that reason alone I was very happy with our decision to visit late in the day.
It was my birthday and I could not have asked for a better present than our travertine sunset and the ice cold Efes I had on return sealed the deal.
From my diary.
“It was surreal to be walking on what to all appearances looked like an ice glacier – in Turkey – with the call to prayer and the honking of the geese on the lower slopes wafting across the travertines.”
What to wear.
We did not wear bathers on the first impromptu visit and were content to wade in the man made pools, but we did wear them the following day.
Bikinis are acceptable on the slopes and you will see plenty of them parading around the ruins of Hierapolis as well, which I find totally ludicrous.
I suggest both kids and adults wear bathers under their clothes and strip the top layer off, rather than going to the top of the hill to find changing rooms. The travertine is not that easy to move about on.
Wear Sunglasses even if you don’t normally – the glare from the white is incredible.
Carry shoes, sunscreen and water in a day pack – Hierapolis is dry, hot and dusty.
When to visit Pamukkale.
Spring April to Mid June is a good time. Summer would be very hot. Autumn is also good. It is when we were there. Keep in mind that Cleopatra Antique Pool is only open in Summer (April 15th to October 3rd). If you want to access this pool in Autumn, then arrive just prior to October 3rd.
The slopes do have a reputation for being over-crowded and I admit that when I first looked up at the line of people trudging up the slope my heart sank. It looked like peak season on Mt. Everest. I had doubts. But this can easily be overcome by starting later in the day or early in the morning.
Looking down from the Travertines to the town.
A popular place for wedding photos.
Over the two days I photographed many leaves caught on the rough surface. This leaf is underwater – that is how clear the water is.
Understandably shoes can’t be worn on the travertine which is quite often rough and or slippery – hence the look of concentration in the photo below.
The next day these pools would be full to overflowing.
You can see more of my Favourite Turkish Photos here.
Our two experiences were quite different. The first day was special because of the time of day, the anticipation, the sunset and the uniqueness of the travertines of course. On the second day the sun was even brighter and the reflected glare made us thankful for our sunglasses. More water was released and it gushed everywhere – pools that were dry the day before slowly filled and overflowed – waterfalls formed and the travertines were transformed. The sudden influx of water made the ascent even more exciting.
All of the above photos were taken on the first afternoon. I will share those from the second day including the ruins of Heirapolis at another time.
Budget Travel Tip
When we visited the travertines did not close. Outside of ticket booth hours they were free to access. I do not recommend doing so but if you try going after dark most definitely take a torch – falling could be deadly. Although the surface is mostly rough there are places where it is very slippery.
Pamukkale Entrance Fee and Hierapolis Entrance Fee
The entrance fee of 35 tl includes entrance to the ruins of Hierapolis at the summit. Hierapolis is an impressive destination in it’s own right so this is superb value.
Children under 18 are free.
Pamukkale Opening Hours
- Summer – April 15th to October 2nd – 0800 to 2100 hours
- Rest of the Year – October 3rd to April 14th – 0830 to 1700 hours
Pamukkale Cleoptra’s Pool
Cleopatra’s Pool Hierapolis
Surely the ultimate thermal pool, it’s warm mineral rich waters are said to heal skin diseases, circulatory problems, rheumatism and help symptoms of heart disease. A booming health centre during Roman Times, Cleopatra herself bathed in an earlier pool on the exact site supposedly gifted to her from Marc Anthony.
In it’s hey day there were fifteen baths at Hierapolis. I can’t think of a more romantic pool – littered as it is with underwater roman columns and plinths believed to have fallen there in an earthquake and surrounded by flowering Oleanders, palms and pine trees.
What to bring.
Bring your bathers (bikinis are OK).
Although the baths have showers, changing rooms and lockers (5 tl) you must bring your own towel. It’s good to know that the Pools of Cleopatra spa shop does sell them, albeit at an elevated price about 20 tl.
After leaving the changing rooms and heading to the pool, take your ticket with you as it will be collected.
The ticket is for two hours only, but this probably won’t be enforced.
Can I visit Cleopatras without swimming?
Yes, if you just want to sit for a bit and enjoy the surroundings you can enter the resort without paying. There are tables and chairs and you can purchase drinks and snacks on-site. Although cheap by European standards, drinks here will cost three times as much in the township and the quality of food is probably better down in the township.
Cleopatra’s Pool Entrance Fee
- Also known as Cleopatras Antique Pool has an entrance fee of 32 tl.
- Kids below age of 6 are free.
- Kids 6 – 12 pay 12 tl.
Cleopatra’s Pool Opening Hours
April 15th to October 3rd (Summer Hours) 0800 to 2100 hours.
Hierapolis the Roman Spa City
Some interesting facts about Hierapolis
Hierapolis came to life in the second century BC when the Kings of Pergamum established thermal baths on the site and has entertained a long line of Pagans, Jews, Romans, Greeks and modern day spa goers. Plagued by repeated earth tremors, the City was abandoned in 1334.
Excavation commenced under German Carl Humann in the late nineteenth century, while teams of Italians started work in earnest in 1957. The site is still being excavated.
The Unesco Criterion III stating in part:
Hierapolis is an exceptional example of a Greco-Roman thermal installation established on an extraordinary natural site.
Being coupled with the Travertines means Hierapolis shares the tourist dollars that the travertines attract. Manicured lawns, flower filled gardens, timber decks, paved footpaths and decorative timber bridges of a standard not even big brother Ephesus can boast, abound at the travertine summit. They don’t however extend to the site majority and the authentic surroundings of the ruins themselves have not been compromised.
A relaxing site to Visit
Exploring ruins in Turkey can be hot, sweaty work but Hierapolis, the Hilton of Turkish Ruins as far as I’m concerned, has the value added experience of catching the spray of cascading water, wading in the man-made travertine pools and sheltering beneath trees or in the Museum. The warm 36C waters of the Antique or Cleopatra Pool (extra charge see above) hold marble ruins from a 7th Century AD earthquake.
Also known as Pamukkale Amphitheatre.
- Constructed during the reign of Hadrian and after the 60AD Earthquake
- The facade is 91 metres long and is entirely standing
- There are 50 rows of seats divided into seven parts by eight stairways
- It was renovated magnificently by Severus at the beginning of the 3rd Century
- The Auditorium had a seating capacity of 15,000
- The theatre was destroyed in the 7th Century earthquake
- Extensive renovations have taken place 2004 to 2014.
This is one of my favourite museums. What is lacks in boring fiddly little pieces, it makes up for with large marble and stone artifacts. It’s full of Striking pieces.
There are inside and outside exhibits and although we probably only spent 15 minutes total in the museum we loved it.
Entrance Fee is 5 tl and well worth it.
Joint Parking Fee for all 3 sites.
Parking at the north or south entrances to the World Heritage Site is 5 tl.
We chose to enter from the base of the travertines but in cold weather the top entrance (car or bus) would be a better option. Thinking of cold wet feet 🙂
We recommend you visit Pamukkale when in Turkey, especially if you are on the Mediterranean/Agean coast. Cruise ships do call in at nearby Kusadasi enabling an Ephesus and Pumakkale tour. We used a combination of car rental, local bus and train to get around Turkey. Any of these three are great options.
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This post is linked to Nancie’s Travel Photo Monday over at Budget Travelers Sandbox .